A temple must be in the heart

by Mukul Sharma, TNN, Dec 18, 2007

New Delhi, India -- As most of us well know, temples - and to more or less varying degrees churches, mosques, synagogues, etc - are not really places of worship, but social constructs. They were designed specifically for people of chosen faiths to congregate and continually reaffirm their bonds of that oneness that draws them together.

<< Can "catwalking monks" like these in downtown Tokyo lure devotees back to the temple?

Which is why the heavy ceremonies, “Sunday best” dressing, body purifying processes and mannered interactivity. Praying, or any form of spiritual union with the divine is, at best, a solemn add-on initiative. However, it’s integral to the function of a temple to make at least a passing reference to God, otherwise its reason for existence crumbles.

Priests of all faiths realise this ironic fact only too well to properly disguise their intentions. They know, for instance, that the foundation on which their sanctuaries of veneration are built are on pretty shaky ground.

On the one hand they goad us the godhead is inside ourselves, all around us and omnipresent, yet on the other, they need to demand our physical presence and time inside temples. Ultimately it turns out that it’s the only place where He can be appropriately addressed and that, too, after adhering to a series of ritualised practices.

Is it any wonder then that some people see through this masquerade from time to time? But that’s when astute templars who have the pulse of their flock right, up the devotional ante exponentially with historical crusades, mandatory pilgrimages and annual melas. Suddenly, for a small moment in time (which may actually last centuries in some cases), people get to focus clearly as the temple gets its act right.

But, like miracles, these sacred journeys of the mind have no real staying power, or if they do it’s only in a cyclical fashion. In the main, whole sections of society tire of that forced connect. In Japan which professes to be officially three-quarters Buddhist, monks have had to hit the catwalk recently in Tokyo to lure youths back to shrines. Buddhism is in a crisis in that country, they say.

Perhaps, the process of an inner devotion needs to be emphasised instead; one that recognises no iconic signposts leading the way to supposed salvation. Otherwise, young people in Japan - or for that matter anywhere in the world - will end up holding communion with whatever they believe in, only in their hearts. But come to think of it, how bad is that either?