13.1. temple symbolism
We had earlier noted that philosophical reasoning is like the software of Hinduism whereas rituals, festivals and other practices are like the hardware.
It is not certain whether there were temples in the Vedic times. The Vedas talk aboutyajña-s, which did not need the presence of a temple. The middle portions of the Vedas talked about upāsanā-s, (as noted earlier) which were meant for concentration of mind and meditating on the nature of a particular deity. Upanishads like Chandogya talk about several such upāsanā-s. These involve visualizing a deity in some object in front of the devotee. A special stone named sālagrāma can be used to visualize Vishnu, another oval shaped stone can be used to visualize Shiva and so on. This visualization can be in a diagram (called yantra) or merely in a verbal form (mantra) or as an object in front of the devotee.
It is generally presumed that these symbols gradually became more elaborate depending on the imagination of the devotee or the person who prepared the object for concentration of mind. Gradually the person who made such objects started making these objects in a human form and became a professional sculptor. An elaborate science called āgama-śāstra came into existence. These books derived the basic doctrine from the Vedas and elaborated on that. Thus we find different āgama-s of different schools. We have āgama-s relating to Shiva, Vishnu and Shakti. These books give meticulous details about the construction of the temple. The temple becomes a symbolic representation of the philosophy.
Every temple has the sanctum sanctorum, called the garbha gṛha (the womb-house) where the lord is located. Around this there may be three or more perimeter walls on all four sides. The number of walls is also symbolic. Three walls represent the three guna-s, indicating that we have to go beyond the three guna-s. Five walls represent the five sheaths in the body, indicating that we have to go beyond the five sheaths and seek the lord. Quite often, the temple priest is the best guide to tell about this, depending on their tradition.
If you see the ancient temples of south India, you find a system called pañcāyatana – worship of five deities. If a Vishnu follower were to build a temple, he would keep the idol of Vishnu as the main deity and keep four other deities – Shiva, Shakti, Sun and Ganesha in the four corners. If a Shiva follower were to build a temple he would place Shiva’s idol in the center and keep the others in the four corners. This system was perhaps influenced by Shankaracharya who was called the establisher of six systems of worship (see 10.2).
We saw the symbolism of gods, goddesses and their weapons in the earlier chapter. If Lord Venkateswara is standing with one wife on each side, your child should understand that one wife represents wealth (Lakshmi) and the other wife represents the world (Bhudevi). Similarly, other gods and wives have to be understood.
Sometimes the god is seen having four hands. Generally,these four hands represent the four human goals – dharma, artha (prosperity), kāma (desire) and mokṣa (liberation). Dharma is social order, and this is normally shown as a weapon in one hand. The palm of another hand which gives boons, is shown pointing downwards (called varada mudra), symbolizing that it gives the desired boons. Another hand, usually having a flower, symbolizes desire. The fourth hand is called abhaya mudra, symbolizing knowledge. As per Vedanta, knowledge alone gives
fearlessness. In other words, this hand represents liberation.
13.2. our Frame of mind
Gita says that four types of people seek god – those who are in distress, those who needs prosperity, those who are seekers and lastly the realized persons (jñāni). Most of us fall under the first two categories. We visit temples when we need blessings for a particular need. With great devotion we convey our anxieties and desires to the god and find solace.
Krishna says that seeker is interested in god because he wants to get rid of the impurities of mind and become eligible for the knowledge of Brahman. Devotion to god keeps him away from impure associations and it is known to be the best means for purification of mind. Similarly, a jñāni too participates in worship like any other person though he has no desire, no anxiety whatsoever. He realizes his self as not different from Brahman but yet he worships a deity as a continuance of earlier habit and also to be a role model of others.
We are not expected to be ostentatious devotees. Lord Krishna says that a trifling of a present, like a flower or a fruit or even a leaf given with dedication is enough for the Lord (Gita 9-26). However, temples have evolved different types of worship. Unfortunately the system is commercialized in several places. There is a type of worship which sixteen types of services (ṣoḍaśa-upacāra-pūjā). This is similar to inviting an honored guest to your house, make him seated in a respectable seat, offer water, food and several such services till you see him off. This type of worship can be done in a simple way and also in a very ornate and lavish way. In fact Shankaracharya has written about mānasa pūjā(silent worship within the mind) of the attribute-less Brahman.
The real darśanam, vision, of the Lord is to understand the divine nature and not merely see the Lord’s idol from close quarters or touch it or be there for a long time. The realprasādam is to attain tranquility of mind and not to eat some delicious offering given to the lord. You may have a look at Shankaracharya’s composition called nirguna mānasa pūjā in this context.
Temples have served the great purpose of being the religious, cultural and educational centers. They were the centers for dance, music and sculpture, besides being places of religious discourses. Ancient temples have elaborate architectural details. Each temple is unique and each tradition is unique. It will be quite interesting if you can take a guide to explain various sculptures in the temples you see. We need not be in a hurry to rush into the sanctum sanctorum and have a mere glimpse of the Lord. Appreciation of the whole temple is a rewarding spiritual experience.
Chapter – 14 : are We asked to Work Without Desiring the Fruit?
Yes, but it is for the person who wants to get out of the cycle of birth and death and attain liberation. It is only commended but not mandated for all.
14.1. The meaning and Framework of karma
It is a common accusation against the Hindu system because of the oft quoted statement which confounds a superficial reader.
The Gita says:
‘karmanyeva-adhikāraste mā phaleṣu kadācana’(2-47).
Krishna asks Arjuna to perform the duty enjoined on him without expecting the fruit of that action. “Do not become the cause for the fruit of that action and likewise, do not give up your enjoined duty”, he adds.
This has to be understood in the overall context of the meaning of karma. Though the word ‘karma’ literally means ‘action’, in Vedanta it refers to the actions prescribed or permitted for a person. The line from Gita is not referring to secular duties like attending office, performing duty of a technical employee in a multinational, and not expecting his pay slip. It is talking of the religiously enjoined duties on different categories of people.
There are three types of actions described in the scriptures.
Daily and compulsory duties,
Occasional but obligatory duties
The first is a compulsory duty, called nitya-karma, which consists of self-purifying actions such as contemplation of the Gayathri mantra, giving food to guests, feeding the poor, feeding animals etc. (called the five-fold yajña) which have to be performed every day. The second type of duty is connected with special occasions like new moon day, or a festival day. There are also special rituals for occasions like birth, initiation to Vedic study, marriage and so on. Sociologists call them rites of passage. These involve certain cooperative practices like giving food to the people, making different types of donations (dānam) during such rituals.
The third type of action is not exactly a duty, but an action motivated by the individual’s desire to achieve more prosperity in this world or in the other world (heaven) by performing rituals recommended in the scriptures. This would result in some result, and to enjoy this, a person may have to take up another birth.
We may know two words here – punyam and pāpam. Punyam is a sort of spiritual merit accruing to a person because of the above said rituals and other good deeds performed. Pāpam is a demerit accruing to a person because of some bad deeds(adharma). These punyam and pāpam may give result either in this life or in the later births.
The nitya-karma (compulsory rites) and the obligatory rites on special occasions do not result in punyam, though their non-performance leads to pāpam.
The third type of activity, noted above, motivated by individual desire, produces a spiritual merit called punyam.
Performance of an evil deed or prohibited action causes spiritual demerit. Thus, a person normally accumulates a mixed baggage of merit and demerit over a period of time. This gets exhausted only by experiencing the fruit of the action. If it is not possible in the current life to exhaust this, he has to take up another birth to exhaust it.
Rebirth implies further activities, good or bad, and further accrual of the fruit of such actions. Further rebirths are needed to exhaust such accumulated baggage of good and bad. A person is said to transmigrate from body to body as we noted above. This unending cycle of transmigration is called samsāra.
14.2. Desire-free action
We shall now see what is called desire-free action or work done without expecting result. In Vedanta, it is called niṣkāma karma.
Desire-free karma is mandated for the person who wants be on the path of knowledge 1) in order to attain purity of mind and 2) in order to get out of the cycle of birth and death. It is not for the one who does not bother for realization.
Karma cannot be avoided by any of us, as it is the driving force for the very existence of human society. Moreover, not doing karma is itself karma, that is, the action of avoidance of duty, and so it entails demerit. Hence, the person who wants to get rid of the cycle of transmigration has to think of an intelligent way to do karma and still get out of the cycle of births. For this, Gita suggests karma-yoga.
If the baggage of karma causes rebirth, the intelligent way to avoid rebirth is to do karma but not claim the result. Do it with an attitude that you are doing it as your duty to society, as an offering to the Lord, and as your contribution to the collective good (loka-saṅgraha, as Gita calls it). Then you will not be touched by the result of that karma, saysGita. This attitude to work is called niṣkāma karma, a desire-free action. (Kāma means‘desire’ and niṣkāma means ‘desire-free’).
The important result of desire-free action is that it leads to purity of mind, which is essential for self-realization. A person with a bundle of desires can hardly do any self-enquiry. There is a principle of inter-dependence in the whole cosmos and everyone has to play his role. This person engaged in niṣkāma karma does his portion of duty as the individual’s contribution to the cosmic order. This makes his mind pure and eligible for study of scriptures.
Niṣkāma karma, by itself, will not lead to realization and avoidance of the cycle of birth and death. Why? It is because it can merely ward off the result of karma done in this birth but cannot neutralize the pending baggage of karma-s, good and bad, of previous births.
In order to neutralize the pending baggage there is only one way prescribed in the scriptures. One is asked to pursue scriptural studies and go through the three stages – called śravanam (grasping the meaning of Upanishidic statements like ‘that you are’, at an intellectual level), mananam (logically analyzing the subject and internalizing it) andnididhyāsanam (to be firm in that state of awareness). It is this three level spiritual exercise which finally results in realization of self.
Niṣkāma karma is thus a strategy and the first step for those who are in the path of self-realization. It is a step in the long process of self-purification.
A person who has this attitude to work is called a karma yogi. It is called yoga because it is a means to unite the individual with the universal self and this karma yoga is a preparatory step for such union. This is what Bhagavad Gita is all about.
14.3. Dead-lines and Desire-free action
How is a modern man bogged down with dead-lines related to this desire-free action?
This idea had a particular relevance for Arjuna who was about to plunge into war. However, it does not mean that it cannot be applied to present day secular work. In secular work too, one can be a better performer if one works not merely for the pay slip, but for the good of the organization, which is ultimately for the good of society.
Gita says that even day-to-day activities can be done with the awareness of the divine in us and as an offering to the collective (5-9). This attitude becomes more relevant and applicable where the action has a public interface and where one is capable of doing more service. This is possible both in a private sector functioning and in the government departments.
One who merely does this niṣkāma-karma is surely avoiding the fruit of actions done in this life, but the karmas of previous lives may be pending. If he wants to get rid of them, he has to attain knowledge of the self, through the three-level discipline of study, affirmation and bringing it to experience.
To sum up, you may like to leave the fruit of action if you want to come on to the path of knowledge, that is, if you are a seeker. But if you want to enjoy, you may do so and continue to stay in a transmigrating existence.