“The process of meditation recommended in the Shrimad-Bhagavatam is not to fix one’s attention on something impersonal or void. The meditation should concentrate on the person of the Supreme Godhead, either in His virat-rupa, the gigantic universal form, or in His sach-chid-ananda-vigraha [Bs. 5.1], as described in the scriptures. There are authorized descriptions of Vishnu forms, and there are authorized representations of Deities in the temples. Thus one can practice meditating upon the Deity, concentrating his mind on the lotus feet of the Lord and gradually rising higher and higher, up to His smiling face.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.2.13 Purport)
Vishnu is a Sanskrit word that means “all-pervading.” It references a Divine personality, who is known by other names as well. Since He is the origin of all men, He is called Narayana. Since He removes the distresses of His devotees, He is known as Hari.
Though appearing in different forms and different places, the name Vishnu is most significant in that it addresses God as a person. He is a distinct personality, a person with whom a relationship can be formed. The living entities are not Vishnu in the sense that they are not all-pervading. I live inside of my body and you inside of yours. I can’t tell what you are thinking without you telling me first, and vice versa.
The living entities who are not Vishnu struggle in a material existence. The six senses, which include the mind, give them trouble. The way out of the misery, chaos, and despair is to once again find Vishnu and stay connected with Him. Since the eyes of the conditioned soul make mistakes all the time, help from the Divine Himself is required for the rescue.
One of the ways He offers help is through the deity, which is also known as the archa-vigraha. It is the worshipable form. Though it appears to be made of stone, resin, or metal, since it is crafted in an authorized way and placed in a specific setting, it becomes non-different from God. It is worshiped in the formal setting known as the temple, and a person who visits such a temple can make tremendous advancement by doing a few simple things.
1. Remain clean
One of the first rules of visiting a Vishnu temple is to take off the shoes. This should be the standard practice when visiting any home, but especially in a house of worship cleanliness becomes an important factor. After all, there are plenty of things to distract the mind elsewhere. Since He is Vishnu, God is everywhere. He resides within the heart of every creature, wherever that creature may happen to find itself.
The purpose of visiting the temple is to realize the presence of Vishnu, as it is so easy to forget God. The cause of the conditioned soul’s descent to the material world is forgetfulness of the Divine. By taking off the shoes, wearing clean clothes, and removing impure thoughts from the mind, there is every chance to get the highest benefit from the visit to the house of worship.
2. Pay respect to the guru
In many Vishnu temples there is a form of the guru present. The devotee pays respect to this form when entering, as without the favor of the guru it is impossible to know God. The guru is the spiritual master, and they are likely the person responsible for the temple’s construction. In Vrindavana in India, all the famous temples have an acharya, or notable spiritual personality, associated with the founding. Indeed, if a person merely respects the guru, a visit to a temple isn’t even required. The guru is like a travelling tirtha, or place of pilgrimage, since they carry the message of Godhead with them.
3. Pay respect to the tulasi plant
In the Vedic tradition the tulasi plant is sacred. She is a devi, or goddess. Though there are medicinal benefits to taking leaves from this plant, the real point of honoring and worshiping her is to increase devotion to Vishnu. It is said that any home that has a tulasi plant becomes a place of pilgrimage. Famous saints from the past often had no formal worship available to them other than honoring the tulasi plant every day. A person who circumambulates this devi when visiting a Vishnu temple earns tremendous benefit.
4. Pay respect to the deity
In the temple there is something known as a period of darshana. This is when the deity is available to be seen by the public. It’s like the time of public viewing. The vision of the deity is like the meeting of two long-lost friends. Just a single glance can turn the troubled mind away from desires in material advancement, renunciation and mystic perfection.
Respecting the deity in this way is a form of meditation, known as dhyana-yoga. The Shrimad Bhagavatam advises that such yoga should start at the feet and move upwards from there. If you are fortunate enough to get the darshana of the Vishnu deity, start by offering respects at the lotus feet. Then gradually move upwards, and appreciate the unmatched beauty of the Supreme Lord at each step.
5. Honor prasadam
Prasadam is a Sanskrit word that means “mercy.” It can refer to anything that comes directly from God for the devotee’s benefit. In the temple there are the flowers that are offered to the deity and then dispersed among the crowd. There may also be sanctified food that is distributed to the visitors. There is amazing potency in this prasadam. A person who accepts it only one time, honoring it with the proper mood, makes tremendous advancement. Though they may have eaten similar food and smelled flowers so many times before, this experience is different. It is Divine.
Since only trouble in this world to find,
Difficulty from senses, including the mind.
Visit to a Vishnu temple to make,
Vision of Divine in form to take.
Clean and with purity arrive,
To worship first at lotus feet try.
To Tulasi Devi and guru give respect,
Through their blessings place standing erect.
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