“Every religion has a tirtha. The Muslims have Mecca and Medina, and the Christians have Golgotha. Similarly, the Hindus also think they must travel very far to find a tirtha. But actually, tirtha-kurvanti tirthani: a tirtha is a place where there are saintly persons. That is a tirtha. Not that one goes ten thousand miles and simply takes a dip in the water and then comes back.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Journey Of Self-Discovery, Ch 6.4)
You need association. The proper term is sadhu-sanga. Just as business professionals meet in clubs, groups and networking gatherings, so the people interested in advancement of the consciousness should congregate. Anyone sincerely interested in spiritual life, in following the rules and regulations, is either already a sadhu or on their way towards becoming one.
One translation for sadhu is saint. Meet with other saintly people. The good qualities will make an impact. The easiest way is to visit a place of pilgrimage, tirtha. Having some direct connection with the Supreme Personality of Godhead, these areas have many saints living there. The benefit is immediate; meet such a person and bring your questions. Lives can change in a moment.
The second best option is to go to the temple. This is where an authorized replica form of the Supreme Lord has been installed and is worshiped according to standard on a regular basis. God is Adhokshaja. This means that His features cannot be measured by blunt instruments. That is to say He does not have a fixed height or weight.
He is still kind enough to appear in the archa-vigraha, the transcendental body of the deity, to give some understanding of what His features are. Seeing the deity in the proper setting can have the same impact as meeting a saint. Therefore a person should try to visit such a place as often as they can.
The person hearing such advice might have reservations. They are interested in spiritual life, but they know of potential pitfalls to visiting these houses of worship.
1. Always in need of money
The temples are likely set up as non-profit organizations. This is to help raise money. Accepting donations from the general public, the donors can typically deduct the contributions from their taxable income. This is a huge benefit, as it encourages charity.
The issue is that the people running the establishment might step over the line in trying to raise money. For instance, they are always walking with their hand out. They harass every visitor until some donation is made. Not that the people benefitting from the temple visit should be stingy, but too much solicitation can pollute the atmosphere.
2. Run by thieves
Ideally, sadhus live in such a place. This way they can dedicate the entire day to devotional efforts. In the morning they arise early and chant the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Then they sing various prayers, read from sacred texts, eat sanctified food, and go about with other work that needs to be done. The temple life is so organized that the entire day can be spent occupied in loving service to the Lord.
There is a potential for cheating, however. A cleverly nefarious character realizes rather quickly that he can exploit the situation to his advantage. Put on religious garb, move into the temple, work your way to the leadership position, and relax after that. The place is run by donations, so no work needs to be done. If there is any mismanagement later on that leads to problems, simply sell the temple. Take the money from the proceeds of the sale and move to some other place to retire. Though that money doesn’t belong to them, that person feels entitled since they are puffed up with the power of being in the leadership post.
3. The tendency to socialize
I am genuinely interested in spiritual life. I want to meet with saintly people. I want to hear from the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam. I want to only eat prasadam. Therefore I make it a routine to visit the temple.
One problem I run into is socializing. If I missed attending a specific week, everyone asks where I was. They want to know how my job is going. How is family life? Did you hear what happened to that person? Did you vote in the election? What do you think of the leader of the country?
I try to be as polite as possible, but the talk is distracting. It is about nonsense, as well. I would love it if I could just get in and get out without issue. Worship, think of Bhagavan, honor the devotees, and repeat the process the next time around.
Indeed, in this age of Kali cheaters are prevalent even in institutions supposedly focused on spirituality. The temple atmosphere can be polluted rather quickly, and so what is a person left to do?
Fortunately, bhakti-yoga is meant to be unmotivated and uninterrupted. Even with the distractions, impediments and downward spirals in character, there is still every chance for success in this life. The holy names themselves have the power to liberate. The aim is consciousness, after all, and that can be purified in any situation.
Though progress typically occurs more rapidly in association with saintly people, if the physical association isn’t possible or is not ideally presented, there is still access to recorded instructions. Books, audio and video can help to create the temple atmosphere anywhere. There is a reason saints like His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada are considered travelling tirthas.
Travelling great distance to go,
To place feet in tirtha so.
But real benefit to enhance,
Meeting with saint the chance.
The temple for similar purpose created,
But soiled by crooked manager instated.
Bhakti power not on any condition relying,
Rewarded those who sincerely trying.
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