Is Temple Worship Only for Beginners?
Temple worship is for all men and women at every level of spiritual development. Its meaning and experience deepen as we unfold spiritually through the stages of service, devotion, yoga and enlightened wisdom. Aum.
In a temple carved from solid rock, a woman falls on her knees in chaste surrender. She has sacrificially shaven her beautiful long tresses, dressed in white and removed her jewelry to approach God in as pristeen a state of consciousness as possible.
We never outgrow temple worship. It simply becomes more profound and meaningful as we progress through four spiritual levels. In the charya pada, the stage of selfless service, we attend the temple because we have to, because it is expected of us. In the kriya pada, the stage of worshipful sadhanas, we attend because we want to; our love of God is the motivation. In the yoga pada, we worship God internally, in the sanctum of the heart; yet even the yogi immersed in the superconscious depths of mind has not outgrown the temple. It is there--God's home on the Earth plane--when the yogi returns to normal consciousness. So perfect is the temple worship of those who have traversed the jnana pada that they themselves become worship's object--living, moving temples. Yea, temple worship is never outgrown. The Vedas give praise, "Homage to Him who presides over all things, that which was and that which shall be; to whom alone belongs the heaven, to that all-powerful Brahman be homage! From Fullness He pours forth the full; the full spreads, merging with the full. We eagerly would know from whence He thus replenishes Himself." Aum Namah Sivaya.
How Do Devotees Prepare for Worship?
We visit a Siva temple after bathing, dressing in clean clothes and preparing an offering, which can be as simple as a few flowers or fruits. We bring the mind to the holy feet of the Deity even as preparations begin. Aum.
A man and his wife have bathed and dressed in clean clothing to approach God for worship. He carries a bowl of offerings and she holds a tray with items needed for puja. Escorted by a temple guide, they pass Deities and guardians carved in stone.
Visiting the home of God Siva or of a God, the temple, is not without its trepidation, protocol and proper conduct, preceded by preparation that we administrate ourselves. Our worship is only as meaningful and effective as we make it. Before we attend or conduct a puja, we should carefully bathe the body, rinse the mouth and dress in fresh clothing--saris for women and dhotis or veshtis and shawls for men where this is the custom. Throughout these preparations we may sing hymns or chant mantras or God's holy names silently or aloud, taking care to keep the mind free from worldly matters. We then gather offerings for the Deity. If mealtime is near, we eat only after puja has been concluded. Although the outer details of our worship are important, it is our inner feelings and thoughts, our love and devotion, which are the truest offering we can make. The Vedas testify, "The Gods, led by the spirit, honor faith in their worship. Faith is composed of the heart's intention. Light comes through faith. Through faith men come to prayer, faith in the morning, faith at noon and at the setting of the sun. O faith, give us faith!" Aum Namah Sivaya.
How Do Our Prayers Reach the Gods?
Through temple worship, the three worlds become open to one another, and the beings within them are able to communicate. By means of the mystical arts of puja, the worlds act in concert, and prayers are received. Aum.
Lord Siva sits in the deepest akashic world as devotees approach with prayers, petitions and queries written in the old style, on palm leaves, called olai in Tamil. Siva offers benedictions through two hands, blessings that accord with their karmas.
The three worlds are connected when puja is performed and worship is begun. There are certain rites that can be performed to enable individuals to communicate directly with beings in the inner worlds. Prayers are given and received in many ways. Among the most intimate, personal forms of communication is the written prayer to the devas or to God. Burned in Agni's sacred fire, it disintegrates in the physical world and quickly re-forms in the astral world. When a prayer is burned in a temple wherein this practice is consecrated, its astral image is received and read by the devas, and properly dispatched and answered, within the confines of our karmic pattern. Prayers may also be conveyed by slowly, mentally enunciating the words, visualizing them rising up the spine, through the top of the head, reaching beyond to the feet of God. The devas will not intervene unless asked. This is the inner law. The Vedas avow, "He shines forth at dawn like the sunlight, deploying the sacrifice in the manner of priests unfolding their prayerful thoughts. Agni, the God who knows well all the generations, visits the Gods as a messenger, most efficacious." Aum Namah Sivaya.
Do Saivites Worship Only in Temples?
One can worship God anywhere and be in contact with the inner worlds--in the temple, in the home shrine and in the yogi's contemplation. However, in the holy Siva temple the three worlds most perfectly commune. Aum.
A woman kneels to supplicate Siva who sits beneath a tree, a yogabandha supporting His legs in yogic pose. Knowing that God Siva can be inwardly worshiped anywhere, she closes her eyes above and pours forth adoration to her beloved Lord.
In the shrine room gather messengers of the Mahadeva being worshiped to hear the prayers of the devotee and carry them to their Master. The Gods can be worshiped anywhere when the proper sankalpa, preparation, has been performed. God's presence is everywhere, through everything, in everything, for Siva is the creator of all things, the manifestor of time, form and the space between forms. Siva is worshiped in the mind, in the heart, through the throat, in the head of the yogi locked in yoga. So great is the power of worship, communion and communication with the centillion devas, that when a little bell is rung, a flame appears in the lamp, the vermilion spot is placed, the flower appears and is offered, God Siva and the Gods are invoked. Contemplating the aftermath of puja or abhisheka, we feel the sannidhya or divine presence of Parashakti, tender motherly love, permeating to the outer walls around the temple. The Vedas proclaim, "Assemble all, with prayer to the Lord of Heaven, He is the One, the all-pervading, the guest of men. He, the ancient of days, abides in the present. Him, the One, the many follow on their path." Aum Namah Sivaya.
What Is the Home Shrine's Significance?
Every Saivite maintains a home shrine. It is the most beautiful room in the house, an extension of the temple, the abode for Deities and devas, and a holy refuge for daily worship and meditation. Aum Namah Sivaya.
A man and wife perform puja together in their shrine room. Having ground fresh paste from a sandalwood block and taken their small Sivalinga from its finely tooled casket, he places it on its base while she stands ready to offer fresh water.
Every Saivite home centers around the home shrine, a special room set aside and maintained to create a temple-like atmosphere in which we conduct puja, read scripture, perform sadhana, meditate, sing bhajana and do japa. Here the presence of the Gods is always felt, and we remember them especially morning and evening and before meals, which we offer to them before we partake. Worship traditionally begins before dawn, with the simple act of dedication for the coming day. After a bath, morning puja is performed which includes the repetition of the Gayatri or other mantras and is followed by sadhanas given by one's guru. The form of home worship, atmartha puja, is simple: the Deities are invoked and offerings are made. After the final arati, or offering of the light, we supplicate them to bestow their grace on us, our family and all devotees. Evening devotionals include a simple arati, bhajana, meditation and reading of scripture, which carries one to lofty celestial realms during sleep. The Agamas affirm, "Worship of one's chosen Linga by anyone in their own home for divine protection is called atmartha puja." Aum Namah Sivaya.
Verses from Scripture on Love of God
Yes, may the man who within his home pleases you all his days with songs and with offerings receive a rich reward, be loaded with your gifts! To him be happiness! This is our prayer.
Rig Veda 4.4.7. VE, 845
Aum. O terrestrial sphere! O sphere of space! O celestial sphere! Let us contemplate the splendor of the Solar Spirit, the Divine Creator. May He guide our minds.
Rig Veda (Gayatri Mantra) 3.62.10. HP, 345
For you is my offering, to you I will pray, to you who are worthy of homage and worship. You, O God, are a spring in the desert for the man who is thirsty for you, O Everliving.
Rig Veda 10.4.1. VE, 302
All that God does shall win our praise. We magnify His name with hymns, seeking boons from the Mighty.
Rig Veda 1.42.10. VE, 805
The rites of oblation, O lovers of truth, which the sages divined from the sacred verses, were variously expounded in the threefold Veda. Perform them with constant care. This is your path to the world of holy action.
Atharva Veda, Mundaka Upanishad 1.2.1. VE, 414
Whatever the merit in any sacrifice, austerity, offering, pilgrimage or place, the merit of worship of the Sivalinga equals that merit multiplied by hundreds of thousands.
Karana Agama 9. MT, 66
In the forenoon with a white garment, in midday with a red garment, with a yellow garment in the evening, and with any of them in the night, the worshiper, drawing the God near with the Sadyojata Mantra, should cause Him to be firmly established by means of the Vama Mantra and the Aghora Mantra.
Karana Agama 269-270. MT, 186
First there should be purification of one's self; secondly, purification of the site; thirdly, there should be the cleansing of the worship materials, fourthly, purification of the Linga; fifthly, purification of the mantras should be done. Thus there is the five-fold purification.
Karana Agama 46. MT, 100
Even the incompetent, indeed, should worship, ending with the offering of sacrificial food, ending with light. He who daily does this shall obtain progress toward the Auspicious.
Karana Agama 450. MT, 227
There is no difference between devotion and perfect knowledge. A person who is engrossed in devotion enjoys perpetual happiness. And perfect knowledge never descends in a vicious person averse to devotion.
Siva Purana, Rudra S. 23.16. AI, VOL. I 380
He folded his hands in adoration and praised the Lord's feet. His deep love melted in a stream, the flood from his eyes gushed out and spread over his body.
Periyapuranam 5.21.253. PS, 49
What has learning profited a man, if it has not led him to worship the good feet of Him who is pure knowledge itself? They alone dispel the mind's distress who take refuge at the feet of the Incomparable One.
Tirukural 2, 7. WWThey who walk the twin paths of charya and kriya ever praise the twin feet of the Lord. They wear holy emblems -- the twin rings in earlobes, the twin rudraksha garland around the neck -- and adopt the twin mudras, all in