In the first part of this article published in the last issue, the author presented six major services offered by a temple to society: tranquility, education, medication, purification, love, and engagement combined as the acronym TEMPLE. In this concluding part, the third service is partially explained and there is a summary of all the services at the end. SS is an ISKCON teacher Sanatana Swami, RG an inquisitive businessman Ratan Gupta.
SS: Every one of us is potentially divine, no matter what our current condition is. We just have to reactivate that divine nature. The temple not only helps remove our ignorance of our divine nature, but also teaches the practical process to heal the diseased mentality that has resulted from the ignorance. Thus a temple is not just like a university offering education, but also a hospital offering medication.
RG (surprised): A hospital offering medication? What sort of medication?
SS: From the spiritual viewpoint, all improper, immoral behaviors are the symptoms of a diseased mentality. The Vedic scriptures explain that this diseased mentality is caused by six main germs: lust, anger, greed, envy, pride,= and illusion. Let’s see how these germs breed most criminal behavior. Lust causes rapes and sex-related crimes; greed causes corruption and financial transgressions; and anger causes terrorism and violent crimes. Similarly, millions of people worldwide squander billions of dollars on self-destructive indulgences like smoking, drinking and drug addiction. What makes them addicted to substances that poison and kill their own bodies? the lust for instant pleasure. Thus the infections of the mind cause people to harm others and harm even themselves, thus leading to major global problems.
The Vedic scriptures also explain that remembrance of God is the cure to these infections of the mind. We are basically pleasure-seeking creatures. When we seek pleasure externally, the germs in our mind infect us, for they all promise us external pleasure. But the remembrance of God gives us inner happiness and thus frees us from the infection of these germs. The easiest way to remember God is by chanting His holy names. Hence, this is the medicine to cure this diseased mentality. Let me share how Srila Prabhupada administered the medication of the holy name with astonishing results.
Srila Prabhupada went to America in the 1960s at an advanced age of seventy and found himself amidst the counterculture of the hippies. The hippies were young people who had rebelled against the established values and norms of society and expressed their stance through unconventional clothing and behavior. The hippies had rejected mainstream society as aimless, and mainstream society had rejected the hippies as useless. But Srila Prabhupada taught these hippies the ultimate aim of life, healed them of their drug addiction and other bad habits by training them in chanting the holy names and elevated them from ignorant self-destruction to enlightened self-realization. This transformation of hippies into “happies” was nothing short of a miracle. The US government, despite all its national resources comprising of hospitals, doctors, social welfare plans and social workers, had come to its wit’s end about how to change or even tackle the hippies. But Srila Prabhupada, a solitary, elderly man with no material resources, transformed them by his spirituality and his compassion. That’s why an eminent US scholar Professor Stillson Judah of Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley University, noted, “A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami has the remarkable ability to turn drug-addicted hippies into devotees of Krishna (God) and servants of mankind.”
Just think, if we could cure the lust, anger and greed in the criminals, the crime rate would drop dramatically and significant national resources would become available for purposes more constructive than law enforcement. Similarly, if we could cure addicts of their addictions, think of how those billions of dollars could be channelized for the good of the world.
RG (doubtfully): This sounds too good to be true. Firstly, changing the habits of criminals and addicts is no easy task; old habits die hard. Secondly, many of these people don’t even want to change.
SS: Yes, healing the diseased mentality is not easy especially if the disease is in an advanced stage as in criminals and addicts. But we should not underestimate God’s mercy as manifested in His holy name. By God’s grace, what is ordinarily impossible becomes entirely possible.
FREE IN THE PRISON
ISKCON has a prison preaching ministry in India, America and several other countries. I could tell you many stories of incredible, curative transformations that chanting has brought about. Let me share just one story of a person who was both an addict and a criminal.
Chris Matthews, a youth from Atlanta, USA, started taking morphine in 1986 due to the pressures of youth. Gradually it became an addiction. To get money for his compulsive drug needs, he started robbing people and stores in 1992. While robbing a shop in 1993, he took a heavy overdose and fell unconscious. On regaining consciousness, he found himself in a prison hospital. He came to know that the shop owner had called the police, the police had rushed him to a nearby prison hospital and the doctors had battled for hours to get him out of the jaws of death.
In 1994, he was tried and sentenced to eight years imprisonment. Heartbroken at being separated from his recently-wed wife, he resolved he would never have anything to do with God henceforth in his life. Soon, however, he realized that the withdrawal pains and the physical and mental rigors of prison life would be impossible to endure without some spiritual solace. In the USA, the crime rate has been spiraling unabatedly for several decades and the expenditure of the US government on prisons is astronomical. Secular efforts to reform prisoners have met with hardly any success, so the US government allows its prisoners to attend reformation programs conducted by various spiritual organizations. Chris attended classes on Christianity, Buddhism, Kabbala, Sufism, Islam whatever was accessible in the prison, but nothing helped. After two years of fruitless groping, from the innermost core of his heart, he offered a fervent prayer to God, begging for help.
No sincere prayer ever goes unheard. Within days after the prayer, he came in touch with an ISKCON prison minister, who mailed him a copy of Bhagavad-gita As It Is. His physical hardship, mental agony and spiritual searching combined to make him a ripe candidate for enlightenment. From his very first reading, he felt as if he was being revived by a breath of fresh air. He could perceive the eternal truths within the message of the Gita: I am not the body but soul; I am suffering in material existence due to my forgetfulness of God. This forgetfulness can be easily cured by chanting the holy names of God.
Chris soon started chanting the holy name of God, specifically the maha-mantra: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Within a short time he became free from his addiction. In fact, though he was physically within the prison walls, he felt himself more free in spirit than he had felt ever before in his life because he was no longer shackled and tormented by self-destructive desires. Within the prison itself he became a vegetarian and started offering his food to the picture of Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita. He soon became inspired by his Gita study to start practicing niskama-karma-yoga in the prison, doing his assignments in a detached dutiful devotional spirit. Not only did he experience complete release from his drug addiction, but he became so composed, integrated and self-satisfied that he emerged as a source of inspiration and solace for his fellow-prisoners. In 2000, he was released from prison. As soon as he returned home, after the initial courtesies, he started teaching his daughters chanting so as to equip them to protect themselves when they would enter the turbulent teenage years. In 2001, he had a divine inspiration to share his good fortune with the many other souls who were languishing in the prisons of America and so he joined the ISKCON Atlanta prison ministry. Now the same Chris, who was formerly a hardened criminal, is actively serving as a prison minister for numerous prisons in Atlanta, reforming many, many lives ravaged by crime. This is the kind of dramatic transformation that chanting can bring about from prison to prison ministry, from prisoner to prison minister.
RG (astounded): That’s quite a story. Do you think this can happen with everyone?
SS: Why not? There is an old saying: “Every saint has a past; every sinner, a future.” No one is incorrigible. If the infection is so deep as to have covered the victim’s intelligence and conscience, then healing him will be difficult. But there are a significant number of criminals and addicts who want to become better human beings, but don’t know how to change themselves. Even if we could help these people alone, that would make a significant difference in their lives and in our world.
So let me recap the answer to your question about the need for a big temple:
1. The tranquility of the temple offers essential refreshing breaks that empower people to face the stresses of life. To get similar breaks, many people seek entertainment, which is an industry costing millions. When we don’t object to the money spent on arranging for that sort of breaks, then why object to money being spent on arranging for spiritual breaks that offer similar and arguably better refreshment for many religious and even non-religious people?
2. The education provided by the temple helps people lead a life of moral and spiritual integrity, which is the basis that enables people to use all their other education for socially beneficial purposes. When we consider establishing new universities for material education as a sign of national progress, then why not similarly celebrate the building of a university for spiritual education?
3. The medication provided by the temple can heal the diseased mentality that impels people to addiction and criminality, both of which cause an enormous drain on the national economy. If we recognize as a social necessity the building of hospitals that heal the body, then why not similarly recognize as a social necessity the erection of hospitals that heal the mind?
4. The purification that the temple offers can train talented people to become pure-hearted, selfless, principle-centered leaders. When leaders with character are acutely needed in every organization, from the family to the government, then why not welcome an institute that can produce high-quality leaders?
5. The love that the temple inspires in people can provide them deep satisfaction and dramatically improve their relationships. When relationship conflicts are causing unprecedented misery in society, they why not support an institution that can provide a solid foundation for lasting relationships?
6. The engagements offered by the temple help preserve our national culture, and also productively channelize people’s talents and energies. When our national culture is being lost at an alarming rate, then why not help a forum that is not only protecting but also reviving it?
And if one institution can offer all these six benefits simultaneously, why should we not participate and rejoice in its establishment? To serve as an effective university for spiritual education, it needs seminar halls, conference rooms and libraries. To serve as a vibrant cultural center that can properly serve the thousands of people who crowd it on festivals, it needs a large temple hall, a large prasada hall and a large pravacana (discourse) hall. The bigness of the temple is not a gaudy luxury, but a functional necessity; it has big roles to play, big services to offer.
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Caitanya Carana Dasa holds a degree in electronics and telecommunications engineering and serves full-time at ISKCON Pune. To subscribe to his free cyber magazine, visit thespiritualscientist.com