Some of you might wonder why I raised this question at all. Visiting temple has been an accepted practice from time immemorial. We all visit temples. Temples are considered as the abode of God. When we go to the temple and pray we feel relieved and relaxed. We feel that we have unburdened our worries before God and return with the hope that God would take care of us and lead us to the right destination.
However, the question has arisen because temple visit of late is becoming more of a ritual. We consider it as part of our religious duty. There was a man who travelled long distance to Tirupati, stood in the queue for hours discussing various topics with others, reached the sanctum sanctorum, stood before the deity for few seconds and returned. He offered some money to the hundials, bought prasadam returned home, with a sense of fulfillment. It was doubtful whether he spent at least 10 minutes in contemplation of Lord. In sharp contrast, there was also a man who confined himself at home and always thought of Lord Venkatachalapathi. While the mind of the former was engaged in various thoughts like accommodation, sightseeing, darshan, prasad etc., the mind of the latter was exclusively centred on God. What is important is devotion. If devotion is there in heart, one would find God not outside but deep within. The temple visit may be helpful to get the right environment to be able to bring the image of God right within his heart.
There was a lady devotee who used to visit Ramanashramam daily. On an auspicious day, there was some special Puja at the Ashram and the lady had decided to attend it promptly. Unfortunately, on this particular date, few guests suddenly came to her house and she had to attend to them. She felt very sorry that she could not visit Ashram that day. Though she was entertaining the guests, offering them food and talking to them, deep in her mind, she was thinking of Ramana Maharshi all along. The next day, when she met Maharshi, she said: “Oh Bhagavan, I could not come yesterday because some guests dropped in suddenly and I had to attend to them. Only my body was at home while my heart and soul were at Ramanasramam.” Sri Ramana Maharshi replied: “It is good that you have chosen to remain at home to attend to your guests. If you had come to Ashram, your mind would have been hovering around your home and guests only. You may be physically present here but your mind would have been there only. It was good that you choose to remain at home and thought of Ramanshramam rather than visiting Ramanshramam and thinking of home”.
Saint Appar, the great Saivite devotee of Tamil Nadu, wanted to go to Kailash but he could not find it physically feasible. While at Tiruvarur, a stranger came to him and advised him not to strain too much, but saint Appar insisted on going ahead with his mission. The stranger then suggested that saint Appar could take a dip in the tank nearby, uttering the name of Siva. As Appar immersed himself in the water, mentally thinking of Siva, he experienced the state of being in Kailash. He realized that even if he had gone to Kailash, only his body would have gone but in contemplating Lord Siva as the Self within, he got the experience of being in Kailash.
Therefore, what is important is not necessarily the deity outside but the devotion within, not necessarily the rituals but the eagerness to be one with the God, not necessarily a visit to distant Kailash but a few minute’s contemplation and meditation. What is important is not a temple visit to gain something but a meditation to renounce what you already have. Once, a devotee asked Budha: “What have you gained from meditation?” “Nothing”, replied Budha. “However”, he added: “let me tell you what I have lost: anger, anxiety, depression, insecurity, fear of old age and death”.
What is important is to shed one’s ego. So, every time one returns after visiting a visit a temple, he should ponder how much ego he was able to leave behind.