Sometimes I get invited to ritual prayers held at private homes and at temples and other places, though I sometimes oblige, I yet do not join in the prayers.
People might think (those who know that I am a student of the Gita), “Why doesn’t he join in? Is it not this that is taught in the Holy Gita?” The simple answer is Yes, and No.
Yes, in the sense that the mantras or verses that are uttered – is the only common bit, and this is where “knowledge” and “wisdom” for man are found – in the verses. But sadly, at temples, these wonderful and meaningful verses are not translated from Sanskrit to English [or any other language] by the priests, so the people are still in ignorance (ignorance here means, not informed of the‘Knowledge of the Scriptures’ e.g. Bhagavad Gita, etc.).
The whole point of any religion is for man to behave himself well in the world and to be kind to everyone and everything. They preach that God is everywhere and in everybody, and to see God there. Hence, coming back to the connection between the Gita and Rituals at temples, the Gita focuses on the ‘Knowledge’ aspect only. This ‘Knowledge’ is for mankind to understand and imbibe for it also explains the Goal of Life that we should achieve. It is known as ‘Transcendental Knowledge’ because it literally transcends someone from worldliness to holiness. It transforms his personality and nature all together.
Therefore, ancient sages have considered these two paths opposite to each other, as the person who goes to a temple will usually ‘ask’ for something of his ‘desires’. On the opposite side of the fence is the Gita reader – who is taught ‘not to ask’, to be ‘desireless’ because desire leads us to sorrow, and to ‘renounce’ the world. As you can see here, these two paths seem to oppose each other, and this is the main reason why someone who is following the Path of Knowledge, or ‘Jnana Yoga’, cannot also practice Deity Worship or ‘Bhakti Yoga’, because this will make him very confused and miss the goal all together.
From Gross to Subtle is the mantra of Hinduism. The gurus and scriptures remind us that we should move from the gross to the fine, starting with our thoughts, actions and speech. We should work towards becoming ‘finer’ and more ‘polished’ beings because God is a subtle being and not gross. And if the goal of man’s life is to merge with Him, then how can we do it if we are still gross in our thinking and personality? This is also the other connection between Bhakti (actions) and Jnana (mind/contemplation) – moving from the gross to the subtle.
In the famous and ancient Katha Upanishad, where the young Naciketa has a deep and meaningful conversation with the Lord of Death himself on the Goal of Life states:
“To those who wish to cross over the ocean of worldly experience through sacrifices, the Naciketa Fire stands out as a fine bridge. We know of this fire, and we can also perform it. And we also know of the way that takes you to the other shore where you become one with ‘Para Brahman’ (Brahman without attributes) and you attain fearlessness.” 1.3.2
Those who are inclined towards ritualistic worship can use the Naciketa Fire (a ritual) as their bridge across the ocean of worldly experiences (this world). Through it, they eventually go to heaven where they become one with Virat, and hold an important position, such as that of Yama. But these people do not fully enjoy this position. They get tired of it after a while, and they struggle to become completely ‘merged’ with Brahman. Sooner or later they succeed, and that is what is called “liberation”.
There is another group of people who do not like this roundabout way of attaining liberation. They do not want to waste time going to heaven, for there is nothing in heaven or elsewhere that attracts them. They want to attain Self-knowledge right away. When they die, they completely ‘merge’ with Brahman. That is a state where there is only oneness. Since there is no duality, they have nothing to be afraid of. They therefore go beyond fear. They see only one Self everywhere.
“Know that the embodied Soul as the master of the chariot who sits within it, and the body is the chariot. Consider the intellect as the charioteer, and the mind as the reins.” 1.3.3
Further, as stated in one of my other articles here, the people who worship the demigods will end up in the Demigod World, whilst the people who worship the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna, the people who have firmly established their faith in the Boss of All Gods by reading the Bhagavad Gita, they aim for Eternal Happiness from within and nothing else – and this is the Goal of Life – to be Happy.
Bhakti Yoga, from what I have come to understand, is for a devotee to learn to focus his mind on someone called “God”, but it is not the goal. After a devotee, who has belief in and is focused on God, has mastered Bhakti, he should ascend to realising that God is within him and not outside of him. So to do this, he should take the study of the Scriptures (Jnana Yoga) which shall guide him to his real Self and then the God within him.
So, the next time if anyone wonders why is it that people who read the Ancient Hindu Sacred Scriptures, such as, the Bhagavad Gita and the Upanishads, do not go to temples, you now know why.
“This is what Vedanta says, ‘To know God is to become God’ and to behave and act godly, godly, godly.” – Swami Bhoomananda Tirtha
The goal of life is to know that the Individual Self and the Cosmic Self (God) are one and the same. – Katha Upanishad