Many Hindus are confused or are not sure of the many paths to access God and sometimes end up doing more than they should.
There are primarily four main paths for Hindu worship, which I have explained in my book, Life At An Ashram In India. The four paths of Yoga are – Raja Yoga (Meditation), Karma Yoga (Selfless service), Bhakti Yoga (Devotional) and Jnana Yoga (Knowledge), with Jnana Yoga, which is the Yoga of Knowledge, as the highest of Hindu spiritual ideals and worship. The Hindu scriptures say that “Knowledge is God”.
It is so because it is said that only through Knowledge can an embodied soul realise liberation, freedom or Moksha, the aim of every Hindu eventually. The Hindu shall seek Moksha from Samsara, the cycle of birth and death from this world of suffering. And all these are stated in the Holy Gita.
But to be released from the trammels of Samsara is to be free from desire as it is desire that leads to the accrual of Karma debts, which leads to falling back into the dungeon of Samsara.
When people go to temples they usually pray for things or for the realisation of their ‘desires’. It is said in the Gita that, yes, sure, all your wishes shall be granted, because you prayed and did the necessary austerities for them. But, as these prayers are only to realise our ‘desire’, then as stated above, desire is what creates Karma, which then prevents Moksha or Liberation or Freedom, which shall be the goal of every soul.
“Though performing every kind of work always, he who has taken refuge in Me shall, by My grace, attain to the eternal and indestructible state of Moksha (spiritual liberation)” – Bhagavad Gita Chapter 18 Verse 56
So, the one who reads the Gita, which professes ideologies quite opposing to that of Vedic ritualism (temple visits or idolatry), should not practice both Bhakti and Jnana Yoga simultaneously as they oppose each other in beliefs and may cause some confusion.
The other significant difference in the teaching or belief between the Gita and Temples is, the Bhagavad Gita tries to make man realise that God resides ‘within’ him and not outside of him, whilst a visit to a temple will give one the idea that God resides ‘outside’ of him as we look at images of gods outside of us.
This, when explained to us by gurus, was enlightening especially when they said that, “If you think that God exists only in temples, then what happens when you leave the temple, is God no longer with you?” Therefore, gurus who preach the teachings of the Bhagavad Gita shall enlighten us that God resides in a human body as an embodied soul, and this soul is not his body, a separate entity, living within the body and mind spheres.
The Gita enlightens man that God is omniscient – knows everything, omnipotent – most powerful and omnipresent – present everywhere at the same time.
Buddha, a Hindu sage spread Vedic knowledge in a language the masses in India could understand at a time when Sanskrit was only for the Brahmins and not for anyone else. This made his teachings and himself very popular that today we find huge statues and temples everywhere, but Buddha himself told his followers not to make and worship images of him. Instead he told his monks to worship the “Knowledge” (the doctrines that he created and taught) as their ultimate guru. However, about three centuries after Buddha’s death, there were rampant constructions of Buddhist temples and statues all over Asia. Man still needed to hold on to something physical despite being told otherwise.
Buddha, a spiritual reformer, began his journey by announcing that “desire” was the secret of sorrow and suffering, the cord that bound man to the “wheel of life”, that is, repeated rebirths or “transmigration”, which is very much a Hindu belief. This has been extracted from my father’s book on the Enlightened One titled, “Buddha and the Teachings of Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism and Shintoism” by Milon Nandy.
He continues, “The world was evil, but a way of escape was open, a way consisting of right action and right thought. Life did not consist of ritual actions, but of working out one’s “salvation” energetically.”
The teachings of Buddha are very much the same as what is taught in the Bhagavad Gita because Gautama Buddha was a Hindu sage who was ‘chosen’ for this path to become one of the greatest personalities that ever existed.
Here is another stanza from my dad’s book that illustrates the similarities of Hinduism and Buddhism and the fact that both preach that the Knowledge of the “Self” is paramount for human existence on earth. It reads:
“The essence of the Buddhist creed is that by overcoming the lust of the flesh, renouncing all worldly pleasures, and devoting himself to prayer, abstinence, and good works, man can so purify himself that his spirit is able at last to free itself from the bodily tenement in which it has been imprisoned and become absorbed in the Godhead.” Anyone who has read the Bhagavad Gita knows that this thought originated from it. Therefore, if one has read the Gita, one has also understood Buddhism.
“Mentally resigning all actions to Me (in respect of their fruits and agency [rewards and body]), devoting yourself intensely to Me, be you ever established in the thought of Me.” – Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 18 Verse 57
Therefore, God is present everywhere at the same time – omnipresent. This then opposes the idea of temple worship, which is categorised as Bhakti Yoga or the Yoga of Devotion from that of Jnana Yoga or the Yoga of Knowledge, where God is only found in a specific place.
We should investigate if Bhakti Yoga is for everyone. Many are looking for alternative paths to reach God but believe that temples are the only way. Much to the surprise of many, some have discovered that there are other ways to reach God, and some have realised that they do not need to lift a finger or even travel an inch, to reach God… for He is within.
Hence, it is good to first understand the various paths of Yoga in Hindu worship, and then see which is the most suitable for us, and then follow that path. Karma Yoga, or selfless service to man and nature happens to be the underlying Yoga in all the yogas we practise. In some cases, it is possible to practice more than one type of yoga. For an example, someone may practice Bhakti Yoga while he practices Jnana Yoga, but let the One he worships physically also be the God who says the God resides within him – Godhead or the Supreme Personality, Lord Krishna, the creator of all the 33 million demigods.