Rama, Ayodhya and “just another temple?”
By S.B. Keshava Swami
“Another temple?” someone resignedly said to me recently, referring to the historic and much-awaited opening of the Rama Temple in Ayodhya. They felt there were other, more pressing concerns that should be prioritized above a multibillion-dollar religious edifice. They may not be alone in that opinion since India is home to nearly 700,000 temples already. His query, unceremonious as it may sound, does deserve some thought and enlightened response.
Lord Rama, the ancient Vedic canon tells us, is maryada-purusottama – “the Supreme Person who is exemplary in every way.” We all need role models, inspirations and guiding lights in our life, and who can provide that better than God Himself? In the Ramayana’s beautiful passages of prose and poetry, we hear of Rama as the saintly son, the ideal husband and the righteous ruler. Divinity appears in the world to remind us that the content of our character and the depth of our devotion is what really defines the quality of our life. It was Einstein who said, “everything that can be counted doesn’t always count, and that which can’t be counted often counts for more.”
The temple in Ayodhya stands as a beacon and reminder of the most treasured values underpinning human existence: selflessness, tolerance, sacrifice, determination, truthfulness and humility to name but a few. When we live and breathe these values, our lives and the world around us, become beautiful in all ways. Through charming stories and wisdom-filled dialogues, the Ramayana teaches us how to manage conflict, forge deeper relationships, lead with integrity, sacrifice when necessary, and incorporate spiritual sensitivity in all acts and words. In any civilized society, along with social, economic and political development, a side-by-side proliferation of spiritual wisdom is indispensable. Otherwise, as Martin Luther King highlighted, we end with “guided missiles, and misguided men.”
The temple is known as mandir – “a place where the mind becomes steady.” That speaks volumes to a world in which mental health problems, indiscriminate violence, territorial clashes and relationship breakdowns ever-increasingly spiral out of control. Temples, and the worshippers who attend them, are charged with the responsibility to be part of the solution. The purification of consciousness, awakening of devotion and experience of Divine connection should empower genuine temple-goers to re-enter the world as transformed individuals and agents of positive change. Science makes things better, but spirituality should make people better.
Ironically, religions are often accused of being the instigators behind the problems they’re apparently meant to solve. Many people now regard religion, and the structures that surround them, to be irrelevant, unhelpful and even harmful in tangibly improving our existence. The temple in Ayodhya stands to change that opinion. It’s an opportunity to showcase how temples are not simply places of religious ritual, but centers of spiritual education and character transformation. The microcosm of Ayodhya and its grand new temple, has the potential to have a global impact in uplifting the collective consciousness of the world, ushering in greater unity, humanity and connectivity.
Any sacred space where people congregate to genuinely connect with Divinity, whether a temple, mosque, church, synagogue, gurudwara, or the like, should be honored as a landmark of success. Some see the temple opening as a political victory and others as an emblem of national pride. Some see Lord Rama’s temple as an economic God-send, and others as an architectural breakthrough. Beyond all such considerations, let us remember that the most significant celebration is that Lord Rama’s temple in Ayodhya has the potential to breathe genuine spirituality back into a world which is suffocating from rampant materialism.