This is yet another mass media inspired reflection. Not really mass media, to be honest, but a searching and probing Turkish movie called Five Minarets in New York. Not really about New York either.
It’s a movie about Islam and its adherents’ search for God. Okay, they are not really searching for God in a sense they don’t believe God exists in any comprehensible form to search for but they are definitely searching for divinity in their hearts and that is something we can relate to, too.
Yes, fine, we have our temples and our Deities and paintings and pictures and stickers with Krishna while they have empty altars and patterned walls instead but how big our advantage really is? Is there a danger of abusing the boon of Lord’s presence in His murti form?
What I think can easily happen, and I speak from experience, is that we might treat our murties and pictures as nice accessories designed to make our lives happier. We seek spiritual safety in our temples, true, but we also often seek plain old material safety in them, too, and that’s where the lines might get blurred.
Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati famously complained that all his temples made his society weaker, fatter and lazier, sell the marble and buy printing presses instead. It would be naive to assume that this can’t happen in ISKCON, too. In fact it WILL happen, it’s unavoidable, it’s the law of material nature – you get a nice place to sleep and a steady prasadam flow and you start enjoying these things. It might be bad but, as a growing society, we must provide this kind of safety too all our members, all our congregation.
What will happen to our altars then? Will they become just a substitution to big screen TVs in karmis’ homes? What will happen to our kirtans? Will they simply replace Hi Fi stereo systems? Will our dancing satisfy our desire to go to discotheques?
In fact this is exactly what these things are supposed to be – replacement for less spiritual forms of enjoyment. Yes, it is great that we can turn any material activity like eating or listening to music into spiritual, it’s a great boon and benefit but it’s still seeking the same old enjoyment we have been seeking for thousands of lives.
Where exactly is that line that separates us from enjoyers and enjoyed?
I don’t know, I only know that it’s in our hearts and finding it is very very difficult. All those Muslims in the movie were searching for exactly the same things – turning their hearts to God.
We say “God has given us His murti form so that we can see Him”. They say “God is all around us and we so should learn to see Him in everything”. We say “Our Deities make us see God”. They say “Your Deities make you look outside your heart and miss the really important stuff”. We say “We see God”. They say “You also see a lot of things that you think are not God”, and then we say that “You don’t see God in our Deities, so what have you achieved?” I don’t know if they have a comeback for this.
It’s looking inside their hearts and being absolutely honest with themselves that I admire in that tradition. I their tradition you can’t BS your way through a small bathtub of prasadam and call it service to the Lord. We shouldn’t do it either but it happens all to often.
I’ve pretty much established for myself that I need temples to enjoy, not to serve. Of course I would have no chance to serve without temples, too, but it’s still no excuse for me. And is it only temples?
When I was young it was fashionable to talk about moving to Mayapur or Vrindavan, closer to the nectar. Precisely – so that I could enjoy the nectar. There was this Swedish lady who was asked if she wanted to live in Mayapur and she said “No, Sweden has everything I need”. At that time I though it was a very mature attitude. Now I suspect it could be interpreted either way.
We are just looking for a place that gives us more comfort according to our version of what comfort is. God be damned.
In that movie the ultimate blossoming of the faith and understanding was overrun by old family feuds. Time, death, and karma wait for no one.
I wonder what the devotees in New Zealand felt after the earthquake broke and shattered their Deities. I am sure their faith wasn’t broken, far from it, I just want to have a glimpse of their new, deeper understanding of what God is and how He shows Himself to us.
I wonder what the devotees in Vrindavan felt five hundred years ago when all their newly built temples were destroyed and deities desecrated. I’m sure when God takes something away He gives something a lot better in exchange.
I’m not saying I’m past temple worship, but is it bad to think about it? I hope not. I hope if I find something it will make me appreciate the Deities even better.