Dhanurdhara Swami March 27th, 2017
To some visiting Māyāpur the sight of such a massive and lavish building in contrast to the simplicity and perceived poverty of the surrounding village could seem callous. Why not just feed people or build them simple homes rather than waste money on an extravagant temple? The last two times I guided groups in Māyāpur at least one person in each group raised such doubts and I sensed others in the group looking for similar answers. A summary of my response to their sincere inquiries:
- One of the main purposes of a large temple is to attract people to a place where they leave with some sort of spiritual knowledge. As the root of all suffering is ignorance, we shouldn’t underestimate the value of distributing spiritual knowledge in whatever form it takes. Even now thousands of people are coming daily to visit Māyāpur and in the future, when the temple is built, that number will expand exponentially. Śrīla Prabhupāda himself answered this question by commenting to his disciples that if he just sat in just a simple hut, who would come to hear him? If an impressive spiritual edifice attracts hundreds of thousands to Māyāpur where they become inspired in spiritual life, it is a great contribution to society.
- Although spiritual education is so important, the people who live around the temple are not to be ignored. Śrīla Prabhupāda specifically directed that no one within a ten square mile radius of any of our temples should go hungry. Holy places like Vṛndāvana and Māyāpur, which attract many pilgrims in general, are one of the last places in India where people go hungry.
- Millions more are spent in major cities on single high rise and a football stadium, which have little redeeming value for the poor, but we rarely hear these challenged. To only criticize the construction of an opulent temple seems hypocritical and prejudice.
- If we really feel so strongly that everything should be sacrificed for the poor beyond our basic necessities, then we should set that example ourselves, before criticizing the “extravagance ” of a whole society in building its major place of worship.
- When we lament the poverty of the villages surrounding Māyāpur, we should also question how much of that criticism is due one’s own conditioning to a false standard of opulence based on modern convenience. These people may only have the most simple of dwellings but they have land, fresh air, community, and family nearby.
- Most great civilizations understand that aesthetics helps enrich people’s lives. In this way, beautiful temples also serve a purpose, but it’s a type of aesthetics that is shared with the public and even the very poor, unlike many of the rich who live in beautiful and aesthetic surroundings only for themselves. We protest when the government cuts funding for the endowment of the arts where hundreds of millions of dollars are spent, so why should we make an issue when a fraction is spent for a beautiful temple?
- Spending on a temple doesn’t mean less for feeding people or anything else. Everything comes from God and if we please Him, then there may be more for everyone. A huge temple that specifically facilitates thousands of people regularly gathering for worshipping Kṛṣṇa in the form of kīrtan is a boon for that community and the world. At least that is our faith.
I finished with just a word caution to qualify my support for the construction of such temples.
- Those who conceive and execute such projects are responsible for any ill effects on the community like the cheap and ugly high rises that have grown around that project that have horribly defaced part of the holy dhāma’s
- A temple is useless unless surrounded by a strong spiritual culture that predominates the campus. There is great responsibility that when constructing such an edifice to Śrī Caitanya that the culture around it adequately reflects His ideals.
Śrīla Prabhupāda envisioned the Temple of the Vedic Planetarium as the center of a spiritual revolution. I trust that his words will be fulfilled by the sincere people dedicating their life selflessly to this project despite the great challenges in manifesting it. I bow down to their service.
- Monday Morning Greetings