Universal temple at Chennai
Madras (now Chennai) to start a Math here. To fulfil their earnest desire Swamiji sent his brother-disciple Swami Ramakrishnananda to Madras in March 1897 and thus Sri Ramakrishna Math,Madras, came into existence. After reaching Madras, the first thing Swami Ramakrishnananda did was to set up a small shrine for Sri Ramakrishna at a rented house. He lived there and led a life of renunciation service and austerities. Slowly he built up the institution as the present Sri Ramakrishna Math which is a hub of muiti-pronged service activities. This is the oldest centre of the Ramakrishna Order in the South.Sri Ramakrishna Math completed hundred years of its service in 1997. The shrine of Sri Ramakrishna set up in 1917 in the present Math was clearly too small to accommodate the growing number of devotees. It was therefore natural that monks and devotees dreamt for long that a grand temple should come up at the Math. The collective wish of and the silent prayers of good-hearted led to the launching of the Universal Temple project. Swami Vivekananda’s vision, Swami Ramakrishnananda’s austerity, and the earnest prayers of devotees combined with the social need—have all contributed toward the transformation of a dream into a reality. Srimat Swami Bhuteshanandaji Maharaj, the 12th President of Ramakrishna Math and Ramakrishna Mission, laid the foundation-stone for this Universal Temple on 1 December 1994 in a grand solemn function. It took five years for the project to take shape as the present grand Universal Temple. On 7 Feb 2000 the temple was dedicated by Srimat Swami Ranganathanandaji Maharaj, the 13th President of the Ramakrishna Order.
Why this temple?
When we speak of a temple, we often have a very narrow conception of it. We have hundreds of temples. We go there sometimes, talking all the time, pay two rupees to the priest to do some puja, and then come away. Our temple-going has become a simple, and often meaningless, act. It doesn’t produce any change in the individual. Today, you need a new type of temple, which will make for a change for the better in your own character. That is what Sri Ramakrishna is going to give. He never started a new religion. He never preached any creed or dogma. He only blessed every human being: ‘Let your spiritual consciousness be awakened!’
Whether you go to a temple, a church or a mosque, what is needed is spiritual awakening, and the character that comes out of that awakening. This we missed all these centuries. But in the modern age, this will be the central theme of religion and temple-worship.
Temple-worship has been recognised as an important part of spiritual life. A teacher like Bhagavan Ramanujacharya spoke of the image in the temple as an incarnation of God — arcavatara, —— like Krishna or Rama or Ramakrishna. And in your own heart, there is the antaryamin the inner Self, the avatara in the heart of every human being. The archa or image is also an avatara. That is the concept in our spiritual tradition. With Sri Ramakrishna’s advent, temples will become more dynamic, making for high character-development and, above all, the spirit of service of human beings and even animals.
Behind any Sri Ramakrishna temple you will find various types of service — schools, colleges, hostels, tribal work, relief and rehabilitation work during natural calamities, etc. This sevadharma is a part of Ramakrishna-temple worship. Such temple worship has a great role to play in the future India, where service becomes the central theme -service of GOD in the temple, and service of GOD in human beings, outside the temple. This teaching is there in our Upanisads, in the Gita and in the Srimad Bhagvatam All these centuries we had this teaching, but we hardly practised it.
In Swami Vivekananda’s teachings, you find this central Vedantic Truth, the divinity in every human being. Look upon a human being, not in terms of his or her caste, creed, colour, race or anything else — but see him or her as a spark of divinity. We have this great teaching in the Gita (18.61) where Sri Krishna himself says — Ishwara s sarva bhutanam hrddese arjuna tishthati— ‘0 Arjuna, I am in the heart of all beings as their antaryami’. So, respect every human being. That is what we did not do. Our practice was that of untouchability, suppression of the common people, even suppression of women. That is how we conducted our society during the last thousand years. A peaceful social revolution to correct this situation will come from a temple like this because, behind it, is a profound philosophy — our ancient Vedanta philosophy, which is the philosophy of Sanatana Dharma, and that philosophy insists that you must see God not only in a temple, but also in every human being. So worship him, serve him. That is the language used in the Srimad Bhagavatam. I often used to wonder, that though we have had hundreds and thousands of Bhagavata saptahas for many years, yet we have never caught the spirit of this beautiful teaching. You get it in the third skandha (chap. 29.21-26) of the Srimad Bhagavatam, where God’s incarnation as Kapila is giving spiritual advice to his mother Devahuti, at her request.
There Kapila says:
‘I am always present in the heart of all beings, 0 Mother! People neglect me there, insult me there, and offer me showy worship in the temple! What kind of worship is it?’ ‘Mother, I do not accept the worship of that person, though he or she may spend crores of rupees on elaborate rituals, but if, behind it, there is disrespect to me present in all living beings.’
But how to worship God in man?
Worshipping an image is easy. You can give plenty of food, and you can take the food back home too. But when you worship God in man, a different method is needed. That is beautifully expressed by two great words in the Sloka: dana-manabhyam, ‘through dana gift, and mana respect. Remove their wants. If they are uneducated, give them education; if they are suffering, give them consolation; if they are helpless, help them. In this way practise dana. And while doing so, show mana, respect to them. Don’t throw a coin before a person with disrespect. So, dana must be combined with mana. Arhayet danamanabhyam. arhayet, worship (me there); not merely serve.
And when you do so what should be your attitude? Maitrya, with the attitude of ‘I am a friend of yours.’ I have come to worship God through you.
But that is not enough; another value is also necessary; that brings the last word, a most profound Vedantic utterance, abhinnena caksusa, ‘with an attitude of non-separateness’—the attitude that we are all essentially one. You may be poor and I may be rich, but we are one. You may be a Hindu, a Muslim or a Christian, I may be
somebody else, but we are essentially one. This is a wonderful word—abhinnacaksu! Vedanta condemns all bhinna caksu, that ‘we are separate,’ ‘we are high,’ ‘we are low,’ and all such attitudes. And yet our society is even today full of bhinna caksu - based on casteism and communalism and feudalism! We have to cultivate this Vedantic abhinna caksu.
So this profound sloka will make our temples dynamic, make our temples centres of both spiritual development and human welfare. The two must go together.
I want to mention here one more idea before I close. In the Mahabharatha there is a beautiful sloka: How many energies are there in every human being? That sloka gives you three energies, three sources of strength.
First is bahu balam, muscular strength. We have it, and we are increasing it and spoiling our politics also by bahu balam.
Second is buddhi balam, strength from intellect—graduates, Ph.Ds., all that is good but it also can be harmful. Most of the evils in our nation now are coming from educated people; so we can see that in our country there is bahu balam and buddhi balam.
But the third one is what is most valuable and effective. This is called Atma balam, strength coming from the Atman. If a man brings me a million rupees to corrupt me, what is the strength in me which makes me say ‘No’ to it? Not the bahu balam, not the buddhi balam. In fact, the buddhi balam is easily purchased. It is very easy to purchase somebody’s buddhi. But when Atma balam is there, you can say ‘No’ immediately. ‘I don’t care. I’ve got better things to do.’
That Atma balam is missing in India today. That Atma balam has to come. Sri Ramakrishna will give that Atma balam to everyone, so that our nation will have not only economic development, but also character development. That is missing very badly today. We want to develop it fully. That is the importance of Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, and the Holy Mother Sarada Devi to the world today.
Therefore, we are fortunate that, in Madras, there is this beautiful new project. Madras has done so much for Swami Vivekananda. Swamiji had great love for Madras. ‘I expect great things from Madras,’ he has said in his lectures, and I hope his desire will be fulfilled, and that all our people will get the benefit of the blessing of the real Sanatana Dharma as expressed through Sri Ramakrishna, Swami Vivekananda, and the Holy Mother.