THE GREATNESS OF ANCIENT INDIA’S DEVELOPMENTS, by Stephen Knapp

THE GREATNESS OF ANCIENT INDIA’S DEVELOPMENTS

(Excerpt from Advancements of Ancient India’s Vedic Culture)

By Stephen Knapp (Sri Nandanandana dasa)

When we talk about the planet’s earliest civilization, we are talking about the world’s earliest sophisticated society after the last ice age. This means that according to the Vedic time tables, various forms of civilization have been existing for millions of years. But the first record of an organized and developed society was the Vedic culture that arose in ancient India with the Indus Sarasvati civilization, and then spread out from there in all directions around the world.

Often times we see that students, even in India’s academic system, have not studied or encountered the contributions that were made by early civilization in the area of ancient India. Not only are they not aware of such developments that had been given from India, but there is often a lack of such knowledge to be studied. Therefore, this book is to help fill that gap of information and to show how this area of the world, indeed, had a most advanced civilization, but was also where many of society’s advancements originated.

It can be found that what became the area of India and its Vedic culture was way ahead of its time. This can be noticed in such things as industry, metallurgy, science, textiles, medicine, surgery, mathematics, and, of course, philosophy and spirituality. In fact, we can see the roots of these sciences and metaphysics in many areas of the world that can be traced back to its Indian or Vedic origins.

Furthermore, we often do not know of all the progress that had been made during the ancient times of India, which used to be called Bharatvarsha or Aryavrata. Nor do most people know all that ancient India gave to the world. So let us take a serious look at this.

From the Preface of Indian Tradition of Chemistry and Chemical Technology, the authors relate most accurately: “Hindus are a race who have dwelled on the most fundamental questions about life (& death), about nature and its origins. The bold questioning by Hindus gave birth to theories, axioms, principles and a unique approach to and a way of life. The approach to life and the way of life led to the evolution of one of the most ancient and grand cultures on the face of the earth. The spiritual aspects of Hindu culture are more commonly known, the fact that science, technology and industry were a part of their culture is little known.

“For historical reasons, the achievements of ancient Hindus in various fields of science and technology are not popularly known to Indians. The recent research by Sri Dharmpal and others has shown that the colonial invaders and the rulers had a vested interest in distorting and destroying the information regarding all positive aspects of Hindu culture. The conventional understanding today is that Hindus were more concerned about rituals, about spirituality, and the world above or the world after death. That Hindus were an equally materialistic people, that India was the industrial workshop of the world till the end of 18th century, that Hindus had taken up basic questions of the principles of astronomy, fundamental particles, origins of the universe, applied psychiatry and so on, are not well documented and not popularly known. That ancient Hindus had highly evolved technologies in textile engineering, ceramics, printing, weaponry, climatology and meteorology, architecture, medicine and surgery, metallurgy, agriculture and agricultural engineering, civil engineering, town planning, and similar other fields is known only to a few scholars even today. There are about 44 known ancient and medieval Sanskrit texts on a technical subject such as chemistry alone. The information about the science and technological heritage of India is embedded in the scriptures, the epics and in several of the technical texts. The information needs to be taken out of these and presented.

“Facts like Hindus had the knowledge that the sun is the center of the solar system, about the geography of the earth, the way the plants produce food, the way blood circulates in the body, the science of abstract mathematics and numbers, the principles of health, medicine and surgery and so on at a time in history when the rest of the world did not know how to think, talk and write has to be exposed to people. This can draw the attention of these communities, especially the future generation towards ‘ideas’ that are essentially Indian.

“There are several published works on the history of India. Such works are written by Indian scholars as well as western researchers in oriental and Indological studies. Many of these works are highly scholastic and are not amenable to the common man. There is a need to make the knowledge of science heritage of India known to one and all. Further, there is need for studying scriptures, epics, and other ancient literature (in Sanskrit as well as other regional languages) to unearth the wealth of knowledge of our ancestors. Reports of such studies also need to be published continuously.” 1

This is the goal of the present volume, to easily and simply convey this knowledge for the benefit of everyone, for the correct view of history, and to give credit where credit is due.

THE ADVANCED NATURE OF ANCIENT INDIAN SCIENCES

Achievements in the sciences of ancient India were known all over the world, even in Arabia, China, Spain, and Greece, countries in which medieval scholars acknowledged their indebtedness to India. For example, the Arab scholar Sa’id ibn Ahmad al-Andalusi (1029–1070) wrote in his history on science, called Tabaqat-al’umam:

“The first nation to have cultivated science is India… India is known for the wisdom of its people. Over many centuries, all the kings of the past have recognized the ability of the Indians in all the branches of knowledge. The kings of China have stated that the kings of the world are five in number and all the people of the world are their subjects. They mentioned the king of China, the king of India, the king of the Turks, the king of the Persians, and the king of the Romans. …they referred to the king of India as the ‘king of wisdom’ because of the Indians’ careful treatment of ‘ulum [sciences] and all the branches of knowledge.

“The Indians, known to all nations for many centuries, are the metal [essence] of wisdom, the source of fairness and objectivity. They are people of sublime pensiveness, universal apologues, and useful and rare inventions. …To their credit the Indians have made great strides in the study of numbers and of geometry. They have acquired immense information and reached the zenith in their knowledge of the movements of the stars [astronomy]. …After all that they have surpassed all other people in their knowledge of medical sciences…”

Furthermore, “Whether it was astronomy, mathematics (specially geometry), medicine or metallurgy, each was a pragmatic contribution to the general Hindu ethos, viz., Man in Nature, Man in harmony with Nature, and not Man and Nature or Man Against Nature, that characterizes modern science. The Hindu approach to nature was holistic, often alluding to the terrestrial-celestial correspondence and human-divine relationship. Hindu and scientific and technological developments were an integral part of this attitude that was assiduously fostered in the ancient period.” 2

In his article, Indic Mathematics: India and the Scientific Revolution, Dr. David Grey lists some of the most important developments in the history of mathematics that took place in India, summarizing the contributions of luminaries such as Aryabhata, Brahmagupta, Mahavira, Bhaskara, and Madhava. He concludes by asserting, “the role played by India in the development (of the scientific revolution in Europe) is no mere footnote, easily and inconsequentially swept under the rug of Eurocentric bias. To do so is to distort history, and to deny India one of its greatest contributions to world civilizations.”

Lin Yutang, Chinese scholar and author, also wrote that: “India was China’s teacher in trigonometry, quadratic equations, grammar, phonetics…” and so forth. Francois Voltaire also stated: “… everything has come down to us from the banks of the Ganges.”

Referring to the above quotes, David Osborn concludes thus: “From these statements we see that many renowned intellectuals believed that the Vedas provided the origin of scientific thought.”

The Syrian astronomer / monk Severus Sebokhy (writing CE 662), as expressed by A. L. Basham in his book The Wonder That Was India (p. 6), explained, “I shall now speak of the knowledge of the Hindus… Of their subtle discoveries in the science of astronomy – discoveries even more ingenious than those of the Greeks and Babylonians – of their rational system of mathematics, or of their method of calculation which no words can praise strongly enough – I mean the system using nine symbols. If these things were known by the people who think that they alone have mastered the sciences because they speak Greek, they would perhaps be convinced, though a little late in the day, that other folk, not only Greeks, but men of a different tongue, know something as well as they.”

There have been many scholars, both old and new, who readily agree and point out the progressive nature of the early advancements found in ancient India’s Vedic tradition. So let us take a quick overview of some of what was known and developed in earlier times in the Vedic culture of the East.

American professor Jabez T. Sunderland (1842-1936), President of the India Information Bureau of America, spent many years in India. He was the author of India in Bondage, wherein he wrote, “India created the beginnings of all sciences and she carried some of them to a remarkable degree of development, thereby leading the world. India has produced great literature, great arts, great philosophical systems, great religions, and great men in every department of life–rulers, statesmen, financiers, scholars, poets, generals, colonizers, skilled artisans and craftsmen of every kind, agriculturalists, industrial organizers, and leaders in far reaching trade and commerce by land and sea.”

Sunderland went on to say, “India was a far greater industrial and manufacturing nation than any in Europe or than any other in Asia. Her textile goods–the fine products of her loom, in cotton, wool, linen, and silk–were famous over the civilized world; so were her exquisite jewelry and her precious stones, cut in every lovely form; so were her pottery, porcelains, ceramics of every kind, quality, color and beautiful shape; so were her fine works in metal iron, steel, silver, and gold. She had great architecture–equal in beauty to any in the world. She had great engineering works… Not only was she the greatest ship-building nation, but she had great commerce and trade by land and sea which extended to all known civilized countries.” 3

In India in Bondage, Sunderland also quotes Lord Curzon, the British statesman who was viceroy in India from 1899 to 1905, as saying in his address delivered at the great Delhi Durbar in 1901: “Powerful empires existed and flourished here [in India] while Englishmen were still wandering, painted in the woods, while the English colonies were a wilderness and a jungle. India has left a deeper mark upon the history, the philosophy, and the religion of mankind, than any other terrestrial unit in the universe.”

Lord Curzon had also stated: “While we [the British] hold onto India, we are a first rate power. If we lose India, we will decline to a third rate power. This is the value of India.”

Similar to this, Beatrice Pitney Lamb, former editor of the United Nations News, first visited India in 1949 on an assignment for the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, writes in her book, India: A World in Transition: “In addition to the still visible past glories of art and architecture, the wonderful ancient literature, and other cultural achievements of which educated Indians are justly proud, the Indian past includes another type of glory most tantalizing to the Indians of today–prolonged material prosperity. For well over a millennium and a half, the Indian subcontinent may have been the richest area in the world.” 4

Many other writers and scholars had commented on their high regard for what had been developed in India. For example, to recognize a few, General Joseph Davey Cunningham (1812-1851) author of A History of the Sikhs, writes: “Mathematical science was so perfect and astronomical observations so complete that the paths of the sun and moon were accurately measured.”

There was much admiration even of the language of India. William Cooke Taylor (1800-1849), author of A Popular History of British India, stated in Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society, Vol. II: “It was an astonishing discovery that Hindusthan possessed, in spite of the changes of the realms and changes of time, a language of unrivaled richness and variety; a language, the parent of all those dialects that Europe has fondly called classical–the source alike of Greek flexibility and Roman strength.” 5

French scholar Buffon presented a coherent theory that scholars of ancient India had preserved the old learning from the creators of its sciences, arts, and all useful institutions. Voltaire had also suggested that sciences were more ancient in India than in Egypt. Russian born philosopher Immanuel Kant placed the origin of mankind in the Himalayas and stated that our arts like agriculture, numbers, even the game of chess, came from India.

German scholar Friedrich Schlegel also had a high regard for India, stating that everything of high philosophy or science is of Indian origin. French scholar and judge Louis Jacolliot, in his Bible in India, writes: “Astonishing fact! The Hindu Revelation (Vedas) is of all revelations the only one whose ideas are in perfect harmony with modern science, as it proclaims the slow and gradual formation of the world.” Of course, we can see the videos in which the astrophysicist Carl Sagan says, “The Hindu religion is the only one of the world’s great faiths, dedicated to the idea that the cosmos itself undergoes an immense, indeed, an infinite number of deaths and births. It is the only religion in which the time scales correspond to those of modern cosmology.”

The point is that all science of the Vedic tradition was developed with or in continuation of the ancient Vedic or spiritual knowledge that was a central point in understanding life. It was part of the Absolute Truth, or Sanatana-dharma, by which we could understand how to function in this world, and what is the purpose of both this world and our life in it. From this point, so many other developments took place, not as a means to control the environment, but as a means to know how to work holistically with nature for our material and spiritual progress and growth.

People like the Nobel Prize winner Maurice Maeterlinck wrote in The Great Secret: “…This tradition attributes the vast reservoir of wisdom that somewhere took shape simultaneously with the origin of man, or even if we are to credit it, before his advent upon this earth, to move spiritual entities, to beings less entangled in matter.”

The popular American author Mark Twain also had a high opinion of India, and wrote in Following the Equator: “This is India… cradle of the human race, birth place of human speech, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great-grandmother of tradition, whose yesterdays bear date with the moldering antiquities of the rest of the nations… India had the start of the whole world at the beginning of things. She had the first civilization; she had the first accumulation of material wealth; she was populous with deep thinkers and the subtle intellects; she had mines, and woods, and a fruitful soil.” 6

Even in scientific discoveries, there are those who acknowledge the knowing that has taken the rest of the world ages with which to catch up. For example, Fredric Spielberg writes in Spiritual Practices of India, with an introduction by Alan Watts: “To the philosophers of India, however, relativity is no new discovery, just as the concept of light years is no matter for astonishment to people used to thinking of time in millions of kalpas [days of Brahma]. The fact that the wise men of India have not been concerned with technological applications of this knowledge arises from the circumstance that technology is but one of innumerable ways of applying it. It is, indeed, a remarkable circumstance that when Western civilization discovers relativity, it applies it to the manufacture of atom bombs, whereas, Oriental (Vedic) civilization applies it to the development of new states of consciousness.”

Another simpler example is when Dick Teresi, author of The God Particle and co-founder of Omni magazine, writes in Ancient Roots of Modern Science, “In India, we see the beginnings of theoretical speculations of the size and nature of the earth. Some 1,000 years before Aristotle, the Vedic Aryans asserted that the earth was round and circled the sun.”

Dick Teresi also acknowledges how much of the knowledge we understand today did not necessarily come from the Greek civilization, but actually existed much earlier in the Vedic traditions of India. He again writes in Ancient Roots of Modern Science: “Two thousand years before Pythagorus, philosophers in northern India had understood that gravitation held the solar system together, and that therefore the sun, the most massive object, had to be at its center. Our Western mathematical heritage and pride are critically dependent on the triumphs of ancient Greece. These accomplishments have been so greatly exaggerated that it often becomes difficult to sort out how much of modern math is derived from Greece and how much from …the Indians and so on. Our modern numerals 0 through 9 were developed in India. Mathematics existed long before the Greeks constructed their first right angle.” 7

THE ANTIQUITY OF VEDIC CULTURE

Many are those who have mentioned the antiquity of the Vedic tradition, but how far back does it go? Traditionally, it was there since the beginning of time. However, even archeologically we can ascertain its very early dates.

For example, archeologists have found 7000-year-old rock paintings in the Aravalli mountain range near Benari dam in the Kotputli area of Jaipur district in Rajasthan in 1991. These paintings are adjacent to the site of the famous Indus Valley Civilization. Such 7000-year-old (5000 BCE) paintings were also found in Braham Kund Ki Dungari and Budhi Jeengore in Rajasthan. This discovery makes the Vedic civilization more ancient than the Egyptian and Greek and Mesopotamian civilizations. This also negates the Aryan Invasion Theory, the hypothesis that the Vedic Aryans were not indigenous, but established themselves after invading the area, which is completely wrong as we will show later in the book. 8

Along these same lines, further verification was also supplied by the Times of India (May 30th, 1992, New Delhi edition) wherein it was reported that the department of Archeology and Museums in the city of Jaipur, Rajasthan discovered as many as 300 prehistoric paintings on Kanera rocks in an area of 400 square miles near the town of Nimbahera in Chittorgarh district. These paintings are dated between 50,000 to 60,000 years old. That pushes the earliest reaches of Vedic civilization to at least 50,000 years back.

Additional finds such as these are discovered on a regular basis. Another one is reported in the publication called Science (February 23, 2010). It was reported therein that newly discovered archaeological sites in southern and northern India have revealed how people lived before and after the colossal Toba volcanic eruption 74,000 years ago.

The international, multi-disciplinary research team, led by Oxford University in collaboration with Indian institutions, unveiled to a conference in Oxford what it calls “Pompeii-like excavations” beneath the Toba ash.

According to the team, a potentially ground-breaking implication of the new work is that the species responsible for making the stone tools in India was Homo sapiens. Stone tool analysis has revealed that the artefacts consist of cores and flakes, which are classified in India as Middle Palaeolithic and are similar to those made by modern humans in Africa. “Though we are still searching for human fossils to definitively prove the case, we are encouraged by the technological similarities. This suggests that human populations were present in India prior to 74,000 years ago, or about 15,000 years earlier than expected based on some genetic clocks,” said project director Dr Michael Petraglia, Senior Research Fellow in the School of Archaeology at the University of Oxford. This exciting new information questions the idea that the Toba super-eruption caused a worldwide environmental catastrophe.

An area of widespread speculation about the Toba super-eruption is that it nearly drove humanity to extinction. The fact that the Middle Palaeolithic tools of similar styles are found right before and after the Toba super-eruption, suggests that the people who survived the eruption were the same populations, using the same kinds of tools, says Dr Petraglia. The research agrees with evidence that other human ancestors, such as the Neanderthals in Europe and the small brained Hobbits in Southeastern Asia, continued to survive well after Toba.

The team has not discovered much bone in the Toba ash sites, but in the Billasurgam cave complex in Kurnool, Andhra Pradesh, the researchers have found deposits which they believe range from at least 100,000 years ago to the present. They contain a wealth of animal bones such as wild cattle, carnivores and monkeys. They have also identified plant materials in the Toba ash sites and caves, yielding important information about the impact of the Toba super-eruption on the ecological settings.

Dr Petraglia said: “This exciting new information questions the idea that the Toba super-eruption caused a worldwide environmental catastrophe. That is not to say that there were no ecological effects. We do have evidence that the ash temporarily disrupted vegetative communities and it certainly choked and polluted some fresh water sources, probably causing harm to wildlife and maybe even humans.” 9

In this way, recent discoveries show that the area of ancient India was one of the locations for the oldest civilizations the world has known.

 

CONCLUSION

THE GREATNESS OF INDIA AND VEDIC CULTURE

History certainly proves that India was also one of the wealthiest countries on the planet in its earlier days. Not only did she have vast treasures of knowledge and developments, but ancient India also had great wealth, such as sapphires, rubies, emeralds, pearls, and other gems, along with sunny climate, great fertility, and much more that was exported to various parts of the world, but the deep levels of knowledge and development was another of her greatest assets. For this reason, the ambition of all conquerors was to possess the area of India.

The pearl presented by Julius Caesar to Servilia, the mother of Brutus, as well as the famous pearl ear-ring of Cleopatra, were obtained from India. The Koh-i-noor diamond, weighing at 106.5 carats, one of the most fabled of diamonds, was taken to England from India. In fact, when Alexander left Persia, he told his troops that they were now going to “Golden India” where there was endless wealth, which made the beauty and riches of Persia look puny.

When the Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni destroyed the famous Somnath temple, he found astonishing wealth in diamonds and jewels. He also sacked Mathura and gathered numerous Deities in gold and silver. Thereafter he went to Kanauj which astonished the tyrant and his followers to such a degree in its wealth and beauty at the time that they declared that Kanauj was only rivaled in magnificence by heaven itself.

Ultimately, it was the wealth of India that drew the barbaric Arabs to the country, and then let the half-civilized Tartars to overrun it. It was the wealth of India that attracted Nadir Shah to ancient India, and from where he captured immense booty, which motivated the Abdali chiefs to renew their attacks on the country.

The people of India were actually not so barbaric as the invaders that forced their way into the country, but rather some of the most civilized in the world, primarily because of their sophisticated level of consciousness and gentleness towards one another caused by their training in the principles of the Vedic spiritual culture.

The character of the Hindus of the day had been described by some of those Europeans who had traveled there back in the 19th century, such as Max Muller, wherein he said: “Warren Hastings thus speaks of the Hindus in general: ‘They are gentle and benevolent, more susceptible of gratitude for kindness shown them, and less prompted to vengeance for wrongs inflicted than any people on the face of the earth; faithful, affectionate, submissive to legal authority.’

“Bishop Heber said: ‘The Hindus are brave, courteous, intelligent, most eager for knowledge and improvement; sober, industrious, dutiful parents, affectionate to their children, uniformly gentle and patient, and more easily affected by kindness and attention to their wants and feelings than any people I ever met with.’

“Sir Thomas Munro bears even stronger testimony. He writes: ‘If a good system of agriculture, unrivaled manufacturing skill, a capacity to produce whatever can contribute to either convenience or luxury, schools established in every village for teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic, the general practice of hospitality and charity amongst each other, and above all, a treatment of the female sex full of confidence, respect, and delicacy, are among the signs which denote a civilized people–then the Hindus are not inferior to the nations of Europe, and if civilization is to become an article of trade between England and India, I am convinced that England will gain by the import cargo.'” 10

Besides all these considerations, Max Muller also once related: “I wished to point out that there was another sphere of intellectual activity in which the Hindu excelled–the meditative and transcendent–and that here we might learn from them some lessons of life which we ourselves are but too apt to ignore or to despise.” 11

Finally, in what could be a conclusive statement made by a European who had spent many years living and studying the Vedic culture and Sanskrit literature of early India, Max Muller said, “If I were to look over the whole world to find out the country most richly endowed with all the wealth, power and beauty that nature can bestow–in some parts a very paradise on earth–I should point to India. If I were asked under what sky the human mind has most fully developed some of its choicest gifts, has most deeply pondered on the greatest problems of life, and has found solutions of some of them which well deserve the attention even of those who have studied Plato and Kant–I should point to India. And if I were to ask myself from what literature we, here in Europe, we who have been nurtured almost exclusively on the thoughts of Greeks and Romans, and of one Semitic race, the Jewish, may draw that corrective which is most wanted in order to make our inner life more perfect, more comprehensive, more universal, in fact more truly human, a life not for this life only, but a transfigured and eternal life–again I should point to India.” 12

 

CHAPTER NOTES

1. Prof. A. R. Vasudeva Murthy and Prasun Kumar Mishra, Indian Tradition of Chemistry and Chemical Technology, Samskrita Bharati, Bangalore, India, August, 1999, pp. i-v.

2. Science and Technology in Ancient India, by Editorial Board of Vijnan Bharati, Mumbai, August, 2002, Foreword by B. V. Subbarayappa.

3. Niranjan Shah, Indian Tribune Newspaper, December 8, 2007.

4. Ibid.

5. Ibid.

6. Niranjan Shah, Indian Tribune Newspaper, December 1, 2007.

7. Niranjan Shah, Indian Tribune Newspaper, December 9, 2005.

8. India Tribune, June 1, 1991, Atlanta edition.

9. http://www.ox.ac.uk/images/maincolumn/9440

10. Max Muller, India: What can it teach us?, first published in 1883, published by Rupa & Co., New Delhi, 2002, pp. 46-47)

11. Max Muller, India: What can it teach us?, Longmans, Funk & Wagnalls, London, 1999, p. 22)

12. Max Muller, India: What can it teach us?, first published in 1883, published by Rupa & Co., New Delhi, 2002, p. 5)

Giving Inspiration: The Primary Mission of Vedic Temples, by Stephen Knapp

 It is not often recognized, but the primary mission of the temple, over and above everything else, is to inspire others to take a serious look into the real purpose and practice of the Vedic spiritual path and to participate in the tradition. Many think the main purpose of the temple is to provide a place where people can simply go to do their prayers, pujas and observe the holy days. Of course, that is part of it or it would not be a Vedic temple, but without invoking the inspiration to do that, especially in the youth, then in another 2 or 3 generations many of our sparkling new temples will turn into mere warehouses, or at best museum pieces.

If temples can provide and invoke the proper inspiration in its members and visitors, this will help secure the continuation of the temple, the Vedic community, and the culture itself long into the future. Some of the most difficult assets the temple has to attain are funds and manpower, or the help to continue its programs. If it can invoke the inspiration, then the funds and voluntary service will follow so that it can continue with its programs, whether they be pujas, holy day festivals, educating the youth, and so on. Therefore, it is imperative that temples and the managers and priests must arrange things in a way so that everyone becomes increasingly inspired to participate in temple activities and the Vedic tradition itself. People should be inspired and, thus, motivated to:

1. Recognize the benefits of the Vedic traditions;

2. Understand the tradition and its purpose more deeply;

3. Realize why they should participate in the culture and its spiritual practice;

4. Through service or seva, get a deeper taste and spiritual happiness, and a sense of fulfillment from the Dharmic path that cannot be attained through the temporary glitter of material pursuits or the mental preoccupation of sensual desires;

5. To acquire what is the secret knowledge about life and its purpose, knowing that it cannot easily be found anywhere else;

6. Understand our eternal spiritual identity and connection with the Divine;

7. Help in the operation of the temple for oneself and others, knowing the temple is like the launching pad to the higher purpose of life, and the spiritual dimensions of existence, and certainly to the more refined states of consciousness and fulfillment that everyone seeks, and which the Vedic literature describes.

In this way, the temple and the way it conducts itself should help in the transition of people from being mere observers, to appreciators, to participants, up to taking responsibilities to help the temple in service to the deities and other temple members, or the general community. If the temple can do this, then it and everyone associated with it will secure a bright future, not only for the temple, but for the whole Vedic community, for the Dharmic tradition, and for humanity as a whole.

So first, let us look at these basic points of inspiration the temple must provide, and see how a person can progress from one point to the next:

1. To recognize the benefits of the Vedic tradition.

When you visit a temple, the benefits are not always apparent. Naturally, you may see the beautiful grounds around a lovely temple building. Or you may get darshan of the gorgeously decorated deities, which should be inspiring in and of itself. You may also see the intricate rituals and hear the prayers or chanting and realize you should attend the temple more often. But without understanding the benefits, it may only take a cricket match or ball game on television to distract you away from attending the temple. So it should go deeper than that. People need to be able to comprehend the activities and rituals, at least on a basic level, and then perceive the benefits and blessings we get from such activities, and why it is good to participate. This leads to the next point, which is:

2. To understand the tradition more deeply. We have seen that if the priests or pujaris explain the rituals while they are performing them, or if there is a class in the temple on the meaning of the rituals and the philosophy, or if books are available, or if there are temple study groups to join, we can begin to see and understand the deeper purpose of what goes on at the temple, and why we should be a part of it. Another thing that has always been helpful is if there are prayer books that contain the words of the mantras or bhajans that are used in the temple. But these should be in the original Sanskrit or Hindi with Roman transliteration, and with English interpretations. Then people can follow along or understand it with more appreciation, especially the youth who may not know the traditional languages.

In this way, as people begin to perceive the benefits and purpose of the temple and the meaning of the activities that go on there, people will be encouraged to increase their appreciation for what the temple has to offer, and to support it.

3. The next step is to participate. It is one thing to be an observer with appreciation, but it is another thing to be a participant. When a person decides to participate, no longer is he or she merely watching what others are doing, but he begins to be a part of the pujas, and prayer or chanting sessions, bhajans, or he even begins to help organize festivals on holy days, or with cleaning the temple, and so on. This opens the door for one to receive the higher taste of seva or service, not only to the temple, but for the deity in the temple. This is how a person begins to get to the next point.

4. Getting the higher taste of spiritual happiness and fulfillment by being engaged in spiritual activities. This is the reciprocation between oneself and the Divine. This is when temple management should be able to guide a person in the proper services that guests and progressing devotees can do. This is when one enters the stage of being convinced by direct experience and perception, however simple it may be at first. Combined with Vedic spiritual knowledge, along with sadhana or practice, and with the performance of seva, no other process can deliver one to deeper and deeper levels of that higher taste more effectively than this.

When a person begins to feel this reciprocation, or also begins to understand the importance of this culture, then they naturally want to give back. They feel that they want to provide support for this great path of Vedic Dharma and spirituality, and for the connection with God that they feel. Then they want to do service, they want to contribute to the cause and the temple. I have seen this with people so many times.

5. The temple can also inspire people to recognize it as the preserver and protector of sacred spiritual knowledge, and the center for educating people in it for those who can humbly approach it. The temple can be viewed as the center for the secret knowledge that can hardly be found anywhere else, and which can give a person the means for point number 6.

6. Understanding your true, eternal spiritual identity and connection with the spiritual strata. This only has to be reawakened by being guided in the Vedic formula and process, a part of which is observing the activities in the temple which helps make things easier. Why is this secret knowledge? As it is described by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita: “This knowledge is the king of education, the most secret of all secrets. It is the purest knowledge, and because it gives direct perception of the self by realization, it is the perfection of religion. It is everlasting, and it is joyfully performed.” (Bg. 9.2)

This means that it is a natural process of purifying or spiritualizing our consciousness so that we can actually perceive that which is spiritual. It is not a mere dogma that must be followed without understanding or without question. But that we advance according to our own development until we eventually reach direct perception of the self. There are few processes that can do that. Nonetheless, just by following the path we can attain the supreme spiritual peace, which is something that is not easy to find. As Lord Krishna also explains in the Bhagavad-gita: “In this world, there is nothing so sublime and pure as transcendental knowledge. Such knowledge is the mature fruit of all mysticism. And one who has achieved this enjoys the self within himself in due course of time. A faithful man who is absorbed in transcendental knowledge and who subdues his senses quickly attains the supreme spiritual peace.” (Bg. 4.38-39)

Now tell me, where else can you find this kind of advice? This is the significance of this sort of information from the Vedic culture, which everyone should understand. This brings us to point number seven.

7. When a person fully understands all that we have described so far, and especially when one begins to experience the higher taste of such spiritual practice, then he or she will also help in the operation of the temple in some way. This will not only be for his own continued progress and spiritual development, but he will be inspired from within to work for the development of all others in order to give them the same opportunity to experience this deep Vedic culture. There is also no faster way to develop spiritual merit than to assist or help make arrangements for the spiritual progress of others.

 

ADDITIONAL WAYS TO DO THIS

This list should also pave the way to brainstorm to develop new ideas for expanding this purpose of the temples. For example:

1. There can also be Festivals of Inspiration, or festivals to celebrate the Dharmic tradition. Holding such festivals, either combined with other holy days or not, can bring people together to celebrate the Vedic path, and to become more inspired by what it has to offer. Such festivals at the temple can have special events and guest speakers to present such topics as:

A. The history and significance of the tradition;

B. How to overcome certain problems while on the Dharmic path;

C. How to raise or have a spiritual family;

D. How to increase one’s progress on the Vedic spiritual path;

E. How to be practical and realize deeper levels of spirituality.

2. Home study groups, where people get together for basic classes and discussions to help everyone become more familiar with the philosophy, get acquainted with others on the path, enjoy that uplifting association, and also serve prasada, sacred food, and savor a comfortable environment with others that are like-minded.

3. Special classes that outline instructions for home activities in the practice of Vedic spirituality, such as how to establish a prayer and meditation or temple room in the house, or how to engage in a process for one’s own spiritual practice or sadhana at home, etc.

4. How to engage in outreach programs to reach the local community, or how to share your own experience of Vedic culture with other people you meet so they can appreciate it and become more curious about it, or even invite them to visit the temple to see it for themselves.

5. Develop more ways to involve the youth.

These and other programs can be utilized to increase everyone’s enjoyment and involvement in the culture, and use the temple as the center of the tradition.

BASIC SERVICES THAT GUESTS

CAN OFFER FOR THE TEMPLE

These are ideas and services that guests can perform in their service to the temple, but, of course, should be offered under the guidance of temple management who can show people first what and how things should be done. No one should come to the temple and then decide for themselves whatever they want to do, which can be contrary to the overall plan, or in some cases can even be destructive to what is trying to be accomplished.

GENERAL HELP

1. Remove weeds from the flower or vegetable garden.

2. Help with planting flowers,

3. Water flower beds,

4. Assist with Vegetable garden,

5. Lawn Mowing, or raking or blowing leaves,

6. Edging sidewalks,

7. General gardening, mulch & landscaping work,

8. Cleaning the grounds,
9. General pot washing or kitchen clean up,

10. Helping clean hallways, carpets, stairways, etc. in the temple,

11. Assist with Sunday feast clean up or pot washing,

12. Help with picking flowers for deity garlands,
13. Help with flower delivery set up & clean up,

14. Clean up temple: floor, altar gates, Vyasasan, charanamrita set up & hand cleaning area, drain and clean water pots, clean mirrors and windows, dust walls, etc.

15. Clean up bath rooms,

16. Organize shoe area and glass doorways,

17. Assisting with festival preparation & organization or clean up, or car parking,

FOR THOSE SPECIALLY QUALIFIED

18. Help with Sunday feast vegetable cut up,

19. Deity kitchen floor & stoves,

20. Help with deity garland making,

21. Deity laundry,

22. Deity dress repair,

23. Assisting with caring for Tulasi plants,

24. Making a daily sweet for the deities,
25. Brick & cement & stucco repair work,
26. Painting: outdoor & indoor,

27. Electrical,

28. Carpentry,

29. Plumbing.

More ideas can be suggested according to the needs of the temple. But these duties should be planned and ready for those who want to offer service for the temple. Anyone who is willing to do service should not be turned away as if they are not needed. Everyone, if they are qualified and can accept direction, should feel they have something to contribute, and be shown how. This is the beginning in a person’s spiritual growth, which can be very important, and how they continue to contribute to the well-being of the temple, which in turn contributes to their own spiritual well-being.

Natural Disasters: Where is God in All of This? by Stephen Knapp

 As we look around the world, or watch and read the news, practically everywhere is affected by some kind of natural disaster. Floods are displacing millions of people, forest fires are destroying thousands of acres and burning out of control, earthquakes continue to force people to live in fear, and tornadoes and hurricanes have become more fierce and numerous than ever. And if that is not enough, droughts are causing massive crop damage and water shortages.

The fact is that nobody likes a loss, no matter how great or small it may be. And a disaster can take years to recover from, which can only increase our struggle to exist in this world. So what are we to make of all this? Is this just our own bad luck? Is this some kind of karmic reaction we are suffering? Is this merely the way life goes on in this material world? Or is this what God is doing to us? In fact, where is God in all of this?

From a spiritual perspective, when we ask “Where is God in all of this?” we must understand that to blame God for the way the world works is our own ignorance. And this ignorance is only the misguided perception of the absence of God, just as darkness is only the absence of light. From the very beginning, the world and everything in it is temporary. Or did you forget that? Our existence in this material world is also temporary. But we get so accustomed to the idea that things are going to go on the way we expect them to, that we are thrown completely out of whack when they don’t, and especially when the world throws reversals into our life. There is an old saying: Show me a world with security, and I will show you an illusion. The point is that change is the only constant in this world, which also implies that change means a lack of security due to not knowing what we can really expect in the future. And it is a challenge to remain balanced in all of this. And the only way you can do that is by attaining a spiritual consciousness. Let me explain:

Natural disasters go on in varying degrees on a daily basis, whether we notice them or not. Nature also means neutral, and it acts in whatsoever way it does to provide balance, even if it may seem cruel, as in the way stronger animals feed off the weak. That is a law of nature, and however cruel it may seem to be, in this world that is how balance is maintained in many cases so that certain species do not overpopulate. In this and so many other ways, nature acts in a way to help maintain balance in this world.

So when natural disasters hit humanity, as in events mentioned in the first paragraph, it forces us to become more clear regarding the temporary nature of this world, and more cooperative with that principle, whether we like it or not. Natural disasters can also provide a way to discern what is really important and what is not. We may have lost so many of our possessions, but we may still have our life. And if we lose our life or someone we know, we again have to realize the importance of how to live with whatever time we may have, fully knowing that tomorrow is promised to no one. Then we have to shed those things that, in the end, we are bound to lose anyway. Loss is no easy thing in one’s life, but better to go through stages of preparation than to be tested only at the very end of our lives at the time of death when it may be more difficult than ever to lose everything you hold dear. We need to be ready to go forward into the next realm rather than being held back by all the longings we have for the attachments we have accrued in this life. This is the lesson we should learn by experiencing various natural disasters on a personal level, or by observing those that go on around us. In this way, disasters of any kind can act as lessons that pull away the layers of illusion that hold us to the false impression of who or what we think we are in this material realm.

This is how there is some good in any situation, regardless of how awful it may seem. God does many things in one move, or one act. And in one major event, so many things may have been put into motion for many positive things to take place in the long run. Sometimes you can see that in the change of the psyche of innumerable people in the world that may have been affected by whatever event has happened, especially when they deal with the event by pulling together to sort out the new challenges they have to face. In this way, there is hope for a new vision, a new awareness, a new spirit of cooperation and view of each other.

For example, when a tornado destroys a neighborhood or town, everyone has to drop their ego and their differences in order to work together to make things operate smoothly again. So many trees may have been blown over, dropping electrical lines and stopping the flow of power or communication. Then people must work together to help clean up, get things working again, or check on the elderly to see if they are all right. And the more we work together, the easier it becomes for everyone. But is not that the case with life in general? Sometimes we forget, until a natural disaster again forces us to take a second look at who we are, who are our neighbors, and possibly with less judgmentalism than before. So sometimes we must get conked on the head, so to speak, to force ourselves to look at who we are and where our life is taking us. It is strange that sometimes this will not happen unless some major turning point takes place in our lives. These things show how well the world can move when we cooperate, when we acknowledge our need for each other and also our joy at being needed or giving to a higher cause by helping others.

With this new vision of ourselves and who we are and how we fit into the world, we may then see how God is found in all the acts of care and concern in each person around us. When the world comes together to help each other or those who have been affected by the disaster, all the kindness, consideration, the prayers, the donations, the heart-felt love that is now more prevalent than ever, is all part of our spiritual nature. When we consider all of this, we can see that each act of kindness is like the light of God everywhere. We simply have to be more willing to keep this spiritual renewal and vision in our heart and minds in our everyday lives.

In this way, the tragedy itself, whatever it may be, will have made us more humble, more cooperative, and a kinder person. It makes us realize our vulnerability, both individually and collectively. It makes us realize how fragile life can be, and how we should also appreciate whatever blessings we have. It forces a reassessment of who we are and, if we learn the lesson properly, gives an opportunity for a voluntary renewal in our spirituality. It also helps separate the superficial from what is really important. That is why we must always cling to our spiritual identity and the grace of God and be ready for anything.

Regarding those who may have died, what do we do for them? We have to remember that the soul, our real identity, never dies. It is eternal, so it merely moves on to another realm. Death is a soul’s change of focus from one plane of existence to another. The legacy of those who have departed is the renewed unity found in us survivors, and the reason to work together more closely than ever. It shows the reason why we must shed our dislike or unfamiliarity with each other. Their legacy is that this has brought us together in a mood of solidarity. It reawakens us to our dependency on God and His protection. This is the legacy of those we have lost in such situations. This is their gift to us. Let us keep this gift precious so it does not take another tragedy or loss to again reawaken ourselves to how special we all are.

We also must understand that in these sorts of tragedies, no one is sacrificed or dies in vain. The Lord of all casts aside no sincere soul, regardless of caste or creed, for all paths ultimately point toward the same God. They have not left us but only gone on before us. There is always a purpose behind everything, whether we understand it or not. So let us give them our blessings and pray for their safe journey to higher realms. Let God bless and guide all those who have departed from us.

However, when such disasters are related to man-made problems, like the failure of nuclear reactors, or oil spills and the like, this is simply because things are becoming too complex and out of control, or too far away from the way we need to cooperate with nature. It is a sign that we need to change and simplify our lives and actions. It is like nature shaking the tree to drop the unnecessary fruits. Then we merely have to change our vision and the values that we have to again begin to move in the right direction.

Disasters or tragedies created by fanatical religious terrorism is in a category by itself, apart from natural disasters. Such events are not a display of one’s allegiance to God, but a show of hatred for one’s fellow man, only because a section of society seems different, or that they follow a different spiritual path. This is spiritual blindness. Let us not follow in their ways of being oblivious to the unity and Divinity with all of us. But let us drop the superficialities and cooperate together, knowing full well that such is the way to make life easier for all of us. The desire to conquer or convert is the most divisive path there can be, and we have seen for many centuries that it has been the most cruel and destructive as well. And has the world gotten better because of it? No, in fact, it has only increased the fear and chaos in the world instead.

Let us also remember as we face such predicaments or tragedies, our greatest strengths and developments are often revealed through our most difficult challenges. Therefore, through such tests and by working together to improve things because of such difficulties, we will come ever closer to see the real potential and character of ourselves and the people involved. It will show the world the exceptional possibilities of real cooperation and understanding that can exist. It can show everyone the unity that can come from a spiritual renewal and reawakening.

Therefore, in such situations we should pray for the dead that they can be escorted to higher realms by God’s guiding light. We also pray for the well-being of the injured, the survivors, and the families who have lost loved ones, that they be soothed by God’s grace. We pray for us to become free from the shock and sadness that this sudden change has caused. But let us learn the lesson in the proper way so we can move forward with progress.

Let us also pray for the help from the volunteers and rescuers, those who donate much needed money to rebuild, and all who give their time and prayers to get us through this tragedy. Let the light of love, hope and upliftment shine forth and fill the world with God’s grace, beauty and power. Let everyone see the sense of living in peace and cooperation. Before we attack or criticize others, let us see our own faults which we must route out. Let us work on cleansing our own minds and purifying our own hearts, and then extend that encouragement to others.

Let us turn hate to love, enmity to friendship, strangeness to familiarity, greed to generosity, war to peace, and fear into hope. Let us pray for the good of all, and grow with the challenges, finding strength in the Supreme. May God protect us in all directions and guide us through whatever difficulties that appear in our lives.

In conclusion, let us offer our respect to God, and let Him kindly vanquish our demon-like desires for selfish or fruitive activities in this material world. Please dear Lord, appear in our hearts and drive away our ignorance so that by Your mercy we may become fearless in the struggle for existence in this temporary realm. May there be good fortune throughout the universe, and may all envious persons be pacified. May all living beings become calm by practicing devotion to You, for by accepting such service they will realize Your Divinity in each and every person, and thus think of each other’s welfare. Therefore, let us all engage in the service of the Supreme Being, Lord Sri Krishna, and always remain absorbed in thought of Him. (Bhagavata Purana 5.18.8-9)