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I have been asked to give my views about this event.
There is no doubt that building a magnificent temple in Houston makes every Hindu proud. One must admire the heroic efforts of many, many people who collected and donated funds and built this great temple. However, we have to look at our priorities.
A Hindu temple is a place of spiritualism. By building a temple which cost seven millions US dollars to build, not counting most of the labor costs, which were voluntary, you are not showing that you are spiritual. What you are showing is that you have a good organization which can raise a lots of money.
Spirituality consists of rejecting the values of materialism.
When I see a Hindu temple with decorated ceramic tiles, and with other ornamental decorations, I immediately think of the money contributed by ordinary Hindu people which has been wasted.
A good Hindu temple must be built with strong material so it lasts long, so that it needs less expenses in maintenance, so that it serves the people, as a social and religious gathering place, for years to come, with little maintenance costs.
If a Hindu temple wants to show that it is truly spiritual, it should do work to feed the poor, to take care of the needs of the destitute of any faith in Houston, to take care of the needs of the elderly who need human company, to take care of the needs of the young Hindu women who have been abandoned by their husbands in favor of prettier girl friends, to take care of the needs of the shy Hindu youth who have no friends, to take care of the needs of immigrant software engineers on H1B visa who have been laid of and whose dreams have evaporated.
I was told that the main reason this Temple was built was to impress the Americans that Indians too can do such great thing as build artistic, magnificent temples.
In this regard I am reminded of how our ancestors in the first to tenth century AD, had built great Hindu temples decorated with pure gold in Mathura and Varanasi. But when the Mughal invaders came to India, they burnt these temples with fire and acid. This has been well documented in history books and now on web sites.
What followed was a long, dark period in the history of Hindu religion and people.
And our helpless ancestors could not do a damned thing because their leaders did not understand the importance of military might and political power, and the great importance of unity amongst all Hindus by eliminating caste feelings.
If the Hindus of Houston really want to demonstrate their capabilities, they should spend their money and energy in choosing good, honest, fearless persons and elect them to the U.S. Senate or U.S. Congress so that such brave persons can help the Hindu community through political means.
This way we will also ensure that our magnificent temples will not meet the same fate as they did during the Mughal invasion of India.
Well, there are problems all through society that money can be thrown at in an effort to solve them which at least up to this point has not really so happened because as you brought up the problems are still there. So it is not so much the amount of money spent on a temple or to eradicate social ills that will change anyone it is the shift in consciousness that takes place within someones heart that makes a difference. Even if so much money is spent to build a Temple to prove Indians ability do do something grand in America the result is that Krishna in His various manifestations has a wonderful Temple and so many people are aware of Him and His followers. That is a good thing for all of society. The abused can find help and strength there, the hungry food, and the seeker solice.
Please don't criticize spending money for the glorification of God because if we in the "Hindu" faith community all went out and sat under trees all over Houston no one would care and few would come and see. Krishna has been glorified in the Houston Chronicle and you should feel this is a great oppertunity to present the uplifting philosophies that Indian religious institutions have to offer the rest of the world at a crucial time in history.
That will in fact increase your listenership for your own message don't you think. We all have to keep working together on the religious front to effect a change in consciousness in the hearts of the people of the world, not create division.
Krishna Kripa das
I understand that the temple is a masterpiece which might turn into a white elephant if sufficient funds and devotees are not there to sustain it in the future.
BAPS volunteers are masters at arm twisting and coaxing non BAPS folks into donating money. I am told that there are VIP sitting areas and VIP dining rooms especially set aside for people who are considered "Important" which in BAPS language means "people with money". "Important people" (read people with money) are quickly identified and targetted for donations. A red carpet is promptly rolled out for a potential donor and an audience with the senior "Saints" and Pramukh Swamiji is also thrown in as a special incentive.
Until the new facilities were constructed, the main lobby of the original temple resembled a busy flea market with cash registers ringing away brisk sales of chevda, ganthia, mohanthaal, murku, etc. Where does spirituality fit into all this wheeling & dealing? I think we Hindus should speak out against such shows of pomp and put the money where it can bring more worthwhile returns such as educational funds for needy Hindus, political clout, retirement centers and community centers. Mr. Berry thank you for your bold action. Sincerely,
Hats off to you for speaking out against an issue that should concern all Hindus, especially those who donated money and went along with the idea just for the sake of pho op, name, fame and going along to get along. I notice that you have received many responses, some of them are not too positive which should not deter you from spreading the truth.
I especially found Pushpa Ji's response most thought provoking together with reader identified as H.V. Both of these readers reflect my own personal feelings of disgust and disapproval of waste of hard earned money which could have been put to more practicle use.
Those poor enough to not afford a check may be quickly drafted on volunteering jobs of all sorts with help of peer pressure. I'm not doubting anyone's spirituality in helping build this or any other grand temple. I do feel, however, that the power of money tends to corrode and corrupt strongest of wills for truly selfless work. Not to mention that such temple-building mostly serves to create a futher well-knit and close-cropped internal connections among temple regulars more than providing a platform for outreach. Than again, Houston-area already has great temples that are open for all Hindus (and non-Hindus too, I suppose). Minakshi Temple and ISKCON temple are large compounds, among many other smaller facilities. BAPS itself has a current facility, not to mention that the new temple doesn't seem much bigger than the older structure in terms of handling larger crowds. It is all well that building traditional-style temples attracts visitors from all over, and that it helps keep the stone-carvers and artisans employed and their art stays afloat. Yet, would it not be better for Hindu society at large to rid itself of poverty, to serve the underpreviliged (of which there are countless)? Would the money not be better served by creating 'temples' of strength and faith within EACH young Hindu (rather than just the temple inner circle)? Wouldn't the Hindu tradition be better-positioned to defend itself against constant missionary attacks if every Hindu child, youth, and aged person were to know/understand his/her own relationship to God, specially if such a Hindu were also not going up against prosylitizers on empty stomach?!
Is it truly fair to compare the modern American Hindu temple-building campaigns with those of medeiveal cathedrals of Europe? Those churches and cathedrals were built in an age of complete Church domination over all aspects of people's lives--secular, temporal, and spiritual. The illeterate Europeans did not have Hindu, Buddhist or Moslem proselytizers amongst them unlike the present-day illeterate and malnourished Hindus. And afterall, those grand Gothic structures today stand half-empty, their erstwhile awesome power religated to history as Church loses more of its flock to Eastern spiritualism, paganism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, New Agism, even atheism.
What good are those great monuments to modern Europeans now who actually starve for inner peace and spirituality? Whereas, Hinduism has such great traditions that can satiate any person's spiritual hunger. All that need be done is provide an authentic outreach to seekers. Rajiv Malhotra et al have done stellar job of showing the filth that is taught in most universities in the name of Hinduism Studies, where Hindu traditions are rather dragged in mud. A few million dollars endowed to Chair a Hinduism department at major universities would go a long way in Hindus' articulation of their traditions and faith in their own terms, not in terms of others!
Imagine the status of a BAPS Chair in Religion at Harvard, for instance! The middle-aged women and elders most often visiting our temples (any temple, not just BAPS) would better serve Hindu society if they were allowed a venue and a space of respect for them to pass down their knowledge of Sanatan Dharma to the new generation...that generation, most of which will never set foot in this or any other temple, however grandiose it may be! Instead, these walking-talking Dharm-rakshaks of Hinduism are being recruited to write checks, volunteer time, s erve "free" food to the attendees, and go home feeling happy that they've been recognized by the community as well as that they've done truly something spiritual. Only time will tell whether such millions of dollars worth of temples in the U.S. truly served Sanatan Dharma and its followers. I mean no offense to anyone. Perhaps it may be that just as Hinduism has so many variations that in today's world, various Hindus will continue to support their faith with whatever means they find most worthy, and they have every right to. I would rather that Hindus do anything to support their cause than do nothing, or worse, support adversarial causes in the name of some vague ideas of secularism or universalism.
Over 20,000 hard core BAPS faithful are expected to converge on Chicago from all corners of the globe. Are such ostentatious showing really becoming of a spiritual organization? How about spending the resources to reach out to the local communities where BAPS temples are located? While the overfed and mostly obese BAPS devotees are gorging on the five course "Prasad", there are thousands of homeless and hungry people in the Houston area who are scavenging for food in the garbage bins of MacDonald’s. The millions of hard earned dollars could have been spent on creating chairs of Hindu studies at almost all of the top universities around the world. But then, that would not be that glorious and we must not forget that Pramukh
Swami's followers are more interested in breaking their own temple building record in the Guinness Book and felicitating some vendors that supply cheap plastic bags to BAPS.
Please send your voices of protest to: http://www.swaminarayan.org/GuestBook/index.htm
Register your protests in the Guest Book and at: email@example.com
Pushpa Rajguru, Houston, Texas, USA.
Thanks for openly condemning this practice of wasting money on mammoth temples.
I have great respect and profound regard to Shri Pramukh Jee Maharaji and Baps Association. They have a very good organization and they do great service to Hindus every where. In 1991 by conducting the CULTURAL FESIVAL OF INDIA in Edison, NJ they made masses aware of the greatness on India and the beauty of Hinduism. So my hats are always of to them and their service to society.
What you wrote about building temples worth millions US dollars is despicable. I agree with you 100% . What is happening is deplorable. .... Most of these new temples could be built with 1/4 of the money spent.
Instead of wasting money on buildings, they could use the money to build first class libraries and very good meeting halls in the temple premises for the use of every for all functions. Apart from all that, they could of used rest of money, educating poor Hindu children in India.
"Nero was fiddling while Rome was burning".. Similarly, these people who built these million dollar temples waste money, while our children going astray in India and else where.
We have so many problems where money could be used well...We have serious problems in society and it is a shame people ignore those problems and waste money on temples..
Last month a very smart Hindu lady engineering student in Kerala [ name Rajini] committed suicide since she cannot pay tuition fees. Nobody came to help her. Her lifeless body started many riots in Kerala. Then in few days people forgot all about that. Poor Rajini became part of a distant memory. That is the sad part of the story. Nobody is doing anything to better the conditions of poor Hindu students in Kerala or any where else. There are thousands of young Hindus in the same plight in India. Sorry to state there is no one to help them.
With the money we save from wasting on these temples, we can help our children right here in US and Canada. I get countless e-mails of young Hindu students who seek help anonymously to deal with their very personal problems such as love, sex, marriage, dating, drugs, suicidal tendencies, depression etc.
Last week, a Hindu girl who is studying in a US university wrote to me seeking help regarding her love affair with a Moslem boy. Alas! Christians and Moslem children have hundreds of places to go for help. Poor [ not poor financially] Hindu kids have no where to go.
So they seek me since I am an author to discuss their problems. They are doing that since they know they can do that in seal-tight anonymity....What about all these children? I wish each temple can set up " Council Centers" where children can e-mail their problems anonymously and seek help
Thanks again for writing about this issue. People like you are the real "Hindus", the "salt of this earth." May God bless you.
author -AM I A HINDU?
I have been to many places in different countries and have noticed that all religions have very elegant worship places. In capitalism this is very common phenomena of building new very elegant worship places, only communism can contain this trend. For example Russia, China and other communist countries where it was/is not possible to construct any religious worship place without the permission of the local Govt. which is never granted. There the governments are of the opinion that gathering of people in such place will conspire against the regime. In capitalism people amass a lot of wealth by fair or unfair means and may wish to please the God by offering a part, where as in communism people get very limited money, just sufficient for two meals, but their love for their almighty remains which communism has failed to supress. Just visit a Hare Rama Hare Krishna Temple - which are worth seeing. Who are the people who have built these temples?
Religion is a very complex issue - Thus no comments.
Your concern is also valid.
Mr. K, Houston, Texas
Thanks for this beautiful article. You are right when you say that temples should not be built for show off. In fact I dont visit temples very often just because they are crowdy and I need to wait in queues for long. Several temples have their own timing, which are another factors. Temples should be open to all, and this is the reason why they are so crowdy, and unclean.
To manage things well, money and arrangements are required. And when churches are examples of well arrangements, why not our temples compete with them? In this respect, building big and beautiful temples seem to be the necessary evil at this hour.
KUMAR RAHUL , India
I am indeed pleased to read the thoughts regarding the temple and unnecessary expenses done.
They should spend over offering scholarships, universities, hindu old age community homes and activities. They should try to understand the real god which is in life form. It is time to wake up and reread the "New History of India." by Stanley Wolpert, learning the destruction of temples.and need to safeguard the culture.
Dr. Parate N.S.
Nirmal Jee is very much off the mark in his opinions, statements, understanding and assessments.
Does he mean that the devotees who built the temple did it only to show off? No, not at all.
A temple of splendor and exquisite beauty will attract the devotees from far and near. In fact it did. More than 50% of the people who attended the opening ceremonies were from all parts of the USA, Canada, some from as far as South Africa, England etc.
I understand that the temple has been built without any steel components. The Indian artisans who built it here hail from several generations of temple builders in India. This one is expected to last for at least 700 years.
Every religious faith and culture has built very attractive structures to draw the attention of their devotees. Notre Dame in Paris, the scores of cathedrals and churches all over in England and Europe are testimony to this fact. In India, particularly in the south, there are temples which are over 1200 years old and even today millions visit them every year.
There is nothing wrong in building attractive masterpieces. You go there to have peace of mind, to listen to great saints and scholars etc. One cannot have large gatherings in temporary shacks. Particularly when one intends to have such great discourses frequently. One needs a decent, modern, and comfortable place to conduct such meetings.
Spiritualism, renunciation of materialism etc are all great concepts. But in order to bring home such concepts to the common man, one needs to be able to attract him to a place of awe and comfort at the same time.
The Swaminarayan temple and their organization do a lot of social service in addition to spending money on building great temples. One needs only to visit their website www.swaminarayan.org to know their tremendous work in this area.
If they have such a great organization and following that can spend money in several different directions, I would say more power to them. Do not knock them
I really admired the way they organized and conducted the whole inauguration. With meticulous planning, care for elders, handicapped, drinks for all waiting, working, pulling floats in the hot Sun, 80 or more buses transporting people between parking lots and temple, hundreds of volunteers everywhere helping people, food for over 8000 people over 5 days etc etc. Our US Government can learn a lot from their planning and execution. All these come from true love and admiration for Lord Shri Swaminarayan. You cannot pay people to do some of the tasks the volunteers did. Standing in hot Sun for 8 hours directing traffic, fully well knowing that one is “missing all the important events, lectures etc” in the temple is a sacrifice that can come only from true belief in doing good for others.
Magnificent architectural structures of great temples, churches, synagogues and mosques have always drawn the millions towards them due to their sheer beauty. First get the people to come and then preach them the way to lead a good life and to reach God.
This technique is nothing different from the one adopted by all modern marketing, whether it is a car dealership or the palatial convention hall from which evangelists preach for the TV audience.
I do not believe your article was needed on this topic. You should not get in any controversies.
Nice Article. I saw the ceremony on TV being shown in Astha Channel. It was almost a scary sight. It was as if we are exporting the remnants of Ayodhya problem here to the US.and the hindus there.
I hope the americans are impressed. Didn't do anything for me.
Keep up your good efforts. Subhash Arora
How can you write an article like this? Probably you are not aware of services offered by BAPS Swami Narayana Temple. I am not a member of BAPS, nor member of Gujarati community, but I am impressed by community service offered by Swami Narayana temple.
Every year in the month of May, Medical group from Swami Narayana Temple offer health care camp, where lot of doctors and volunteers provide several health chek-ups at minimal cost to people who do not have decent healthcare coverage. In the month of October, another temple group offers health care camp, which does not come half as good as one offered by BAPS. Still I do not want to criticize any volunteer service offered by any group.
If you visit BAPS temple on any Sunday, you will find lot of Gujarati women singing bhajans, meet socialy, volunteers prepare chapatis to provide service to community and raise some money for the temple. Last time when there was earthquake at Gujarat, BAPS volunteers were providing selfless service on large scale and they raised lot of money to build houses for unfortunate victims.
Next time when you get free time on Sunday evening, please visit BAPS temple or Harekrishna temple and receive God's blessing and Prasad. When you enjoy eating that delicious prasad, just think of selfless volunteers who worked hard to prepare prasad to feed hundreds or thousands of devotees without expecting any money in return. One should be proud of beautiful temple BAPS had built in London and now in Houston. Temple building is also an art and leaves imprint for future generation. Temple building also provides employment for specialized construction workers. Beautiful temples develop tourism. Lots of devotees visit these temples on large scale. I have been fortunate to visit several temples in USA, including Shiva temple in Flint Michigan, Harekrishna Temples in Boston, Detroit, Ann Arbor, Atlanta, Hartford Connecticut, Venkateshwara temple s in Pittsburgh, Chicago, Atlanta, Ganesha temple in New York and Nashville, Tennessee, Rama temple in Chicago. I visited Murdeshwara Temple by the seashore, where Lord Ganesha prevented Ravana from taking Shiva Linga to Lanka and placed it on the ground, and it supposedly set roots. Ravana angrily tried to uproot Shivalinga, which then landed in Gokarna. At murdeshwara temple one can see uprooted lower parts of Shiva Linga. Please do not think such temples do not bestow any power on devotees. In 1992 when I visited that temple, it was ordinary temple. When I visited same temple in 2002, it is built like our Meenakshi temple and lot of devotees visit the temple including local muslims.
In the troubled world, temples offer peace of mind and solace. I hope you will print this article on your website next to your article.
I presume, I had met you at Houston Janmastami Celebration at George Brown Convention center.