In man's search for eternal happiness, the progress of science and technology has endowed him with innumerable amenities, making life easier, more comfortable and enjoyable. Man has developed such power and precision in the last forty years as has not been accomplished in the previous 4000!
Man has produced an awesome array of discoveries and inventions: from automobiles to airliners, luxury ships to space shuttles, bullets to missiles, the internet to mobile phones, remote surgery to genetic engineering - the list is endless. However, in reality, man has merely transformed his lifestyle but has not changed his attitude. He has bridged his journeys but has not decided his destiny. He has prolonged life but has forgotten death. By nature, man has not changed - cavemen fought with their hands, sticks and stones; modern man fights with sophisticated weapons and bombs. Thus, the mind of man remains unchanged. He has increased his means of enjoyment, but is still chasing the elusive eternal happiness.
Having experienced the futility of materialism, man is desperately searching for a solution. And the answer, already well known to man, is as eternal as the happiness he craves.
Swami Vivekanand has said, "The greatest source of strength for any society is its faith in God. The day it renounces such faith will be the day that society begins to die." Indeed, faith in God is man's greatest strength. Thus, it is not that man does not know the solution to his problems, but that he has failed to sincerely apply it.
Charles Steinmetz, one of the world's foremost electrical engineers, stated, "I think the greatest discoveries will be made along spiritual lines. Someday, people will learn that material things do not bring happiness and are of little value in making men and women creative and powerful. When scientists turn their laboratories over to the study of God and prayer, the world will see more advancement in one generation than it has in the last four."
This was a fundamental truth revealed thousands of years ago by the ancient, spiritually enlightened sages of India. They taught the necessity of devotion, prayer and meditation. They realised the need for a suitable place of worship - laboratories in modern terms - to divert man's mind from materialism to spirituality. And it was they who inspired the construction of vibrant mandirs, with the sanctified murtis therein, which have till today remained an integral part of society. Those who have faithfully and sincerely used mandirs have experienced their spiritually elevating effects. Even today, mandirs remain Vedic India's most priceless gift to mankind. They are an effective remedy against the rising tide of materialism. As Pramukh Swami Maharaj says, "Mandirs preserve the cleanliness of the soul and keep it from becoming diseased. Some diseases cannot be seen, only experienced. Our scriptures have shown the medicine to be mandirs."
India is home to 3.5 million mandirs - big and small, ancient and recent - which have helped generations of Hindus to successfully absorb and adapt to the shocks and turbulence of daily life and progress spiritually.
Hindu mandirs make all-encompassing contributions towards personal and social harmony and happiness. Pramukh Swami Maharaj reveals, "A mandir stabilises the mind; a mandir inspires nobler living; a mandir teaches mutual respect; a mandir preserves and protects culture and tradition; a mandir strengthens belief in our true identity; a mandir gives ultimate peace; and a mandir takes us to God."
In the early nineteenth century, Bhagwan Swaminarayan built six monumental and majestic mandirs, which even today, continue to serve society in a multitude of ways.
The tradition of building mandirs has been continued by Bhagwan Swaminarayan's successors - especially Shastriji Maharaj, who established the BAPS, Yogiji Maharaj and, presently, Pramukh Swami Maharaj. BAPS mandirs in India and abroad are a source of inspiration and guidance to all and exemplify the characteristics of a mandir specified by Pramukh Swami Maharaj.
They have revived the tradition in which the mandir is the centre of the community, providing not only spiritual comfort, but also meeting the basic material needs of the community members.
A Mandir Stabilises The Mind
Caught in the merry-go-round of materialism, the mind of man fluctuates between a multitude of turbulent thoughts which often derail his life and cause misery. It is not physical comforts man lacks, nor is there a shortage of material pleasures - he lacks the stability of mind to lead a purposeful, peaceful and productive life. This stability of mind is provided by mandirs. Countless have experienced the steadying influence of mandirs in their lives. The divine vibrations and energy radiating in its vicinity have quelled many such turbulent minds.
John, from East Ham in London, visited the BAPS Mandir in Neaseden, London, and commented, "I am not a Hindu, but I am in love with this mandir. I would visit everyday if I could. I am only 15 and I visited once with my school and recently visited on my own. It was so amazing that I actually cried during the arti. I can still picture it now and hear it in my head, 'Jay sadguru Swami....' I have no doubts that there is a force field of tranquility around this mandir. Words cannot begin to describe how having this mandir in my country makes me feel. Not a day goes by when I do not think of this mandir."
A mandir is the house of God. Darshan of the murtis enshrined within calms the wandering and confused mind and gives it direction. The regular discourses, prayers, devotional singing and meditation also have a powerful soothing effect. Many aimless lives have been rejuvenated and given a true purpose. People have attained a satisfying balance amid the turmoil of daily problems. Such is the power of mandirs that they convert a person's negative, destructive and destabilising habits and emotions, such as, addictions, anger, ego, hatred, etc. into positive, constructive and stabilising feelings of honesty, love, humility, compassion, tolerance and others.
Yet, people still ask, "Why spend so much money on mandirs? Why not build more hospitals and schools?" Such questions, however, do not reflect sound reasoning. A more appropriate question would be, "Why spend so many billions of dollars on films and cinemas? Why not spend that money on hospitals and schools?"
The amount people spend on watching films can be gauged by the following list which shows the box office receipts of some recent films:
- Titanic (1997): $1,835,300,000
- The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003): $1,129,219,252
- Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone (2001): $968,600,000
- Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace (1999): $922,379,000
- The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (2002): $921,600,000
- Jurassic Park (1993): $919,700,000
- Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (2002): $866,300,000
- Finding Nemo (2003): $865,000,000
- The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001): $860,700,000
- Shrek 2 (2004): $818,671,036
Apart from the fleeting enjoyment of watching a film, has any film ever given any life-long inspiration or rescued anyone from the miseries of life? Despite all the investment in time, money, manpower and resources, the entertainment industry has made no significant contribution to the long-term mental well-being of man.
So, it is fairly obvious that if cuts are necessary (and they are) then they should be in other areas. And, conversely, if spending is to be increased, then more should be made available for mandirs. The long-term benefits to mankind are proof that the investment is justified and worthwhile.
For, to repeat, mandirs consolidate man's faith in God and strengthen society morally, culturally and socially. Schools will educate the mind, but who will educate the spirit? Hospitals will mend a broken arm, but who will mend a broken heart? Cinemas, amusement arcades and discotheques will excite the mind, but where will one go for peace of mind? Need the answer be given?
This does not mean that schools and hospitals are not needed. They are, and the BAPS has built many schools and hospitals. But so are mandirs - perhaps, even more so. Man has both body and soul. Both should be nurtured.
A mandir Inspires Nobler Living
Today, man faces a crisis of character and the turmoil of widespread crime. Newspaper and TV headlines daily reveal the extent of the problem faced by society.
US Department of Justice statistics for 2001 shows the extent of crime throughout America:
- A violent crime every 20 seconds
- A murder every 33 minutes
- A rape every 6 minutes
- A robbery every 75 seconds
- An aggravated assault every 35 minutes
- A burglary or theft every 3 seconds
- A suicide every 17 minutes - 1 in 8 deaths were due to suicide
Even in India, available figures reveal:
- A violent crime every 2 minutes
- A murder every 14 minutes
- A rape every 33 minutes
- property crime every 1.5 seconds
Other surveys also reveal the shocking state of society in America:
- In 18-24 year olds, 60.8 % males and 41.7 % females drink alcohol more than five times a day. In 25-44 years old, 49.9 % males and 25.7 % females drink alcohol more than five times a day.
- At any one time, more than a million teenagers and youths have left or have been thrown out of their home.
- Over 300,00 children are sexually active.
- 5,000 teenagers die on the streets annually.
- Americans gamble $600 billion every year - more than is spent on food.
Other countries, too, are not exempt from the menace of crime.
- In Germany, a crime is committed every 5 seconds
- In the UK a crime is committed every 6 seconds; a rape occurs every hour
- In South Africa a crime is committed every 9 seconds; a rape occurs every 10 minutes; a murder occurs every 24 seconds
Figures published in the United Nations Human Development Report 2004 reveals the percentage of the population victimised by crime in various countries as follows:
Australia 30.1 %
Belgium 21.4 %
Canada 23.8 %
Denmark 23.0 %
England and Wales 26.4 %
Finland 19.1 %
France 21.4 %
Japan 15.2 %
Netherlands 15.0 %
Poland 22.7 %
Scotland 23.2 %
Sweden 24.7 %
Switzerland 18.2 %
The problems of crime, suicide, drugs, alcoholism, gambling are other disturbing features of society are similar for all countries - developed or developing.
Hence, the need of the hour is to arrest man's moral decline and set him back onto the track towards eternal happiness. Mandirs inspire the values and virtues necessary for a noble life. The qualities of honesty, humility, self-control, tolerance, patience, etc. free people from the bondage of material pleasures and their consequences. Mandirs teach a life which is pure in diet and habits; a life free of addictions and other vulgar tendencies.
BAPS mandirs worldwide organise deaddiction campaigns and exhibitions. As a result, hundreds of thousands of people have been freed from addictions to alcohol, smoking, drugs, gambling and other vices. Countless people, families and communities have been saved from the dire consequences of such addictions.
Having experienced the life-transforming benefits of mandirs, many readily volunteer to promote the message of nobler living and rescue others trapped in the prison of harmful habits and character.
A Mandir Teaches Mutual Respect
In a world of increasing conflicts between individuals, communities and nations, mandirs teach man to respect each other's ways and beliefs. Mandirs are open to all, regardless of background or status. But to reap the maximum benefit, one must approach with a genuine and pure heart. Mandirs provide Hindus with an interface to interact with members of other faiths and thus cultivate a genuine understanding and respect for each other.
Since its inauguration by Pramukh Swami Maharaj in August 1995, the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, London, has played such a harmonising role in the community. Over 4,000,000 people from 120 countries have visited the mandir; and over 225,000 schoolchildren from over 4,500 schools throughout the UK have made special study tours to the mandir. Even spiritual leaders of other faiths have visited the mandir. All these factors help to promote understanding and harmony between individuals, communities and nations.
A Mandir Preserves And Protects Culture And Traditions
The onslaught of secular and materialistic philosophies has blunted man's respect for his own culture and traditions. But through mandirs, this culture and tradition has been revived and preserved.
Many Hindus living in the USA, UK, Australia, New Zealand and other countries have become reattached to Indian culture and traditions as a result of their involvement in the mandirs built there.
Mandirs built many decades ago by Hindus living in Guyana, Fiji and Mauritius have helped to preserve traditional values in their descendants.
For thousands of years, upto the present day, Vedic architectural science has guided the layout, design and construction of thousands of magnificent mandirs, both in India and outside: the Surya Rath Mandir of Konark on the Wheels of Time, the soaring shikhar of Tirupati, the charming robustness of Kedarnath, the delicate forms of Belur-Somnathpuri, the majesty of the Sarangpur Swaminarayan Mandir, the stupendous pradakshina of Rameshwar, the stunning gateway of the Madurai Minakshi Mandir, the romantic Dwarka Mandir, the intricately and artistically sculpted BAPS Swaminarayan Mandirs in London, Houston and Chicago and the hi-tech Akshardham Complexes in Gandhinagar and New Delhi - all represent the millennia-old culture and traditions of India enshrined in stone.
As marvels of art and architecture, mandirs enhance the local landscape.
Mandirs are also centres of performing arts. BAPS mandirs provide opportunities for development of skills in dance, drama, and vocal and instrumental music. Training in traditional art, craft and cuisine is also arranged.
In recent years, the construction of BAPS mandirs in London, Nairobi, Houston, Chicago and other places, has revived the haveli style of wood architecture - a tradition which had been lost for over a century. The use of intricate and profusely sculpted stone and marble has also helped to preserve these skills.
Thus, mandirs are the tangible links between India's rich ancient traditions and the present. They serve to remind every generation of Indians - past, present and future - of their eternal connection with God, and their duty to preserve and nourish India's unique cultural and spiritual legacy.
A Mandir Strengthens Belief In Our True Identity
Each person's identity exists at both physical and spiritual levels. Physical identity is determined by the circumstances of one's birth, but spiritually, everyone is the same. The individual atma which resides in the body is one's true identity. It is eternal and indestructible. Mandirs teach us that this life is one of countless the atma has lived in its search for eternal happiness. By understanding the atma's true spiritual nature and attaching it to God, the atma attains ultimate liberation, eternal happiness and freedom from the cycle of births and deaths.
When this understanding is developed, one's life is seen in its true perspective - that physical existence is merely temporary. This understanding helps one to cope with the circumstances of one's life - one is not carried away in times of happiness and is able to tolerate and adjust in times of difficulty. This understanding also helps one to rise above the barriers of race, religion and nationality and to contribute to the development of a peaceful world.
This is the message of mandirs.
A Mandir Gives Ultimate Peace
Even after centuries of endeavour in the materialistic realm in his search for eternal happiness and peace, man remains empty-handed. He is nowhere near his goal. Yes, man has progressed and become more modern, but he has become less civilised and less spiritual. He is going in the wrong direction at breakneck speed. Mandirs, through the messages they teach, draw his attention to his plight and encourage him to revive his lost spirituality. For it is only spirituality which can rescue man from his miserable predicament and bring peace to his life. Through devotion to God and active participation in the numerous activities coordinated from mandirs, one can halt the misery of materialism and enjoy the ultimate peace and bliss of God.
A Mandir Takes Us To God
The highest attainment of human life is to experience the divine bliss of God.
Hindu scriptures define two paths that man must follow in life. The preyas path in which man endeavours honestly for material prosperity is necessary for his physical survival. The shreyas path is the spiritual path which, when sincerely followed, enables man to keep God as the focus of his life and not be overawed by material temptations.
The various forms of worship, devotion, prayer and meditation practiced in mandirs takes man nearer to God. The murtis of God to whom devotion is offered carry the actual presence of God, since they have been consecrated by a God-realised Sadhu according to Vedic traditions. This presence can be experienced if one approaches with a pure heart.
Thus, through the mandir, the murtis enshrined within and the vast gamut of activities centred around the mandir, one can serve society and step closer to God.
It is with these pure and selfless motives that Bhagwan Swaminarayan and His spiritual succession of God-realised Sadhus - in particular Shastriji Maharaj, Yogiji Maharaj and Pramukh Swami Maharaj - have given fresh impetus to the building of mandirs.
From the remote tribal areas of Gujarat to the metropolitan cities of England and America, mandirs are an indispensable and integral organ of society, essential for its smooth, effective and harmonious functioning.
By using mandirs in their true sense, man will complete his quest for eternal happiness and enjoy a better tomorrow.