The man with a lean hungry look worked feverishly chipping at the stone carving by the temple site. The fierce sunlight mercilessly scorched the back of the child in rags. Close by a monkey danced a jig to the latest screen tunes while his master scooped up the pennies. Two boys haggled and fought each other for a stolen piece of bread. Horn toting rickshaws tried to break up a crowd of women mesmerized by the bearded swamy. Fortune tellers offered phantoms of hope to a desperate humanity. In God’s great crucible thus live the anvil of society bearing everything, feigning nothing, great hearted men and women reduced to poverty by the bludgeons of chance. Faith throbs in their hearts like muffled fire, mellow and steady, keeping their cold lives warm.
In God's great crucible also thrives the better half that does not care to acknowledge the existence of this half. The wily bania for example counts his money, trembling with anticipation while millions starve. He is an honorable man and regularly goes to temples. So does the pillar of society, the judge who would rule without hesitation in favor of the politician, the corrupt and the jet-set mahatmas. Such men's beliefs are bad but they believe it will be improved just by going to the temple. Then we have the nouveau rich, the yuppies, the politicians with big tilaks, smooth talking intellectuals who do not hesitate to display ostentatious wealth right up to the gates of the temples; who take their clothes and jewelry to the temple rather than themselves; who paste their eyes and ears with stained glass to shut out the cry of the hungry and the hurt; and who change the purpose of a temple from being the dharamshala and conscience of society to an instrument of the rich and the powerful.
Still Hindus will pour millions into building these grand temples rather than open their hearts to the blossoms in the dust all around them right in the precincts of the temple. As Shakespeare would say, "Judgement thou art fled to brutish beasts and men have lost their reason".
Temples have been built all over Fiji, Trinidad, Africa and Guyana. But what has happened to Indians in these places? Have the temples helped when country after country scattered the unorganized race and sent them scampering like mice to seek safety in some distant shore? If they had spent a fraction of the cost of pouring into temples towards owning their own media, newspapers, lobbying for political power and protecting their interests, they would have become powerful minorities with a place under the Sun.
Can temples stand tall when men learn only to pray without also learning to row to the shore at the same time; when men pray to live easy lives but not to become stronger, when men pretend to have faith but shun to do good deeds; when men prefer to become slaves of the wheel of labour but not masters of destiny, when men do not have the will to accept that survival involves using the discus, gandiv and chanakyan skills in addition to the mala and the japmala? Even fools have learnt in the expensive schools of experience and hard-knocks but hypnotized Hindus follow a mirage seeking the beauteous eye of heaven as charted by the ever increasing tribe of escapist swamis.
Money for temples has also been pouring at an ever increasing rate in the land of Mammon, America, on the strength and showmanship of the wealthy of many cities, mainly doctors. The culture of the elitist permeates the atmosphere where people socialize on the basis of equality in status versus equality as Hindus; where a house owner will talk condescendingly to his fellowmen living in apartments; where a doctor or engineer has somehow acquired superiority in the divinity scale versus a waiter or laborer, where people find it more comfortable to talk about stocks, bonds, promotions and career satisfaction than dharma, karma, Hinduism or problems in India and where echoes of disdain roll from soul to soul when you are in trouble of any kind. It is again old wine in new bottles. The escapist culture started by the swamis has acquired a glamorized, intellectualized version in foreign shores.
Where there is no equality in our thoughts can it be changed by going to these “country club” places of worship? Can the children pick up true values or are they going through the rituals of puja to buy peace and compromise at home? A confidential survey of the thoughts of today's teenagers would reveal remarkable insights not even remotely dreamt about by their immigrant parents who migrated at a much later age.
Needless to say, achieving emotional unity or responding to crisis is a Herculean task in a city where there could be four or more temples, one for North Indians, one for South Indians, one for Jains, one for Gujaratis and so on and so forth. The energies of the unorganized race is further dissipated by regional, caste and elitist groups focusing exclusively on rituals instead of values such as courage, honesty or justice. A powerful character building sermon crystallizing the essence of the sublime Vedas would not only rejuvenate a cautious, apathetic and nerdy diaspora but also provide the spunk to live in a predominantly Anglo-Saxon culture.
The golden links to God can be accomplished with even one temple. The rest of the money could go to building several community centers with funds for legal, medical, unemployment, hardships cases, loans for students, establishing Vedic and Sanskrit studies, think tanks, lobbying in Congress against anti-India bills, hot lines to deal with emotional and psychological problems of uprooted, alienated Indians, transportation for the elderly, support groups, matrimonial services, sports, and other causes which would bring Indians of all denominations under one banner. The energy of a society, like sap in a tree, rises from the bottom up and so the bottom must be fortified for a strong foundation in order to avoid disintegration, unhappiness and misery. The true progress of a nation lies not on how well the strong and fit thrive but how well the weak survive. As we all know Society, like a chain, breaks at its weakest link.
It has been said that Indians have the highest per capita income among immigrant groups but as a community the Hindus can be blown apart with very little effort. The huddled masses of Hispanic immigrants may not have the highest per capita income but they have shown their teeth in Florida where they have enforced bilingualism in Miami. A single arrow is easily broken, but not ten such arrows in a bundle.
The day the temples develop an emotional heart and follow the ancient adage, “Service to mankind is service to God”, that day the psychologically splintered nation of India will unite and reverse a long History of slavery and defeat. And temples which are instrumental in influencing millions of Indians have a key part to play in inspiring and leading. Hiding behind rituals is escapism similar to being the “opium of the masses.”