No, I am not talking about the difference in the methodology of worship. I am talking about the primary difference between a Hindu temple and any other place of worship.
The primary difference is the fact that before being a place of worship, a Hindu temple is the abode of the deity of the temple.
I am not sure what portion of the Santana dharma followers are aware of this fact. Surely not everyone. But this is not the unfortunate part. What is rather unfortunate is that even the majority of those who know this, don’t really feel that. That means deep inside they don’t accept or know this truth. Because anyone feeling or rather knowing that wouldn’t dare to talk carelessly inside a temple. Imagine being called by your Ishta (your god), at her/his residence (no pun intended:) Just imagine your state of mind. I assume most of us would feel pretty nervous if it is the first visit. (Don’t lie that you won’t. Just remember the first time you visited your in-laws or your boss’s house). You would try to put up with your best performance. You would not casually receive phone calls for that online order you placed. Surely you would not start discussing politics, sports, or current affairs with just some random stranger that you meet there. Most importantly you would keep your tone soft if need to converse with someone. One would try to limit the conversations except for those mental conversations where you are rehearsing what would you say when you meet the host. Imagine the situation that you are in a room with your Ishta sitting in front of you. Would anyone dare to gossip? The bitter and sad truth is that if one gossip in front of the vighraha (idol) of the deity then that person doesn’t believe (or knows) that the divine resides in the vigharha in Hindu temples.
For every Hindu temple following the practices in its entirety, there is a ceremony to invite and invoke the deity in the vighraha. After those rituals, the energy of the deity of the temple resides in the vighraha inside the temple. As the great Kashmiri scholar Abhinavgupta mentioned in Tantraloka that just like there is no existence of fire without the heat and the light energy of the fire, the energy of the divine is not different from the divine itself. Similarly, it is only when the energy of the deity is invoked, that the divine resides in the vighraha. And consequently, that place becomes the abode of the divine. Now at this place, the divine energy could interact and bless those visiting.
With this background in place, I’ll now come to the main theme of this series. Please note that this is based on my humble understanding and experiences while exploring this path for some time. And here is the point I am making (this is not a new theory I am proposing. Vedic literature already talks a great deal about this). The way the energy of a deity can be invoked in a vighraha, in the same way, the energy of a mantra of a deity can be invoked within, by a sadhak (aspirant). Please note that a mantra is different from prayer, hymn, or eulogy. It is not a form of communication to express one’s gratitude or sing the glories of the deity of the mantra. It is in fact the living energy of the deity itself. This all might be difficult for a modern conditioned mind to accept because of a simple reason. We have constrained our imagination by the assumption that any living being has to have a body and matter attached to it. This assumption is so ingrained in us that even in science fiction work we always portray aliens with solid bodies. We believe that only a form having solid matter associated with it can have consciousness. What if an alien on some planet is a gaseous body that can decide in which direction it wants to diffuse or flow? Maybe that is the reason we haven’t been able to find any aliens till now. For me, anything that has the consciousness to choose and decide is a living being(maybe that is why, deep inside, we all crave the freedom to choose & decide). Even if it is just some energy form without any matter attached to it.
Invoking a mantra within is just like that. One feels the presence of the deity of the mantra. You are not alone anymore. Now, the sadhak himself is like a walking temple in which the energy of the deity resides. He can bless and help others in many different ways. Maybe that is why so much respect and reverence is offered to the awakened masters and the rishis in the Vedic culture. In the presence of such beings, one can feel unmistakable love, peace, and happiness.
In this series, I will share my experience of the things that improve and those that degrade the quality of effort on this path. Along with some small indicators of progress. In no sense, I am claiming that I have already reached that state. I am still walking on this path, like many other aspirants. It is just that I have keenly noticed a few patterns in my daily activities that helped or hampered the quality of my efforts. The idea is that my observations might help or inspire someone to explore the path of Vedic sadhana. And the only aim is to propagate the Vedic culture that is facing a very real existential crisis.