One must strive to understand the psychological purpose behind every action in the spiritual path, otherwise it degenerates into a mere mechanical act followed out of fear, habit or superstition. With that in mind, here we explore the role that can be played by places of worship, relics, shrines, and prayer rooms in the spiritual path.
The vast majority of people visit temples, mosques, churches, synagogues, etc. for a variety of mundane reasons: to pray to God for material favours, to gain the support and affection that comes by being part of some community, or purely as a habit or tradition inculcated by the culture one is born into. Those who seek union with the Divine may also chose to visit a place of worship but their purpose is more sublime; they go there to seek that aura of tranquility that inhabits the place, the aura that has been created through the ages because people have engaged in contemplative activities, chanting and other devotional activities. Until one has acquired the ability to enter into a state of trance effortlessly, one needs such a harmonious atmosphere in order to reinforce the wavering will-power and calm the vacillating mind. Unfortunately, all too often, places of worship deteriorate into parochial and commercialized shrines where prayers are mechanically offered without any psychological introspection, self-giving love or surrender. What is worse is that people tend to become attached to some chosen place of worship, and even start wars to secure control over it.
The Mother Mirra Alfassa offered another perspective on this topic based on her occult insights. She discovered in the course of her travels that some places of worship were in fact controlled by inimical vital entities, whose purpose was antithetical to the spiritual pursuit. She also found that shrines where animals are slaughtered ostensibly as sacrifice to God in reality attract malevolent occult spirits which aggrandize themselves by feeding off the stimulating and putrid life-forces that are released during miasmatic acts of mass slaughter (1). In the following passage, she relates some of her insights:
In all religious monuments, in monuments considered the most… well, as belonging to the highest religion, whether in France or any other country or Japan – it was never the same temples or churches nor the same gods, and yet my experience was everywhere almost the same, with very small differences – I saw that whatever concentrated force there was in the church depended exclusively upon the faithful, the faith of the devotees. And there was still a difference between the force as it really was and the force as they felt it. For instance, I saw in one of the most beautiful cathedrals of France, which, from the artistic point of view, is one of the most magnificent monuments imaginable – in the most sacred spot I saw an enormous black, vital spider which had made its web and spread it over the whole place, and was catching in it and then absorbing all the forces emanating from people’s devotion, their prayers and all that. It was not a very cheering sight; the people who were there and were praying, felt a divine touch, they received all kinds of boons from their prayers, and yet what was there was this, this thing. But they had their faith which could change that evil thing into something good in them; they had their faith. So, truly, if I had gone and told them, “Do you think you are praying to God? It is an enormous vital spider that’s feeding upon all your forces!”, that would really not have been very charitable. And that’s how it is most of the time, almost everywhere; it is a vital force which is there, for these vital entities feed upon the vibration of human emotions, and very few people, very few, an insignificant number, go to church or temple with a true religious feeling, that is, not to pray and beg for something from God but to offer themselves, give thanks, aspire, give themselves. There is hardly one in a million who does that. So they do not have the power of changing the atmosphere. Perhaps when they are there, they manage to get across, break through and go somewhere and touch something divine. But the large majority of people who go only because of superstition, egoism and self-interest, create an atmosphere of this kind, and that is what you breathe in when you go to a church or temple. Only, as you go there with a very good feeling, you tell yourself, “Oh, what a quiet place for meditation!” (2)
Mausoleums (samadhi or dargah) where enlightened sages have been buried are said to emit favourable vibrations. These may not exhibit the drawbacks associated with a place of worship. That of course raises the question: “How long do the vibrations of a departed sage last?” which cannot be answered easily. One has to awaken to the deeper aspects of one’s being to determine the benevolent vibrations in such places, and often that happens only due to some miracle and Divine grace.
A harmonious atmosphere at home (and the significance of relics)
If one cannot find a shrine which exudes benevolent vibrations, one can create a harmonious atmosphere at home. After all, the Divine is everywhere. It is not necessary to periodically visit some place of worship to reinforce one’s spiritual aspiration. In the next passage, the Mother Mirra Alfassa outlines how one can go about the task of manifesting such an atmosphere at home. The passage also briefly alludes to the significance of relics.
It goes without saying that a (spiritual) seeker should create around himself an atmosphere of pure thoughts, ardent aspiration, good will and harmony; that becomes, as it were, a kind of magnetic field whereto higher currents of life are drawn naturally and his spiritual endeavour receives a constant reinforcement. At the same time the opposite, negative movements in the surroundings are thrown back automatically, without any conscious effort on his part. All this is more or less psychological in character, but there is another step that is important and that is the creation of a physical atmosphere.
The physical surroundings in which one lives: have a marked effort on the individual, especially if he is engaged in a spiritual pursuit. Unclean, disorderly and chaotic conditions act as a wet blanket. They attract confusion, impurities and falsities of all kinds. The grounds must be cleared.
The house or at least the room where one lives and practices has to be kept clean and an order maintained in the arrangement of things; there should be a link between the things and oneself. One should know exactly what is where: a rapport in consciousness must be built up. That way even physical objects around oneself share in the growth of one’s consciousness and become friends and helpers in their own way. They absorb the vibrations of the aspiration and the response thereto, and retain them even longer than the life-time of the user. (Incidentally, this is the significance of the tradition of relics) The entire place is lifted up and is awake with a perceptible stir of the Spirit.
The place should be purified by such means as incense which clears the air of gross impurities, checks subtle intrusions of the hostiles and promotes an atmosphere of purity and solemnity. As far as possible, only persons of like aspiration should be welcome. Those that are hostile to that aspiration, those that indulge habitually in movements contrary to the seeking, should not be allowed to contaminate the air. For every physical impact of this kind leaves its subtle effect which prolongs itself long after the physical cause is withdrawn.
Reading of good literature, mentation on sublime themes, prayers, willings of consecration, quiet meditations -all these contribute to the establishment of the needed climate and in turn are supported by it. The room or the house turns into a circle, cakra, of consecration, of adoration and worship. The atmosphere absorbs continually these vibrations and it not only works as a powerful stimulus to maintain and intensify one’s aspiration and seeking, but acts beneficially on others as well. It becomes a temple, a spiritual centre, ksetra. (3)
- Mother’s Agenda, Vol. 2, April 29, 1961
- Collected Works of the Mother, Vol 6, p 195.
- M.P.Pandit. Mother of Love, vol 4, pp 101-103.
- On some customs and traditions of Hinduism
- Is fear and awe of God necessary?
- The occult spirits which influence our actions
- Stabilizing the body before meditation
- How to rise above the ordinary life?
- The foundation of spiritual relationships
- Interplay of Faith and Doubt in Yoga
- Karma can be changed. Your destiny is in your hands
- Hermeneutics: how to read holy scriptures
- How to read holy books
- The purpose of idolatry and its limitations