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Why Build Places of Worship? – Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda in the book Raja Yoga is deciphering and explaining Yoga Sutras by Patanjali. While explaining these in the 70th Sutra (out of 195 Sutras), Swami Vivekananda has made a very important & interesting argument on places of worship and holy people. He also questions, why is it important to worship god (if at all there is one) anywhere? Why only go to a place of worship?

It is important since we live in times where a lot of people across the world have benefited and suffered due to places of worship.

Swami Vivekananda says,

Every day of our lives we throw out a mass of good or evil, and everywhere we go the atmosphere is full of these materials. That is how there came to the human mind, unconsciously, the idea of building temples and churches. Why should man build churches in which to worship God? Why not worship Him anywhere?

Even if he did not know the reason, man found that the place where people worshipped God became full of good Tanmatras (subtle elements). Every day people go there, and the more they go the holier they get, and the holier that place becomes.

If any man who has not much Sattva in him goes there, the place will influence him and arouse his Sattva quality. Here, therefore, is the significance of all temples and holy places, but you must remember that their holiness depends on holy people congregating there. The difficulty with man is that he forgets the original meaning, and puts the cart before the horse. It was men who made these places holy, and then the effect became the cause and made men holy. If the wicked only were to go there, it would become as bad as any other place. It is not the building, but the people that make a church, and that is what we always forget. That is why sages and holy persons, who have much of this Sattva quality, can send it out and exert a tremendous influence day and night on their surroundings. A man may become so pure that his purity will become tangible. Whosoever comes in contact with him becomes pure.

What is the Sattva Quality?

The world is divided in to soul (Purusa) and nature (Prakriti). The mind is the part of the nature according to the Sankhya and Yoga philosophy. In the Sankhya system (literally means numeration), universe is the product of two categories – (a) Prakriti, which is the material matrix of the physical universe and (b) Purusa, which includes the innumerable conscious souls embedded within it. As a result of interaction between these two entities the material universe evolves in stages. The catalysts in this process are the three qualities (gunas) that are inherent in Prakriti (nature). These are

  1. Sattva – Lucidity
  2. Rajas – Action
  3. Tamas – Inertia

Gunas are of special significance in Yoga in terms of their psychological manifestation since the mind is also made up of a mix of these Gunas/qualities. When the Sattva quality is dominant in an individual, the qualities of lucidity, tranquility, wisdom, discrimination, detachment, happiness, peacefulness manifest.

When the Rajas is predominant, you’ll find hankering, attachment, energetic endeavor, passion, power, restlessness, and creative activity manifesting in the inidividual.

When the Tamas is dominant, you’ll find stillness, ignorance, delusion, disinterest, lethargy, sleep, and disinclination towards any constructive activity.

(Ref. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Edwin F. Bryant)

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