One of our duties as human beings is to avail ourselves of every opportunity to do good to others. The poor can serve others by their physical labor and the rich by their wealth. Those of you who are influential can use your influence to better the condition of others. That way, we can keep alive in our hearts the sense of social service.
India is a poor country; but it is the poor that joined together in ancient times and built the grand temples and towers which we find today in every town and village of South India. The economy of those days was different from what it is now. People's wants were few and the surplus produce of the land was utilized to hire labor to build these great structures of public utility and spiritual admiration.
In the present day, social service is viewed in a different manner. Schools and hospitals are built and banks organized on a community basis with the object of eradicating ignorance, diseases and poverty. But it is evident that these forms of social service have not been an unmixed blessing. Education has not eradicated falsehood and corruption. On the other hand, unsophisticated tribal people, whom modern education has not reached, are found to be more honest than the so-called educated people. Confidence of obtaining cure in hospitals has made people lead reckless lives. All the banks that have come into existence have not succeeded in eradicating poverty among the masses.
In our modern mode of life, we have multiplied our wants. This will lead only to perpetual discontent. A life of extreme simplicity alone can bring contentment and happiness to the people. In this country, there are, what may be called, community temples. For instance at Avadayarkoil, it is the custom to offer large quantities of cooked rice to the presiding deity and this rice is made available to all at a nominal cost. In many temples the sense of community life is fostered by devoting special days and occasions for it. Consecrated food is made available through them to all those in need.
Gratitude for help received is a cardinal virtue. The taxes that you pay to the Corporation of Madras and to the Government are your expression of gratitude for the services rendered by those agencies. There are super-human agencies which confer benefits on us. We must express our gratitude to those agencies in the manner prescribed in the Vedas. This expression of gratitude is known as yagna. Though schools, hospitals and banks and such other social service organizations may be necessary in the context of our present times, these institutions cannot serve their respective purposes in the absence of devotion. The one cure for all human ills is the power to endure them with faith in God’s grace. Bhakti alone can give that power of endurance. Temples are the agencies for the cultivation of bhakti. Hence the obligation to build temples in every place.
What is the significance of making offerings to the idols installed in temples? This is done as an expression of gratitude to the Power that created all things. Man by himself cannot create even a blade of grass. We will be guilty of gross ingratitude if we do not offer first to God, what we eat or wear. Only the best and the choicest should be offered to God. It is not everyone that can do pooja at home and make these offerings to God. It is here that temples come into the picture. Offerings are made to God in the temples on behalf of the entire community.
It is not even necessary that every one should worship inside the temples every day. Gopura darsanam will itself elevate our minds and make us remember the source from which we derive all the earthly benefits. At the same time, it is necessary for the community to see that worship at the temples is conducted properly. We should make it a point to see the temple tower every day and thereby concentrate a while in the contemplation of God. At least once a week we should go round the temple, reciting naamaas (God’s names) and doing bhajan. If we do so, we will derive real and lasting benefit.
October 7, 1957.