Gurudeva said there is a need for religion. Gurudeva at first just taught meditation, but then later he started teaching devotion and had everyone building temples. Gurudeva realized his devotees needed a foundation of devotion without which meditation wouldn't really bear fruit. Devotion gives us something to fall back so we don't go down in consciousness. Chellapaswami said, "We do not know." This means that the deepest spiritual experience transcends the intellect, memory and reason. Prapatti, total surrender, softens the ego. We also need religion so we can get some help from the inner planes.
There is another reason and it also happens to be one of Chellappaswami's Mahavakyam. "Naam ariyom. We do not know."
That sounds strange, "We do not know." Usually you say, "We know." The goal is to know something. But he is saying, "We do not know", giving us an opposite statement.
I was thinking about that, trying to figure out what kind of illustration to give. It would be like asking one of our Acharyas, "Acharya, you have been studying with Gurudeva now for thirty or thirty-five years. What have you learned?" The Acharya says, "I have learned that I do not know."
What does that mean? It means the deepest spiritual experiences transcend the intellect. Intellect deals in memory and reason. Memory and reason are very useful. But they are not useful when it comes to deeper experiences. To go beyond memory and reason, we have to give them up. We have to have the feeling we do not know, which is also called deep humility. The feeling that we know a lot is also called ego. "I am the smartest person here", that is the ego speaking.
Chellappaswami says that we have to go beyond that. We have to reduce the sense of ego, reduce the sense of intellectual knowledge so that we really feel we don't know, meaning the external mind does not know. We have to go deep enough to experience it.
That is also one of the beauties of the foundation of devotion. It helps us end up in that state of mind. People with a very strong ego sense who don't have devotion go into the temple and you can tell by their body language that something is wrong. They are standing in the back. They are not participating in the worship at all, not really understanding what is going
on, because they are in their intellect, their ego sense. It doesn't make sense to them. It doesn't feel like something they want to participate in. It seems beneath them, whatever. They don't relate to it and you can tell by how they stand and how they move.
There is a wonderful chapter in 'Living with Siva' on surrender, prapatti which catches the essence of what we are talking about here. That we have to, through devotion, learn to surrender. We have to learn to acknowledge the Mahadeva who is greater than we are and strive to experience His blessings. We start first with Ganesha. We have all done that. We have all experienced Ganesha's blessings by surrendering the ego to something greater by saying, "Ganesha, you are great. Please let me experience Your blessings, Your shakti." We open ourselves up to that. It is prapatti and it softens the ego.
That is the beautiful phrase Gurudeva uses, "softens the ego", makes us a less egoistic person. We are not so self centered, we don't think ourselves so great. We also don't want to think ourselves little. That is not the point. That is a negative ego. We just want to think of ourselves as a soul, that there are certainly greater Beings than we are spiritually. The Mahadevas are so much greater than we are. We have a sense of genuine humility because we are identifying with the soul nature.
That is the second benefit of a religious practice. In our tradition of charya, kriya, yoga and jnana, kriya being the intense awakening of devotion precedes yoga. Kriya precedes yoga. So devotion precedes deep meditation. We don't try and encourage someone to meditate deeply until they are deeply devoted.
First you are deeply devoted. Secondly, you learn to meditate deeply. It is not that we discourage simple meditation. Meditation is good for anyone. It helps to center yourself, quiet your thoughts and so forth. But intense meditation or deep meditation isn't encouraged or doesn't bear fruit until it is proceeded by deep devotion.
There is a third reason that Gurudeva focused so much on the temple and religion. "Each religion has a hierarchy of Saints, angels and archangels which assist all of its followers for the inner planes, helping them through their difficult times, answering their prayers and supplications. When we leave the fold of religion, we remove ourselves from the benign influence of these great Beings and actually open ourselves to much lesser base influences which can disrupt our lives. Spiritual life, especially as one progresses in the stages of mystical experience, is a very delicate process. Powerful forces are awakened in us which we may or may not always be able to perfectly control."
There is a lot of help available on the inner planes and it is very useful. But it is only there for those who are active members of the religion. That is why Gurudeva had those of us in the West formally enter Hinduism and why he encourages everyone to participate in traditional religion. He doesn't favor New Age activity that is devoid of religion affiliation, for this reason. There is no inner plane hierarchy there to help you out. They are outside of it.
When non-Hindus participate in Hindu activities, they are not fully attuned to this inner world. They have not been accepted into the inner world It is like looking at the activity through a glass window. They are not fully able to participate in it. They can enjoy it to a certain extent. But they are not able to go into it as far as someone who is in the religion. So there is a difference. You don't want to be on the outside of the window looking through into the room. You want to be in the room. That is more enjoyable.
For all of those reasons, Gurudeva focused on religious foundation and the importance of religion, placing the Vedantic truths in the Hindu religion. First, we are of the religion. Then, we develop deep devotion. Then, we can think about deep meditation, which of course eventually leads to Realization.
Some wonderful statements by Yogaswami which I will read in closing, on this idea of "We do not know".
"When you have reduced yourself to nothing, when your small self has disappeared, when you have become nothing then you are your Self God. A man who is nothing knows God, for God is nothing. Nothing is everything. Because I am nothing you see, because I am a beggar, I am everything. So nothing means everything. Understand. It means you genuinely desire nothing. It means that you can honestly say that you know nothing. It also means you are not interested in doing anything about this state of nothingness. You think you know but in fact you are ignorant. When you see that you know nothing about yourself, then you are your Self God."
Aum Namah Sivaya.