Sagrada Familia. Gaudi's temple in Barcelona
This article is inspired by Gaudi's cathedral-like building in Barcelona, dedicated to the Holy Family. The edifice comprises in effect an unusual individual art form peculiar to Gaudi. He died some years ago but his enterprise survives and is being funded generously by public support. His original design is being completed by architects and builders in keeping with his very individual style. The building is already an imposing and interesting edifice and will be much more so as it is completed.
Although this particular building is of an unconventional design its use is conventional. It will be used for worship by members of the Christian religion, most probably Roman Catholics. As witness to the subject of its dedication there are more or less conventional statues of the Holy Family incorporated into the facade of the main front.
Throughout the world there are cathedrals, churches, synagogues, temples, mosques, shrines, holy places, in a variety of sizes and designs, and with a variety of ornamentation. Many of them are beautiful, grand in size and proportion, even awe-inspiring, some are plain and simple but all provide a haven of peace from the hurly-burly of everyday life. Most of them incorporate symbols, either in their structure or in objects which they house, and which usually relate to the scriptural persuasions of those who use the buildings. Not only do these edifices contain symbolism, they are themselves symbols, houses of god.
Apart from their symbolic presence, what purpose do these sacred edifices serve? They are obviously for worship, for glorifying, praising and praying to Deity; in them are performed various customary forms of ceremonial in which clergy and worshippers participate.
In the minds of the congregation and of the officiants are their ideas as to the nature of the Deity being addressed, adored, praised or supplicated. These ideas have been instilled into the worshippers almost from birth. They are taken for granted and nearly never questioned. They are various and peculiar to the religions concerned. They have their differences. Allah is not quite the same as Jehovah; Buddhists have no specific divinity; Hindus have a whole Pantheon.
Apart from the normal ideas of the adoration paid, or the taking part in a religious service, what does worship mean? The dictionary says of worship, 'Profound admiration and affection; an act of revering or adoring'. Does, however, any God otherwise worthy of it, i.e. a Creator and/or Governor of the world or a universe, need praise, adoration or thanks. Would not such a God be of an order of being so different from us men and women as to be quite beyond such praise and thanksgiving? To such a Being it would be quite irrelevant. In the eyes of the worshippers, however, their Deity is, in fact, invested with all those human characteristics which could be affected, i.e. appreciate or be flattered by, such adoration etc. But surely this conception resides in the minds of the worshippers, and results from those ideas previously inculcated in them from their earliest age. Nevertheless, the reverence paid, the adoration, even gratitude, and the adherence to religious rites and disciplines in everyday life, according to their degree, mature and strengthen the souls of the worshippers, and these are elements in an eventual attainment of Self-enlightenment.
In theosophical terms, however, the deific Entity addressed, even if, in fact, there were such a one, would be quite beyond the normal conceits of personality. Such an Entity would necessarily be beyond the limitations of human personality transcending all its ordinary vanities and be quite unaffected by any form of flattery or even gratitude. Similarly any kind of propitiation would also be quite irrelevant. Do not all forms of praise relate only to the level of ordinary humanity and not conceivably to super-humanity? It can be said therefore, 'that worship is for the benefit of the worshipper, not the worshipped.'
How therefore has worship as commonly known persisted for so long and been practised in its many forms by so many millions of mankind? Is it not because the worshippers feel urged to do so and in the doing experience some benefit by way of uplift, elevation of consciousness, cleansing or inspiration? In other words, worship is not really for the benefit of the Deity but for the worshippers. This is crudely obvious in the case of supplicatory prayer but the supplicant may be genuinely in dire need of help. It is commonly accepted that the answering of such prayers, if any, is unquestionably according to the will of the Deity. The non-involved observer may question the frequency of such answers, at least in the way the supplicants would have wished? That prayer is seemingly so seldom felicitously answered should not be surprising when the real nature of the Deity to whom it is addressed is considered. That Deity is an image in the mind of the supplicant, an idea only. As the Mahatmas say in Letter X, 'no man has ever seen God.' They go on to say,
'remember the sum of human misery will never be diminished until that day when the better portion of humanity destroys in the name of Truth, morality, and universal charity, the altars of their false gods'. [Mahatma Letters to A. P Sinnett Letter X, p 52, 3rd Ed.]
This is not to say that there are no gods. There are the great Beings associated with the Elements imparting the characteristic qualities to all things in Nature. some Eastern religions are cognizant of such 'gods' but relatively few of their adherents are. H.P. Blavatsky talkes of a collective 'Creator' of the Universe ... the Dhyan-Chohans. But she says their work is not always perfect, therefore
'neither the collective Host (Demiurgos), nor any of the working powers individually are proper subjects for divine honours or worship. All are entitled to the grateful reverence of Humanity, however, ...' [H. P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine Vol.I, p 280].
Then are Theosophists atheists? H.P.B. replies;
'Not that we know of, and not unless the epithet ... is to be applied to those who disbelieve in an anthropomorphic God. We believe in a Universal Divine Principle, the root of ALL, from which all proceeds, and within which all shall be absorbed at the end of the great cycle of Being....
Our DEITY is neither in a paradise, nor in a particular tree, building or mountain: it is everywhere, in every atom of the visible as of the invisible Cosmos ...' [H. P. Blavatsky, The Key to Theosophy, p 63/4, Orig. Ed.]
Therefore it is within all human beings.
The main question raised concerning the nature and purpose of worship is the nature of the Deity to whom it is addressed. The function of worship, however, apart from this question, is the coming-together as devotees of congregations of people in temples, churches, etc., for instruction and uplift. It is religious teaching, not about deity, but about ethics, morals, codes of behaviour, decent social usage and the virtues of honesty, charity, chastity and so on, in addition to some instruction as to the essential spiritual nature of man and his intimate relationship to his natural environment, the Cosmos, that is the proper role of religion in society. Such teachings are all necessary for the benefit of humanity both collectively and individually.
Now, however, the actual place or building where the congregation meets has become for its members a sacred place. Traditionally it has become dedicated to a particular Deity and committed to customary usage, but always the Deity really exists only in the imagination of the members of the congregation. It has no reality in existence or even 'behind the scenes'. It is one of the many 'false gods' referred to by the Masters that are imposed on mankind by the priestly caste.
Pushing our questioning further and seeking bedrock basics, as far as any man or woman is concerned there is not and cannot be anything more fundamental than the seeker's own being, his own life or consciousness, and that in which consciousness arises during earth life is his brain within his physical body. There are some significant passages in the Christian bible which relate this idea to the matter of temples and places of worship. One of these is in the 1st Book of Corinthians, ch.3, xvi, which says,
'Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the spirit of God dwelleth in you',
and there is another very significant one in the 2nd Book of Corinthians, ch.6, xvi, which says,
'And what agreement has the temple of God with idols? For ye are the temple of the living God. As God has said, I will dwell in them and walk in them, and I will be their God and they shall be my people'.
There are other such quotations. God is not defined in these passages but is it not obvious that it is in theosophical parlance the inner Divinity in man, his Ego, his spiritual Individuality that is meant.
'God' is of course subject to many interpretations according to belief. According to the theosophical doctrine of Unity, that which is inmost in us is one with that which is inmost in the Cosmos. This fundamental Unity in its manifest aspects is Spirit, Life or Consciousness. A man is only aware of his being by way of his consciousness. For him, that is any man, there is nothing more fundamental than this.
Consciousness arises, at any rate at physical level, in the physical body, in the brain. In the sayings quoted above the 'temple' is obviously the manifest man and that which inhabits him is also obviously his spirit, and this spirit surely equates to God. By the principle of Unity, anything that might be regarded as a transcendent God is the same as the immanent God within each of us, and that is our inmost unit of consciousness beyond which we cannot go.
Therefore, as man gives expression to life or consciousness in his objective self, his personality or body, so he represents the Deity, the Spirit in its temple. Any other religious edifice or house of God, however named, whether it be a church, a temple, a cathedral or a mosque, because it has no life or consciousness of its own, cannot properly be regarded as a temple of 'God', i.e. there can be no Spirit or God as such in it, but there can be in a living man.
This idea of god being immanent only in an individual consciousness is, by the principle of Unity, necessarily valid for all beings and even things, and all 'creation'. The whole universe, by this principle of Unity, manifests in its infinite diversity the One Life, and life and consciousness are synonymous. The whole of creation then becomes the 'temple of god'. Everything is holy; everything is sacred.
Reverting again to individual men and women, there is a very significant passage in The Secret Doctrine regarding individual human beings as holy shrines. It is as follows:
The ever-unknowable and incognizable Karana alone, the Causeless Cause of all causes, should have its shrine and altar on the holy and ever untrodden ground of our heart - invisible, intangible, unmentioned, save through "the still small voice" of our spiritual consciousness. Those who worship before it, ought to do so in the silence and the sanctified solitude of their Souls; making their spirit the sole mediator between them and the Universal Spirit, their good actions the only priests, and their sinful intentions the only visible and objective sacrificial victims to the Presence.[H. P. Blavatsky, The Secret Doctrine Vol.I, p 280, Orig.Ed.]
A further passage by H.P.B. in her article 'Is Theosophy a Religion' (Lucifer, Nov.1888) quotes a definitive verse from a poem by Miller:
' ... true Religion
Is always mild, propitious and humble;
Plays not the tyrant, plants no faith in blood,
Nor bears destruction on her chariot wheels;
But stoops to polish, succour and redress,
And builds her grandeur on the public good.'
and then she says:
'The above is a correct definition of what true theosophy is, or ought to be.... In this respect, as it is the duty and task of every genuine theosophist to accept and carry out these principles, Theosophy is RELIGION, and the Society its one Universal Church; the temple of Solomon's wisdom, in building which "there was neither hammer nor axe nor any tool of iron heard in the house, while it was in building" (I Kings,vi,7); for this "temple" is made by no human hand, nor built in any locality on earth - but, verily, is raised only in the inner sanctuary of man's heart wherein reigns alone the awakened soul.’ [H.P.Blavatsky, Collected Writings Vol.X, 162/3]
Fix thy mind on Me, devote thyself to Me, sacrifice for Me, surrender to Me, make Me the object of thine aspirations, and thou shalt assuredly become one with Me, Who am thine own Self. [Bhagavad Gita, IX, v 34]
The above article first appeared in 'The Theosophist' Magazine, August 1996