Hindu Temple Visit with Quaker Interfaith Team
~ Saturday May 31, 2008
After receiving an invitation from the Wahroonga Quaker Interfaith Team to visit the Sri Venkateswara Hindu Temple at Helensburgh, five members of SOL (Janine, Jenny, Sam, Maria and Heather) happily accepted and attended the event. But why, you ask, were the Quakers (Christians) inviting the Pagans to visit the Hindus? The Wahroonga Quaker Interfaith Team upholds a tradition of asking little-known faith groups to talk about themselves, and organises Interfaith events, which are designed to provide an opportunity for people of all faiths and backgrounds to find out about the faith and practice of other groups in a spirit of goodwill.
History shows that Quakers emerged from the turmoil of religious, social and political thought in 17th Century England. They survived the persecutions of the Restoration, probably because, unlike other movements, Quakers had no leadership to destroy. Nevertheless 13,000 Quakers were imprisoned for refusal to swear oaths of allegiance or pay tithes for the established church, 338 died in prison and more than 100 were transported to America before the Act of Tolerance in 1689 gave them some protection. Quakers abide by the testimonies of integrity, equality, simplicity and peace, although it should be emphasised that the testimonies are ideals to strive for, not a creed. Quakers believe that there is that which is of God in all people, each of us can experience that of God, and Divine guidance will lead to realisation of a single shared truth.
Quakers practise silent worship; an opportunity to listen not to speak, a provision of space in which God can act. This perspective is contrasted to anthropomorphic styles of worship which can centre on praising God as if God needed it, telling God how to go about running creation, and petitioning God as if God had favorites and we deserved the privilege. The Quaker viewpoint is that in silent worship there is opportunity for awe and wonder, for a leading to right action, for strength in times of difficulty and a leading to sensitivity to the needs of others and the environment.
Members of Spheres Of Light and the Wahroonga Quaker Interfaith Team
After arriving at the Hindu temple and the initial introductions were made, we retired to a sunny spot in the gardens to discuss the morning's activities and a little about Hindu beliefs. Acey, the co-ordinator of the interfaith team, began to tell us of what she learned on a previous visit to the temple. As we did not have an official temple guide assigned to our group we took the opportunity to ask a couple of Hindu men, who were nearby in the garden, if they wouldn't mind explaining to us something about their beliefs. They were more than happy to oblige and this proved to be most enlightening, as in the course of the conversations we discovered many similarities between Hindu, Pagan and Quaker beliefs..
The word "Hinduism" refers to a spectrum of religious beliefs and practices that developed, largely on the Indian sub-continent, over the past four thousand years. Rather than a single theology there are actually three viewpoints within Hinduism concerning the understanding of God. The first and most prevalent says that there is One Reality who can be worshipped through various forms and representations: as Vishnu, as Shiva, as Ganesha etc. The second view, on the other hand, considers Vishnu as the sole supreme Being to whom all other deities are subordinate. The third view venerates Shiva as the supreme Reality to whom all others are subordinate.
The Sri Venkateswara Temple complex at Helensburgh is the site of the first Hindu temple in Australia to be built along tradtional lines, and is also the largest Hindu temple complex in Australia. The five ancient principles of Hindu temple construction are: it is on an island, of virgin land, surrounded by forest, with a water source and an ocean nearby. There are two temples on this site; one is dedicated to Lord Vishnu (Venkateswara) and the other is dedicated to Lord Shiva.
Statue at entrance to Shiva Temple
||Unfortunately, because of ongoing repairs to the roof due to recent hail damage the Shiva temple was closed to the public for safety reasons, and we were only able to enter the temple dedicated to Vishnu. However, it was still a thoroughly worthwhile and enjoyable experience to be able to go inside just the one temple and see the beautiful statues of the Hindu deities, many of them painted in vibrant colours and with great attention to detail. Cameras were not allowed inside the temple so the photo to the right is from the pamphlets supplied on the day.
We all stood in respectful silence, near the Shrine of Garuda, while we observed the ritual and blessings being given to the devotees in front of the inner sanctum of the central shrines - those of Sri Venkateswara, Sri Maha Lakshmi and Sri Aandal. When a Hindu worships at home, God is invoked into an image or symbol for the duration of the worship, whereas in the temple, God has been invoked to reside permanently within the consecrated image in the inner sanctum. When the image has been consecrated in accordance with the proper rites it is believed to embody the presence of the Divine, which is then maintained by the priests who conduct the daily rituals at fixed times and in a prescribed manner.
These rituals, along with other devotional practices, enhance the sanctity of the temple. An awareness of this sanctity was evident on the day even to non-Hindu visitors such as ourselves, and I personally found the smell of incense and the intermittent ringing of a large ritual bell (rung to produce the auspicious sound Om, the universal name of the Lord, thereby indicating the invocation of divinity) to be familiar and comforting.
After viewing the Temple, we took the opportunity to enjoy a delicious lunch at the Temple canteen, which served a selection of Indian cuisine.