Several years ago, I was conversing with a friend who was in seminary. He was assigned to attend various houses of worship that represented multiple traditions. His denomination is quite liberal, and honors the truths of many paths. When he attended a particular temple that is deeply grounded in the Hindu/Yoga tradition he observed things that he didn’t quite understand. The service was conducted by a rather elderly swami, who led chanting, meditation and provided a detailed sermon on some spiritual topic.
As mentioned above, it seemed every eye was on him, every ear attuned to what was said. There was a lot of love exchanged in that hour. His query to me was, “What did I miss? What was he doing, that to me was rather boring, yet to the congregants seemed like words from the Divine itself?”It was an easy question for me to answer. I had been in that temple before, and heard that same monk speak. Everything this minister-in-training said was spot on. This dear sannyasin had a reputation for his lack of charisma, eloquence and presence. So why the large crowd? Why the smiles on so many faces? It’s one concept that this then young man had never been made aware, because it doesn’t officially exist outside of the Dharmic faiths. I say officially, because it’s something that is really universal, but not always defined in spiritual terms.
It’s called Darshan
According to the Yogic Encyclopedia, Darshan is a form of ceremonial worship in Hinduism, the literal meaning is “sight,” “vision,” or “appearance.” It refers to the act of beholding a deity, divine person, sacred object, natural phenomenon, especially in imaged form. Darshan implies a mutual interaction between the viewer and the perceived object or being. The experience is considered to be reciprocal and results in the human viewer’s receiving a blessing. Darshan is considered a powerful form of worship and process of spiritual fulfillment.
As you can see from this definition, it’s not just seeing an image or person, it’s being seen as well. And most all of us can relate in some way. Imagine how many of us feel about admired celebrities. When you are at the concert of a mega-star, everyone in the stadium is seeing the performer. But if you’re in the front row, there’s every good chance that the performer will see you. Maybe offer up a smile or a wink. That’s enough to melt some people. I know. It happened to me with the great band leader Duke Ellington many moons ago.
Earlier I referenced the western tradition of eloquent preaching. This is something that Christians have every right to be proud of. I can listen to a well delivered sermon that I disagree with theologically and feel fulfilled on some other level. And don’t get me wrong. There are many, many Hindu acharyas, swamis and swaminis who are brilliant presenters. But they usually offer their discourses outside of the confines of a temple. The example I gave here about the elderly monk at a temple service is an exception to the rule. Devotees don’t usually go to a temple for a sermon, lecture or class. Most often they go for darshan. To gaze into the eyes of a Hindu deity and feel as if you are embraced in the arms of Divinity itself. Along with that, if the resident priest happens to be a true expression of holiness (obviously, not all are), that darshan is a blessing as well.
Delivered From Delusion
The Hindu scriptures tell us that just one moment in the presence of a true master can be our raft over the river of delusion. Naturally, this statement must be taken in proper context. Some who practice “loophole religion” might suppose that an immoral life may be led, but if just once there was a minute spent in the company of an enlightened soul, then liberation would be achieved. Hardly. It would take a lifetime of devotion, spiritual direction and practice to even recognize that one was in proximity to a saint.