Worshipping God in Nature

Swami Suryananda talks about experiencing God in the natural elements. Through greater sensitivity toward our natural surroundings, we develop an expanded sense of empathy, peace and joy.
The Sri Ranganatha Temple at Skanda Vale Ashram

Swami Suryananda Satsang – 22.11.20

The weather is something we spend a lot of time talking about; it’s a conversation opener, it’s on television every day and if you spend a lot of time working or worshipping outside (getting wet) then the weather forms an important part of your life.

When the Sri Ranganatha Temple was initiated by Lord Vishnu, the Lord specifically told Guru, “I want to be worshipped in the natural elements; my manifestation is the elements, I’m not separate from the elements.”

The Lord told Guru that He did not want a roof over His main murthi in the Temple. Despite our repeated attempts to build some temporary structure over the murthi, the Lord repeatedly blew these away – the wind literally demolished them – and so we finally listened and now there is no roof over the murthi (religious icon).

Over time, the open-air design of the temple has helped us develop a greater sensitivity to the direct interaction of the Divine, manifest through the elements.

Very often, when we’re chanting, or singing a bhajan (devotional hymn), or offering a particular prayer or intention to the Lord, there’s an immediate response: somehow the Sun will come out from behind the clouds, or there will be a breeze which will come across your face, or there may be a few drops of rain, or even torrential rain… all in an instant.

When you begin to acknowledge that this manifestation of the elements actually is the Divine – directly interacting with you, and communicating with you, it opens your mind up and you become incredibly sensitive to that beautiful interaction of the Lord, that experience of the Lord.

An outdoor lake temple at Skanda Vale dedicated to Sri Ranganatha
The Sri Ranganatha Temple and Durga Lake – at Skanda Vale Ashram

Guru always said ‘don’t believe in God – experience God’

And so it is because of the unique nature of that temple that you actually begin to experience the universality of God manifest in the elements.

For those of you who know the structure of the puja – we first worship Lord Vishnu on the island, and then we go to worship Lord Dattatreya, then the Divine Mother and finally the Nagaraja (who is also Murugan) and finally we come back into the temple.

I find it quite amusing that very often as we come away from Mother and start moving towards Lord Nagaraj, the Sun will come out. It’s as if Lord Subramanium manifests at that point in time for His worship in the form of Nagaraj. It’s a direct correlation, not a coincidence.

When you acknowledge this in your mind, you start to become hypersensitive to how changes in the weather, in the clouds, in the breeze, in the rain, the intensity of the rain, in the Sun... how that is intricately entwined in that act of worship.

God in life & life in God

This sensitivity also helps you to become sensitive to the life that is manifest around the Ranganatha Temple; by this, I mean the little birds, the plants above the temple, the swans and other birds that live in the Swan Lake just below the temple. You begin to cultivate a sensitivity to how the Divine is embodied in all those different life forms.

During the puja (communal worship), you start to interact with those particular life forms, not as a distraction from the worship, but as an integral part of the worship. What is so beautiful about this temple is that you begin to cultivate an incredible developing relationship or experience in the manifestation of God in all these different facets of the Divine.

A little bird is not just a little bird hopping around trying to grab some of the prasadam (blessed food); the little bird is a jeevatma (soul), the same as you are, except in a different body. He’s also participating in the worship of the Divine and is part of that beautiful play of Lord Vishnu.

Moorhens nesting on the Durga Lake

If you look at the movement of the plants above the lake… it is like they are dancing and talking to each other. They are responding directly to the bhajans that are being sung during the puja. It is remarkable and you begin to become aware that an amazing thing is occurring – an amazing experience of the Divine. You are worshipping God, surrounded by the Divine manifest in the elements and in the natural world.

It gives you a tiny, tiny insight into the sensitivity that Guru had. Every moment, he had an acute sensitivity to the subtle vibration of the manifestation of God that surrounded him; the heightened awareness of the embodiment of the Divine in every single form.

Through our worship, the Lord is giving us an opportunity to heighten our direct experience of the Universality of God. Bhakti yoga (devotional focus) is not just going into the temple and chanting and singing to God; bhakti yoga is about cultivating this heightened sensitivity as an integral part of your act of worship to the manifestation of God in everything which surrounds you.

Then that bhakti means something; you’re not looking at it from the point of view of ‘I am here to worship God’. You are looking at it from the point of view of this beautiful dance of the Divine in the natural world that surrounds you – in every jeevatma that is privileged to be present in that act of worship – you are just witnessing that. That takes bhakti on to a completely different level.

When you feel the breeze and rain on your face or see the sunshine, acknowledge these in your mind, as Vayu (lord of the winds), Ganga Ma (river goddess), and Surya (sun). This begins to open your consciousness up to the manifestation of God in the elements and in the natural world that surrounds you.

This will help to slowly reduce the feeling that you are separate from all that surrounds you in your life. This is part of the purpose of your incarnation; to realise the unity of everything. The Lord is giving us experiences and opportunities.

Every day the Lord is surrounding us – through the Sun, the wind, the ground that we walk on, the water we drink, through the food that we eat. Through every single interaction, we are being given the opportunity to be aware that we are interacting with God; yet we miss it.

We need to cultivate more sensitivity and awareness. Make an effort to acknowledge the Divine in the elements – it helps to say to yourself when the Sun shines it’s the Lord in the form of Surya, when you feel the rain on your face it’s the Divine Mother in the form of Ganga. When you put your hands in the ground it’s Mother in the form of Bhūmi (land or earth) and when you feel the wind or the breeze it’s Vayu Mangalam; these are parts of the manifestation of God.

The more that you shift your awareness and consciousness to acknowledge this, the more sensitive you will become to that manifestation of God that surrounds you. You’ll feel less concerned with your own interests. You’ll be more at peace and see the world in a broader and brighter light.

Bless you.

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