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Why do people chant slokas and hymns to praise God? What is the need?

There are two approaches behind praising God.

  1. An ordinary devotee’s love for God is purely materialistic. He wants good things to happen to him, he wants money, wealth and possessions; he wants to escape from suffering. He believes God is like an over-sized superman. Human beings want and love appreciation, words of praise, honors etc and they will positively respond, even out of the way, to help you when you praise and adore them. These devotees apply the same yardstick to God too and hope to reap the benefits in shortcut!
  2. A true and serious devotee who has real bhakti in his heart starts loving God as his dearest. When you are deeply in love with a girl without any pretense, you start appreciating openly her beautiful looks, her manners, her qualities etc. You derive joy in showering your praise because it comes deep from your heart. You write poems about her; send her love letters/ messages etc. These things just come out naturally out of your emotional overflow of love towards her. In the same way, true devotees of God definitely get joy in singing hymns and praising his divine qualities.

When the love of a boy culminates into marriage with the girl, then all the former words of praise don’t flow any more. Their love is so matured now that it is no longer dependent on verbal expressions. In the same way, when a bhakta’s love on God matures into Jnyana (spiritual knowledge), then the devotee no longer feels the urge to keep praising the lord. He turns inwards; he silently meditates on God and start feeling the Sat-chit-Ananda inside.

Is it necessary for me to visit temples and chant stotras, if I am living a life of an ethical and well mannered human being?

Up to certain age, probably till we realize we are no longer youth, for most of us the idea of God, going temples, chanting slokas or mantras don’t appeal much. During youth, we are driven by passion, we believe anything can be achieved through dedication and hard work, we trust that only science has all the answers, we accept that science has not proved the existence of God and hence faith in God could strongly be a superstition etc.

Of course there are exceptions; Many youths do have faith in God, go to temples, do prayers etc right from childhood and they do it openly too. Let us ignore this class.

Thus up to certain age, we get carried away by such convictions and somehow life also goes smooth to most of us (may be because our parents are taking care of our needs for most of the times in youth!).  Some of us strongly believe that being ethical and well mannered is good enough.

(By the way, have you ever questioned these beliefs?! Why should we be ethical? Why should we be well mannered? Who gave these ideas and importance to them? Why should I ‘blindly’ follow these ethical rules? What is the basis? Is it just the fear of punishment of social laws? Or something more?) . This is only for your introspection. Let us not go into this now!

Now, once we cross the youth (mostly) we start feeling and facing many things in life that are happening contrary to our convictions, hopes, beliefs, logical understanding and so on. We are struck by many things: Hard work does not necessarily bring success; doing good acts does not necessarily produce good results; not doing anything evil or wrong from our part does not necessarily save us from facing unexpected catastrophes and failures! Being a very nice, friendly and sincere person does not necessarily bring in a spouse who loves and understand us!

Now we face the unexpected googlies and don’t know how to bat. Whatever classic cover drives and glances that we practiced methodologically do not come to our help and we are at the constant threat of getting out!

It is at this age and juncture, we come to face to face with the reality that science cannot help us. We need something more. We need to understand something better and higher to understand and try to resolve our predicaments. What has been all along a pride gold medal hanging on our chest suddenly reveals it to be a cause of our chest burn — it is ahankar (Ego). We come to face it. Now we understand that we should become humble because we have no solutions from our ego to overcome our hurdles; to give answers to nagging questions.

The need to surrender to a higher force now comes inevitably. The thirst to understand what is religion, what is spirituality, what is the connection between them, who are Mahatmas and saints, why do they keep on advising us on many things like God, Karma, Avatar, Atman, Paramatman, Maya, ego, vasanas, samskaras, knowledge, ignorance and so on.

At that time you start searching. You start going to temples. you start grasping the importance of faith and surrender. You start acknowledging your limitations of body, mind, intellect and ego.

So, my point of view is this: At some time or other, one will have to take a round and come back to our Sanatana track. WHY NOT DO IT EARLY IN LIFE? The earlier you come, the smoother the ride becomes; because you know and accept beforehand that there will be potholes on the road, there will be traffic snarls, there will be rash drivers, there will be jay walkers on the road, and it’s all parts and parcel of life! You learn that for your own safety, you drive carefully, drive with more acceptance and less tension; drive with a trust that the Higher Power is taking care of you and protecting you!