The Temple and the Body

by Basava

English version by A. K. Ramanujan
Original Language Kannada

The rich
will make temples for Siva.
What shall I,
a poor man,
do?

My legs are pillars,
the body the shrine,
the head a cupola
of gold.

Listen, O lord of the meeting rivers,
things standing shall fall,
but the moving ever shall stay.

-- from Speaking of Siva, by A K Ramanujan

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

The wealthy prove their piety by financing temples (or churches or mosques...). Their devotion is concretized in stone and gold. It's easy for a poor man, witnessing the splendor of a wealthy shrine, to imagine himself far behind on the road to heaven. What can he offer to compete with that? What temple can he build to offer proper worship?

Basava gives us the solution offered by saints everywhere: Make of yourself a temple.

My legs are pillars,
the body the shrine,
the head a cupola
of gold.


This is where all true meditation, prayer, communion occurs. The built temple is but a reflection of the temple of the self. And that true temple is available to all, rich and poor, equally.

Basava carries it further, pointing out how far superior the inner temple is. "Things standing," structures built of wood or stone, no matter how lovely or inspiring, are destined to fall. A temple of stone stands but does not move. It lacks the life necessary to continually adjust itself to the shifting forces of time and gravity and the flow of nature all around; it is already crumbling.

...but the moving ever shall stay.

That which is animated, the temple of the embodied self, has life! It dances with the flow of existence... and that life continues. Worship that takes place within that living temple lives as well, and lasts.

Basava's reminder to us: Regardless of whether we worship beneath a golden cupola or beneath the arch of the open sky, only meditation and prayer and communion that takes place within the living temple of the self matters, because that is what lives and lasts. Wherever you are, whatever your role in life, make of yourself a holy temple. More important than monuments of stone are monumental living souls.



Recommended Books: Basava

Speaking of Siva The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy and Practice





The Temple and the