If a devotee spends money to construct a beautiful and costly temple, the construction is not material but spiritual (nirbandhaḥ kṛṣṇa-sambandhe yuktaṁ vairāgyam ucyate). A devotee's mind is never diverted to the material side of the temple. The bricks, stone and wood used in the construction of the temple are spiritual, just as the Deity, although made of stone, is not stone but the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself.
The tops of Viṣṇu temples are marked with the symbol of the wheel so that people may have the chance to see the symbol from a very long distance and at once remember Lord Kṛṣṇa. The purpose of building very high temples is to give people a chance to see them from a distant place. This system is carried on in India whenever a new temple is constructed, and it appears that it is coming down from a time before recorded history.
Greed for satisfaction of Kṛṣṇa
All the ācāryas in South India, especially Śrī Rāmānujācārya, constructed many big temples, and in North India all the Gosvāmīs of Vṛndāvana constructed large temples. Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura also constructed large centers, known as Gauḍīya Maṭhas. Therefore temple construction is not bad, provided proper care is taken for the propagation of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Even if such endeavors are considered greedy, the greed is to satisfy Kṛṣṇa, and therefore these are spiritual activities.
The only difference is that in materialism one works for sense gratification. The same work, however, can be performed for the satisfaction of Krsna, and that is spiritual activity. If one has sufficient money, he can help in building an office or temple for propagating Krsna consciousness.
Same work different effort
You can utilize the same energy of constructing something out of bricks and stones and wood into a nice temple. That was the Vedic culture. Still in old cities you will find in lanes and streets, there are so many temples. I have seen, especially in Kanpur. Even within the lane there are so many temples, Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa temple, Viṣṇu temples, Śiva temple. So all over India you will find the temples. People were so spiritually advanced, even Muslim. They are also. They have constructed so many mosques. So that should be utilized. If we have got the tendency for making a house or construction of some building with stones and bricks, let it be utilized for constructing temple of the Supreme Brahman.
Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 3.26.46 -- Bombay, January 21, 1975
In this way, many temples were gradually constructed. For preaching, construction of temples is also necessary. The Gosvāmīs not only engaged in writing books but also constructed temples because both are needed for preaching work.
Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta Ādi 7.164Chance to serve Deities
Everyone should be enthusiastic to contribute to the construction of the temple for the Deity, and everyone should also contribute food for the distribution of prasāda. The devotees should preach the gospel of devotional service and thus engage people in practical service to the Deity.
Śrī Caitanya-caritāmṛta Madhya 4.102
Anxiety for Kṛṣṇa
The pure devotee does not endeavor for anything which is against the principles of devotional service. For example, constructing a big building requires great energy, and a devotee does not take to such business if it does not benefit him by advancing his devotional service. He may construct a temple for the Lord, and for that he may take all kinds of anxiety, but he does not construct a big house for his personal relations.
Why very high Temples?
Temple construction by ācāryas
We can see in the life of various ācāryas in the line of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu that they are not very enthusiastic about constructing temples. However, if somebody comes forward to offer some service, the same reluctant ācāryas will encourage the building of costly temples by such servitors. For example, Rūpa Gosvāmī was offered a favor by Mahārāj Mansingh, the commander-in-chief of Emperor Akbar, and Rūpa Gosvāmī instructed him to construct a large temple for Govindajī, which cost vast amounts of money.
Nectar of Devotion - To Give Up the Company of Nondevotees
Temple Vs School
A devotee's attempt to engage his energies in such activities as constructing a Viṣṇu temple is, however, never wasted. Such engagements are called Kṛṣṇārthe akhila-ceṣṭā, variegated activities performed to please Kṛṣṇa. A philanthropist's opening a school building and a devotee's constructing a temple are not on the same level. Although a philanthropist's opening an educational institution may be pious activity, it comes under the laws of karma, whereas constructing a temple for Viṣṇu is devotional service.
Kṛṣṇa Book - Prayers by the Personified Vedas
Not depend on Temple
Question : "What are ISKCON's future plans here? Will a temple be built?"
Śrīla Prabhupāda: Yes, temple is already there. Here is a temple. Unfortunately, nobody coming. What can I do? We are prepared to give this nice philosophy to everyone. There is no necessity of creating a very huge building as temple. We can sit anywhere and carry this Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa and keep there and chant Hare Kṛṣṇa. That is a temple. We don't require any huge building. You see? Temple means wherever there is God, that is temple. What is the difference between temple, church, and ordinary house? Temple means where there is God. Or church, where there is God. God means where there is God's name. Because in this condition we cannot see God, but God is not different from His name. So wherever the chanting is there, that is temple. And if other rules and regulations are followed, then it is temple. Tatra tiṣṭhāmi nārada yatra gāyanti mad-bhaktāḥ. It is said, Lord says, that "I stay there. Wherever My pure devotees are glorifying Me, I stay there." God is everywhere, but particularly He is there. So temple, there is no necessity. But if somebody has got money and if he wants to spend it for Kṛṣṇa, then we can give plan, a very nice temple, you see, spending millions of dollars. We have got such ideas and such plans. But that does not mean that we are depending on a temple. We can create temple anywhere and everywhere simply by sitting, chanting.
Lecture -- Hawaii, March 23, 1969
Lacking God Consciousness
They are constructing big, big skyscraper buildings. That we can see. But you don't see anywhere a magnificent church or temple or mosque is being constructed. That means people are going down in the matter of understanding God. They are thinking these buildings are waste of money, unproductive creation. "If we manufacture a skyscraper building, immediately there will be some income. But if I construct a gigantic temple, it will be simply waste of money." They are thinking like that. That means the standard of understanding God is finished.
Bhagavad-gītā 16.6 -- Hawaii, February 2, 1975
To chant Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra without any disturbance
"We shall construct this temple for Kṛṣṇa's inhabitation. We shall construct this building for providing the devotees of Kṛṣṇa so that they may be able to chant Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra without any disturbance..."
Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 1.2.5 -- Edinburgh, July 17, 1972
Not for personal benefit but for service
Therefore we should always remember that we possess this nice house not for our comfort, but people will come because they are not accustomed. If we would have invited people, "Come and sit down on this Māyāpura ground," no, there was no possibility. Therefore we must possess Kṛṣṇa's temple very nice so that people will come, and we shall preach. That is philosophy, not that because we have got this nice house, therefore we should be very much attached. Attachment must be there—for Kṛṣṇa's service. The temple must be very cleansed. The establishment must be very nice. What for? For attracting devotees. This is the purpose, not for our personal benefit. That is the way.
Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 1.8.26 -- Māyāpura, October 6, 1974
One is kāma and the other is prema
Just like we have constructed this temple with the enthusiasm, there must be a very nice temple for Kṛṣṇa-Balarāma. The same desire, as somebody is willing that "I must have a very big skyscraper building," so the same desire. People may ask, "What is the difference between these two desires? Somebody is desiring to possess a very big house and another body is desiring to possess a very nice temple, expensive temple. So what is the difference?" Difference is one is kāma and the other is prema. That is difference.
So this church building or temple building or mosque building is coming down from time immemorial. People are investing their money, hard-earned money. Why? Uselessly? Nonproductive? No. They do not know. They do not know how much productive that is. Therefore in this godless civilization they have stopped building nice, decorated... In Vṛndāvana there is a temple of Govindajī that was seven-storied. Four stories was broken by Aurangzeb on political grounds. Still, three stories are still remaining. If somebody goes there he'll see how wonderful workmanship is there in that temple. So does it mean that those kings or rich men, they were all fools? Simply at the present moment we are very intelligent? No. They are not fools. That is explained in the Prahlāda Mahārāja's prayers. Naivātmanaḥ prabhur ayaṁ nija-lābha-pūrṇo. You cannot satisfy the Supreme Lord by constructing a nice temple, but still He is satisfied. Still, He is satisfied. He is nija-lābha-pūrṇo. He is fully satisfied in Himself because He has no want. We are in want. Suppose I am renting one small apartment. If somebody says, "Swamijī, come on. I shall construct a very nice palatial temple. You come here." Oh, I shall be very much obliged. But does Kṛṣṇa, or God, is like that? He can construct so many nice planets, not only one, two, but millions and billions, with so many nice oceans and hills and mountains and forests, and full of living entities. And why He is hankering after a temple constructed by me? No. That is not the fact.
Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 7.9.11 -- Montreal, August 17, 1968
Difference between Temple and House
Gṛhastha is also āśrama. It is as good as sannyāsa āśrama. You can accept any āśrama suitable for you, but āśrama means cultivation of spiritual knowledge. That is the difference between āśrama and ordinary house. Now, this building is called temple, and the next building is called house. Why? The building is the same. But it is meant for cultivating spiritual knowledge. Therefore it is called temple, to understand God. The other house is meant for eating, sleeping, mating and defending. Therefore they are house. So you can change your house into temple provided you try to understand God. Then it is āśrama. Otherwise it is house.
Room Conversation with Sanskrit Professor, other Guests and Disciples -- February 12, 1975, Mexico