Thursday, January 17, 2008

Hinduism and Icon worship

Hinduism and Icon worship

Think Hinduism (sanatana dharma) and the first mental image will be the temples and the icons inside. Ganesha, Shiva, Krishna , Kali, Muruga, the list is endless.

The icon worshippers are ridiculed by many , notably the Christians and Muslims, and also by some sects of Hindus themselves. Is this form of worship disgraceful or is it inferior to other methods ? We will see here.

Pooja(Worship) and the ‘Icon’
The terms ‘icon’ and ‘worship’ go hand in hand. They have such a complementary existence that it in is inconceivable to think one without the other. The terrain on which they both stand is ‘devotion’- Bhakti.
Right from Rig-Veda, we see hymns in praise of Ganapathy, Vishnu, Shiva, Sarasvathi, Lakshmi etc. The devotion or Bhakti element of Hinduism is continuing from then to now. Krishna gave a name to it as ‘Bhakti Yoga’ in Srimad Bhagavad Gita and placed it at par with Dhyana, Jnana, and Karma yogas , the other three royal paths of realization.

Bhakti – the love of the Ultimate
It was Bhakti that necessitated worship and worship needed icons. Bhakti is an expression of love to the absolute Brahman. Logic tells us that only a form can be loved. Brahman is beyond all forms , expressions and at the same time is the very embodiment of forms and expressions. So Bhakti needed and created forms. 

In the Bhakti tradition of Sanatana Dharma( Hinduism), worship occupies a prime place. So what ? any other religion does that, some may ask. Look closely. The Hindu, in his daily pooja (worship), carefully decorates the picture or statue of his deity with flowers and clothes , shows perfumes, lights agarbathies, lamps, performs arathi , all the while singing in praise of the deity.
In all this what we see is an expression of unconditional love, an attitude of Honouring the Supreme and total surrender to Him. Bhakti here, is both the means to an end and the end in itself. The end point in the royal path of Bhakti Yoga is realization of the Lord and union with him , and He will grant him release from all bondages, both positive and negative. Swamy Vivekananda says, consummate Gnana automatically reaches the Bhakta who has reached such a state.

The Sanatana Dharma acharyas like Narada and Sandilya refined Bhakti to such an extent that even sutras- meaning formulas were written for the practitioner. An unquantifiable parameter finally was defined and the limits between stages of the practitioners were expounded, and the end stage was clearly shown. 

Hindu ‘Pooja’ versus Semitic ‘Prayer’

Compare our pooja to the mere prayers of other religions. Either they are mere acts of begging God for various earthly and heavenly things which are not eternal. Godhead is beyond everything heavenly and earthly. A Hindu seeks union with Him. He does not want to be a mere possessor of his creations such as heaven, paradise etc. nor does he despise the various hells which are also God’s creations.
I have seen the Christians dressed in their best proudly going to the Church. The Hindu, humility personified, flowers in hand as offering to the Lord , goes to the temple and prostrates surrendering totally. 

Viewed in the above context , one can visualize what an icon symbolizes to a Hindu. It is not an ‘idol’ as a Muslim thinks or a ‘pagan’ symbol as a Christian thinks. These ‘idols’, as per the semitic religions , are forms depicting various smaller Gods or God like beings capable of giving some limited benefits. 

For example, the Catholics despised Sun worship of the European natives since they worshipped Sun for what it represented. In other words , Sun was worshipped as Sun. Naturally it contradicted with Jesus’s teachings that the Father in Heaven created the sun and the earth. So a created object cannot be worshipped. So the creator God, the Holy Father was worshipped by the Catholics.

The Hindus also worship the Sun, but in what way ? Here is a mantra , (hymn) which is chanted every day at sunrise and sunset.

nama: savitre jagadeka chakshuse jagat prasuti sthiti nAsa hetave |
trayee mayAya trigunAtma darine virinji nAraya sankarAtmane ||

“Obeisances to you Lord Sun, who has your eyes every where in the universe, who creates, maintains and destroys the universe, who is the embodiment of the three Vedas, who is also an embodiment of the three Gunas (of Satva, Rajas and Tamas) , who is differently seen as Brahma , Vishnu and Shiva.”

The Sun here , has the attributes of the Supreme , Absolute Brahman. All the Christian and Muslim clerics misunderstood the subtlety and depth of Hinduism here for mere ‘idol’ worship. What ignorance ! Gaznavi, in his hatred against idols, is known to have destroyed thousands of temples including Somnath. Had he and his mullahs understood Vigraha Aradhana of Hindus, such a colossal loss would have been averted. 

In another angle, the religions where the Iconic worship was practiced, were more peaceful than the religions that preached against it. The crusaders and Jihadis would have eliminated more than 20 millions of people in the name of God. No love, No Bhakti, No wisdom.
In essence, whatever the form, the attitude is what is to be seen. In every Hindu ‘Iconic’ worship, they are worshipped as the ‘Supreme Brahman’. The proviso always has to be ‘worshipped as’. So, there is no problem in worshipping a mere stone. The Hindu sees the supreme God in that stone ! 

Various Icons of Sanatana Dharma
The icons were established according to the six religions of Sanatana Dharma. The Shanmathas as they were popularly called, each offered forms or Icons or Vigrahas or Prathimas to the practitioner of the respective religion.
The six Sanatanic religions were
  1. Souram- which worships Lord Sun as the supreme Brahman
  2. Ganapathyam- Which worships Ganesha as the Ultimate Brahman
  3. Koumaram- which worships Lord Muruga or Skanda as the Brahman
  4. Shaivam- Where Lord Shiva is worshipped as the supreme Brahman
  5. Vaishnavam- Where Lord Vishnu and his incarnations are worshipped as the Supreme Brahman.
  6. Saktam- Where the Mother like Female deity of Kali or Durga or Amba or Amman is worshipped as the supreme Brahman.
Sanatana Dharma is not a religion per se but a conglomerate of six major religions each with separate Agamas for rituals, worship and Dhyana and Gnana. The first three religions have got assimilated into the latter three religions now. Each of these religion has its own Deities. Sometimes these deities are coded like the Linga , basically representing more of the formless or Nataraja, the cosmic dancer. 

So, to conclude Icon worship is a valid and satisfying spiritual truth. Next time you hear Mulla Omar or some self conceited western missionary declare something silly, be armed with facts to raise your head and thunder.

References- Bhakti Yoga by Swamy Vivekananda- Ramakrishna Mutt, Chennai
Kadavulin vadivangal( Tamil)- Swamy Chidbhavananda, Ramakrishna tapovanam


Multisubj Yb TruthSeeker said...

If Bhakti and idol worship are so great, why should Vivekananda sacrifice goats at Belur Math?
Proof: He wrote to Ms. Christina Greenstidel on 12.11.1901 from Belur Math:

"...Day before yesterday, however, came the Puja of Kali. We had an image, too, and sacrificed a goat and burned a lot of fireworks. This night every Hindu home is illuminated, and the boys go crazy over fireworks. ..."

When compared to Vivekananda, ---- Alasinga, Nanjunda Rao,Kidi, Bilagiri etc. have done better work. For knowing the true nature of Vivekananda you can see his conversations with Shri Sundararama Iyer and Shri G.S. Bhate at Tiruvanantapuram and Belgaum respectively.

Venkatasubramanian said...

But, Vivekananda smoked, ate fish and made no secret of them ! I was even a bit uneasy at them. But friend, his achievements far outweigh his limitations.

Can you give me links to his conversations with S G Bhate and Iyer ? Or tell me in which part of his complete works they are given.


SUPREME BRAHMAN is only LORD KRISHNA AND this has been clearly established in THE VEDAS,BHAGAVAD GITA,BRAHMASUTRAS and various PURANAS
If one worships other GODS he WILL NOT GET salvation or moksham and SALVATION or MOKSHAM can be granted or given only by LORD KRISHNA----

senthil said...

Excellent post venkat..

sahani said...

I was going through your emails & find them very interesting.

With no intention of hurting anybodies sentiments based on religion I will like to comment as under.

The world's major religion namely Christian and Muslims are based on commands or instructions given by God to Prophet Mohammad & Jesus Christ. They are available to the world in books. Both the religion advocates that one can communicate or reach God only if they follow the particular religion and the knowledge or processes given in their religious books Bible & Kuran. So everything is fixed, set and there is no chance whatsoever to deviate to any other path, other than what is said in Bible or Kuran.

Coming to Hinduism we are in biggest mess as there are no rules, no fix ideas, and no set procedures. It is Free for All. It never says that you are to follow Hindu religion for worshiping God. You can be any one. All Are God's children’s. So in absence of any fix rules, what is left is a big Chaos. Forget explaining our religion to the rest of the world, we ourselves have not understood the same. Remember we, I mean born as Hindu in this Janma should have clear idea of thousands of Gods & Goddesses with the figures & the pictures available. I feel Hinduism is not a religion but Absolute Science. At the end it is explained that God is Omniscient & Omni present. For Common man it is to be understood as something which has no FORM. At the same time they have created names, figures, features and Guna's for various deities.

I feel you should explain this peculiar philosophy to non Hindus particularly Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Zoroastrians who believe that the God is formless & look down to Hindus as very primitive & stupid for believing some form of God & Goddesses. They also criticize & laugh at terrible face of Kali OR Monkey Headed Hanuman OR Elephant Headed Ganesha. They also criticize our practices OR Karmakands we perform to please the God. They also criticize us as biggest hypocrites as what we talk & perform in Temples, do not follow in our day to day life.

I feel that you should first explain why in Hinduism, though having ultimate knowledge of God still practices Murti Pooja. It is here in India the ultimate truth of God was explained. Buddha through Deep Meditation came through conclusion that everything in this world is coming from SHUNYA and again merging in SHUNYA. Astrologers gave such minute details as if they were using Super Computer in those days. Our Vedas gave knowledge on every aspect of life covering world Economics, Mathmatics, Medicine & Physics. Inspite of reaching to this ultimate knowledge, why in Hinduism Murti Pooja is still continued.

I think the answer is though God is Nirgun & Formless - The Path goes through Saguna. It is like going to KG & then to School & then to College & still further. You can also explain this by citing example of Rocket Launching. After consuming the fuel for initial thrust the tank containing the fuel is dropped. The process is continued as you reach higher & higher. The knowledge is, that you don’t carry the tank which gave you the initial lift & one should merely drop them as the work is done.

The same thing in the process of realization of Gods. The Murti Pooja's are only the basic fuel tanks to lift you up. The Mantra Chanting & Yoga will still lift you up. There are further processes to lift you up till you reach the SHUNYA stage. Here, the same process is to be followed. You don’t carry your Murti Pooja on higher level otherwise you will never reach the higher level. Whatever you practice has to be dropped if you wish to go up and that is the Knowledge.

When some one ask why your God & Goddesses have many Hands, Heads or Legs one should able to explain that these figures are only symbolic representation of different shaktis present in the World. Even in one particular Shakti it is able to perform what you called Multitasking that is doing many many things same time. Some times it represents mixture of complementary powers & some times it is combination of constructive & destructive powers in the same Form.

All the religions in the world including Muslims & Christians, the Evil Power named Saitan is given an separate identity. Only in Hindus philosophy it is confirmed that it is the same power which can be manifested in any of the form. On one side they all agree that there can not be any place in the world without Gods grace, and on the other side they accept an separate identity for Saitan.

This is the very reason that Hinduism, they accept Kali in the terrible form and Laxmi or Sarsvati in the beautiful form at the same level. The main idea is that the so called qualified & knowledgeable Hindus of present generation should understand the Philosophy of real Hinduism and the ultimate knowledge which is available in India in Hindu Scriptures.

I find that many so called intellectual Hindus shy away from Hinduism because they are not able to understand the practices laid down in Hindus Scriptures.

We are the only one in the world who have understood that the Pranic Shakti or Pure consciousness or what common people name as Prana is all the time existing in the Universe and we all Living and Non-Living are floating in this Pure Cosmic Power. Nothing ever is born neither it dies. It only changes form. This exactly matches with accepted science that Energy can not be created nor it can be destroyed.

I strongly believe that for acquiring any spiritual knowledge the First step is to get rid off the trash - the nonsense - the ignorance we have accumulated in our schools & colleges and from the society we live. Actually our mind not only holds the present information but all the impressions of our past life. It is like a photographic film where millions of pictures are taken without forwarding the film. You can imagine the mess we are in.

Though the Pranic Shakti is pervading in all Living and Non-Living only Humans are given the ultimate Brain to understand the complexities of all the Universe around. All our spiritual practices are based on Pure Science. It starts with the process of Cleansing that is cleaning or throwing out the garbage one has accumulated over thousand of years. In Human DNA you will find DNA of all living Creatures and something more. They say that after passing through 84 Laks Yonis you get Human Birth. Here you get your chance to reach higher level of conciseness provided you accept your self as Human being. Normally Human Beings are behaving worst than animal. Eating, Protecting and Reproducing abilities or powers are available in the lowest of animal Kingdom. You will accept that Human Being should try to go beyond this once the process of cleaning starts the pure knowledge, the divine grace of God will automatically start filling.

On the other hand there are Hindus who blindly follow Karmakand's without understanding the purpose & meaning behind it & become laughing stock for non-Hindus.

Coming to seven chakra's.

The Ida, Pingla, Sushushna - the microscopic elastic veins were discovered by modern doctors some years back. The actual seven chakra's are in our astral body with the location in our physical body as given in diagram. As a white ray of light is split into seven rainbow colors by a prism starting from red at the base then saffron followed by yellow, green, light blue, dark blue & violet. The seven chakra's are also in the same sequence starting from red at Muladhar to Violet at Sahastrhar Chakra at Head. All the seven chakra's are connected to our basic five elements of which we are made.

Muladhar represents Earth element, Swadhisthan represents Water, Manipura represents Fire, Anahat represents Air, Vishuddhi, Ajenya & Sahatrar represents Akash Tatva which can be connected to Mind, Intelligence & ultimately pure Consciousness.

Bijmantra for Muladhar is Lam and then upwards Vam, Ram,Yam,Ham and then Ohm for Ajenya Chakra.

All our spiritual practices ultimately are intended to jack up the energy level situated at Muladhar Chakra to Chakra's situated on higher levels. It is like pumping Water from the ground floor water tank to the tank above.
It is like completing an electronic circuit. From Sahatrar Chakra situated at Shikha Sthan (where Brahmins used to keep Shendi) the cosmic energy is received and flows down to your Muladhar Chakra. It is upto an individual to raise the energy level to higher state by consciously making efforts. If you remain engrossed in lower chakra's that means only eating, resting & reproducing you are like Shudra. If you make effort to earn money, two chakra's above, you are like Vaishya. If you are little above you like Shatriya. If you go still up & all the time think about Bramha Jyan & creation & Destruction of this World you are called Brahmin. Nevertheless the effort is to raise the energy from Bottom to Top.

The ultimate truth on God & its grace is unexplainable and impossible to put in words. It is always a futile exercise to explain which is non explainable. The Gods Grace can only be experienced, can not be explained. It is very very subtle, private and confidential.

Srihari said...

All of Sri Acharya Madhava's philosophy is based on "PranaDevaru" a.k.a "Mukhaya Prana" being next to GOD almighty in higherarchy. Pranadevaru is considered by some (although Madhavas do not agree)is equavalant to son of GOD similar to Christ as son of god in Christianity. will discusses more about this philosophy. Dvaita is a Monotheistic Dualistic Philosophy. GOD ALMIGHTY is separate than all other things or living beings.

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