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Science of Worship

by Swami Sivananda

Man does not get full satisfaction from sensual pleasures. He always feels that he is in want of something. He is restless and discontented. Then he longs to come into conscious communion with the Lord of the Universe and to attain immortality and everlasting peace. This ultimate craving of a man finds its satisfaction in worship. The individual soul desires to unite himself with his father, the Supreme Soul. This is done through worship. Love and devotion naturally rise in his heart when he hears the glory and greatness of the Lord. An object of worship is therefore necessary for man to pour forth his love and devotion. Worship helps spiritual evolution and eventually brings the devotee face to face with God. As the Absolute or Infinite cannot be comprehended by the limited and finite mind, the conception of the impersonal God in His lower, limited form came into existence. The Nirguna Brahman assumes forms for the pious worship of the devotees.

Worship is the expression of love and devotion by the devotee to the Lord, of extreme reverence towards Him, of keen longing to be in conscious communion with Him, of eager aspiration to be always at His feet, of intense craving to be united with Him. The devotee feels the pangs of his separation from the Lord, sheds profuse tears, and sings His praise, glory, splendour and greatness. Worship may take the form of prayer, of praise, of meditation or of Kirtan.

Worship differs according to the growth and evolution of the individual. There is nature worship. Parsees worship the element fire. Hindus worship the Ganga, cows, asvatta tree, etc. In the Vedas there are hymns to Indra, Varuna, Agni, Vayu. This is nature worship. There is hero-worship. Great heroes like Sivaji, Napoleon are worshipped even now. In hero-worship the individual imbibes the virtues of the person whom he worships. Birthday celebrations of great persons, anniversary celebrations are forms of worship. Then there is relic worship. Hairs and bones of departed souls are also worshipped. Then there is Pitru-worship, or worship of forefathers.

There is worship of Gurus or Rishis or Devatas. As man evolves, he passes from one stage of worship to another. The lower stages drop down by themselves. A man of higher stage should not condemn his brother who is in a lower stage. One should not forget the underlying, indwelling, interpenetrating, one Essence or Intelligence when he does the worship of any kind. The fundamental object in worship is union with the Lord, who pervades or permeates all these names and forms, by developing intense love. Isvara has different aspects or forms such as Brahma, Vishnu, Siva, Rama, Krishna, Ganapathy, Karttikeya, Durga, Lakshmi, Sarasvati, Indra, Agni, but in whatever name and form, it is Isvara who is adored. The Lord in the form is worshipped. The devotion goes to the Lord.

All are worshipping the one basic Reality, Isvara. The differences are only differences in names and forms on account of differences in the worshipers. Worship of Lord Jesus or Lord Mohammed or Sri Guru Nanak or Lord Buddha or Lord Mahavira is really worship of Isvara only. These are all His forms. "However men approach Me, even so do I welcome them, for the paths men take from every side is Mine, O Partha. " (Gita: IV-11. )

"Whatsoever form any devotee desires to worship with faith-that (same) faith of his I make firm and unflinching. " (Gita: VII-21). Ignorant, petty-minded people fight unnecessarily amongst themselves and disturb the peace of the country. The essentials of all religions are the same. Non-essentials must differ. There is quarrel on these non-essentials only. All religions agree: "One should attain salvation by right living, by speaking truth, by celibacy, by loving all, by developing virtuous qualities, by meditation, by devotion. "

The term "Sadhana" comes from the root "Sadh", which means "to exert", "to endeavour to get a particular result or Siddhi. " He who does the attempt is called Sadhaka. If he achieves the desired result, Siddhi, he is called Siddha. A fully developed Siddha is one who has attained full knowledge of Brahman. Self-realisation or Darshan of God is not possible without Sadhana. Any spiritual practice is called Sadhana. Sadhana, Abhyasa are synonymous terms. That which is obtained through Sadhana is Sadhya (God or Brahman).

Upasana means worship. It means to sit near God. One who does Upasana is an Upasaka. The object of worship is Upasya. Upasana is a broad term which includes many forms of worship. It includes meditation, Japa, daily Sandhya, prayer, Stotra etc. It is of two kinds, viz. , Ahamgraha Upasana or meditation on Nirguna, Nirakara Brahman and Saguna Upasana or meditation on Isvara (with form and attributes). The former is called Avyakta Upasana, and the latter Vyakta Upasana. Upasana is again either gross (Sthula) or subtle (Sukshma) according to the nature of the Adhikari, his degree of competency or advancement in the path. He who worships a Murthy, rings bells and offers sandal-paste, flowers, etc. , does gross form of worship. Whereas he who visualises the image of his Ishtam, meditates on it and offers mental offerings, does subtle form of worship. Manasic Pooja is Sukshma Upasana.

Pooja comes from the Sanskrit root "Pooj" which means to worship. Pooja is a simple form of worship. A picture or image is used for worship. Mantras are recited. Water is poured over the image. Flowers are offered. Sandal-paste is applied. Naivedya and Arghya are offered, camphor and incense are burnt. The devotee pours forth his love and devotion to the Isvara who is hidden in the picture or image. One important point is that he who does Pooja must abandon the idea of ownership of the articles of worship etc. , and must think that all the articles and wealth belong to Isvara and he is only the caretaker. Then only his worship will bring the desired result. Prostrations, offering, etc. , are outer worship. Meditation is inner worship.

Lord Krishna gives a description of worship to Uddhava in the eleventh chapter of Bhagavata: "The Sun, fire, earth or clay, water, a Brahmin, any image of Mine in the concrete, clearly thought out as seated in the heart, may be worshipped in My name sincerely with such articles as could be obtained by him. The worship should be sincere and whole-hearted and the devotee should imagine Me as his preceptor. The devotee should begin My worship for obtaining My Grace and not for any other desire. In ordinary images I should be invoked and released at every time of worship. I can be pictured in the mind. The worship of My image in the heart should be with accessories pictured in the mind.

"The image should be washed or bathed, cleaned and adorned with ornaments and marks. The devotee should not rise in the midst of worship to get some articles. Once seated in worship, he must finish it before he rises for anything. He should be seated on Darbha grass or other clean seat. He must put My image facing North or East or must himself sit also facing North or East. He must sit facing Me or sideways. (The devotee must be facing the North while the image faces the East). He should repeat the Mantras for purifying himself. He should clean his body by control of breath. He should sit quiet and meditate on Me for some time.

"He should fancy Me as seated in a lotus with eight petals, overflowing with fragrance and radiant with light. The emblems conch, Chakra, mace, lotus, the ornament of Kaustubha, the necklace and the mark or spot in the heart Srivatsa should be imagined at the proper place and worshipped. Sandal-wood, saffron, camphor, Kumkum and fragrance should be used. Purusha-Sukta and other sacred literature should be repeated. My devotee may adorn Me with cloths, gems, sacred thread, sandal, flowers, saffron and ointments etc. The devotee should give water for washing the feet, Achamana, sandal, words of greeting, invitation and hospitality. He should also show fragrance, light and camphor at My altar. He can sing aloud hymns in My praise. He can sing songs and dance in My altar reciting My various deeds and achievements. He should seek My Grace prostrating himself duly before Me. Putting his head on My feet, he should ask for My Grace to protect him and save him for the wheel of births and deaths.

"He should adorn himself with the flower and sandal used in such worship-The devotee may worship Me in any form in all objects or in himself in the manner that appeals most to his mind and inclinations, as I am immanent in all things. My devotee worshipping Me thus with rituals, Mantras or both, attains not only bliss and Self-realisation but also all things he desires. By building temples and altars etc. , devotees attain powers over all the worlds. By worship of Me they attain Brahma-Loka. By all the acts, they attain My powers and immanence. "

The devotee invokes the deity into the image by what is called the welcoming (Avahana) and life-giving (Prana-pratishtha) ceremonies. When the worship is over, he bids the deity farewell. This is called Visarjana. The offerings of water, light, fragrance, sandal, flowers etc. , to God are called Upachara.

The mind is purified by constant worship. It is filled with good and pure thoughts. Repetition of worship strengthens the good Samskaras. "As a man thinks, so he becomes. " This is the psychological law. The mind of a man who trains himself in thinking good, holy thoughts develops a tendency to think good thoughts. His character is moulded and transformed by continued good thoughts. When the mind thinks of the image of God during worship, the mental substance actually assumes the form of the image. The impression of the object is left in the mind. This is called a Samskara. When the act is repeated very often, the Samskara gains strength by repetition and a tendency or habit is formed in the mind. He who entertains thoughts of divinity becomes transformed actually into the divinity himself by constant thinking and meditation. His Bhava or disposition is purified and divinised. The meditator and the meditated, the worshipper and the worshipped, the thinker and the thought, become one and the same. This is Samadhi. This is the fruit of worship or Upasana.

Man sows an action or thought and reaps a habit of doing or thinking. He sows a habit and reaps a character. He sows a character and reaps a destiny. Habit is second nature or rather first nature itself. Man has made his own destiny by thinking and acting. He can change his destiny. He is the master of his own destiny. There is no doubt of this. By right thinking and Vichara and strong Purushartha he can become master of his destiny. Markandeya changed his destiny through Tapas and worship of Lord Siva. Vishwamitra became a Brahmarshi through vigorous Tapas and changed his destiny. You can also do so, if you have a strong will and iron determination. Vasishthaji preached Purushartha to Sri Rama in Yoga Vasishtha. Savitri changed the destiny of her husband Satyavan through her power of 'Pativrata-dharma'. Just as you can change your way of writing in a slanting manner, into a vertical manner, so also you can change your destiny by changing your mode of thinking. Now you are thinking, "I am Mr. So and So, " by identifying with the body and other Upadhis or limiting adjuncts. Now start the anti-current. Think, "I am Brahman. I am the immortal Self in all. I am all-pervading, light, intelligence or pure consciousness. " Your destiny will be changed. Just as you think, so you will become. This is the Sadhana. This is the Ahamgraha-Upasana. Practise it steadily. Feel and realise.


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