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Idol Worship

by Swami Sivananda

Idol or Murthy (Vigraha), Sun, Fire, Water, Ganga, Saligram, Linga are all symbols or Prateekas of God which help the aspirants to attain one-pointedness of mind and purity of heart. A symbol is absolutely indispensable for fixing the mind. The Christians also have got the symbol 'cross'. A gross mind needs a concrete symbol as a prop or Alambana; a subtle mind requires an abstract symbol. Even a Vedantin has the symbol of OM for fixing the wandering mind. In the beginning concentration or meditation is not possible without a symbol.

The devotee superimposes on the concrete idol the Lord and His attributes. He does Shodasopachara for the idol, the sixteen kinds of paying respects or service to the Lord such as Padyam (water for washing feet), Arghyam, Asana (seat), Snana (bathing), offering clothes, Achamana (water for sipping), applying sandal paste, offering flowers (Archana), burning incense, waving of lights and camphor; Maha Naivedyam, etc. The wandering mind is fixed now in this form of worship. The aspirant gradually feels the nearness of the Lord. He attains purity of heart and slowly annihilates his egoism.

Even in worshipping a small idol, he has to repeat the Purusha Sukta and to think of the Virat Purusha with countless heads, countless eyes, countless hands, who extends beyond the universe, and of the Lord or Atman who dwells in the hearts of all beings.

For a Bhakta or a sage, there is no such thing as Jada or insentient matter. Everything is Vasudeva or Chaitanya-vasudevah sarvam iti. The devotee beholds actually the Lord in the idol. Narsi Mehta was put to test by a Raja. The Raja said: "O Narsi, if you are a sincere devotee of Lord Krishna, if as you say the idol is Lord Krishna Himself, let this idol move." According to the prayer of Narsi Mehta, the idol moved. The sacred Bull Nandi before Siva's idol took the food offered by Tulasidas. The Murti played with Mira Bai. It was full of life and Chaitanya for her.

How sublime is Hindu philosophy and Hindu mode of worship! It does not stop or end with worship of idol alone. The Sadhaka is taken step by step to higher stages of devotion and Samadhi or communion through the worship of the idol. Though he worships the idol, he has to keep before his mental eye the all-pervading Lord. He has to feel His Presence in His heart and all objects. The ways and roles of worship, Puja-Vidhi and the secrets of worship that are described in the Hindu scriptures are scientifically accurate and highly rational. It is only ignorant people who have not studied the scriptures, who have not associated with the devotees and great souls vilify worship of idols or Murtis.

Many English educated persons do not attach any importance to Prasad when they get it from the Mahatma. This is a serious mistake. Prasad is a great purifier. As they are brought up in the Western style of living, they have imbibed the spirit of Westerners and forgotten the spirit of the true children of Indian Rishis of yore. Live for a week in Brindavan or Ayodhya or Benares or Pandarpur. You will realise the glory and the miraculous effects of Prasad. Many incurable diseases are cured. Many sincere devotional aspirants get wonderful spiritual experiences from mere Prasad alone. Prasad is a panacea. Prasad is a spiritual elixir. Prasad is the Grace of the Lord. Prasad is a cure-all and an ideal 'pick-me-up'. Prasad is an embodiment of Sakti. Prasad is Divinity in manifestation.

Devotees of Lord Krishna should feel that every form is the form of Lord Krishna. They should not change this Bhava or mental attitude, even if a murderer appears before them to kill them. If they are established in this Bhava, the nature of the murderer will be changed or some other man will kill the murderer. If the Bhava changes, they should cultivate it again and again.

Feel His Presence always. Recognise His presence everywhere. Carry His presence wherever you walk. Remember Him always. Live in Him. You need not read many books. You need not roam about in search of Gurus. You need not stand on your head for 12 years. You need not do Aswini Mudra to open the Kundalini. I have given you the essence of all Sadhanas. It is the gist of all Vedas. Practise it. Believe me. It is very easy. It will surely give you Moksha. I assure you.

Those who worship Hiranyagarbha go to Brahmaloka or Satyaloka. They wait there for the life-time of Brahma. When the Brahmanda gets dissolved during the Pralaya, they enter the Supreme Self or Para Brahman along with Hiranyagarbha. Then only they lose their sense of individuality. Hiranyagarbha Upasana is the worship of the life-aspect of Ishvara.

Meditation on Saguna Brahman wards off calamities. The devotee gets powers though he does not want them. Siddhis roll under his feet. He gets emancipation by successive steps. This is called Krama Mukti or progressive emancipation in contradistinction to the Sadyo Mukti or immediate emancipation attained by a Jnani. The devotee goes to Brahmaloka first and then enters into Nirguna Brahman. This is called Krama Mukti. The Jnani is absorbed into Nirguna Brahman directly. This is the difference.

Saguna Upasakas or those who meditate on the image of the Lord should do Trataka first with open eyes till they can visualise a clear-cut, well-defined picture. Later on they can visualise the picture with closed eyes. The picture must be very pleasing to the mind and the eyes. It should have a good, agreeable background. When you have created a strong mental image of your Lord in the mind by continuous practice of meditation on one form, you should not disturb the mental image by changing the picture. Stick to the same picture and strengthen and feed the mental image through repeated practice of Trataka, visualisation and constant meditation on the form. Through force of habit the same mental image will appear quite easily in your mind. Sometimes you may change even your Mantra or formula when the mind is tired or wants variety, but do not change your mental image or Bhava.

Do not bother yourself if you are not able to have perfect visualisation of the picture of the Lord with the closed eyes. Continue your practice vigorously and regularly. You will succeed. What is wanted is Prema for the Lord. Cultivate this more and more. Let it flow unceasingly, spontaneously. This is more important than visualisation.

A piece of ordinary white paper or coloured paper has no value. You throw it away. But if there is stamp or picture of the King or Emperor on the paper (currency notes), you keep it safe in your money purse or trunk. Even so, an ordinary piece of stone has no value for you. You throw it away. But if you behold the stone Murti of Lord Krishna at Pandarpur or any other Murti in shrines, you bow your head with folded hands, because there is the stamp of the Lord on the stone. The devotee superimposes on the stone Murti his own Beloved and all the attributes of the Lord. Image worship is very necessary for beginners.

Even by worshipping a Pratima (idol) Ishvara is very much pleased. The Pratima is made up of five elements. Five elements constitute the body of the Lord. The idol remains as an idol. But the worship goes to the Lord. There is nothing wrong in worshipping an idol in the beginning. You must superimpose God and His attributes on the idol. You must think of the Antar-Atma that is hidden in the idol.

In Bhava Samadhi the mind of the devotee is highly elevated through pure emotion and devotion. He forgets the body and the world. His mind is wholly absorbed in the Lord.

Hear the divine whisper in silence. Realise the power of faith. Feel God's sustaining Grace. Know the way of escape. Build the shrine of love or the temple of devotion in your heart. Enter the silence. Enjoy the life transcendent.

Forget the universe, forget the body, forget everything. Meditate on the glory of His Name. Be fixed in His Name. Merge yourself in His Name. His Name saves millions from the round of births and deaths. Therefore develop taste (ruchi) and love for His Name. You cannot live on bread alone, but you can live on Lord Krishna's Name. All the divine potencies or Saktis are hidden in His Name. Awaken the Mantra-Chaitanya that is hidden in His Name by constant repetition and have everlasting union with Him.

God is just. He punishes the evil-doers to turn them into the right path, to correct and educate them. He does not want His children to repeat the same evil act. This is His mercy. This is His love.

The ways of God are very mysterious. Pain, suffering, disease, loss, disappointment, failure are His blessings in disguise to strengthen His children and take them to His side. My dear Ram, learn His ways and become wise. Do not get ruffled in mind by trifling incidents in life. Grow strong. Evolve.

God deprives one of his wealth, wife, son, etc., if He wants to take him to His Lotus-Feet. Do not grumble, my dear Prem! Say with boldness: "Thy will be done, O Lord!" and rejoice. Have perfect trust in Him. Exert sincerely and leave the rest to God.

You need not be depressed on any score. By Tapas, you can achieve anything. In the ninth chapter of the Gita, 31 Sloka, Lord Krishna gives strong word of assurance: "kaunteya pratijaneehi na me bhaktah pranasyati-O Son of Kunti! Know thou for certain that My devotee perisheth never". Always be cheerful. Where is the room for lamentation when you are a devotee of Lord Krishna. He bestows every gift on His Bhaktas. Go on with your Sadhana. Spend your time well. Your straightforward nature (Arjava) and simplicity are great spiritual assets for you. A bright future awaits you. Plod on. Apply diligently. Increase your charity. Charity covereth a multitude of sins. It is a great purifier of heart: "yajno danam tapaschaiva pavanani maneeshinam" (Gita Chap. XVIII-5).

Your spiritual advancement is very poor as you have not strictly followed my spiritual instructions. Earnest efforts are greatly wanting in you. Had you been sincere and regular in the spiritual Sadhana, you ought to have had glimpses of the Divine Grace in some form or other.

The Gopis of Brindavan were wonderful devotees of Lord Krishna. They totally surrrendered themselves unto the Lord. Lord Krishna played on His Flute on a moon-lit night. The Gopis rushed forth immediately to where their Lover was. Their minds were absorbed in Krishna. They forgot everything when they heard the flute.

The lane of love is extremely narrow indeed. It cannot contain two. Where there is 'I', the Lord is not. Where there is the Lord, this 'I' ceases to be.

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