Monday, March 17, 2008

Hinduism, Idolotry and the Nature of God

Another Q&A: How can some idol represent God when God has no image?

The Question:

“Ekam evadvitiyam”-Chandogya Upanishad 6:2:1 :-He is only one without a second
“Na tasya pratima asti” -Yajurveda 32:3,Svetasvatara Upanishad 4:19 :-There is no image of Him (God)
"Andhatama pravishanti ye asambhuti mupaste" -Yajurveda 40:9 :-They enter darkness, those who worship the natural elements
Hindu scripture says God has no image and those enter darkness who worship created (idols) -Yajurveda 40:16 or natural things(agni,air,water,sun etc). So are we not going against our religion by worshiping idols???

How can some idol represent God when God has no image? Why idols are required? Almighty God has told us in Vedas and many other scriptures that he has no shape, no image. Still we give him shape..r we not disrespecting him by this act?

My reply:
What are your thoughts?

Hi Ashima,

What needs to be understood here is that "Hinduism" does not exist.

"Hinduism" is an umbrella term coined by Muslims to refer to the people living "on the other side of the Sindhu" river, Sindhu being pronounced as Hindu in Arabic.

The actual name of the faith, or as close to a common name as there is, is Sanatana Dharma, Universal Truth. It is also said in the Upanisads, "Truth is One, the sages use diverse names and forms to describe it." Hinduism employs countless methods.

An essential Hindu belief is that no matter how one seeks to define "God" one is only limitedly correct. God is always "more." When Muslims say, "Allahu Akbar" or God is Great! They are correct... BUT God is even greater than that! God's Greatness knows no bounds.

To say that the Holy One has no form is to limit the Limitless Being. If God wishes to manifest in a form He will! "God is not..." is only correct when God chooses "to not..." God is utterly limitless by definition. Hindus celebrate this limitlessness and at times enjoy playing around the outer limits of conception.

Some Hindus worship the Formless One as in Vedanta. Some Hindus utilize images. Both approaches are acceptable and both are valid.

These images are not idols, at least not from the Hindu perspective. An idol is an image that is worshiped out of ignorance. One takes a piece of wood, carves a figure and worships it. Almost all Hindus would agree this is idol worship and would not support it. It would be silly. Why would anyone worship a piece a wood he found on the ground? However when one reads the detailed descriptions of the murti forms (the images are called murtis), carefully follows ancient instructions on how to create and then install and honor the murtis, then it is not considered idolatry anymore than the Christian cross, the Sikh Guru Granth Sahib, the Muslim Kaaba or the Jewish Torah Scrolls.

Hindus don't "worship idols," they believe that God, through His mercy, utilizes that which may be seen in the worship of He (or That) Who may not be seen.

Some Hindus also believe the murtis are sort of like spiritual batteries that collect the righteous energies of those who worship and uses these energies to bless the community back.

Still others explain that the material world (saguna brahman) is the dim reflection of the spiritual world (nirguna brahman) and that the Murtis, when properly understood, are how we connect to the spiritual reality. They are sort of spiritual teleporters. In part for this reason it is often said that once one enters a mandir or other sacred precinct one actually leaves the material world for the time being and enters the spiritual.

When Hindus bow before the murtis, offer prasada (food and offerings) they are not worshiping the wood, metal, etc, they are worshiping God just as others do, only in accordance with traditions that were ancient when Abraham was still a boy (according to Jewish tradition Abraham's father was a sculptor of murtis).

In the Torah HaShem appears in the Burning Bush and momentarily flashes his "backside" to Moses to help him conceive of the utterly inconceivable nature of God's presence.

In the same way, in the Srimad Bhagavad Gita, a far more important and widely read scripture among Hindus than the Chandogya and Svetasvatara Upanishad (which focuses more on what is called "Mayavadhi philosophy" than on the belief in God as a transcendent individual Being as believed by Christians, Muslims, Jews and theistic Hindus by the way), this matter of God's nature is discussed in detail. There the righteous but confused Arjuna asks to see God in His eternal, universal form (visva rupa), just as Moses requested.

In response Ek Devata, the One Utterly Transcendent God, granted Arjuna the vision of the Visva Rupa or Universal Form. Moses was allowed to behold HaShem's backside, but Arjuna was shown much more! This is recorded in chapter 11 of the Gita:

The Srimad Bhagavad-Gita
Translated by Jagannatha Prakasa (John of AllFaith © 1993)
Vishva-rupa Darshana Yoga:
The Yoga of Beholding the Universal Form

11:1: Arjuna said: Because You have looked kindly upon me and revealed this supreme and discreet knowledge of the Self, my delusion has been removed.

11:2-4: O Lotus-eyed One, I have heard from You in detail of the origin and dissolution of the living beings. I have also heard about Your inexhaustible glories.
As You have described this Yourself, O Supreme God, I wish to see your sovereign form, O Ultimate Person.
If you, O God, determine that I am able to see this, then please, O Master of Yoga, show me Your imperishable Self.

11:5-7: The Blessed One said: O child of Partha, behold my hundreds and thousands of forms, each of various divine types and colors.
Behold the Adityas, the Vasus, the Rudras, the twin Ashvins, the Maruts and many other wonders never seen before, O best of the Bharatas.
Behold now the entire universe in this one abode - complete with the moving and unmoving - existing within My Body, O Arjuna. Here you will see everything you desire.

11: 8: With your material eyes you are not able to see Me [in My Universal Form], I therefore give you divine eyes to see My omnipresent yogic ability.

11:9: Sanjaya said: O king, having thus spoken Hari, the supreme Master of yogic wonders, showed that highest and most sovereign Form to the descendant of Partha (Arjuna).

11:10, 11: [In that Form were] numerous mouths and eyes, multifarious wonderful sights, sundry divine ornaments and a myriad of divine uplifted weapons.
[God was] wearing divine garlands, celestial raiment and was anointed with transcendental fragrances. The Divine One was all marvelous, radiant, unlimited and omniscient.

11:12: In the sky thousands of suns instantly arose as if radiating the splendor of the great Soul.

11:13: There in that one place, Arjuna saw the entire universe, which is divided into many subsections, in the body of the God of gods.

11:14: Then filled with wonder, his hair standing on end, Arjuna bowed before God with folded hands and spoke thus:

11:15-31: Arjuna said: O God, I see all the gods within Your body, as well as the diverse classes of living beings. There is Lord Brahma, seated on the lotus flower, Lord Shiva, as well as the holy seers and divine serpents.
I behold innumerable arms, stomachs, mouths and eyes; I see You all around me manifesting limitless forms, devoid of end, middle or beginning, O God of the universe, O Universal Form!
I see You with diadems, maces and discs. Your massive effulgence is blazing all around and is difficult to behold, like blazing fire, like the immeasurable radiance of the sun.
In my opinion, You are imperishable, supreme and worthy of being known. You are the highest reservoir of this inexhaustible universe, guardian of Truth and the eternal Person.
I behold You as being without beginning, middle or end, of infinite glory, with limitless arms. The moon and sun are Your eyes; Your mouth is blazing like fire and by Your brilliance this universe is being heated.
The heavens, the earth, and everything in between is pervaded by You alone. By seeing this wonderful and terrible Form of Yours the three worlds are shaking with fear, O Great Soul.
The community of devas are entering into You. Some, due to fear, offer praise to You with folded hands saying: "All glories to You!" The great seers as well as the community of perfected beings are singing hymns unto You with copious prayers.
The Rudras, Adityas, Vasus, Sadhyas, Vishvadevas, Ashvins, Maruts, Usmapas, Gandharvas, Yaksas, Asuras and Siddhas are all beholding You in amazement.
O mighty armed, this magnificent Form of Yours has innumerable faces and eyes, limitless arms, thighs and feet, as well as myriad stomachs and countless terrible teeth. Beholding it the planets are shaking with fear, even as am I!
Beholding You touching the sky, with myriad colors, mouths agape and with vast glowing eyes, I am disturbed at heart and can find no inner peace, O Supreme Vishnu!
Beholding Your terrible teeth and mouths blazing like the apocalyptic fires in all directions, I obtain no happiness. O Lord of lords, show mercy unto me, O refuge of the universes!
All these sons of Dhritarastra, along with the community of guardian kings, Bhishma, Drona, Karna, plus our own chief warriors,
They are hurriedly entering into Your fearful mouths, some are clinging between Your terrible teeth, their heads thoroughly crushed.
As river water flows into the ocean, so too these heroes of the mortal world are entering into Your blazing mouths.
As moths rush into a blazing fire to their destruction, so too do the world's inhabitants plunge into Your mouths to their destruction.
With Your mouths You are licking up and devouring the inhabitants of the world on all sides. You are blazing with brilliance, illuminating the entire universe with Your awesome rays, O Lord Vishnu!
O fierce of form, please tell me who You are. Kindly accept my humble obeisances, O best among the gods. Be gracious unto me. I wish to know You, the Primeval One, and Your engagements.

11:32: The Blessed One said: I am time, the destroyer of the world, when it has grown mature. I am now engaged in destroying the world's inhabitants. Even without your participation, those warriors who are arrayed here in opposing armies, without exception,will be destroyed.

11:33: Therefore arise! Having conquered your enemies, acquire fame and enjoy a flourishing kingdom. As these warriors are already killed by Me, you will merely be My instrument, O Savyasaci.

11:34: Drona, Bhishma, Jayadratha, Karna and the other mighty warriors are actually killed by Me, so slay them and don't be perturbed. Fight and you will conquer your enemies in battle.

11:35: Sanjaya said: Having heard Keshava's words, Arjuna, trembling, prostrated himself and again offered obeisances with joined palms. In a faltering voice, overcome with fear, he said unto Shri Krishna:

11:36: Arjuna said: O Hrishikesha it is appropriate that the universe is rejoicing and delighted, that the demons are fearful on all sides and are therefore fleeing, and that the community of perfected beings are offering You their obeisances.

11:37, 38: And why wouldn't they offer obeisances unto You? You are the Great Universal Soul, greater than even Lord Brahma the original creator; You are the Infinite Being, the God of gods, the sole refuge of the universes; as both being and non-being You are imperishable; You are Supreme!
You are the original, primeval Personality of Godhead! You are the ancient and highest refuge of this universe! You are the knower and the object of knowledge! You are the supreme Abode! By You the universes are pervaded, O God of infinite forms!

11:39, 40: You are Vayu, Yama, Agni, Varuna, the moon, Prajapati and the great-grandfather. I offer my obeisances unto You again and again, a thousand times and more I offer my obeisances; I offer my obeisances unto You!
Please accept my respectful obeisances unto You from the front, behind and from all sides. You possess unlimited courage and power; You pervade everything and therefore You are everything!

11:41, 42: Thinking of You as a friend, I have brashly said: "O Krishna!" "O Yadava!" "O my friend!" Due to my oversight, not knowing Your majesty, due to my love for You, I have thus spoken.
If I have treated You disrespectfully, whether out of a sense of jest, while roaming about, while reclining, while sitting, while eating, whether alone or in the company of others, I beg Your immeasurable forgiveness, O Acyuta!

11:43: You are the Parent of the entire world, both the moving and the non moving. You are the most worshipable and revered preceptor. No one is equal to You in all the three worlds; who could be greater, O thou of unequaled splendor?

11:44: Therefore, O God, prostrating my body before You and offering obeisances I ask for Your grace and tolerance, O praiseworthy God, like a parent to a child, like a friend to a friend or a lover to the beloved.

11:45: I am delighted to behold what has never before been seen, yet my mind is perturbed with fear. O God, bestow Your mercy on me and show me Your [four-armed Narayana] form, O God of gods, O Refuge of the universe.

11:46: O thousand-armed, I desire to see You as before in Your four-armed form, crowned, with a club and disc in Your hands, O universal form.

11:47: The Blessed One said: I am delighted, O Arjuna, to show you this supreme form. By My mystic yogic powers you are seeing the universe filled with My infinite primeval radiance. Such has never before been seen by anyone other than you!

11:48, 49: Neither through Vedic sacrifice, study, charity, rituals or severe austerities can that form be seen in the material world, but I show it you alone, O hero of the Kurus.
Do not be disquieted nor bewildered due to seeing this awesome Form as it truly is. Be free from fear and with a joyous mind again behold My [four-armed Narayana] form.

11:50: Sanjaya said: Having thus spoken unto Arjuna, Vasudeva revealed that [four-armed] form. Then the great souled One allayed Arjuna's fear by again accepting the handsome [two-armed] body.

11:51: Arjuna said: Seeing Your handsome human form again, O Janardana, my consciousness is now steady and I am restored to my own nature.

11:52-54: The Blessed One said: It is very difficult to see this form which you have seen. Even the devas are always desirous to behold this Form of Mine.
I am not [understood] by Vedic knowledge, austerity, charity, nor by rituals in the form you have seen Me.
Only by one-pointed devotion is it possible, O Arjuna, to know, see, and enter into the truth of Me, O mighty-armed one.
One whose actions are dedicated to Me, who deems Me to be supreme, who is devoted to Me, who is free from all fruitive attachments, and is devoid of enmity towards all living beings, only such a person comes to Me, O son of Pandu.

Whatever we believe about God...
God is More.
God is Greater

Worship God!

Hopes this helps,
~John of AllFaith
~Jagannatha Prakasa

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