Friday, February 17, 2017

WORSHIP OF GOD, Swami Kripalvananda

Beloved Satsangis, lovers of God and Guru:

Today I will discuss the Worship of God. To worship the Lord means to make contact with God in order to attain God. Here there is one big question that arises: as long as God is not present in front of us there is no possibility of offering our worship to the Lord. One meaning of puja (worship) is "love affair with God." If the beloved is not present or in our memory, how can we have the love affair? So either the beloved should be in front of our eyes or He should be in our memory, and only then can we express our love toward Him.

Our conclusion is usually that God is not in front of us. Not only that but we wonder: "If there is God, what is He like?" If we do not know the form of God how can we ever meditate on Him? As long as we don't have a clear mental image in our mind's eye as to what God is like, we cannot really and truly pray to Him. So before we offer our puja to God, we must have a clear understanding as to what He is like.

In order to find out the answer to this question we approach the saints, all and every one of this world. And if we ask individually to each one, "Have you seen God?" some of them would answer, "Yes, I have seen." Some would say, "I haven't seen Him but I have faith that He is." We ask those who say they have seen Him, "What is He like?" Our mind would be alert and our intellect would begin to compare what each one of these saints says that God is like. Suppose we collect information from 50 saints as to what God is like. After listening to their experiences or descriptions of God our mind would be very confused. Because each and every saint would describe God differently. And as soon as that happened we would lose our faith.

One will find out soon that the description as to what God is like will continually differ from one saint to another. From this we might be able to derive or feel that none of them have truly seen God; or if they have seen, they have seen something else. How can we grow just by believing that God is? There are many scriptures where it is said that God is. But they haven't explained as to what God is like. In scripture they only say that God is merciful and loving and so on. These are only adjectives. They are not a description of what He is. Some think that because God is like us, He must speak through a heart and see with eyes like our eyes. People think that he must be like a man because he has all these different abilities to know what we know through our five senses. So when one imagines God, he imagines God like himself. Similarly, if a buffalo thinks of God he will think of Him as a big buffalo. In this way the first question is very confusing and yet it is very simple also. We can say to God, "Lord, I do not know what you are, so how can I imagine you? But I just imagine that you are." This is where the Sanatana Dharma is different from the rest. Sanatana Dharma shows many different forms and aspects of God. When creation takes place, Brahman (The Absolute) creates the energy of Shakti (power, the female aspect of God) who has three different forms: the creative energy that is Brahma's (the God of creation), the sustaining energy that is Vishnu (the God of sustenance), and the destructive energy or changing energy that is Shiva (the God of transformation). Similarly, many innumerable other energies have been named, all of which are included in these three main energies: creative, sustaining and destructive. All these energies are included in one Absolute which is formless, nameless, and ever present, which we call Brahman.

Brahman is shown in two different aspects, one is with form, another without form. Manifestation has a form and unmanifest is formless, and is the source of the manifest. The Sanatana Dharma is so profound, and has so included every aspect of God and His descriptions, that no matter what description you are thinking about, if it is truly ingrained in Truth, it is possible to find it in the Sanatana Dharma.

In ancient India so much indepth thought had been given regarding the search for God and the existence of God that even if you take just one short sentence written by these ancients, it can take you lifetimes to realize it. If it takes a whole lifetime to understand one of the sentences of God, then to do the complete puja of God takes many incarnations. We can't really grow if we fix ourselves and say we are incapable and not work toward it. One should select any of these three: Brahma, Vishnu or Shiva and, believing that it exists, worship that form of God. When one attains to God one can easily understand the Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva energies very clearly. Those are yogic experiences. So, as long as one does not attain to the final state-of yoga one will not understand what this means. We can believe in one God, which includes all his energies, and we can worship that as Brahman.

If a child is born in your home it is up to you as to what name you want to give to him. Similarly, when God is born in your mind you can give Him any name. Among all those names of God, remember one thing: that the sannyasi (renunciates) say that Ram and Om are the best names of the Lord. The name Ram depicts God in form, and the name Om depicts God in the formless. So first you use the word "Ram" for chanting and then when the form is completed and you become one with the formless, "Om" begins. In Om, Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva merge together.

Take any form of God, the one which you like most, and establish an idol of it and do puja for it. In the scriptures, the description of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva is given; and from that description artists have tried to depict God in the form of a picture. But when we select one of Rama, Krishna, Brahma, Vishnu or Shiva and we have the idol, we will still have one question in our mind: Why would Krishna, for example, be painted differently by different artists? Why is each and every one of these paintings different from each other? One artist's Krishna will not be like the other ones. Those poor artists, they haven't seen Krishna and yet they paint Krishna's picture on the basis of scriptural descriptions. Whatever characteristics are described in scriptures, from those they get their ideas.

Suppose you have accepted Lord Shiva as your approach of worship. How does Lord Shiva look? There is very beautiful hair and there is a flower garland tied over his hair. On top of this there is the river Ganges in the form of a female just pouring the water out from the top of his hair. And there is a moon in his forehead. And he has on his forehead a third eye, and snakes are wrapped around his neck. He is wearing a tiger skin over his waist, he has a trident and a small drum in his hand. Artists may have drawn this figure to be very tall or short or fat or thin, but that makes no difference. As long as these characteristics are given we can recognize this as Lord Shiva. What I have given you are the characteristics by which to recognize Lord Shiva. When you have come face to face with Lord Shiva you would actually see all this: he would have a lot of hair wrapped up on the top with the garland of flowers, the Ganges flowing from his hair, the moon in his forehead, the third eye, snakes wrapped around his neck, a tiger skin over his waist, a trident in his right hand, the dumeral (the drum) in his left hand, and ashes smeared all over his body. You would be able to recognize him in this form because these are his special signs. Whether a devotee be of this country or of any other country, when he attains the stage of having Shiva face to face he would definitely recognize him in this form. This is very, very true. The greatest saint of any country, those who have reached to the highest, if they happen to read the scriptures of India, they will invariably say, "I have seen Brahma, I have seen Vishnu, I have seen Shiva and I know Brahman."

In this way we now know about the form of God; and because God is not visible, we will have to place his statue in front of us. There is only one reason for having a statue in front of us and that is so our eyes can make contact with the form and our mind can continuously remain engaged in the thought of God. This activity will continuously remind us of God. To illustrate this, give a doll to a little child to play with. When the child is playing with the doll, hide yourself and watch how the child plays. She treats that doll as if that doll is alive. She says, "Why are you speaking too much?" This doll is speaking nothing. She says, "Why do you look at me like that?" The doll does not look. Yet the child treats the doll as if it is alive and can interact. No matter how old the individual gets, 25, 40, 50 or 100 years old, yet he remains still a child in the spiritual realm. For him his statue is much better than even a doll is to a child. Mother has given birth to a child, but how can mother sit all day long keeping the child in her lap? Only when mother provides a doll to the little child can she direct the child's attention in another area, enabling her to accomplish tasks at home. Just as mother loves the child, so the child loves the doll. This is a very natural process. So, if there is any harm to idol worship it is so minimal compared to the benefits that one receives.

Now, you have selected the idol that you want to worship and you have already established the idol in your worship room and now you want to worship and do puja to that idol. As I have described to you before, through puja you are establishing contact with God. It is a form of a love affair with God. The Dharmacharyas, the spiritual teachers, have recommended idol worship with great in depth understanding. The devotees bathe the idol, God. They pour their feelings as if they are giving a real bath to God. In this way the devotees' imagination becomes very sharp and filled with love, and love pours out of their hearts as a result. In their hands they may have a statue but in their hearts and minds they don't feel like it is a statue. In their hearts and minds they have just the true feeling of God. We can say that in a devotee's hand he has a material statue but in his mind he has a live God, as if God is actually there in front of him. To him God seems so alive that he can see him blinking his eyes, speaking, laughing, eating and doing everything. By entering into the field of imagination one begins to actually attune to God. This is why the devotee gives a bath to God, and bathes the statue as if he is bathing God Himself. Then with great love he wipes off the wet body of the Lord and then properly he dresses the idol. If he is giving the offering to Lord Shiva he will put in his hand the trident and drum and apply ashes all over his body. He will also give all the decorations according to the scriptural description of Lord Shiva. By doing all these things, the mind merges into Shiva.

I will explain this principle with one anecdote. One sister had a five-year-old baby who had died and at this time she suffered a lot. After the death of the child she collected all the clothing and toys of the baby into one suitcase and put it away. Two or three years passed. One day when she was looking for something, she was accidentally opened that suitcase and right away she saw the very small stockings of the child and the small shoes. She looked at the underclothes, the shirt, the little cap, and in her mind's eye the baby came alive. She saw the little feet in the shoes, the baby's body in the garment, and his face beneath the cap. Everything became very visually real. At the same time, tears began to flow from her eyes. The child who died three years before, his face now appeared very clearly to her.

This is how all of meditation occurs. Puja is one form of meditation. In India, in every house, such pujas take place. Those who have time take at least 15-20 minutes for this puja. They recite the shlokas (scriptural verses) as they bathe the Lord and clothe Him. In this way his mind becomes associated with God and he forgets for a while the world outside of himself. This is why it has been recommended to worship God every day. I firmly believe that idol worship is of the greatest help to those who are just starting sadhana. It purifies the mind, and as soon as the mind is purified the physical purification becomes simple. The mind is very closely associated with the body and the body is very closely associated with the mind, so the purity of one affects the purity of the other.

For the purification of the body and mind, the puja to God is invariably necessary. I have given you here the principles behind all of worship and the information necessary to begin.

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