Krishna has already spoken about what Ishwara is. We have also mentioned this in a previous post–on Ishwara being the source, the sustenance and the resolving point of the entire universe, `manifestation’ being the more appropriate word. In the tenth chapter,Arjuna says that I know all this to be true, but at the same time do reveal to me your special forms so that I can worship you. Why is this idea of worship important in this whole Vedic wisdom? Let’s put it this way–the more I recognize Ishwara in my life, the easier it is for me to be a karma yogi and the easier it is to understand and live this wisdom of what I really am. At the same time, in spite of our recognition of Ishwara, we might not have much of an emotional connect. To evoke that emotional connect from us, we have this idea of worship. This was also touched upon in an earlier post.
Now, what is a worship or upasana? It is defined as invoking the higher in a commonplace object or form. Remember, everything is a manifestation of Ishwara. Therefore, any one thing can be used to invoke Ishwara because Ishwara is the totality. But it is difficult for me to use totality and so what do I do. Simple. If totality is difficult,then I use any one form. If everything is Ishwara, then I can invoke Ishwara in anything.However, commonplace objects like a chair or a table ora book may not be inspiring enough. Therefore, Arjuna asks for forms that may inspire him, and Krishna, in response, gives a huge list of forms, by no means a complete list but a huge list.
[pullquote]In short, anything that makes you feel inspired, anything that makes you wonder at the creation, anything that makes you feel joyful can be used as an altar, as a support for you to connect with Ishwara. It doesn’t matter what the object is; it may be a religious symbol, it may be non-religious—like the mountains, the forests, the rivers…[/pullquote]
Krishna starts by saying, `You know me in the sound `Om’‘ . As we have seen in an earlier post, Om is the most generic name for Ishwara. Krishna says, `Invoke me in Om among all sounds’. Then he goes on giving lists, traditional and from nature. He says, `Invoke me among the vasudevas as Vishnu,among all the rudras invoke me as Shiva, among all the water-beings invoke me as Varuna.’ These are some of the traditional forms used for worship. Or, he says, invoke me among the mountain ranges as Himalayas, among the mountain peaks as Kailasa, among the water-bodies as the ocean, among the Pandavas as Arjuna, among the munis as Vyasa, among the rishis as Bhrigu. In short, anything that makes you feel inspired, anything that makes you wonder at the creation, anything that makes you feel joyful can be used as an altar, as a support for you to connect with Ishwara. It doesn’t matter what the object is; it may be a religious symbol, it may be non-religious—like the mountains, the forests, the rivers….Among the rivers, the Ganga…Any river is inspiring enough except for the polluted Mithi river in Mumbai !…….Invoke me as the Ganga, he says, it can be used to connect with the higher, anything that fills me with joy, wonder, peace, awe can be used to connect with the higher….
Any commonplace object can also be used to invoke Ishwara. In fact, in the Indian tradition we do it. We invoke Ishwara as Ganesha…it’s a form, it’sGanpati….but if you don’t have a form of Ganpati for the puja, then what will you do? Either you will use a lump of turmeric to invoke Ganesha there or, in some other Indian states, you will take supari/betelnut or coconut and invoke Ganesha there. The Lord can be invoked in anything. But if you don’t find anything inspiring enough, then, as Krishna says, refer to the list.
Why does this worship become important? Because it helps me have an emotional connect, an emotional response to my intellectual understanding of Ishwara. I have understood Ishwara, yes, but I don’t feel I’m connecting. Remember, if you understand Ishwara, then you know that everything around you, including your body and your mind etc.,is a part of Ishwara. There is nothing that is not divine, there is nothing that is not sacred. But do you feel that divinity and sacredness? Do you feel your life is sacred? Do you feel that your work is sacred? Do you feel that your relationships are sacred? Do you feel that eating is a sacred act? If you don’t, then it shows that the understanding is there but the emotional response to the understanding is not there. For emotional response to be there, you need a few actions that will connect you. Now, to feel connected you need a symbol, something that will represent Ishwara. Therefore, Krishna gives this huge list in the tenth chapter. Take any that suits you. No one can relate to all of them. That’s fine, relate to what you can. Anyway, you don’t need too many, even one is fine. So relate and see how you feel. This emotional connect is bhakti. If you have that sense of bhakti, there is greater acceptance of what is happening in your life, you area better karma yogi. If you are a better karma yogi, there is less worry, less anxiety in your life, you are stress-free, you have outgrown your likes and dislikes. Then when the teaching is unfolded to you, it all clicks and you walk away as a wise person.
Things are quite the other way today….We see people going to temples, praying to their symbols, but they don’t have an understanding…That has caused a lot of problems.
Often, the priest doesn’t know enough to explain all this. The priest’s job was to do the puja/ritual prayer, etc. For the wisdom, you have to go to a spiritual teacher. The level of ignorance these days is high and people have blind faith. Their emotional response, their bhakti is also very limited. It is unlike the understanding of Ishwara and the emotional response that a student of Vedanta will have. A common man may respond to Ishwara out of fear, for example….He has some idea of Ishwara, not understanding, and he is afraid that things may go wrong in his life. He may try to make a deal with God, he will say, `Give me this and I’ll give you this…’ All these are based on very limited ideas of Ishwara. I wouldn’t stop them from doing what they are doing, at least some emotional connect is there, but it would be good if they had a better idea, a better understanding.. If I could refine that understanding, that emotional connect will also get refined. It will be no more out of fear, it will be based on understanding, and that’s healthy. Let that connect remain, we just refine their understanding.
Its easy for us to understand and relate to all thingsof beauty, all things good in my experience as Ishwara and, therefore, sacred. But our emotional response to Ishwara generally falls short when we experience the less desirable things in the world….for example, a calm ocean can turn destructive….How can worship help us deal with this?
…It’s during these times we need to connect with Ishwara. You have to understand the dangerous part of nature also. Every trekker in the Himalayas knows that it can be dangerous. It is true that the inspiring part overpowers the lesser part. In fact, there is an understanding in India that when you worship God as Shiva, you also worship the Shiva-ganas, and the Shiva-ganas are represented as the darker side of Ishwara. We are humanising God. It is true that for most humans it is the light side that is bigger, the dark side is smaller, but we have to acknowledge the dark side. That is why in our worship the dark side is acknowledged. If you are invoking the Himalayas, the dark side is the danger that will be there, the avalanches that will be there. That is also acknowledged. Similarly, ocean’s ferocity has to be acknowledged.
How do I choose my symbol for worship?
I choose a symbol that I can relate to, the type of connect I need in my life. E.g. if I am timid, etc., then I could choose a form like Durga to worship, which is empowering. I’m sure all modern women can relate to that. Durga also has a soft and gentle side, but the emphasis is on the power, the strength. Choose a symbol like that. Or if you can’t relate to a religious symbol, choose a symbol like the ocean that is calm and peaceful and embracing everything and, at the same time,full of power and ferocity.
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