After having dealt with food in the 17th chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna speaks of worship and the Sattvik, Rajasic, Tamasic attitudes to worship. In the 11th verse, he says that worship which is done with karma yoga buddhi, where you bring in Ishvara arpanam and prasad buddhi into worship is Sattvic worship. A sankalpa (a statement of intention) is usually made before any worship is begun, meaning the person states the reason for offering worship and asks specifically for whatever it is that he wants. Of course, he could also be worshiping only to receive the grace of the Lord. Along with the specific reason for worship, this sort of worshiper also says, `Hey, I will accept your will’. The outcome of the worship, whatever it is, is regarded as a prasada from Ishvara. The worship also has to be in harmony with the scriptural instructions and done with a sense of commitment to Ishvara and to the worship itself. Any worship done in this manner is considered Sattvic worship.
Rajasic worship is purely desire-prompted worship. A Sattvic worship can be purely from a sense of duty, like a daily worship done for God’s grace. In Rajasic worship, it is prompted purely by kamya karma (out of desire). You must have seen long, winding queues of people outside temples, each asking the Lord to grant his desire or need. It’s not wrong. Krishna only calls it Rajasic because it lacks prasada buddhi and/or is done only in times of need. An act of worship that is ostentatious and is done to impress people who will then regard you as a man of faith, as a religious person is also considered Rajasic worship.
Tamasic worship is one in which none of the rules and regulations are followed, no prasada is offered and shared, the mantras are not chanted correctly, and there is no faith in the worship being done. Then why is it done? It’s done because some custom or society or your fear dictates it. To be God-fearing is actually Tamasic.
Swamiji, why is worship being discussed in this way for Vedanta knowledge?
Vedanta does not ignore Ishvara or bhakti as both are conducive to my growth and understanding the truth. In the vision of Vedanta, Sattvic worship is considered the right way of worship for the simple reason that it contributes to your growth. Why do we worship at all? Because there is many a slip between the cup and the lip. We all know that to be successful in any action, you need to take appropriate and adequate action at the right time, you also have to factor in the time taken for the action to fructify and give results, and we also know that there is a third factor called luck. Luck may be an unscientific word, but there are very scientific methods for measuring it– the law of probability in the study of statistics, the theory of random chance in physics, etc. That’s why we have common expressions like `touch wood’, `keep your fingers crossed’, etc. But in addition to crossing one’s fingers, folding one’s hands in prayer to win the Lord’s grace can make a difference between success and failure.
When you worship in a Sattvic way, it’s done with Ishvara arpanam (offering it to the Lord) and prasada buddhi (accepting the outcome whatever it may be). Prasada buddhi, with respect to the result of worship, is when you acknowledge that this worship is an action you carry out to take care of grace, to take care your luck factor, and an acceptance that your worship may or may not be enough. Therefore, you prepare to accept the result, whatever it is, as God’s will, as prasada from the Lord. The first factor that aids your growth here is that you have an understanding of Ishvara and are letting Ishvara into your life. In a manner of speaking, you can say that you are acknowledging the role of Ishvara in your life. You have an altar of surrender; the highest thing a will can do is to surrender to the will of the Lord. The prasada buddhi , the attitude of acceptance converts every day-to-day activity into a growth issue for you. We have discussed this in detail in the Karma yoga chapter.
Please remember, there is nothing wrong in Rajasic worship. If it is something you desire and are willing to work for it, there is nothing wrong in asking for God’s grace in fulfilling that desire. After all, you are asking God and not the local Godfather or don. But you are using worship only for materialistic purposes and not for growth. Therefore, it’s not the ideal way. Again, in the Tamasic form of worship, the only good I can see in it is the fact that you are accepting the possibility of a higher power and no more. There is no growth or commitment in this way of worship.
That’s why, in Vedanta, we say whatever form of worship you do, do it in the Sattvic manner. Pray for what you want in a Sattvic way, it will increase the chances of getting what you want and will also help you grow spiritually. That’s the payoff here–you will grow whether you succeed or fail.
Swamiji, how can a person who does not know anything about worship start worshiping?
A person can start with a simple prayer by lighting a lamp and making a strong sankalpa. This will work depending on the purity and strength of the intention of the person praying. Or he can take a mantra from his guru and do a simple japa. If you don’t have a guru, think of the lord as your guru and do some simple pauranic mantra for japa like ‘om namah shivaya’. He could also find someone who could teach him how to do a simple pooja.
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