Wave 3:  Basics of Hindu Religious Worship   :  Page 2


(Continued from Page 1)



Non-violence stems from the fact that everything is but a spark of the same divinity and so no harm should be done to anything that is living. Detachment is non-attachment to anything which is not ultimately permanent. What is impermanent? Anything that is amenable to sense-perception is impermanent. What is not amenable to sense perception? The Ultimate Reality is the one that is not amenable to sense perception. This is the common substratum of existence both in the microcosmic and in the macrocosmic universe. In other words, our body, our senses, our mind, our intellect, our possessions, our kith and kin – none of these is ultimate.

The Ultimate Substratum is in fact the essence of everything that is amenable to sense perception. This Reality is the supreme Godhead of Hinduism. There is no other, no second. It is formless, nameless and totally unaffected by anything. It just is. Brahman is the name given to this. The naming itself is a slip of rigor though intended. Brahman comes from the word ‘to transcend’ and so it connotes that which transcends everything that we know. But the moment we think of it as a God to be worshipped, we have already brought, by our limited intellect, a subject-object relationship in respect of the ultimate Godhead which has no second. We have actually violated the uniqueness of Brahman, the moment we even think of it. If we are to cite a parallel to this phenomenon in our present day experience, the only thing we may cite is modern physics. The moment we observe a subatomic particle, what we observe has already been influenced by our observation. These rules of modern physics may not apply to Brahman. But the very definition of Brahman says that you cannot predicate anything of it except that it is. You cannot say that it is large or small, black or white, you cannot point it out and say it is this or that, you cannot possess it, you cannot relate to it.

The Upanishads get out of this bottleneck by postulating what they call a saguNa brahman, meaning, brahman, with attributes.  This is nothing but the Ultimate Reality viewed from our world of experience. The other name for this is Iswara. This is the Almighty that corresponds to the unique God of other religions.  This Almighty is the God whom we can think of, worship, invoke, revere, relate to, pray to and in this sense the ultimate God of the Hindus. This has all the superhuman and superlative qualities that we can think of – with infinite mercy, infinite compassion, infinite grace and infinite potentialities.


But here comes a subtle point.

According to the scriptures, God is both transcendent and immanent,

omniscient, omnipotent and omnipresent.

Therefore by giving it a single name or form

we are delimiting its omnipresence and transcendence.

No name or form will exclusively describe it and by that very reason, say the Vedas,

all names and forms suit it. This is the thin end of the wedge.


In other words, the totality of things that are perceptible in the universe is permeated by God. Everything is divine. Divinity is inherent in everything that we see, smell, hear, touch or feel. In fact it is in every one of us. If we are not able to see it, it is because we are governed by our sense perception. We have to transcend space and time and cease to be ourselves in order to realize its presence.

Since the common mind of man cannot comprehend this abstractness and transcendence of the nameless and formless version of God, different idols, images and concretizations enter the picture. Each one has a mythology behind it or a philosophical esoteric interpretation as its undercurrent. These myriad symbols, images and idols are only symbols, images and idols and they are not substitutes for God.

Important note:

At an advanced level of understanding,

the word ‘only’ in this sentence just mentioned

may rightly be questioned.  For more on this, click here.


This every thinking Hindu knows, though he may not know the exact mythological context or esoteric meaning which that idol, image or symbol carries. Each one indicates the Supreme Power inherent in every one and it is that one God which is worshipped in the form of idols and images. These images may be just stones or trees or other inanimate objects or they may be anthropomorphic replicas of a certain manifestation of that Supreme Divinity.  In the course of the mythological history of India – which is actually the prehistoric period – several such manifestations of that one Godhead has taken place, sometimes for the purpose of putting an end to the colossal wickedness of a demon or sometimes for the purpose of showering divine grace on a superhuman devotee of that divinity. If anyone thinks that these different gods and goddesses  are something like the Greek gods and goddesses and they are warring for supremacy among themselves, one would be  totally mistaken. The principle that there is only one Godhead, that Godhead is nameless and formless and for that very reason all names and forms suit it is stated in the vedas itself and repeated many times throughout the vast scriptural literature.

This fundamental point is the most important lesson that one should learn about Hinduism, whether he grows within the environment or out of it. It is difficult to miss this lesson if one lives in India even for a short time and observes with a discerning intellect. An idol serves the same purpose for a religious devotee as a flag does for an army.


For a refinement of this observation go to: An idol of a deity is the deity itself


Any worship for that matter introduces a duality between the worshipper and the worshipped and so is a comedown from the unique mental cognition of the Divinity inherent in oneself. Hinduism is human enough to admit within its fold even those ordinary mortals who cannot rise, in their understanding, above the grossly concrete representations of God. Hinduism says, in essence, each individual can worship God in whatever form that suits his competence, taste and stage of spiritual evolution.


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Copyright ©  V. Krishnamurthy    July 4, 2002