During a conversation concerning Hinduism, a dear friend of mine recently told me: “I have a conflict with the duality of God with form and without form. I cannot accept the existence of a God with different forms, and the action of bowing down produces a great amount of resistance inside of me. I often see it as an act of submission towards an authority. I do not understand why we should have to bow down in front of an image or even a saint and not just feel God in the absolute.”
I think that many of us as westerners think in a similar manner when relating to Hinduism.
To be able to understand more about their ancient knowledge and practices, we have to move forward from the surface to the core of its meaning.
When I was a child studying the history of religion in school, I remember learning that Hinduism was polytheistic. Nowadays, and thanks mainly to Amma’s teachings, my understanding of Hinduism is much wider. Before getting in touch with Hindu culture, I have never known a wider mentality that unifies, accepts and understands all creeds and religions. This open mentality, capable of seeing the common aspects and not the differences, is one of the main highlights of Hinduism. They see all religions as different paths to reach the same goal: God.
Hinduism was actually Sanatana Dharma, the Eternal Truth. Sanatana Dharma is not a religion but only a philosophy and a way of life that can be practiced by everybody, no matter what their religion is. Over time, people started terming it as Hinduism and categorizing it into a religion.
In Sanatana Dharma, three-hundred million deities are worshipped, but is there really more than one God?
The words of Amma are so clarifying: “In Hinduism there is only one God. There are not different Gods. They are all aspects of the one Supreme Being.”
Hinduism teaches that there is only one Supreme Being that is manifesting as everything in the universe. In other words, there is nothing in the universe apart from this Supreme Being. This Divine Consciousness is pervading everything and is beyond all names and forms, but at the same time can manifest in many different forms and states, just as the water can be solid, liquid or gas and the wind can be a soft breeze, strong wind or a storm. Yet, in essence, it will be the same water, the same wind.
In the same way, Amma says, “It is one and the same God whom Hindus worship in many different forms and states, such as Shiva, Vishnu, Ganesha, Muruga, Durga, Saraswati and Kali.”
There are many manifestations of one God. Different forms of God are included in worship because of the different cultures of the individuals, so that they can choose their form.
Amma’s words are again clarifying: “Whether it be Shiva, Vishnu or Muruga, we should be aware of the oneness behind them. All different forms are different manifestations of one God. Hindus do not actually worship the images themselves. They worship the Supreme Power that pervades each image.”
Divine images are so valuable because they are a reminder of God. The image is not just an object, but the embodiment of the Supreme Consciousness and the devotee is worshiping God in that image. The devotee is also worshiping the divine nature present within him or herself. In the same way, Divine sages and mahatmas are embodiments of God and are worshiped and respected as God messengers to help humanity, with their presence and teachings.
The all pervading Supreme Consciousness may be an abstract concept for many people and it can be easier for them to worship the Divine with the help of a symbol or an image and to establish a quicker link to God through the image.
Image worshiping can also help in nurturing devotion, purifying the mind and making it more focused and one-pointed. In Amma’s words: “The aim of image worship is to bring the mind back within and awaken the Divine Consciousness, which is already present within us.”
On the other hand, the practice of image worship can be found not only in Hinduism, but also in most religions, each selecting different images and ways of worshiping.
Catholics light candles, burn incense and use blessed water. The priest consecrates bread as a symbol of the body of Christ and wine symbolizing his blood, given for the redemption of the world. They believe in the Cross as a symbol of sacrifice and selflessness, kneeling and praying before the form of Christ, and the Virgin Mary.
Buddhists bow down in front of Buddha, symbolizing the inner divine nature inside every human being. They also have many deities and manifestations of divine qualities.
In the Islamic religion, people prostrate and pray in the direction of the Mecca. They contemplate God’s qualities sitting in front of the Kabaa, hoping their prayers help to awaken the good qualities present within.
Hindus worship their deities with burning camphor. Sweet dishes and flower petals are offered to the Divine.
Jews worship the Torah, and often kiss the velvet covering draped around their holy book.
“All the different forms of worship lead to the development of godly qualities within us,” Amma says. “Our ancestors established image worship and other practices as a part of Sanatana Dharma to purify our minds and make our minds one-pointed.”
If we want to see our face in front of a mirror, we may clean the surface so we are able to see clearly. In the same way, if we want to see God, we may remove the impurities settled in our minds. One way to purify our minds, according to Sanatana Dharma, is through image worshiping.
The aim of Sanatana Dharma is the search for God within u—not somewhere out there. When we truly experience God within, we are then able to expand our consciousness and feel the presence of God everywhere, all over creation. We realize that God exists everywhere, pervading everything.
Bringing the mind within, getting rid of duality and the concept of “I” and “mine”, liberating ourselves from erroneous conceptions and attachments, developing a one-pointed and concentrated mind, purified by sadhana, worship and true devotion, we may awaken the Divine Consciousness abiding within us, the ultimate goal in life.
May all of us be able to find the ONE God dwelling in ALL.
Author: Silvia Hidalgo Daya