Sunday, January 25, 2015

Stone or spiritual sculpture?

The following is an english rendering of a kannada article titled "Shileyo? shivakeshavano?", penned by Sri Sri Rangapriya Sri Sri and published as a part of the book "Vicharasumano maala" by AYVM. - English rendering by Dr.R.Mohan.

There is a famous temple by name Sankaranarayanan in Tamil Nadu. Two friends happened to visit the temple. One of them was a devoted and religious person given to worshipping god through the medium of idols. The other though familiar with the rituals of worship, was ignorant of the spirit and feelings behind worship. However he had a genuine curiosity in knowing god. His religious friend said, "Let's go have darshan of the lord inside the temple." and took him along inside the temple. Having worshipped the lord with devotion, he prostrated before the lord and said "Behold the Lord! ". "But this is just a stone!" retorted the not-so-religious friend. "Impudent fellow! You dare call the lord a stone?" exclaimed the religious man and slapped his friend in a fit of rage.

The next day they were having lunch together. As the religious man partook of his food, he happened to chew on a stone. "Aargh! Stone!" he exclaimed and immediately spit it out. His friend, who was biding his time to get back, immediately retorted "You heretic! How dare you call this little god as stone?"

This story brings us to the central question of whether it is appropriate to treat a stone as god and worship it. The enlightened ones say that god is omnipresent, omnipotent, the creator, sustainer and destroyer of the worlds and the one who upholds order in this world. On the other hand this stone idol is but a creation of man. It has none of the traits of the god described previously. Hence we often hear people say that those who worship idols are only idol worshippers and not worshippers of god. Not content at that they even condemn these "idol worshippers" in the harshest of terms. History has also been a witness to those who have destroyed countless idols in the belief that it is their sacred and bounden duty. No matter what the intrinsic merits or demerits of "idol worship" are, it is undoubtedly a vile tendency to disparage or destroy an object that others hold as an object of joy and worship. For it is cruel to break even an insignificant tile or stone when a child in play holds it fast and close to its heart as a dear child.

Let us now consider the crux of the matter without prejudice or pre conceived notion. What do the so called idol worshippers say at the end of their worship? They say that the worship of the Lord has been completed. They do not talk of the worship of idols. Thus it is evident that in spirit their worship is intended for the Lord and not the idol. That surge of emotion in the form of devotion is offered to the Lord. For those bereft of emotion or devotion, the object of worship is just a doll of stone. For the devotee it is in fact the Lord. In this context the Kannada saying "Tis a child when fondled and god when worshipped" that was oft quoted by Sriranga Mahaaguru comes to our mind.

The Mahaaguru also made another important point. By identifying the idol with the supreme lord himself, the mind finds a suitable object to rest on or contemplate. It is important to note here that devotees do not use any and every wooden or stone doll for contemplation and worship. [Elsewhere Sriranga Mahaaguru gives the example of a photograph. If one were to show us the photograph of our parents, we say "oh! That's my father/mother". At that instant, the fact that we only hold a piece of paper in our hands is completely hidden from our conscious experience. But if the photo were to be flipped so we now see the blank white backside, we immediately say that it is a white piece of paper or board. Similarly a stone idol is not just any other piece of stone. It is the external extension of the inner experiences of our Rishis that have been masterfully crafted on the medium of stone, just as a photograph is a freeze of our visual experience.] Further the shastras say that the stone used for carving should be cold to touch and devoid of cracks or other imperfections. The stone should not increase the tendency of pitta (a physiological parameter in ayurvedic parlance) when touched. It should be soothing to the senses, mind and intellect. Thus starting from identification of the stone, all through the process of creation of the idol, a conscious effort is made to further the spiritual experience of the seekers. The form that is sculpted on the stone is a part of the spiritual experience of the Rishis and hence aids the spiritual aspirant in his endeavor. The idol is further refined by means of procedures called as dhaanyaadivasa (liteally, immersion in grain), jalaadhivaasa (literally, immersion in water) and many others. The spiritual efficacy of the idol is further increased by chanting of mantras and other procedures. The place of installation of the idol is spiritually charged by the use of special materials. Silver and gold in the form of thin sticks are used in a procedure known as unmeelana - or opening of the eyes of the deity. The final procedure is praana pratishtha (life infusion) - the culmination and the best among them all. Here a brahmajnaani (a seer and knower of the highest order) touches and embraces every part of the idol from toe to crest while investing it with his spiritual energy and thereby breathing life into it. At this point the idol is comparable to the divine form of the Lord himself. Nay it may be said that it hath become the Lord himself. A bounty of joy! An image of light! It has now become a worthy medium for worship. The discerning will find it hardly surprising that those who worship the Lord in this form with their hearts filled with devotion reach the supreme state of bliss.

Sriranga Mahaaguru - A yogi par excellence who had an intimate and personal knowledge of the science behind these procedures had once said that even in the absence of all other procedures and the incantation of the mantras, the image can be infused with life just by the purposeful and powerful gaze of a brahmajnaani and may serve its purpose in the heart of a devotee filled with devotion.

While these are idols infused with spiritual energy by specifically designed procedures, there exist naturally occurring stones, elements, trees, herbs and materials that give a boost to spiritual pursuits. Saaligrama, shivalinga, tulasi, ashwattha tree and the bilwa leaves are ideal examples. That this aids spiritual progress may be proved by special techniques. It is certified by the knowers of this science and is evident in the experience of spiritual aspirants.

All these aids that directly or indirectly help an aspirant to attain a direct personal experience of the Lord, that uplifts the mind to the state of brahmajnaana, are accorded the same reverence as the Lord himself.