Deity Worship is the Peak Achievement of the Vedic Hindu Civilization
Christians and Muslims have disparagingly called Hindus as idol worshipers and many Hindus subconsciously carry this negative idea the back of their heads. They feel that worshiping deities is something low and wrong. This was in no small part due to a number of “reformist Hindus” in the turn of the century – such as Arya Samaj and Brahmo Samaj – who tried to paint Hinduism in the same language as the immature western religions. They tried to indicate that the deities are not needed in Hinduism and were a later introduction and that Hinduism too was ‘monotheistic’ and they started comparing the Brahman of the Vedas to the very confusing -ill conceived-egoistic God of the Bible.
Downplaying deity worship was one of the biggest mistakes done by the “Hindus”. For, deity worship, far from being an “initial step” in the part to self realization, is the ultimate flowering of a civilization.
EVERYONE IS AN IDOL WORSHIPER
First we must understand, that there is no religion which is not an idol worshiper. The Christians worship a piece of wood in the shape of a X and call it a cross. They have statues of Jesus and Mary that they worship and the Muslims have the Shiva Linga known as Kabba in Mecca that they worship. When you salute a national flag, you don’t salute the cloth, you salute the nation as represented by the cloth. All of language in fact is just a representation of reality. In Hinduism both the NAME and the FORM of God are worshiped as a means to experience and become one with the Divine itself.
WORSHIPING IDOLs vs WORSHIPING IDEALS
Hindus don’t worship Idols. They worship “through” idols. Each divine name and form represents an ideal and the form of that deity helps us connect to that ideal. For instance Lakshmi symbolizes overflowing abundance. Shiva represents, among other things, the understanding that everything is auspiciousness; Sarsawathi, knowledge; Hanuman, strength and devotion and so on. It is these ideals that we worship.
INFINITE AUSPICIOUS QUALITIES
(Anantha Kalyana Gunas)
Unlike these other religions which are “life negative” Hinduism embraces the understanding that the divine permeates all aspects of existence. As a result the divine is said to have “anantha kalyana gunas” – An infinite number of auspicious qualities. Worshiping and achieving any of these qualities – ANY of them – each symbolized by one or more Gods with Deities, forms, and Names – can lead you to the divine.
DO WE HAVE 330 MILLION GODs?
And each person chooses the path based on their own situation. Hinduism believes in the ultimate freedom of religion. And that is why we have so many Gods and Goddesses. Each one symbolizes an aspect of the divine and hence the divine itself. And each one is customized for an individual whose path is that aspect. We don’t force everyone to buy the same kind of car or wear the same kind of dress. Why then should everyone have to worship the same God? That is why it was said symbolically that Hinduism has 33 crore Gods – custom fit for each and every person. Compared to that the one-God religions present such an abject poverty of possibilities.
Having multiple Gods is not a failing. It showcases Hinduism’s tremendous user-friendliness.
THE IMPORTANCE OF USING THE FORM
And then there is the question of “why have a deity at all?”. Why not just worship the ideal using the word.. or just imagining the ideal – such as peace, or love. This again is because of the way the human brain is hardwired. It is known that more than 30% of the vision processing part of the brain is used solely for the purpose of face recognition. This is one of the reason all currency notes have faces on them. It is much easier for people to detect errors on faces than on any other image. Same way, anything presented in the human form is more easily “connected to” by people. Hence symbolizing the ideas with deities is the best way to keep them in your cognition. As long as you have a body, you need to worship through the form. When you go beyond needing food and air, you are ready to worship the formless.
Religions that force you to worship the formless when YOU still have the form are the cause of terrorism. Because the difficulty to experience the formless and the hypocrisy that ensues from that powerlessness causes much frustration and self doubt, self hatred and self denial. And this gets expressed as violence against the outside world.
DEITY WORSHIP IS THE CELEBRATION OF ENLIGHTENMENT
Not only are deities a path to enlightenment, they are the ultimate result of enlightenment. After understanding the nature of reality, what the Hindu Sages did was – not to throw away the world of change as useless or focus on the other world – but celebrate creation with the understanding of the source of creation. They did that through deities that represent nature – Agni, Vayu and so on – and deities to represent all the other aspects of creation. This celebration of each and every aspect of creation IS the pinnacle of enlightenment. Most other religions focus on heaven and hell where they would enjoy the results of their actions and have 72 virgins or any other stupid fantasy. Or they went into isolation and self denial. Hinduism is the only religion that, without being stuck in the material, celebrates existence in ALL its forms and representations.
Anything can be used as a path for enlightenment and anything can be celebrated as the expression of the Divine. Even sex – which people feel leads them away from God – was used by Tantra as a means to unite with the divine and worshiped in places like Khajurao.
PRANA PRATISHTA – THE SCIENCE OF GIVING LIFE
Beyond the aspects of using the form as a means to enlightenment and as a celebration of creation, there is a mystical aspect to the worship of deities. Hindus had mastered the science of life and with that the most advanced science of breathing life into matter. The deities installed by powerful enlightened masters are – whether you believe it or not – living beings with an extremely long lifespan. Life does not require just the organic body to exist. These deities can communicate with you just the same as anyone else in your life – your mother, brother or spouse. And since they are from an enlightened consciousness, they can guide you on your path and help you the way you want.
This is the way by which the masters scaled their presence to be reachable to everyone.
Many readers – even Hindus – may find this incredulous. While there are many scientific findings related to the power of life in these deities, the best suggestion I have for them is “just try it”. Pick YOUR favorite deity in any of the ancient temples and start communicating with the deity. You will soon EXPERIENTIALY understand the joy and beauty of this process and this WILL directly lead you to the ultimate space of divinity.
Deity worship is the ultimate achievement of Hinduism. It is the ultimate customized path for each individual, the greatest celebration of life and the peak expression of the science of consciousness.