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Some of us believe in God while others don’t. For those of us who believe, we try to meet Him and attain ‘Moksh’ (Salvation). One of the ways to reach God is to pray/worship. Different Religions do practice different forms of worship. Sanatan Dharm (Hinduism) is arguably the oldest religion of this world but what sets it apart from others is not its antiquity but its rich cultural heritage and the diverse and flexible methods of practice. There are several ways to reach God in Hinduism. As per the Hindu belief system, each living organism has an ‘Aatma’ (Soul) which is immortal while its body is mortal. A soul undergoes periodic cycle of Life and death. While the soul remains immortal, the body is mortal and once its time is up, the soul leaves the body and acquires a new one, very much in the same way as we replace our old clothes with new ones. The cycle of acquiring new bodies and leaving it continues until the Soul attains salvation from this Life-Death cycle and merges with the Paramatma (The Eternal Soul). Each living being has its own way of attaining Salvation from the earthly affairs and to reach and merge with The Eternal Soul (God).
Atheists and Monotheists worldwide have joined hands together to criticize the concept of Hinduism. The chief reason for this criticism is that, unlike other religions, there is no founder of Hinduism; there are no written Laws, no set of codes and conducts, no prescriptions or proscriptions which are radical. Ironically the non fundamentalist nature of Hinduism is criticized which should be a matter great pride. Truth is, Hinduism is one of the most flexible and adaptable religion in this planet. As someone said, “Hinduism is a way of life, not a mere religion”. It means that one can choose whatever he/she wants., one can take any path he/she wants to tread and still can be a Hindu, even if it is different from majority. Compared to this flexibility, in case of monotheist religions particularly the Abrahamic religions, one can be termed as infidel to the religion even if he slightly deviates from the ‘prescribed’ beliefs of One God. In Hinduism, the flexibility is so high that one can be an Atheist and still be a Hindu. Very few know about the concept of ‘Samkhya Karika’, an old philosophical school in Hinduism, started by Sage Kapil. Samkhya recognizes that salvation is achieved when the Purush (Human) dissociates himself from the Prakruti (Nature) and the earthly affairs.
Let us now look into some of the many ways which can be chosen to attain Salvation
Bhakti (Devotion) – Dedicate yourself to God and the God will find you, which effectively means you will find God. Bhakti means complete devotion to God and establishing interconnection between the God and your innerself. So what exactly does God mean in Hinduism? As already explained above, God is simply the concept of Paramatma (Eternal Soul). There are more than 350 million Deities in various Hindu schools of philosophies combined together and one can devote self to any one of them. Critics inadvertently criticize this concept of Polytheism saying there is no Fixed God. They forget that this flexibility offers them millions of path (chosen as per self will) to reach God, than a fixed unique path prescribed and bonded with several sets of prescriptions and proscriptions.
Karm (Kerma/Duty) – Each individual has been assigned duty. If he performs his actions duly, morally and legitimately, he can attain Salvation, For God himself says “Perform your Kerma and don’t bother about the results”. You will get what you rightfully earn. To put things simpler, here goes an interesting story. Once Sage Deity ‘Naarad’ a bhakta (Devotee) of Lord Vishnu, asked him. “God, who do you think is your biggest devotee? I think it is me, because I chant your name every now and then”. God replied “Son, it is not you; it is a farmer who stays on Earth”. Interested in this farmer, Sage Narad, went to see him. He observed his actions and to his surprise, he found the farmer chanting God’s name just once in the morning, when he began his day. Astonished, he went to see God and asked him how come someone who took his name in prayer just once, was a bigger devotee than himself who prayed to God 24 hours a day. To this God gave him a simple test and asked him to take a cup fully brimming with oil and do 3 Parikramas (Circumbulation) of the earth. Sage Narad would be declared the biggest devotee if he successfully completes 3 revolutions of Earth without spilling a single jot of oil. Sage Narad took the test. With his heavenly powers, he travelled as fast as the Sun and completed the journey in 3 days. With his remarkable concentration in the job, he was successful and not even a tiny drop of Oil spilled. Happy he went to God to claim his title. Upon his arrival, God asked, “Son how many times you took my name when you were busy concentrating not so spill the oil”? Narad was astonished and realized that it was not merely praying to god or taking his names that mattered, one also had to responsibly carry out what has been assigned to him. The way of Kerma, which simply means “What goes around comes around”.
Dharm (Rightful Action) - Many people think Dharm is same as Religion. It is slightly different. Dharm means following the Rightful methods. It means performing Noble actions and having Noble thoughts. So you can reach the God by your Noble deeds. If you serve the needy, the poor, the destitute, it is same as serving God. If you take care of any creation of God Living or Non Living, you are directly taking care of God and hence it is no different than Serving God himself.
There are multiple other ways to attain Salvation. Right now we will limit ourselves to the 1st one, ‘Bhakti’ or Devotion. The 1st stage of Bhakti is worshipping God and the final stage is Spirituality. None of us have actually seen or met God (except for in imagination). So in the initial stages you need some sort of representation which helps you to focus during your prayers. There are several detractors of the concept of Idol worship belonging to various faiths and/or philosophies. It is unfortunate that they criticize Idol worship without putting all the facts to the fore. Zakir Naik, the know Wahabi ideologist has been forthcoming in criticizing Idol worship and many other facets of Hinduism without putting things into a neutral perspective, if not Pro Hindu. There are always three sides of a description: Your side, My Side and the Correct Side. Mr Naik does not present atleast 2 of them when it comes to answering questions on matters related to Religion, especially Hinduism. There are far too many such detractors but we do handpick Naik because of two reasons. 1st, he is an Indian which is the Homeland of almost all the Hindus across the world and he is running a smear campaign against Hinduism. 2nd he is an Islamic supremacist with millions of followers and hence can influence a lot of Muslims towards the wrong direction. We would try to demystify a lot of myths being propagated against the Idol worship by the likes of Zakir.
Positives of Idol Worship
Focus & Concentration – You concentrate on an object (Image/Picture/Statue). While you pray all your energy is centred towards a point. The point where you can ‘see’ your God. You can easily articulate and direct your feelings towards it. You feel a sense of completion. This concentration and focus helps you to have a sense of satisfaction. It appears as if your mind is interacting with God.
Value System – The Hindu form of Idol worship asks you to respect and revere an object as if it is God. You try to see the image of God in almost everything Living or Non-living. You start respecting everyone. You start caring for things you wouldn’t care otherwise. You do a Naman (bow) to an unknown person, an idol and you believe it to be God. The famous line “Atithi Devo Bhava”, (Guest is God) finds its root from this value system wherein even a guest who is an unknown is respected. Everyone gets respect, a thing which is not seen in the modern day ‘liberal mindset’. One bows before his elders and again this respect stems from the Idol form of worship. We show our gratefulness to parents, teachers, elders etc by bowing before them.
Care for Nature –Hindus also worship various forms of Nature such as Sun, Moon, Trees Rivers, and Mountains etc. Mockers and Jokers act like a stuck record and attack Hinduism by questioning, Hinduism preaching worship of Non-Living things. The fact is, it is this worship which makes us respect the various forms of Nature, a thing quite important these days. One can see the condition of River Yamuna, see how other Rivers are being treated, trees being cut ruthlessly. Ecologists and Environmentalists run several campaigns costing billions to create awareness of not polluting the River, Soil, animal, and forests. Imagine if people rightfully consider these rivers, mountains and trees as God and respect them would there be any pollution? A problem which is slowly and steadily killing millions and destroying the planet. Take the case of River Ganges. It feeds half a billion people and nurtures trillions of other life forms as if it is their mother. Does it not deserve the reverence of highest kind? Why should you have a problem with revering something which is sustaining so many Lives? Anything which sustains so many lives deserves reverence and of the highest kind.
Unfortunately Hinduism has been the target subject of lot of people and has been criticized unduly. I will now compare Hindu Idol worship to the worship of other religions and try to expose that not much is different. In fact a careful observation makes one realize that the Hindu form of Idol worship is quite flexible and not assertive.
Representation – We consider Idols as representation of God. Slowly and steadily the phase transforms into more of Spiritual phase when we start doing meditation and try to connect with God. As such the images and pictures of Gods/Deities are used by us to focus, Monotheistic religions, particularly Muslims and Christians too use similar techniques if not the same. In churches you can see crucifix with Jesus Christ. They also wear cross across their neck. Isn’t it same as representation in Idol worship? Many Christian homes have pictures of Jesus Christ. Muslims too have images of Holy Kaba in their homes. One can see the image of Mecca in most of the muslim households. Also when Muslims offer scheduled ‘Namaz’ (prayer), they do form some kind of image in their mind. Forming an image in mind and considering it a representation of God is not much different than worshiping and idol which is considered to be a representation of God. So in hindus the ultimate form of devotion is Spirituality. Once you realize knowledge you migrate to next level. In other religions the process remains the same: unchanged and unchangeable.
Timeliness – Muslims have scheduled times for praying (5 per day), whereas Hindus can choose whatever suits them, although mostly they worship in Morning /evening, it is not mandatory for them to worship every day. They can do as and when it suits them.
Flexibility – In Hinduism, you are free to worship any God anywhere. There is no prescription or proscription on how to pray. Each one can use his own methods to worship.
Assertiveness – Once an Idol is established, you do ‘Pran Pratishtha’ (invoke God). You believe that God has come and is residing in the idol you have kept. You give it utmost respect. When ‘Visarjan’ (Departure of God) day arrives, you submerge the idol in Waters. Compare this to other religions, Muslims or Christians would never submerge the idols/images they worship. In fact it would be considered blasphemous and one can get publically executed. In Hinduism even if you do not worship in the generally followed methods, no one will burn you alive.
Now we will try to counter some generic questions which detractors use to malign Idol worship and Hinduism.
Q) I believe in God, but I don’t think it is wise to bow before non living things such as Paper, wood, plastic etc. They are mere token symbols. Why shouldn’t we just pray to God in imaginary form?
A) As told repeatedly, idols are representatives and not actual Gods; hence you should revere and respect them. Many of us carry the photographs of our loved ones. Even they are non living things, then why do you carry them in your valets, preserve them in Albums? Same thing goes for trophies and medals, you win in sports and earn trophy, and you do well in your studies and earn a medal, why do you showcase them in your shelves? Even they are merely a token of appreciation of your good work. It is not the actual good work done by you, but just a representation of your work or your feelings. Same way idols are representation of God. They remind you that there is a Supreme power existent in this universe which is the Almighty omniscient and omnipotent. These representations at times help you gain hope at troublesome hard times.
Q) I am a modern and liberal youth of 21st century. I do not believe in Gods, Deities etc. I believe in Science. Shouldn’t I stamp these wooden and plastic dolls beneath my feet?
A) Atheism is very well acceptable in Hinduism. You won’t be termed as Infidel or a sworn enemy of Hinduism; such is the flexibility of Hinduism. Unfortunately the believers cannot prove to you the existence of God, but you also cannot prove the non existence of God to the believers either. Science is a good thing and has change the Lives of many by removing Superstition, but there are far too many questions left unanswered. Everything cannot have a scientific explanation. Do not be superstitious, but do not be ignorant either. It is not as simple as you think. If you can’t think of it as a fact, think of it as someone’s opinion that God exists. A true liberal respects others’ opinions. A liberal person would not begrudge someone’s cultural freedom to worship any God in which he/she believes in. Remember it is not a Binary world that you have to take an extreme stand. You can be an Atheist and still respect others thoughts about worshipping. You don’t need to stamp the images or destroy temples to prove your atheism.
Q) Zakir says that if you are in trouble, you would be confused as to which God to call for help and you might get killed. My friend John concurs him. Do you think I should not believe in more than 1 God?
A) NO! If you do believe in God and/or worship him to avoid death or troubles, you are doing it for the wrong reasons. First of all death is an inevitable truth in Life. Anyone who has been born will die. It is a process. Some die earlier than others, but everyone and everything dies. As per Hinduism only the Soul is immortal, not the body. And also Life is full of ups and downs, it is not monotonous, you will have troubles while you live. Troubles of different kinds! If you pray to attain immortality, it won’t happen. Secondly it is not that if you believe in only one God, He will come at every call of yours to drive you out of trouble. Those who are monotheists also fall in trouble and die. Have you not heard of any muslim or Christian meeting an unfortunate accident? Do muslims or Christians not die? Are they immortal? How many natural calamities have hit countries like Iran, Indonesia and USA? You do pray/worship for Salvation not so that God will appear every now and then
Q)People say that we have multiple books, multiple ideologies. It is a confused and chaotic state of affairs. How do I know what to follow?
A) I do not consider it as chaotic. I consider it as flexible. You are not bound by any book or any person. You can choose what you want to follow. You are only suggested to work on a value system. There is no prescription or proscription here. Modern world democracies have understood the ‘Right to freedom of Cultural expression’ in the last 2 centuries; Hinduism has this since time unknown. So don’t be confused, pick whatever you like and begin your journey
Q) Westerners are the masters of Modern Science. We owe so much to them and their scientific inventions; shouldn’t we follow them and their religion?
A) You will be surprised to see that not many scientists are Atheists. Many of them do pray to God. They might have made our lives better by their inventions and we should be grateful to them, but if you scan History, you will see that our contribution to the world is no less either. When we started to use metals for pottery and craft, Europeans were still in Caves, Roman Empire was yet to be born, America was an unknown land and Asians were still in their dark ages. The phenomenon today is ‘westernization of East and easternization of West’. Lots of westerners have realized the importance of Spiritual Hinduism and are practicing it. Yoga has now become famous in India, only after the west endorsed it. India’s/Hinduism’s contribution to the world is unparalleled. So do not have any inferiority complex. You do not need the endorsement of a White Caucasian male to realize that your religion is good.
Q) I am curious to know what Paramatma looks like, is he male or female. How do I know?
A) It is not at all important. Paramatma is eternal. You can imagine him to be whatever you like. It is all in your beliefs.
Q) If I am a true devotee and worship God daily does that give me the license to do other bad activities and can I mistreat others?
A) Servicing God’s creation Living or Non-living is same as servicing the God. In the same way, disservice to God’s creation is disservice to God Himself. So even if you worship God, it does not mean that you can do other things which are wrong. Worship God and do your duties. Do not worship him out of fear. The methods of attaining salvation are not mutually exclusive. It is not that you have to choose strictly one method while be opposed to other methods.
Q) Don’t you endorse superstition by saying that Idol worship is justified?
A) No. Superstition is a bad thing and should not be followed. Many people fall prey to it. Remember there are two types of events in this world; one which is controllable and the other uncontrollable. You can alter the results of the first but not the second. It is not in your hands and never will be, come what may. Best thing is to have faith in God and not be superstitious. You are advised to rightfully do your duty and do not bother about the results.
Q) Are all the religions same?
A) No, they aren’t. If all religions were same, there wouldn’t be different religions in the first place. However all religions lead to God. It is the path which is different, so all the religions should be respected. Two religions are not one and the same; foundation, ideologies, practices differ. You are free to choose whichever path suits you best. If you feel that you want to travel a path and reach God which offers you flexibility, Hinduism is the answer. If you do not want to use much of the brain given to by God and would rather want to follow a prescribed set of norms, you can choose other religions. But all religions would lead to God if followed in right spirit
There are many other questions which detractors use to criticize Hinduism and Idol worship. But I hope most of them have been covered. In our efforts to share knowledge we would continue to share knowledge with you so that Crooks and Conmen do not damage your faith and value system.
An ideal worship is what you feel the best way to pray to God and connect with him. It does not matter what other say. It is just the faith you have that connects you to God. So if you practice Idol worship and feel that this is what will connect you to God, practice it with pride and without hesitation.
Author : Suyash Bharadwaj | Follow the writer twitter.com/Suyash75
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