Forms of Devotion (Part 5)

4. Padasevana, or Worshiping the Lord's Feet (continued)

Swami Vivekananda cautions that physical help is not the only help possible: "In considering the question of helping others, we must always strive not to commit the mistake of thinking that physical help is the only help that can be given. It is not only the last but the least, because it cannot bring about permanent satisfaction. The misery that I feel when I am hungry is satisfied by eating, but hunger returns; my misery can cease only when I am satisfied beyond all want."

Saving or prolonging of life is a little higher than physical help. But a mere extension of life without a qualitative change in it does not help the recipient advance towards the goal of life. Next is the gift of knowledge or education. In Swami Vivekananda's words, "The gift of knowledge is a far higher gift than that of food and clothes; it is even higher than giving life to a man, because the real life of man consists of knowledge. Ignorance is death, knowledge is life. Life is of very little value, if it is a life in the dark, groping through ignorance and misery." "The gift of spirituality and spiritual knowledge is the highest, for it saves from many and many a birth."

5. Archana, or Offering Worship to God in Holy Images

According to Vedanta, God does not create the universe and living beings out of something different from Him. When a potter creates a pot from clay, the clay and pot are different from him. He is the instrumental cause and clay, the material cause of the pot. On the other hand, God projects the universe and living beings out of Himself, just as a spider creates its web out of a secretion from its own body (Mundaka Upanishad, 1.1.7). God is both the material cause and instrumental cause of the universe and living beings. He not only projects them from Himself, but also "enters into them" (Taittiriya Upanishad, 2.6), which means that God pervades them as Consciousness. Thus in Hinduism adoration of God in symbols and images is not looked down upon as adoration of inanimate things, but as adoration of Divinity itself. Holy images are manifestations of God. A devotee is able to relate himself to them, offer worship to them, and be spiritually uplifted in the process. Sri Ramakrishna called them chinmayi pratima (images of Spirit, or Consciousness). Image worship gives a sense of reality to a devotee's spiritual practices. He remembers that devotion and not ritual is the essence of worship.

Sri Krishna promises in the Bhagavad Gita (9.26) that He accepts offerings of any kind, however small and simple, when they are made with devotion: "Whosoever offers me with devotion a leaf, a flower, a fruit, or water-I accept that as a pious offering of the pure in heart." Sri Ramakrishna was a worshiper in the Dakshineswar Kali temple, but he was a worshiper with a difference. To him the deity in the temple was not a stone image, but his own Divine Mother, the embodiment of Consciousness. Swami Ramakrishnananda, a monastic disciple of Sri Ramakrishna who started the Ramakrishna movement in southern India, was known for his unsurpassed devotion to Sri Ramakrishna and elaborate rituals in his worship. To him Sri Ramakrishna's picture was not different from Sri Ramakrishna himself. He served his guru in his picture just as he had served him when he was alive.

A common form of archana in Hindu temples and personal shrines is offering of flowers to the Deity while chanting the 108 or 1008 names of God.

Part 6

Back To Top