The other day I met an old friend of mine. He is a devotee of certain God. Now that is all fine, one can have belief in any form of God. But what he said about his visit to the temple concerned me. ‘ You know; now we can offer our hair to Him. And they have all the arrangements, barbers etc., there. Isn’t that exciting? ‘ He said further, ‘ But I was bit disappointed that even though I paid for a special Sighting (meaning to see the statue of God), it was only to form a separate queue. Once I went inside the temple, we all got into a stampede and had only couple of minutes to Pray’. I asked him inquisitively, staring at his shaven head, ‘How long would you need to Pray?’ ‘May be 10-15 minutes’ came the answer.
So in this fast moving world, just like fast food, God can be sighted on the go. And you donate your hair to make up for the lack of time-may be! Now wherever I go these days, I see the same, huge queues to enter the temple, that is if you can manage to find your way amongst all the vendors who are selling all the stuff to offer to the God, and then to stuff yourselves when you come out! And it makes perfect sense, pray God and then eat! I also hear from my devout friend, ‘And you know, this man went to the temple all the way walking for the whole day.’
So it is all about pleasing and placating God, just to make sure that he does not get cross with you, if you have done something wrong with Him, meaning you forgot to light lamp or do your morning prayer etc.
And I hear these millions of people gathering for prayer, or bathing or holy meal on some special occasions. I shudder at the idea! Not because of the ordeal, but with a single thought that, where is the mental quiet one needs to pray Him, and how long in that multitude of seas of crowd one can get it.
And these Gods nowadays come up anywhere and everywhere. You can start with as small as a stone, or you can set up an elaborate statue of the God of your liking. What about land and space? You may ask. Where are you coming from? This is a democratic country; we all have rights to the public roads and open spaces. And the cause is religious. What if municipal authorities demolish? Well, have a chat with local politician and you are fully insured (you may have to pay a small price, but not at the prevailing market property rates!). It is all in the name of almighty God!
Vivekanand says ‘The ideas of punishment and reward are very material, and coming from the thinking of God as another human, who behaves just like us. According to vedas, the worst punishment is coming back to earth, going thru this birth and death cycle again and again.’ He says further, ‘The priests only gives us an assurance that if we follow them and walk in the way they mark out for us- then when we die they will give us a passport to enable us to see the face of God! What are all these heaven ideas but simply modifications of this nonsensical priestcraft?’ ‘I would rather worship you than any temple, image or Bible. The moment I have realized God sitting in the temple of every human body, the moment I stand in reverence before every human being and see God in him- that moment I am free from bondage.’
So our idea of God is still based on medieval thinking. The primitive man was full of fear of the nature and its wonders and calamities, not knowing the science behind. The birth of God then had fear as its origin. That fear still occupies our mind both at the conscious and subconscious level. So there is a tendency to appease the God with all sorts of rituals. If you think critically, you will see that we have so much humanized the God that we are oblivious to His true nature.
So what is His true nature? Upanishads declared long back, ‘Sarvam Khalu Idam Brahma’ meaning God is in all that is visible and not visible. He is ever present, blissful. But to define Him is beyond human intellect, because He does not fit into any of human experiences. He, the Consciousness that is the same in all of us, causes our experiences. We are so involved and engrossed in the worldly affairs that we miss his presence right in ourselves, and right outside, everywhere. Try focusing on that feeling of ‘I’ or ‘Am’ness, contemplate on that when you are meditating, you will slowly get that feeling peace and joy, being with Him. That Consciousness is ever present is us, the eternal and non-perishable. Now the same Consciousness is in everyone and everything else, so you can see how closely we are all connected.
If you see this point, slowly we overcome our petty differences, jealousy and hatred for others, replacing by a sense of compassion. We rise ourselves and in the process lift the others around us. This leads us to the God realization.
So what is the point of prayers, puja, and God worshipping? Yes there is a value in all of that, in preparing the ground for that journey of realization. In Bhagavad Geeta, chapter 6 is devoted to Dhyana Yoga, which is the practice of meditation. Patanjali has dealt with this very extensively in Yoga Sutra. The purpose is to help us keep our mind more focused, keep aware of His presence and purify, deal with worldly matters with more confidence, knowing that in us He lives!
So, by all means, if you want to go to the temple, or mosque or church, do that knowing that it is all in preparation of that real journey. But key is to be able to find that peace and quiet to be able to get a sense of His presence. You can get it with same effect whether you do that prayer in the corner of your house or on a beach, or on a quiet street. Some get that sense when they are doing a group prayer. It is all about invoking Him, and knowing fully well that He is not only in that corner or the temple, but just a prompt for us to remember Him. I used to go to Ramakrishna Ashram in Mumbai, a quiet secluded place in a suburb. The whole atmosphere there was serene and beautiful. The monks there used to sing Bhajans every evening. I couldn’t help, but get the feeling of His presence there. We all need such prompts.
Think about a beautiful music recital you attended last time, there are moments during that when we are fully overwhelmed by the song or the tunes, we forget ourselves, lose sense of our bodily presence, we are in different world, may be momentarily. This is no different from that bliss and serenity. It is the same when you see a beautiful painting, or a touch of excellence in some sculpture. It is His divine presence that touches us during those moments. We feel it. But we cannot make it last for long, and come back to mundane world.
Our surrounding has huge impact on our mental state. And the choice of the surrounding rests with us, most of the times that is. We need to evaluate the efforts and time spent in getting that state, use the most expedient path, remembering that we have a long way to go in reaching our final destination, realizing Him.
And it should not be a one off thing, we pray Him in the morning, or in the evening, or when we go to a place of worship, and we are free to do whatever during the rest of the day. If you are sincere about seeking Him, then he should be in the forefront of your mind every moment. Slowly, you don’t have to make extra efforts to remember Him, He becomes an integral part of you, your personality and permeates from you in every transaction you do, every interaction you have with others.
So one may ask, what is the point in realising that God, one that we cannot grasp in our imagination, there is no sight of Him and what do we really get out of all this? Is he going to help us in fulfilling our desires? Well, if you feel that you are already at peace and enjoy that state of mind which is bordering on bliss and happiness, may be you don’t need to do anything more, may be you are already close to Him, and it does not matter that you do not recognize Him. By His grace, you may have already achieved the Divine strength. But for those who may be still experiencing the ups and downs of life, getting stressed and suffering from internal and external conflicts, the path to understanding, and then assimilating His teaching can provide a way out. I like these verses from Gita, which would answer the question of fulfilling desires:
From chapter 7:
यो यो यां यां तनुं भक्तः श्रद्धायार्चितुमिच्छति ।
तस्य तस्याचलां श्रद्धां तामेव विदधाम्यहम् ॥ २१ ॥
स तया श्रद्धया युक्तस्तस्याराधनमीहते ।
लभते च ततः कामान्मयैव विहितान्हितान् ॥ २२ ॥
Meaning, when a person is devoted to something with complete faith, I (Krishna) unify his faith in that.
Then when his faith is completely unified, one gains the object of devotion.
In this way every desire is fulfilled by me (Supreme God).
The word Shraddha above is important, loosely translated as faith, but it hardly captures the true meaning. Shraddha is far more than faith, it is a combination of faith, devotion, surrender and confidence that when you contemplate on your desired goal, and think and pray to Him at all times, and put all the efforts into it, the success is yours.
So how do we get there? What is a way to self-realization? How do we connect to God? The surest way and one that has been talked about, written about for thousands of years, thru scriptures and by most of the Gurus of recent times, is meditation. And that is a topic of another article.