Q & A on Spiritual Life and Sadhana from “May I Answer That?”

 by Holy Master Sri Swami Sivanandaji Maharaj.
 

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God is all-pervading formless Being. How can He be confined to an idol? What is the use of idol worship?

The divinity of the all-pervading God is vibrant in every atom of creation. There is not a speck of space where He is not. Why do you then say that He is not the idols?
The idol is a support for the neophyte. It is a prop of his spiritual childhood. A form or image is necessary for worship in the beginning. It is not possible for all to fix the mind on the Absolute or the Infinite. A concrete form is necessary for the vast majority for practising concentration. Idols are not the idle fancies of sculptors, but shining channels through which
the heart of the devotee flows towards God. Though the image is worshipped, the devotee feels the presence of the Lord in it and pours out his devotion unto it. The idol remains an idol, but the worship goes to the Lord.


To a devotee, the image is a mass of Chaitanya or consciousness. He draws inspiration from the image. The image guides him. It talks to him. It assumes human form to help him in a variety of ways. The image of Lord Siva in the temple at Madurai in South India helped the fuel-cutter and the old woman. The image in the temple at Tirupati assumed human form and gave witness in the court to help His devotees. There are marvels and mysteries. Only the devotees understand these.

Idol worship is not peculiar to Hinduism. The Christians worship the Cross. They have the image of the Cross in their mind. The Mohammedans keep the image of the Kaaba stone when they kneel and do prayers. The mental image also is a form of idol. The difference is not one in kind, but only one of degree.


All worshippers, however intellectual they may be, generate a form in the mind and make the mind dwell on that image. Everyone is an idol worshipper. Pictures and drawings are only a form of Pratima. A gross mind needs a concrete symbol as a prop or Alambana; a subtle mind requires an abstract symbol. Even a Vedantin has the symbol OM for fixing the wandering mind. It is not only pictures or images in stone and wood that are idols. Dialectics and leaders also become idols. So, why condemn idolatry?

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