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The problem with worshipping a form or a face || Acharya Prashant, with Delhi University (2023)
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
12 min
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Questioner 1 (Q1): Sir, my question is that you keep on saying that Truth or Brahm is formless, but there are millions of people who keep on practicing devotional worship to form. What is wrong with worshiping form?

Acharya Prashant (AP): See, first of all you have to understand where all forms come from. You have seen Buddha statues in Kandahar, in Bamyan, in Sarnath and you have also seen them in China and Japan, right? Have you noticed a difference between the Buddha statues that you find in India, Afghanistan, versus the ones that you find in, let's say, Japan or even Tibet?

The Buddha in Japan looks extremely Japanese and could Buddhism reach Africa, the African Buddha would be very, very African in his shape, features and form. That's what is wrong with form. The form that you worship is nothing but a reflection of your own self. So, when you are worshiping a form, you are actually worshiping just your own ego. The form that you worship is coming from your own imagination, and the form that you worship is coming from your own identity.

It will be very difficult for an Indian to worship a negroid Buddha. There is a reason why the Buddha grew a flat nose when he reached Japan. Because the Japanese cannot worship an Indian-looking Buddha. Please understand, the one you worship is nothing but a projection of your own ego. Why do you want to worship your own ego? Is that not the worst kind of sacrilege against the Truth if you worship form? All the gods and deities that you worship in India, don't they look very, very Indian?

Q1: Yes they do.

AP: And in North India, they look North Indian. And in South India, they look South Indian. And in Bengal, if you look at Devi , she looks quite Bengali. And if you look at how the form of Sri Rāma has been evolving over the decades, you look how we have changed the form of Sri Rāma to suit our political and religious tastes as they are today. If you look at a Rāma statue or picture belonging to the last century or to the century before the last one, even till the 1980s, Sri Rāma is a very gentle-looking north Indian fellow. And if you look at how Sri Rāma is being shown today, what kind of form do you see? Very muscular. Almost similar to a Bollywood or Hollywood action hero.

Where is the form then coming from? Is the form divine? No. The form is coming from your own current political and social tastes. That is what is wrong with form. The form is your own ego projected on the screen. Just as you have a projector in a movie theatre, you see the thing in front of you on the screen. But where is that image on the screen coming from? It is coming from a place behind you.

Similarly, all these forms that you worship are coming from a place within you. Your own ego is projecting itself into something and then you start worshiping it, which is quite stupid. It's like worshiping your own shadow thinking that it is separate from you. Is your shadow separate from you? So, what will you get if you start worshiping your shadow? Or if you start worshiping your reflection in the mirror? Will you get something? Your form is your own reflection in the mirror—just ornamented, just amplified; nothing else. And that's why those who have known have always said that the Truth is formless.

I hope you are not just letting it pass by. Is it something that you can understand?

Q: Yes I can understand.

AP: You can understand that, right? So, man creates form according to his own tastes. Why do you think all the gods and goddesses all around the world, irrespective of religion or culture or country or century—why do all the gods and goddesses have hands? Please tell me. Why don't they have antennas like Cockroaches?

Q: Because we simply can't just assume that.

AP: Because we have hands! Since we have hands, so our gods have hands. Do you get this? Why do our gods speak our own language? Does an Indian god speak French, ever? But we don't exercise any bit of intelligence. We don't ask why are our gods necessarily speaking our language. Why are French gods or Greek gods—you don't have French gods, you have Greek gods—why are Greek gods not found in India? Why were Indian gods not worshiped in Greece? Why do gods keep changing?

In the Rigvedic era, you were worshiping Varun and Agni and Mitrá. Why are you not worshiping them today? Why have those forms been forgotten? From where did new forms come up? From where did new gods and goddesses emerge? They all emerged from man's mind—they are our own projections. They are all coming from here (pointing to the head) and it's so stupid to worship your own mind, your own imagination. I have to worship the Truth, Satya , not my own kalpanā.

You look around and you will see how obvious it is, how obvious it is. Even if you say that the gods have to be a little different from us, the maximum that you do is instead of two hands you show them with ten hands. But you still show them with hands. Instead of two eyes, you will show somebody with one eye, just one eye. But you will still show someone with eyes. Even if you show someone in a non-human form, let's say in the form of an animal—a God in the form of an animal—such gods have been found all over the world, in all cultures. God in the form of an animal, still the animal will be anthropomorphic—very closely related to human beings. It will think like human beings, it will have human intentions. Is that not so? Now do animals have human thought and intention? No. But even if you worship an animal god, it will be almost human. So, that again proves what we are worshiping. We are just worshiping our own form. And therefore the highest spiritual philosophies have always said that the Truth is formless.

However, if you can very constructively, very creatively, utilize form to remind you of the Truth, then the form can help for a while, just for a while. But to think that the form is the Truth, is absolute stupidity. The form, I fully agree, can be useful for a limited duration. It can have a limited utility, for a limited duration. That much is all right. But to think of the form as the ultimate Truth is just sacrilege and simply pointless. And no intelligent person does that.

Questioner 2 (Q2): Sir, I have a follow-up on this. In Indian mythology, in Hindu methodology, there are a lot of gods and a lot of forms that we worship, including the form of Kṛiṣhṇa and Rāma. So what would be the right way of worshiping them? Right now we understood that all the forms are corrupted by the human conditioning and the way humans have been trained to look at them—like the current Rāma is a bodybuilder or muscular man like us. But Rāma of the old ages is much more leaner. So what would be the right way of approaching him, because every form would be corrupted? What's the right way of looking at a Kṛiṣhṇa or a Rāma ?

AP: See, you want to look at a form and you want to be reminded of a higher Truth. Otherwise, the form is useless. Let's be very clear about it. If the form does not remind you of a Truth beyond the form, then the form has not succeeded on you. So when you look at a Kṛiṣhṇa —I too have a little Kṛiṣhṇa form in my room. I have a Buddha form as well. I have a Śiva form as well since we are talking about forms. And I have a big picture, as you all know, of Saint Kabir. The purpose is to be reminded of something beyond their faces. Instead, if I look at the form itself as the final, then I am deluding myself and also doing injustice to their memory.

So, if you want to talk of Sri Kṛiṣhṇa in particular, the moment I look at the face of Sri Kṛiṣhṇa , or even the flute or the Mor Pankh – the peacock feather, I should immediately be reminded of the Bhagavadgītā , that’s what. That's the purpose of the Kṛiṣhṇa form. If I look at Kṛiṣhṇa and immediately the verses of Gita do not start floating in my mind, if that song does not immediately spontaneously arise when I look at Sri Kṛiṣhṇa , then I am being unfair to Sri Kṛiṣhṇa.

Who is Sri Kṛiṣhṇa ? Not a person but the giver of the Gita . Somebody once asked me, “Who is Kṛiṣhṇa ?” I said, “The one the Gita comes from.” That's the very and the only truthful definition of Sri Kṛiṣhṇa . In some other sense, the Gita is Kṛiṣhṇa . But the Gita does not have a face. So, Sri Kṛiṣhṇa is then the face of Gita. So, if you look at that face—the face of Sri Kṛiṣhṇa —immediately the Gita must come to your mind. But for that you must have, first of all, studied the Gita and truthfully known the true meaning of its verses, not some corrupted meaning.

Now what is happening is, just so that you can be attached more to the form of Kṛiṣhṇa than the truth of Kṛiṣhṇa , even the verses of Gita are being corrupted. If you will read the Gita truthfully, then you will know that the Gita itself is Sri Kṛiṣhṇa . There is actually no Sri Kṛiṣhṇa beyond the Gita. How can there be a Sri Kṛiṣhṇa beyond the Truth that he has revealed? The entire Truth is contained in the Gita. Kṛiṣhṇa is Gita, Gita is Kṛiṣhṇa. But that does not happen. When you go to Kṛiṣhṇa temples, there's so much commotion and color, and merry-making, and sights and visuals. But there is no Gita . There is no understanding.

What is Gita ? Gita is just two things— Ātma-Jñāna and Nishkaam Karma. And in that, all eighteen chapters of the Gita are contained. Self-knowledge and selfless action. Knowing the Self and once you know the self, you drop it so action is selfless. Self-knowledge and selfless action, that alone is Gita.

So when you look at the Kṛiṣhṇa statue, self-knowledge must immediately arise. You must know that ‘you’ are not. Looking at that statue, you must have that kind of effect on the mind. I stand in front of the deity and immediately I must dissolve. I must know I am not. That is self-knowledge. And to know that you are not, you must be someone who has immersed himself totally in the Gita . But, instead of immersing yourself in the Gita , if you just sing and dance around the Kṛiṣhṇa statue, that is not going to help. Not at all, unfortunately. So, that's the purpose of the moorti (form).

I once said—there is an entire chapter on this one— moorti dwaar hai amoort ka (Form is the door to the formless). That’s the utility of the moorti. The moorti should lead you to the amoorat (formless).

The form should lead you to the formless. And if the form is not leading you to the formless, then you are deceiving yourself.

The entire purpose of the form is so that it can act as a door, an entrance into the formless. Otherwise, there is no point. So, Kṛiṣhṇa must mean Gita, Rāma must mean Yoga-Vashishth, Śhiva must mean Ribhu Gītā ; or Śhiva-Sūtra. That is what they stand for.

That’s what you know in India, Hinduism— Sanatana Dharma has been all about Rāma , Kṛiṣhṇa , Śiva. In these three, all other gods and goddesses, they just dissolve. And in some sense, even Rāma and Kṛiṣhṇa dissolve into each other. That's the Vaishnava stream. So, even if I take these three, these three mean nothing other than the Bhagavadgītā , Yoga-Vashishth and the Ribhu Gītā. The true representative of Śhivatva is Ribhu-Gītā ; the true representative of Rāmatva is Yoga-Vashisht, and the true representative of Kṛiṣhṇa —when I say these I mean the essence—the true representative of Kṛiṣhṇatva is Srimad Bhagavadgītā. That's what the form must stand for, otherwise, the form is wasted on you.

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