Humans are image driven, and will naturally attribute form and design to their inner most mental conjures. Probably the vast majority of humankind worships God in image form because the human mind even objectifies the idea of the formless.
Some of us remember a time before cell phones. A time when the land was
replete with pay phones and every house or residence had a land line. To
call a friend or family member from afar was expensive. When I was a
soldier stationed in Korea during to 1970s, a phone call to my family
back in the US cost $4.00 a minute! That’s right. I paid dearly for the
privilege of speaking to my loved ones. Why? Because I missed them.
Did I keep the phone on the hook and simply talk to the device??
Of course not. That would have been akin to phone worship…..
Well, so it is with murtis : in part, a murti, or murthi, or vigraha or
pratima typically refers to an image that expresses a Divine Spirit.
Meaning literally “embodiment”, a murti is a representation of a
divinity, made usually of stone, wood, or metal, which serves as a means
through which a divinity may be worshiped. 1
Some may consider that to be the definition of an idol. Yet that is exactly what a murti is not. An idol by definition is an image or other material object representing a deity or spirit to which religious worship is addressed. The difference may be described by the word life. One embodies divinity while the other simply represents.
Coming from a Christian back ground, I know that the word idolatry is a highly charged one, meaning to worship, or make any human made image of God, or the divine. Catholics have images which are called idols by protestants, who claim not to have any such. Yet even though they don’t have carvings, they have stained glass windows handsomely adorned with images of Christ. Then during The Christmas season, many of them display statues of everyone involved in the Bethlehem scene from the Angel Gabriel to the sheep who lived in the barn. Yet it is they in particular who have besmirched God’s material depiction, and their explanation of their Bible which has become the default for how our entire western society views what is “right” and “wrong” regarding spiritual expression.
Humans are image driven, and will naturally attribute form and design to their inner most mental conjures. Probably the vast majority of humankind worships God in image form because the human mind even objectifies the idea of the formless. So how is it that dharmic worshipers materialized their divinities while the Abrahamic relied on sub conscious subtleties to plant and enforce the mental image immortalized by Michelangelo of God as an angry ole white man.
For one, we Hindus consider all of creation to be God who is imminent and transcendent throughout the universe. Therefore all things created contain God’s presence. With that in mind, consider that there is not much of a transition to realizing that the images of Lord Ganesha or Goddess Saraswati already contain God whether made of wood, marble or granite. Murtis are not just physical carvings but bodies which are energized to vibrate in a certain way such that they impact their surroundings. The science of the murtis derives from The Agama Shastra, a tantric scientific methodology that has been perfected over eons. Each Agama consists of four parts, however for this purpose we focus on the Kirya which includes rules for construction of temples; and consecration of idols (murtis). This code is analogous to those in Puranas. 2
The Kirya has also detailed the creation for vibrational capacities and the life within the murtis. This life, this vibration of energy responds to us when we call upon it and address it. Every aspect and form reflects Gods presence which is nestled therein. Devout Hindus accept idol worship as a simple way of expr essing their faith, love and devotion to God. There is a childlike innocence and purity of approach when a person stands reverently in front of an image or a murti and bows to it in total submission. It is possible only when a person has strong faith and no egoism. Worldly people or intellectuals who have strong egos cannot easily surrender to God or worship God’s images with simple faith. However, those who worship God with devotion and humility know that murti worship connects them to God and opens their hearts to divine love. 3
Some reject at the idea of murti worship as superstition. However, the practice is based on scientific principles, matters which western scientist have recently began to acknowledge.
A temple, is a miniature cosmos comprised of the five elements and a presiding deity. They are the places containing pure vibrations of magnetic and electric fields with positive energy. A temple is an outgrowth of the deity which has its own independent intelligence and from which energy is constantly radiating. Essentially, temples were designed to be spaces where the mind spontaneously moves within and meditation happens effortlessly. Every aspect of the temple, from the architecture to the rituals to the kinds of worship offered, has been consciously created to make this experience happen. 4
Deities work as our focal point, to remind us of our true potential. In silence your thoughts have tremendous potential to become reality. This is why people say “My prayers have come true”. Indeed every prayer has potential to come true provided you prayed in deep awareness. Deity itself has no meaning unless you create. They are used more as a focal point or to attack the Mind. 5
Without getting too immersed into quantum physics, this works on the premise that all matter vibrates and thought vibrations can and do produce desired results. Murtis are the conduit whereby these abstract brain pulsations transform into meaningful praise and supplications.
This practice also works for the practices of Voodoo and tantra shastra. Distance healing is based on a similar principle. Thought waves are very subtle, they can be transferred at incredible speed through space. This can be performed with willpower. After all, existence is homogeneous. In a state of silence all psychological barriers are broken. 6
The first time I ever visited a Hindu temple, when I was in deep searching, I remember feeling overwhelming joy and peace. The feeling was extremely profound, almost tactile. I returned to that temple many times to make sure the sensation was not imaginary. After having attended awhile, I discussed it with the temple Pandit. He explained the vibratory energy and said that when the worship is done in a group it is intensified. It was that positive intensity that I felt welcoming me onto the eternal path.
Back to the concept of the phone call. If the conversation stops at you just talking to the phone, then your conversation goes absolutely nowhere (ie idolatry) . It is not until you “open the connection channel” that you are able to communicate with your desired party. The phone just simply allows the two way transmission.
Swami Paramananda sums it up better than I. He says “Coming to idol worship, let it be very clear that if worship stops at the statue or the picture, then it is idolatry. The truth, however, is that idols are a means to reach the formless aspect of God. Form is used as a means to reach the formless. Many people talk about praying or worshiping directly, but this is impossible – no one can make it. Whether it is a mosque, a temple, a scripture, rites, rituals, prayers, meditation techniques, a prophet or a guru, all are forms and only means to reach the formless. Yes, it is absolutely true that people stagnate with idolatry, thus missing the opportunity to experience the formless. 7
By the Prana Pratishtha ceremony, the idol becomes identical with the deity.
I owe yoga a remarkable debt. It is the vehicle by which I arrived at my spiritual home. It changed my life both physically and metaphysically, leaving me with a deep sense of gratitude and reverence. Once I began to delve into the subject, I was amazed at its breadth and depth. There are many works available for the seeker who wants to probe beyond the scope of this introduction. Topics include among others, spiritual history, scientific origins, types of practice, and even a new Western fad, “doga”, practicing yoga with one’s dog. (Part one of a series)