Search & Read
Who Do I Worship?
Peter: Dear Ramji, recently a question arose as to whom to worship – brahman or Isvara. Going back and forth on the internet, I found this Q&A edited by David Godman. I include the two questions here that captured my exact feelings.
Questioner: “Whenever I worship God with name and form, I feel tempted to think whether I am not wrong in doing so, as that would be limiting the limitless, giving form to the formless. At the same time, I feel I am not constant in my adherence to worship God without form.”
Sri Ramana Maharshi: “As long as you respond to a name, what objection could there be to your worshipping a God with name or form? Worship God with or without form till you know who you are.”
Questioner: “I find it difficult to believe in a personal God. In fact I find it impossible. But I can believe in an impersonal God, a divine force which rules and guides the world, and it would be a great help to me, even in my work of healing, if this faith were increased. May I know how to increase this faith?”
James: Practice karma yoga and jnana yoga.
Peter: Sri Ramana Maharshi: “Faith is in things unknown, but the Self is self-evident. Even the greatest egotist cannot deny his own existence, that is to say, cannot deny the Self. You can call the ultimate reality by whatever name you like and say that you have faith in it or love for it, but who is there who will not have faith in his own existence or love for himself? That is because faith and love are our real nature.”
I feel uncomfortable worshiping Isvara in any name or form when I know conceptually, if not actually, that I am the one true Self, which is brahman, and that Isvara doesn’t really exist. Or does he? Earlier in this same Q&A, when asked if Isvara exists, Ramana first replied yes, then later, no.
James: Isvara, the Creator, exists but is real only with reference to the creation. Without the creation there is no Creator. The self is uncreated consciousness. It exists irrespective of a creation. There is no problem worshiping a form if you understand that all forms are fashioned out of existence consciousness. What is the difference between a wave and the ocean or a ray of sunlight and the sun? There is a superficial difference, but there is no difference essentially.
Peter: So I did more research and found this: link.
“Bondage and liberation are creations of Maya, superimpositions upon the Brahman imagined by the mind without any existence in reality. It is a fool who blames the sun for his own blindness. It is impossible to argue that bondage (Samsara) is caused by the veiling power (tamas) of Maya and liberation by its destruction, since there is no differentiation in the Self. Such an argument would lead to a denial of the truth of non-duality and an affirmation of duality. This would be contrary to the authority of the scriptures. How can there be any display of Maya in non-dual Brahman, which is perfect stillness, one whole like the ether, spotless, actionless, unstained, and formless? [EXACTLY!] The scriptures even proclaim aloud: ‘There is in truth no creation and no destruction; no one is bound, no one is seeking liberation, no one is on the way to deliverance. There are none liberated. This is the absolute truth.’”
This brought up another question that has been bothering me, about the way most Vedantins get around this stumbling block. Postulating that samsara is caused by the rising of maya (a power, shakti) in brahman leads from non-duality to duality. That will never do, so let’s call maya mithya. Therefore nothing ever arose, no maya, no Isvara, no creation and of course no me and no you, just attributeless God.
James: Yes. If everything arose from the formless self, then all the forms are the self. So worship everything you experience as your self.
Peter: Swami Dayananda says the same thing to get around the conundrum of pure, unmoving, unchanging, attributeless brahman. Maya is a power in brahman but maya is mithya: link.
Even Ted Schmidt explains it the same way here: link.
But this argument is nothing but a play on words.
James: It is only a play on words if your intellect can’t get itself around the idea that apparent opposites are not actual opposites. Understandably, you are having trouble understanding maya, the is and is not. This idea is the key to liberation. It is the most difficult teaching. It only exists in Vedanta.
Let me try to explain. The world of forms are the self, but they are not the self. This is a contradiction, but it isn’t a contradiction. To understand it, understanding the idea of upadhi, point of view, needs to be understood. From the point of view of consciousness, there is no difference, but from the point of view of the jivas, the is a difference. Material objects and jivas – forms – are both consciousness/existence – you – but they are something other than consciousness at the same time. Although forms exist they come and go, unlike the self, which can’t come and go. However, to jivas under the spell of maya, consciousness seems to come and go. The forms – the comings and goings – appear to be different but they are non-different.
Peter: Nor does the cosmic hide-and-seek game work either if God is attributeless and therefore actionless. Of course Shankara knew when to leave well enough alone, and like other religious pundits when faced with an inexplicable doctrine, simply called maya an inscrutable mystery, as noted in this thorough work on his soteriology: link.
James: How maya creates duality is a mystery. That it creates duality isn’t.
Peter: The only (logical) way around this conundrum is Brahman the Dreamer. When brahman remains quiescent in dreamless sleep, there is no universe, no multiplicity of anything; there is but the One Mind, Consciousness, the Tao. Time and space and the entire universe have vanished like the indrawn web of a spider. When brahman passes from dreamlessness to dreaming, the spider releases and expands her web into the the universe of Isvara (Brahman dreaming that he is Saguna Brahman – Isvara, the controller of maya) and all things come forth in Brahman’s dream. To Brahman in perfect Quiescence, there is only timelessness and the One Mind, the One limitless, actionless Consciousness.
James: Yes, sort of. Brahman doesn’t sleep or dream. Brahman – IN ASSOCIATION WITH MAYA – apparently dreams and sleeps. Brahman in its role as Creator is called Isvara. Dreaming and sleeping with reference to brahman is personification.
Peter: Otherwise, you just have a good-cop-versus-bad-cop scenario. Nirguna Brahman is the all-loving, blissful, limitless, actionless Brahman, while Saguna Brahman keeps track of all of our punya and papa and dishes out the karma.
James: Yes. Is there a difference between saguna and nirguna? Yes and no.
Peter: Can you help me out of this conundrum? Whom do I worship, Brahman or Isvara? When I sit down to inquire within, whom do I pray to for a successful inquiry and whom do I thank afterwards? The same with meals: whom do I thank for the food? Whom do I pray to upon waking and upon falling asleep for the grace and blessing to remove this ignorance? And from whence this maya?
James: Worship either one or both. If you worship Isvara, the worship goes on to brahman – you. If you know that brahman is you – consciousness/existence – you don’t need to worship Isvara but your worship goes to Isvara anyway because Isvara is brahman. But brahman is not Isvara. It is the consciousness that allows Isvara (maya) to create apparent forms out of existence. They are the same but different. This teaching is called sat-asat-vilakshanam. It is the essence of moksa.
Peter: Many Vedantins say that it is not possible to worship or pray to Nirguna Brahman, because It does not have any defining characteristics. So they advise worshiping Isvara in one of his many forms – Krishna, Vishnu, Ram, etc. Then I found this from Sri Ramana: “…Vedantists consider it a sacrilege to regard the One creating, sustaining and absorbing Supreme Self as a conceptual deity like Ganapati, Brahma, Vishnu, Rudra, Maheswara and Sadasiva. We project ourselves into the idols and worship them because we do not understand true inward worship…”: link.
James: Actually, Ramana is seemingly right, but not actually correct. He was probably trying to distinguish the two types of worship, with form and without form, to a beginner. Jnanis are quite happy worshiping dieties because they know that the deities are the self.If they thought deity worship was a sacrilege, they wouldn’t be non-dualists. But jnanis are not necessarily Vedantins. Jnanis are the self, so they don’t identify with Vedanta. But while seekers are the self, they don’t know it, so those that are qualified try to worship (understand) formless bhakti. The rest are told to worship the forms until they are capable of non-dual bhakti.
Peter: Your thoughts? If you don’t have time to respond, no problem. Perhaps we can discuss this at Trout Lake next month.
James: Think about this, and we can discuss it when you come if you still have questions.