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Idol Worship

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Reminiscences of Swami Vivekananda

The Maharaja, Mangal Singh of Alwar opened the conversion by saying,

“Well, Swami Maharaj, I hear that you are a great scholar. You can easily earn a handsome sum of money every month. Why then do you go about begging?”

Swami Vivekananda replied with a home thrust: Maharaja, tell me why you spend your time constantly in the company of Westerners, go on shooting excursions, and neglect your duties to the state?” Those present were taken aback.

What a bold sadhu! He will repent of this”, they thought. But the Maharaja took it calmly; and after a little thought replied,

I cannot say why, but no doubt because I like to.”

Well, for the same reason I wander about as a beggar”, rejoined the Swami.

The next question the Maharaja asked was,

Well, Swamiji Maharaj, I have no faith in idol-worship. What is going to be my fate?” He smiled as he spoke. The Swami seemed slightly annoyed and exclaimed, “Surely you are joking.”

No, Swamiji, not at all. You see, I really cannot worship wood, earth, stone or metal, like other people. Does this mean that I shall fare worse in the life hereafter?”

The Swami answered, “Well, I suppose every man should follow the religious ideal according to his own faith.”

The devotees of the Swami were perplexed at this reply, for they knew that the Swami sanctioned image-worship. But the Swami had not finished; his eyes lighted on a picture of the Maharaja which was hanging on the wall. At his desire it was passed to him.

Holding it in his hand he asked, “Whose picture is this?”

The Dewan answered, “It is the likeness of our Maharaja.”

A moment later they trembled with fear when they heard the Swami commanding the Dewan: Spit on it.” He continued: “Any one of you may spit on it. What is it but a piece of paper? What objection can you have against doing so?”

The Dewan was thunderstruck, and all eyes glanced in fear and awe from Prince to monk, from monk to Prince. But the Swami continued to insist, “Spit on it, I say. Spit on it.”

The Dewan cried out, “What, Swamiji! What are you asking me to do? This is the likeliness of our Maharaja! How can I do such a thing?”

Be it so,” said the Swami; “but the Maharaja is not bodily present in this photograph. This is only a piece of paper. It does not contain his bones and flesh and blood. It does not speak or behave or move in any way as the Maharaja does; yet all of you refuse to spit on it, because you see in this photo the shadow of Maharaja. Indeed, in spitting on the photo, you feel that you insult your master, the Prince himself.”

Turning to the Maharaja he continued, “See, Your Highness; though this is not you in one sense, in another sense it is you. That was why your devoted servants were so perplexed when I asked them to spit on it. It is a shadow of you; it brings you into their minds. One glance at it makes them see you in it; therefore they look at it with as much respect as they would have in looking at your own person. Thus it also is with the devotees who worship stone and metal images of gods and goddesses.

It is because an image brings to their minds their Ishta, or some special form and attributes of the Divinity, and helps them to concentrate, that the devotees worship God in an image.

They do not worship the stone or the metal as such. I have travelled in many places, but nowhere have I found a single Hindu worshipping an image, saying,

O Stone, I worship Thee. O Metal, be merciful to me.’

Everyone, Maharaja, is worshipping the same one God who is the Supreme spirit, the Soul of Pure Knowledge. And God appears to all according to their understanding and their representation of Him. Prince, I speak for myself. Of course, I cannot speak for you.”

MangalSingh, who had been listening attentively all this time, said, with folded hands,

Swamiji, I must admit that looking at image-worship in the light you have thrown on it, I have never yet met anyone worshipping stone, or wood, or metal. Before this I did not understand its meaning. You have opened my eyes. But what will be my fate? Have mercy on me.”

The Swami answered,

O Prince, none but God can be merciful to anyone; and He is ever-merciful! Pray to Him.

He will show His mercy to you.”
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God with and without form

Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa: "Well, do you believe in God with form or without form?“

Master Mahashaya., rather surprised, said to himself: "How can one believe in God without form when one believes in God with form? And if one believes in God without form, how can one believe that God has a form? Can these two contradictory ideas be true at the same time? Can a white liquid like milk be black?“

Master Mahashaya: "Sir, I like to think of God as formless.“

Sri Ramakrishna: "Very good. It is enough to have faith in either aspect. You believe in God without form; that is quite all right. But never for a moment think that this alone is true and all else false. Remember that God with form is just as true as God without form. But hold fast to your own conviction."

The assertion that both are equally true amazed M.; he had never learnt this from his books. Thus his ego received a third blow; but since it was not yet completely crushed, he came forward to argue with the Master a little more.

God and the clay image

Master Mahashaya : "Sir, suppose one believes in God with form. Certainly He is not the clay image!“

MASTER (interrupting): "But why clay? It is an image of Spirit."

Master Mahashaya. could not quite understand the significance of this "image of Spirit".

"But, sir," he said to the Master, "One should explain to those who worship the clay image that it is not God, and that, while worshipping it, they should have God in view and not the clay image. One should not worship clay."

God the only real teacher

MASTER (sharply): "That's the one hobby of you Calcutta people - giving lectures and bringing others to the light! Nobody ever stops to consider how to get the light himself. Who are you to teach others? ”

"He who is the Lord of the Universe will teach everyone. He alone teaches us, who has created this universe; who has made the sun and moon, men and beasts, and all other beings; who has provided means for their sustenance; who has given children to parents and endowed them with love to bring them up. The Lord has done so many things - will He not show people the way to worship Him? If they need teaching, then He will be the Teacher. He is our Inner Guide.”

"Suppose there is an error in worshipping the clay image; doesn't God know that through it He alone is being invoked? He will be pleased with that very worship. Why should you get a headache over it? You had better try for knowledge and devotion yourself."

This time M. felt that his ego was completely crushed. He now said to himself: "Yes, he has spoken the truth. What need is there for me to teach others? Have I known God? Do I really love Him? 'I haven't room enough for myself in my bed, and I am inviting my friend to share it with me!' I know nothing about God, yet I am trying to teach others. What a shame! How foolish I am! This is not mathematics or history or literature, that one can teach it to others. No, this is the deep mystery of God. What he says appeals to me.“

This was M.'s first argument with the Master, and happily his last.

MASTER: "You were talking of worshipping the clay image. Even if the image is made of clay, there is need for that sort of worship. God Himself has provided different forms of worship. He who is the Lord of the Universe has arranged all these forms to suit different men in different stages of knowledge.”

"The mother cooks different dishes to suit the stomachs of her different children. Suppose she has five children. If there is a fish to cook, she prepares various dishes from it - pilau, pickled fish, fried fish, and so on - to suit their different tastes and powers of digestion.”

"Do you understand me?“

An Extract from ‘Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna’ written by Master Mahashaya(M)Sri Mahendranath Gupta

Student of V.I.H.E
One more soul in God's Creation

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