All that exists is energy. This is a proven fundamental law of science today. Continuing on this premise, all events occur in the relativistic arena of space and time created when this totality of energy manifests as multiple incidence of matter. This understanding brings us closer to the concept of ‘Oneness’ of existence, at least, the physical existence. The Vedic seers, who in Samadhi(superconscious state) were able to the transcend the physical realm, proclaimed the true nature of existence is omnipresent consciousness. This Cosmic consciousness pervades all that exists that is manifest and unmanifest is referred to as the Brahman, which is beyond form and formlessness.
“Isavasyam idam sarvam”
(God pervades everything that exists.)
– Isa Upanishad
This advaitic(non-dualistic) truth is a fundamental understanding in Hinduism. The Created is not separate from the Creator or even the Act of Creation. Also the cosmic consciousness can assume a form (Avatara) or It be invoked into an inanimate idol through a process called Prana Prathishta. This understanding allows for worship of God through devotion to a form in addition through meditation on the cosmic consciousness. Realization of the cosmic consciousness in form or formless is the purpose of all spiritual seeking and Life itself.
In Abrahamic religions the ‘created’ is separate and inferior to the ‘Creator’. Here the created is prohibited from being used to represent the creator. The created can also never rise up to the status of the creator. This includes humans and inanimate objects. The difference in approach towards the nature of the Cosmic consciousness and the manifested reality, naturally leads to a diametrically opposite reaction to the idea of deity worship.
We identify ourselves with a name and form. We relate and identify others by their the name and form. To take an illustrative example, a common mother would not be able to relate to her child normally if it kept changing its form even though we were to prove that the child had the same conscious identity. As long as the seeker is in the realm of identifying with name and form it is difficult to relate with a formless entity or an entity beyond form and formlessness.
Deity worship provides the most effective technique to bridge the connection with the Cosmic consciousness in the early stages of seeking. The deities, along with a concrete persona identified by the idol, also represent higher ideals or powers. For example, one of the ideals Lord Ganapathi represents is auspicious beginnings and perseverance to the goal during hardships. Goddess Laxmi represents abundance in all facets of life. The Hindu has the freedom to choose her Ishta Devata(favourite deity) based on the life affirmative ideals that she holds highest. As the seeker matures in her spiritual seeking, the ideals may change to more subtler forms and she has the freedom to change her Ishta Devata. This allows a beautiful pathway for Hindus to evolve towards self-realization of the Cosmic consciousness.
The subjective reality that the seeker believes in, during her rise in the spiritual pursuit to more mature cognition, is respected in Hinduism. This provide a compassionate environment in which the spiritual seeker flowers into full realization. This accommodative spirit can be called Vedic secularism. There are innumerous examples of spiritual seekers such as Meerabai, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and so on, who realized Bhava and Savikalpa Samadhi (spiritual communion) with their Ishta Devata through deity worship. The path of Bhakti or deity worship is a celebration of Life, infusing bliss in all devotees. One can visit any traditional Hindu Temple to experience this directly.
All journeys start from where we are. In the journey of spiritual realization we begin at the stage where we need a form and name to cognize and relate. Here Deity worship is not only necessary but the inevitable bridge that we all have to traverse in the journey of realizing The Ultimate, The Cosmic consciousness.
1) The Teachings of Paramahamsa Nithyananda on Isa Upanishad(www.Nithyananda.org).
2) Talks by Dr. N. Gopalakrishnan on Idol worship (www.IISH.org).