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Bhagavad Gita Answers – How To Overcome Difficulty In Worshiping Formless God?

Bhagavad Gita Answers – Difficulty in the Worship of a Formless God – How To Offer Worship? is an extract from Prabuddha Bharata Magazine October 2002 Issue.

Though the formless Reality — Atman (behind our personality) or Brahman (behind the universe) — is intellectually very satisfying, one needs to start from where one is. For those whom the world, including their body and mind, is very real, worshipping a formless Reality can end up just as an intellectual exercise.

One needs to depersonalize oneself before depersonalizing God.

As long as one is conscious of one’s personality, devotion to a Personal God or an incarnation of God is the logical way in spiritual life. Sri Krishna makes the point clear in the Bhagavad Gita:
 ‘The task of those whose minds are set on the Unmanifest is more difficult; for the ideal of the Unmanifest is hard to attain for those who are conscious  of their bodies’ (12.5).
He continues reassuringly:
‘But those who consecrate all their actions to Me, regarding Me as their supreme Goal, and who worship Me and meditate on Me with single-minded concentration — to them whose minds are thus absorbed in Me, verily I become before long, OPartha, the Saviour from the death-fraught ocean of the world’ (12.6-7).
Here ‘Me’ can apply equally to any holy Form other than Sri Krishna’s, including those of other incarnations. But worshipping God with unswerving devotion, and meditation on Him with single-minded concentration pertain to a very advanced stage of spiritual life.

For spiritual aspirants Sri Krishna himself prescribes a fourfold path in descending order of difficulty.

Fixing the Mind and Buddhi on God

His teaching continues: ‘Fix your mind on Me, rest your buddhi in Me. Undoubtedly you will live in Me hereafter’ (12.8).

The word used for mind is manas, the deliberative faculty in us, which cogitates on the pros and cons of a particular issue. Sri Krishna advocates that this mind should be soaked in Him.

Strengthen yourself by the conviction that I alone am the supreme Object to be attained.

The Yoga of Constant Practice

Sri Krishna continues: ‘In case you are not able to hold fast your mind on Me steadily, then seek to reach Me, O Arjuna, by the yoga of constant practice’ (12.9).

Elsewhere He describes this practice:

‘Setting the mind firmly on the Self under the direction of a steadfast buddhi, one should practice tranquility little by little and abstain from every kind of thought. Whenever the unsteady and fickle mind strays from the ideal, it should be brought to abide in the Self alone’ (6.25-6).

Again, when Arjuna asks him about the control of his unsteady and fickle mind, Sri Krishna prescribes as the means abhyasa, repeated practice, and vairagya, detachment from things inimical to the goal. (6.35)

Service to the Lord

Sri Krishna continues with the graded path: ‘If you are incapable of constant practice, then devote yourself to My service. For even by rendering service to Me you will attain perfection.’

Service to the Lord could mean external forms of worship like repetition of His name, singing His glories, observing vigils and fasts, showing reverence to His images and offering the Lord fruits, flowers, and so on.

Besides the above interpretation, service to God can also mean service to fellow beings looking upon them as manifestations of God. In fact, the entire universe is God’s and all the activities that one is engaged in as a member of society are a form of service to God. A significant verse in the eighteenth chapter of the Gita makes the point very clear: ‘From whom have come forth all beings and by whom is all this pervaded — by worshipping Him through the performance of his duty man attains perfection.

Renouncing the Fruits of All Actions

For those who cannot engage themselves in God’s work, Sri Krishna advocates yet another path: ‘Take refuge in Me and thus controlling the mind, give up the fruits of all your actions.’

Giving up the fruits of actions implies giving up the feeling ‘I am the doer of the action.’ There are two more points to be noted here: taking refuge in the Lord and controlling the mind. No path to God is easy, whether it is of devotion, discrimination, selfless action or meditation. The common denominator in all these paths is self-discipline, mind control.

Only, devotion to God makes it easier. In other words, what is advocated is spiritualizing everyday life.

Sri Krishna explains how to do this:
 ‘Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer as oblation in a sacrifice, whatever you gift to others, whatever austerities you perform — do them all as an offering unto Me. Thus you will become free from the bondage of the good and bad results of your actions. With your mind firmly set on renunciation, you will attain liberation and thereby come to Me.’ (9.27-8)