Why Brahman is not worshipped in Hinduism?
Question: Looks like the concept of God in Hinduism is too abstract and impersonal. The highest God of Hinduism is known as Brahman in the Vedas. However, we do not have any evidence that he is ritually worshipped. We also do not find any temples built for him. He is more obscure than all the gods of Hinduism. Can you explain why Brahman is not ritually worshipped?
It is a good question. Much of this confusion will disappear if you see Brahman not as a being, but as a supreme state (yogam). He becomes a being through his numerous manifestations (vibhutis). However, in his pure and absolute state, he represents the highest reality, which is pure, indefinable and without names and forms. You cannot communicate with that state or reality. You can only become That or become dissolved in That. Let me explain in brief.
The highest God of the Bhagavadgita is neither Lord Krishna nor Lord Vishnu, but Brahman. Lord Krishna delivers the entire discourse in the midst of Kurukshetra as Brahman in oneness with him and in the supreme state. If you are totally absorbed in Brahman, you will see the world differently. You will cease to identify yourself with your physical self and become fixed in the awareness, which is wonderfully expressed in the Upanishads as "Aham Brahmasmi," I am Brahman. The self-realized yogis do not declare that to the world, since it can be misconstrued by the ignorant ones.
However, they remain stabilized in that awareness even in the wakeful state, battling against the duality to which the mind is accustomed and the resistance coming from the ego, which remains active even in the self-realized state, although weakened and subdued. To those who are not familiar with Hinduism, let me state that when we say "Brahman," we are not referring to Brahma. Brahma is a Vedic god (deva). Brahman is the supreme, infinite, formless and stateless reality. Brahma, the creator god, arises from Brahman in the beginning of creation, just as Shiva and Vishnu. The process is similar to the waves and islands which surface in an endless ocean. Those waves and islands are his manifestations. Our discussion here is confined to Brahman only.
The highest God of Hinduism resides in all as their very Self. He may pervade them and shine through them. However, he is not in them. The whole creation is a projection or reflection of Brahman, but it is not made up of him. In other words, you cannot attain Brahman by possessing material things or knowing them. You cannot find him in the objective reality, because he is not in it or in any of its parts, aspects and components. He is known only by subjectively knowing him through the Self and becoming one with him. As stated before, Brahman is pure intelligence. He is not a being, but the highest, supreme reality which is described in the texts as kaivalyam (aloneness), parandhamam (highest goal), prasantam (peaceful), atitam (transcendental), advitiyam (without a second), anantam (infinite), aksharam (indestructible), anirvachaniyam (indescribable) and madhuram (extremely ecstatic).
As you rightly said, although he is the highest God, Brahman is not worshipped in Hindu rituals. Many Hindus do not even know about him or his existence, which is a pity because they go for lesser gods or god-men. However, he is not completely disassociated from Hindu rituals. In some Vedic rituals it is customary to engage a Brahman priest whose job it is to remain silent and vigilant, and silently correct other priests if they make any mistakes. Just as Brahman, he participates in the ritual of sacrifice as a silent witness.
Since he was too remote and indifferent to be of any particular use and since he did not directly participate in any action, a section of the Vedic people, known as Mimansikas, ignored him. Instead, they acknowledged the sacrifices as the source of all and focused upon them. They were not concerned with the question of who created the worlds and beings. For them, it was sufficient to know that they were created by sacrifices, sustained by sacrifices and destroyed by sacrifices. By performing sacrifices as detailed in the Vedas one could escape from suffering and attain liberation or a better life in the next birth.
Let us now examine why Brahman is not ritually worshipped in Hinduism.
1. Brahman represents an absolute reality which is free from names and forms and objectivity. He cannot objectively be communicated since he represents limitless subjective reality which is eternal, unchanging and self-existent. Hence, invoking Brahman through prayers or mantras is difficult and ineffective.
2. In his absolute state, the highest supreme Brahman is indeterminate, infinite and indistinguishable. You can neither conceptualize him nor fit him into a rigid, ritual model as an object of worship. There are also no known methods to communicate with him.
3. In ritual worship we invoke divine beings (devas). They have specific names and forms and specific duties and associate powers (shaktis). We know what they can and cannot do, or how they can help us. Brahman is not a being. He does not have a set of duties and does not participate in creation.
4. During sacrificial ceremonies and ritual worship, we invite gods to visit the ritual place or our homes as divine guests and accept our hospitality and devotion. Since Brahman is all this (sarvam) and infinite, there is no place upon earth or in heaven, where Brahman can descend into our world and accept our offerings.
5. Brahman is beyond our minds and senses. Our thoughts, words and prayers do not reach him. Therefore, the ritual model is useless to communicate with him. He is attained only through self-absorption or oneness. In that oneness, there is no worshipper and worshipped and no communication.
6. Brahman is complete in all respects. He is complete, whether you add anything to him or subtract anything from him. There is nothing which he does not have, and which you can offer. He is also free from desires, hunger and thirst. Hence, the ritual worship which is meant to satisfy hunger is futile in his case.
7. It is easier to worship gods and obtain their help since they depend upon us for nourishment. Brahman represents an independent and immutable reality. The Bhagavadgita rightly advices devotees not to worship the formless and unmanifested Brahman since they will be met with obstacles and difficulties.
8. Brahman is the highest goal rather than an object of ritual worship. He is to be known through internal yoga rather than external worship. The knowledge of Brahman does not arise from rituals but from spiritual practice and self-purification. Hence, ritual worship is not ideal to realize supreme Brahman.
9. In ritual worship we use offerings and the power of Brahman which is hidden in the sacred hymns of the Vedas to seek their help. The Vedic mantras have the power and potency to reach the realm of gods through space, which is the medium of sound. They do not have the power to reach the world of Brahman.
10. There are no known symbols or images or mantras through which we can invoke Brahman. Traditionally, he is represented by the symbol or syllable Aum. However, it is more commonly used to energize and purify the mantras and prayers to invoke various gods rather than to appeal to Brahman.
Brahman is the highest supreme reality, who has to be realized through self-knowing or self-realization. One may intellectually know about him through the study of the scriptures, but it is not true knowing. He is to be known through the Self and by the Self in a state of unity. As the Upanishad affirms, by knowing him only through union (yoga), Brahman is attained.
By attuning the individual Self to the Supreme Self, by attaining nearness and oneness, one can enter the purest and the most auspicious state of Brahman where all the notions of otherness, disturbance and duality disappear. How to worship Brahman spiritually and internally rather than externally and ritually will be discussed in another essay on the subject. Please check the link below.
Suggestions for Further Reading
- Brahman, The Universal Self
- The Highest Manifestations of Brahman
- Why Brahma Is Not Worshipped?
- Religious Violence, Causes and Solutions
- Who is the Founder of Hinduism?
- Hinduism - Rules for Fasting
- What is Pure Consciousness?
- Gods of Hinduism - Brahma, the Creator
- Atma or Atman, the Individual Self in Hinduism
- God and You in Hinduism
- Brahman According to Advaita and Dvaita in Hinduism
- Brahman As The Priest of the Creation Sacrifice
- Brahman as the Highest and the Purest Reality
- What is Truth?
- Is God in Hinduism Male or Female?
- Monotheism in Hinduism
- Essays On Dharma
- Esoteric Mystic Hinduism
- Introduction to Hinduism
- Hindu Way of Life
- Essays On Karma
- Hindu Rites and Rituals
- The Origin of The Sanskrit Language
- Symbolism in Hinduism
- Essays on The Upanishads
- Concepts of Hinduism
- Essays on Atman
- Hindu Festivals
- Spiritual Practice
- Right Living
- Yoga of Sorrow
- Mental Health
- Concepts of Buddhism
- General Essays
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