55. Two Types of Divine Worship in Hinduism


by Jayaram V

Notes: I have translated the Bhagavadgita twice. The first one was a loose translation. The second one was a word to word translation with a detailed commentary. The commentary is however different from what you will find here. In this section I will share with you my thoughts about the knowledge, philosophy and wisdom of the Bhagavadgita as I understand it from my perspective. Jayaram V

Synopsis: This essay explains the importance of external and internal worship of God (Isvara aradhana and Isvara paridhana) according to the Bhagavadgita and the Upanishads.

The idea of yoga originated in the ascetic traditions of ancient India by the internalization of Vedic, sacrificial ritual (Yajna). Physical worship (aradhana) evolved into meditative worship (paridhana). Jayaram V

The Vedas state that you should perform sacrifices for gods, since they depend upon humans for their nourishment. However, your should also worship the God who resides in you as your very Self because liberation is your ultimate aim. Worshipping the gods externally or ritually is lower knowledge (avidya), while worshipping the Supreme Being internally is higher knowledge (vidya). For a householder both are important, but for a renunciant, the latter is the only support.

They also suggest that all gods manifested from one God, who is your very Self. He is also the support and source of all. Diversity is his projected reality, which is temporary, and unity his eternal and essential state. God is the subject, and creation is the object. God is the cause, and creation is the effect. This duality is common to all worlds, the heavens, the earth and the underworlds.

If you focus upon the diversity of the world, you remain distracted and disturbed, as you become involved with worldly objects and develop a strong, positive or negative attachment or relationship with them. This outwardness of your mind and senses is the chief cause of your misery and bondage.

One should therefore cultivate detachment and withdraw into oneself to experience peace and happiness. In other words, you must withdraw from the external worship of God’s creation and worldly objects into yourself to practice the internal worship of God himself.

The Yoga Sutras also affirm the same. Indeed, it does not recognize any gods but only the eternal Self, the lord (Isvara) of the world within, suggesting that yogis should engage their minds in his contemplation to suppress their internal modifications (vrittis). Engaging the mind in the contemplation of the Self is the true worship, and devotional service to God (Isvara paridhana) is the best means to experience self-absorption (Samadhi). Let your mind constantly revolve around (paridhana) Isvara until it is fully absorbed in him without any duality or modification.

Isvara aradhana is the external, ritual worship of God, and Isvara paridhana is his internal, meditative worship. Both are important, but the latter is superior. Any practice of yoga, without the Isvara paridhana, or without reverential focus upon the Self, is like an empty ritual. It is the same as visiting a temple to admire its beauty or architecture, without visiting the deity who resides in its sanctum and offering your worship. It is the same as worshipping gods and demigods, without worshipping the highest God. Worshipping them is good karma, but not good enough for your liberation or self-absorption.

The same principle applies to the practice of yoga also. If you only worship your body in yoga and focus your effort on only doing the postures (asanas) and improving your physical Wellbeing, you may reap some benefits but you will not be fully benefited by its transformative and healing power. You will learn only the superficial aspects of yoga but cannot fathom the depths of your inner subtle worlds where your Self, (Isvara) shines brightly like a thousand suns and where you experience tranquility and equanimity.

Physical yoga may make you stronger and healthier, but not stable and self-aware. It may increase your pride and self-esteem but not discerning intelligence. With that approach you will remain a living being (jiva) but not a divine being (Shiva). It may cure your lethargy or a few ailments, but does not fully liberate you from suffering or remove your subtle impurities or latent impressions.

In Hatha Yoga also you will find a similar theme. You will learn that Shiva is your essential reality and in the silence between two points of physical or mental noise you will find him hiding. To reach him and become free, you may use your mind and body as the means but you must not become stuck in them or in the noise they produce. Silence is the door through which you will find Shiva, hidden within yourself. In the silence of your mind, you discover yourself.

You will experience silence when you set your mind free from the din and the demands of egoism, moral judgment, social conditioning, fear, desires, likes and dislikes, and anything that holds you in chains. Yoga is the means for Isvara paridhana, which leads to oneness with him. In Karma yoga, you use selfless actions, and in Jnana yoga, knowledge. In Buddhiyoga, you rely upon your intelligence, and in Atma samyama yoga you practice contemplation. These are the different facets of the highest yoga, which is the yoga of liberation. In all the approaches, the ultimate aim is to set yourself free from the shackles of the mind and body and attain oneness with the Self.

The Soul in you is Isvara, who is also the lord of the universe (Maheswara). You are thus a breathing and living God, or God in a human body. However, until you overcome duality and delusion, you are an ignorant and deluded God, with unlimited potential.

To realize your divine nature beyond duality and doubt, you must purify your mind and body and overcome delusion and ignorance. When you are pure and stable, the divine qualities (daiva lakshanas) manifest in you, and your Self shines in you like a jewel in a transparent and clean vessel.

Whether it is the ritual worship or the worship through yoga, the ultimate purpose is to achieve this noble goal. In the Bhagavadgita, you will find the integrated, holistic approach with God as the teacher and the goal. It teaches you that the world is a battlefield (Kurukshetra). So is your body. Your mind is the chariot. You are the individual soul. If you make God the controller of your life and worship him with devotion, he becomes the charioteer of your mind and helps you when you seek his guidance or help.

This is the message of the Bhagavadgita. You cannot escape from bondage without divine help and without making the necessary effort. You must have the discernment to know where and how to engage your mind in the service of God and in the sacrifice of your life for your liberation. Your purpose here is to manifest your divineness and your oneness with God or the Self through virtue, righteous conduct, selfless-service, and obligatory duties.

The Bhagavadgita contains a whole chapter on Purusha and Prakriti and their relationship. Both are described in it as the Kshetrajna (owner of the field) and Kshetra (the field). Prakriti is the womb of the material universe. She is the deluding and concealing power. God is its seed, the enlightening and revealing power. Life manifests only when they come together and remain united. If you want to escape from here, you must break this relationship within you and become free from the deluding influence of Prakriti. For that you must achieve true mastery over the Field and become its true controller (Kshetrajna).

The Purusha symbolism of the Samhitas and the Upanishads is a strong reminder that in their eagerness to perform ritual worship or sacrificial ceremonies to appease gods people should not forget the highest God, who resides in all as the ultimate enjoyer, witness and recipient of all offerings. He should be their ultimate goal, even when they are engaged in righteous duties.

As the Isa Upanishad declares, God’s devotees should lead a holistic life, worshipping both the gods and the highest God, performing their duties and sacrifices, so that with the help of both they will ascend to the highest heaven instead of falling down into the sunless worlds. It is stated in the following verse.

Andham tamah pravisanti ye'vidyam upasate;
tato bhuya iva te tamo ya u vidyayam ratah.

It means, those who worship the knowledge of sacrifices enter into blinding darkness, but into greater darkness enter those who worship the knowledge of the Self alone.

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