The Right Way to Worship Hindu Gods

Breath control

by Jayaram V

Each deity in Hinduism represents a certain force. They have specific duties and powers to promote and uphold Dharma and ensure the order and regularity of the worlds. They also exist in the microcosm of our minds and bodies as subtle forces or energies and help us in our thoughts and actions. As upholders of Dharma and representing Brahman in their purest aspects, they help devotees achieve fulfillment in their lives by grating their wishes, according to their faith, conduct, devotion, service, sacrifices and karma.

The sacred relationship between gods and humans

We do not know how many divinities exist in God’s creation. Considering the dimensions of the universe, the number must be very large. They do not necessarily manifest all at a time. Some may manifest and withdraw in each epoch (yuga), and some may remain in our collective consciousness for a long time or until the end of time. They may also reappear in future time cycles. It is also possible that newer gods may appear or evolve from humans and attract a large of number of devotees. Lord Balaji of Tirumala is a good example.

Their presence and absence and effectiveness may also depend upon how strongly they are worshipped and remembered by people on earth. As the Vedas affirm, gods depend upon humans for nourishment. Since they are so pure, they do not make food for themselves. They nourish the whole earth by controlling and directing natural phenomena, but they do not nourish themselves unless they receive it from others as an offering. Even that has to come through Agni who purifies it in his fires and makes it worthy for them.

If gods do not receive enough attention and devotion from humans, they may withdraw or become ineffective. They may stop answering our prayers or granting our wishes or protecting us from evil and harm. In many ways, it is similar to what happens when you ignore your friends and relation or do not pay them attention. They gradually withdraw or move away. Gods are similar to humans in many respects, except that they are purer and possess great powers.

They respond to your calls and prayers according to your devotion and sincerity. However, if you do not respect them or pay them attention, they will withdraw from your active consciousness and become silent. If a large number of people do not worship them, they may even withdraw from earth consciousness and become unreachable. Therefore, if gods do not answer your prayers or grant your wishes, the fault may be at your end. See whether anything is lacking on your part or like many worldly people, you remember them only when you have a problem or a need.

As the Bhagavadgita states, those devotees are dearer to God, who remember him always, whether they need him or not. If you want to uphold and strengthen Hindu Dharma, you should not stop worshipping gods or nourishing them through prayers and offerings. By your devotion, you help them remain active in our consciousness and helps us in our times of need. In this regard, daily prayers, contemplative practices and mental worship (manasa puja) are as effective as making physical offerings through sacrificial ceremonies and ritual worship. The creator has made gods and humans dependent upon each other, so that with each devotional thought you energize gods, and they in turn energize you.

Because of that, humans have a great opportunity to increase the power and glory of gods through devotional practice and even elevate their status in the pantheon. By that, they also do a great service to others since energized by our devotion, gods grow stronger and effectively shield our world from evil forces. If the world has more pious people, gods will be more active in our plane. On the contrary, if more people fall into evil ways and neglect their moral and religious duties, gods will withdraw and leave the earth to evil forces, which will result in chaos and suffering. This is true with regard to not only the world outside but also the world within us.

Image worship

According to some Vaishnava schools, an image of a god is a living manifestation or incarnation (arca) of him. You have to cultivate the same reverential attitude towards the image as you show to the god if he truly manifests in front of you in a physical form. They also believe that the power and glory of such images grow in proportion to the offerings we make and the devotion we show. The images which are worshipped by a large number of people and receive large quantities of ritual and spiritual offerings possess greater powers to grant our wishes than those who do not receive the same devotion or attention.

It is why certain ancient Hindu temples attract a large number of devotees throughout the year. The deities in them possess enormous attractive power and command a large following. That power is enhanced daily by a retinue of officiating priests who attend upon them with relentless devotion, treating them as royal guests. From their architectural design one can see that Hindu temples are not built to serve as mere places of worship, but as energy centers or spiritual power houses. They generate a lot of spiritual aura, and thereby contribute to the material and spiritual welfare of the people who worship the deities or live nearby.

While devotees have a unique opportunity to endear themselves to gods through ritual and sacrificial worship, the gods have an opportunity to reciprocate their love and devotion. They do so by helping them in various ways, alleviating their problems or suffering, or granting them peace, prosperity, happiness, good health, knowledge, wisdom, intelligence, progeny, name and fame, and so on. They also protect them from evil influences and adversity. The gods possess enormous manifesting power. It is up to the devotees how they can harness it, without hurting themselves or their chances of liberation.

Each god in the Hindu pantheon represents a certain aspect of creation. They possess specific powers which are natural to their roles and functions and which they use to help their devotees in specific ways according to their desires and prayers. They do it in the macrocosm as forces of creation and in the microcosm of each being as organs and abilities.

Worshipping Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva

You can use this knowledge to seek divine help and augment your own power and potential to achieve your worldly goals or work for your liberation. For example, if you want to abide in Dharma or improve your scriptural, spiritual and ritual knowledge and cultivate insightful wisdom, you should worship Brahma, the lord of the mind and intelligence. If you invoke him correctly with right attitude and aspiration, he can open your mind to the knowledge of our scriptures and endow you with superior intelligence and higher mental faculties. He and goddess Saraswathi, his associate shakti, can make you skillful, knowledgeable and efficient in your chosen profession or field and attain excellence on the path of knowledge and duty (jnana karma). If you are a student, he is the deity for you.

Dharma is one of the chief aims of human life. It helps you cultivate discernment (buddhi). However, you cannot live by Dharma alone. You also need Artha (wealth) to perform your obligatory duties as a householder to serve God and fulfill his aims upon earth. However, wealth brings in its wake many problems and can potentially draw you into selfish, materialistic and egoistic pursuits. When you earn wealth, you need the predominance of sattva and divine qualities to keep your balance and remain humble and focused on the path of selfless service (karma sanyasa) and devotion (bhakti)

For that, you should worship Lord Vishnu or any of his numerous manifestations and incarnations. If you approach them correctly with humility, devotion and sincerity, Lord Vishnu and goddess Lakshmi, his associate shakti, will grant you peace and prosperity. They protect you from harm and evil. A devout householder, who is pure in his heart, is a personification of Lord Vishnu. His abode is verily a sacred place, Vaikuntha. He serves God as his true servant (Bhagavata), with his mind engaged in devotional thoughts.

There is another important aim in life namely the fulfillment of sexual desire or desires in general (Kama) to ensure the continuation of the family and the world and to assist souls in their rebirth. However, just as wealth, sex is also a minefield which can potentially cause your spiritual downfall. You cannot pursue the goal of fulfilling your sexual desires, without having control over your raw passions and emotions and without restraining your mind and senses.

Further, your sexual desire or passion can easily be penetrated by evil thoughts and transformed into lust. To avoid it, you have to gain control over your mind and body and stabilize your mind. For that, you have to practice yoga and engage your mind in the contemplation of the Self (atma samaya). With practice and by knowing the distinction between the true self and the physical self, you will gain mastery and self-control over your thoughts, passions and emotions.

However, you cannot do it alone. You will face many difficulties and obstacles as you try to control and regulate your natural and sexual urges. Your mind and body resist the change and turn against you. You will experience restlessness as you are assailed by lustful thoughts and negative tendencies. The best way to resolve this problem is by seeking the help and protection of Lord Shiva.

He is the right deity, the lord of the mind and body, the true Yogi, the eternal Sadhu, who can dispel the darkness (tamas) in you and can grant you the power to control your sexuality, lustful thoughts, raw passions and emotions. By contemplating upon him and seeking his help, protection and intervention, you can stabilize your mind in the contemplation of the Self.

Similarly, you can worship other gods and goddesses of Hinduism and seek their help. For example, Ganesha can help you cultivate knowledge, strength and discernment to overcome obstacles such as confusion, delusion and fear, which prevent you from achieving success. Hanuman can instill qualities such as courage, faith, purity, strength and devotion which can help you engage in karma sannyasa yoga as a householder and qualify for liberation.

If you have problems from enemies or experiencing hostile astral attacks or if you have negative and aggressive tendencies which may be hurting your relationships, you can surrender to goddess Durga and pray to her to cleanse and transform your mind and body. Each of our gods and goddesses can help you in specific ways to perform your duties in worldly life and achieve liberation in spiritual life. If you meditate upon them and persist in your enquiry, they will reveal to you how they can help you in your material and spiritual well-being.

Worshipping as a renunciant, Sanyasi

However, you cannot continue your worldly ways forever or engage in desire-ridden actions to nourish your ego. At some point, you have to withdraw your attention from worldly life and householder’s duties and turn to Moksha. As your knowledge and experience grow, you will realize the need for cultivating virtues such as detachment, renunciation and deeper spirituality and become free.

When you realize that material things do not guarantee permanent happiness, stability or security, you will become introspective and turn your attention to liberation. This is an important turning point in anyone’s life, and a good opportunity to unwind and unburden oneself. However, only a few manage to make the transition as smooth and effortless as possible. Others struggle without success. They may either give up or keep looking for alternative solutions.

If liberation is the aim, one should not engage in desire-ridden actions or worship lower gods. Seekers of liberation on the path of renunciation should not worship any deities ritually or spiritually to satisfy their desires or obtain material gains. They should worship only Isvara, the highest, supreme God of all without any desires and expectations,and engage their minds in his contemplation. Alternatively, they may worship a personal deity such as Shiva or Vishnu or Krishna as Isvara. They are the only two options available to them. They should also renounce the fruit of any sacrificial worship in which they may participate.

The gods are not obligated to help renunciants and seekers of liberation who engage in austerities (tapah) and self-purification. The scriptures allude to it. The gods are friends and benefactors of householder, but not renunciants and ascetic people who strive liberation. They are not pleased with those who abandon their household duties and seek liberation or attain immortality. Therefore, rather than helping them on the path, they actively create obstacles and distractions to slow down their progress and prevent them from reaching their goal.

To attain the seedless (nirbija) state of self-absorption (samadhi), all forms and formations must disappear from your mind. In the preliminary stages, until you attain purity and overcome your imperfections and weaknesses, you may worship ritually as well as spiritually Isvara or Shakti in any form and seek his or her protection. However, in the advanced stages, you have to renounce all names and forms and worship only the formless, infinite, indestructible, absolute Brahman as your very Self. Only by that, you will transcend the modes and dissolve your mind in the supreme, infinite consciousness. This is the standard practice in both right hand (vedachara) and left hand (vamachara) practices.

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