Yantras, Mantras, & Murtis – OH MY

I’ve been thinking about something lately. Transcendance. I’ve known of or have been a part of a number of groups who ultimately forego all images of the Divine – not unlike Muslims. The Sahaj Marg is a prime example: Clearly Hindu. And yet essentially shuns all images of the Truth and has even been known to resist the label of “Hindu.” The reasoning, in digest version, is that these end up being things that bog down the human soul’s progress toward growth. Since attachments are essentially what keep us here, no murtis mean one less attachment.

Of course, everyone recognizes the value of an external focus. In the context of spirituality, or personal development in general, we (at least) start out being helped by external focus points. We pray to crucifixes, or statues, among other ritualistic suchery. In the beginning, this serves us well. It helps us to bring ourselves out of the claustrophobic encasement built by the mind and ego. First we learn to recognize Truth as separate from ourselves – in God, in our religion, in humanity. And as we grow that recognition, and serve It, we (hopefully) eventually come full circle and realize that the Self we see in God, our religion, in humanity – is within us. In fact, IS us. Sometimes you have to leave home in order to return. This can, of course, lead to issues if one fails to continue growing and persistently relies on that Other. As long as that Other is viewed as the Other and not one’s Self (which would change everything entirely), peace can never fully be realized. The Other is what this post is meant to be about.

In Hinduism, one has more freedom than anywhere else to choose their path to God and that includes the Shape they perceive God to have. Resultantly, Hinduism arguably offers the widest range of established Shapes. The Shape I’m most inclined toward, at least currently, is Ganesha.

I’ve been reading through “Loving Ganesha,” by Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami. It’s a fairly immense book, although not endless. As I’m working through it for about the fourth time, and thoroughly enjoying every word of the Satguru’s, I began to wonder about all this… structure. And it came to me: What if I had no Ganesha murtis? Could I not perform the pujas in the book? Would it be useless to chant the Ganesha Sahasranam if I only had access to a murti of Vishnu? What if I knew only Vishnu puja, but had only a murti of Kali?

I already knew the answer according to my typical logical workings and my own personal tradition centered around Ganesha, but I decided to ask others for their input. After all, THOUSANDS of years of contributions have gone into the development of what we know to be murtis and puja formulations. One can find tome after tome of Scripture detailing exactly why you do what you do and how to do it. Why does one use red flowers in Ganesha puja as opposed to dark purple ones? Did you know that each murti, when formally created, must adhere to very strict guidelines or it’s considered flawed? Have you ever paid attention to the Sanskrit sounds produced during one mantra or Sahasranama, versus another? You’re meant to be conducting very specific energies, and so you’re supposed to be forming very specialized sounds with your mouth. The same can be noticed in the various mudras employed by temple priests when performing pujas for the temple’s deity. From a standpoint of orthodoxy (which I’ve been known to pick and choose from), any aspiring pujari needs to know these things – and many others! – if he’s to be taken seriously by the community he hopes to serve. I’ve found that most Hindus might not know the exact right way about worship, but they can invariably discern the “wrong” way.

One source of input on this topic has come from the friend I mention frequently. Although I’m not sure I’ve put this exact question to him, the response has typically been that too much could be lost among the details and that one shouldn’t necessarily compromise what’s in the heart for the sake of the ritual itself. In theory, I’d agree with this. It’s a little more bhakti-centric than I was hoping for and than I am inclined to accept entirely, but the meat of that answer is something good for chewing.

To gain additional perspective, I took this question to a closed Facebook group I belong to for LGBT Hindus. Initially, some seemed puzzled by my question. This is almost certainly my fault, as I tried to keep the wording to a minimum for the sake of brevity. Some answers received were quite general and along the lines of, “Whatever your tradition allows is fine.” Yep. That’s true. No argument there. Additional sentiment received was similarly bhakti-centered, “You can worship any form of God through any form of God, as long as your heart is in it.” Fine. Fair enough. Again, I don’t disagree.

Still, I’m looking for something more substantial than heart-felt emotion. Something more calculated – like Hinduism itself. After all, the very religion we Hindus adhere to isn’t exactly a religion of the heart. I mean, sure, it is. But to say Hinduism is a religion of the heart would be an incredible disservice. Anywhere one looks within Hinduism, we see structure and knowledge. THIS is the house we Hindus live in. Everything, literally everything, is precise. The Sanskrit language we speak and chant in, mudras, yantras, mantras, and yes, the very shape of our temples and murtis are all exactly and precisely and concretely revealed and formulated. The rishis didn’t “feel” or “love” Sanskrit mantras into being. Mantras have a scientific and verifiable connection to the universe. The rishis transcended emotion and tapped into these deep, real, and concrete mysteries and just as systematically provided them to us. I digress?

So what if we were to ignore the structure provided for us by our beloved rishis? Would that mean Ganesha puja performed with a Hanuman yantra or a murti of Brahma is negated? If it doesn’t mean that, then what is the exact value of the effort (aka those very yantras, mantras, and murtis) of those rishis thousands of years ago and what does that mean for the current and future face of Hinduism? Could there be detrimental effects of this kind of mish-mashing? There are certainly tales of malevolent effects of misused, or even just mispronounced, mantras – even including spinal paralysis!

If I can say this without sounding condescending, I think the group I posted this question in isn’t used to questions that force one to go so deep into the value of things. In fact, 99% of the entre response thread that resulted was contributed by a Kraishnav who spent two-thirds of his entire effort in the conversation simply trying to convert me to his sect, saying that I should not only read the Gita “AS It Is,” but that my question is bogus and all worship of the so-called demi-gods goes to Krishna anyway. I really wanted to spit.

At any rate, a concrete and educated answer from other sects remains elusive and my hope for a substantial dialogue with others to deeply discuss this remains unfulfilled. Maybe I’ll try again later.

Om Shri Mahaganeshaya Namaha
Om Shanti


3 responses to “Yantras, Mantras, & Murtis – OH MY

  1. Wow, you know I messaged you earlier about a certain form of Ganesha and a Ganesha/Hanuman mashup, today, without even knowing you were writing about this. After reading this I am fairly well inclined to let my local priest do the pujaing and stick to meditation at home.

    For a pujari/pandit who is serving a Hindu community I would say it is of utmost importance that the pujas are understood correctly and in full and certain guidelines are followed. But for individuals, each on his own path, I would argue that if one has a murti of Kali and one is drawn only to the protective/preserving qualities of Vishnu, then I would say one could worship through the use of that Murti as a focal point and there would be no problem. Because Kali and VIshnu are both the essence of Brahman when it comes down to it. Nothing would be “negated” per one of your questions you posed in this post.

    I would disagree that the Rishis didnt “feel” when coming to their great conclusions. But I dont know that. The point is that you are correct that we very well can do a disservice by disregarding what they sent down the ages to us. WHich is why my answer to your great, immense and elaborate dilemma in this post is this: I would say that if it is one’s intention to be doing a full-on, genuine puja, then one would do well to actually do it as instructed. But all sincere offerings are accepted, as Bhagavan Krishna said in the Gita.

    Lemme know if I am not getting to the heart of the matter of your concerns.


    • Vasu,

      1) Re: You comment about sticking to meditation at home and letting the actual priest handle puja – Nonsense! Certainly deities are more “easily pleased” and errors in pujas apparently don’t offend them as much as with other deities. But that doesn’t mean you should back off on pujas. I’d suggest either simplifying when it comes to puja/deity, or learn more.

      2) I fully agree with your second point using Kali/Vishnu. Ultimately, the essence of what you’re saying here is what I use to guide my actions in pujas, and hope you do also. However, this is the “bhakti answer” to this question, and something that I not only find to be fully true, but also typical of this Yuga – which makes me question it.

      3) I think I should admit that the rishis likely did “feel” more than I suggested in this post. My point was more that Hinduism doesn’t emote/feel its revelations. Feeling is certainly part of the process. But if you were to entirely remove the “feeling” component of Hinduism, you’d still be left with an eternally immense religion that was all the same in touch with the many higher sciences currently used to prove the material plane of existence. As such, while it has its own wonderful value, that “feeling” component seems a bit more disposable when it comes to the larger religio-spiritual picture of Hinduism. (I also think that the fact that bhakti is promoted at “The Path” during the Kali Yuga is sadly indicative, as well as the fact that the Kali Yuga is the shortest of all the Yugas.)

      Thanks for your feedback, bhai!


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