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