God : With Form or Without Form?
The Attributeless Being is the Highest Reality. So should we worship God only this way, or is it okay to worship God with a Form and Name? There are so many Gods and Goddesses, Forms, Names and Symbols and Attributes. Why? These baffling questions are probably raised in the minds of many.
It seems to me that worshipping God in both these ways are good and necessary at different stages of one’s spiritual development and mental inclinations. Different solutions are needed for different problems.
Let’s take a simple example of a City with people of different ages and mental capabilities. And let’s say the goal is to get a PhD degree. A rare few geniuses may be eligible to pursue PhD even as a child or teenager. But typically little kids have to learn the alphabet and basic numbers in Elementary School. Elementary School kids cannot learn complicated subjects that only Junior High or High School students can. In the same way, there are steps for Under Graduate, Graduate, PhD etc. Therefore, can we say that since PhD program is available and that is the Goal, anyone can directly join the PhD program, whether they are capable or not? The truth is, everyone has to educate themselves according to a certain combination of their age, capacities, mental framework and preference. When they are ready, they can pursue their ultimate goal. So the City has to have schools all the way from Kindergarten to the Highest Education.
The same applies to Religion and Spirituality too. Not everyone can directly worship the Supreme Reality that has no attributes and which is all-pervading Being and Bliss. The Sanatana Dharma – the Eternal Way of Life in India – allows ways of worship to God at every phase of life. It caters to all ages, all temperaments, all levels of abilities, all preferences, even though the end goal or aim is one – true liberation from sorrows, realization of the Real Self. All the others kind of worships apart from the transcendental, can be said to be supplementary aids to achieve the Goal.
It is not easy for everyone to think of something or someone without a form or name, especially children. It is easy to contemplate when one associates the Highest with a Divine Form or Name or Symbol of preference. There are phases and stages of development too. A person who loves worshipping God with a Form may later prefer to meditate on the sound of OM, or perhaps just do Self-Enquiry. So Hinduism addresses all of this. It is complete. It does not leave anyone hanging out there without suitable guidance.
To put it in a nutshell, here are the words of the Great Sage, Sri Ramana Maharshi.
D.: Has God a form?
M.: Who says so?
D.: Well, if God has no form is it proper to worship idols?
M.: Leave God alone because He is unknown. What about you? Have you a form?
D.: Yes. I am this and so and so.
M.: So then, you are a man with limbs, about three and a half cubits high, with beard, etc. Is it so?
M.: Then do you find yourself so in deep sleep?
D.: No, I am the subtle jiva within the gross body.
M.: So you see that you are really formless; but you are at present identifying yourself with the body. So long as you are formful why should you not worship the formless God as being formful?
Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi
25th December, 1935
Below is another discussion on the same subject with Sri Ramana Maharshi
D.: Idol worship does not seem good. They worship the formless God in Islam.
M.: What is their conception of God?
D.: As Immanence, etc.
M.: Is not God even then endowed with attributes? Form is only one kind of attribute. One cannot worship God without some notions. Any bhavana premises a God with attributes (saguna). Moreover, where is the use of discussing the form or formlessness of God? Find out if you have a form. You can then understand God.
Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi
6th April, 1937
Below is one more conversation with Sri Ramana Maharshi.
A visitor asked Sri Bhagavan: People give some names to God and say that the name is sacred and repetitions of the name bestow merit on the individual. Can it be true?
M.: Why not? You bear a name to which you answer. But your body was not born with that name written on it, nor did it say to anyone that it bore such and such a name. And yet a name is given to you and you answer to that name, because you have identified yourself with the name. Therefore, the name signifies something and it is not a mere fiction. Similarly, God’s name is effective. Repetition of the name is remembrance of what it signifies. Hence its merit.
But the man did not look satisfied. Finally he wanted to retire and prayed for Sri Bhagavan’s Grace.
Sri Bhagavan now asked how mere sounds assuring him of Grace would satisfy him unless he had faith.
Both laughed and the visitor retired.