Hinduism is a religion where idol worship is integral. But for a lot of people this idea is hard to grasp. After all how can God be confined to an idol? Because the idea of the infinite in the finite can feel like a paradox to many. They think of pictures/idols containing something. Like a vessel holding something where the problem arises.
Ramakrishna Paramhansa once answered this question. He had said the infinite is both with form and without form. But for the human mind to grasp the infinite is often difficult. So one uses the form to go beyond the form. In fact there is a rather interesting and funny story. During one of Swami Vivekananda’s travels, he was staying with a royal family. Some of the Ministers asked him about idol worship. And they seemed to be rather critical about it.
Swamiji didn’t say a word. He just turned around and started speaking ill looking at the picture of the Maharaja that was hanging in the room. The ministers were horrified and even angry, how could he disrespect the king! Swamiji then calmly turned around and said you got offended ,but that is just a picture, a piece of paper. Why are you offended then? But that picture represents the idea of your King, it brings forth respect in your mind when you see it. It is the same with any idol or image of a saint.
Any worshipped idol or picture goes beyond just the idea of representation though. They also carry energy patterns which can be accessed and felt.
The Holy Mother Sharada Devi (Ramakrishna Paramahansa’s wife) used to tell the devotees to always carry a picture of Thakur (Ramakrishna). She always told them he is there, he is listening, because any image or idol starts carries the essence of the person and subtle energy. I am not talking about idols in temples where pran pratishtha is done. There of course the energy is more palpable. But even simple pictures that we carry of our Guru or deity and which we worship start emanating a energy.
Another story that comes to mind is of the Kali temple in Dakhineshwer. This was the temple where Sri Ramakrishna was the priest. For him the mother was not an idol but she was alive. Now one day the idol got slightly damaged and everyone was in a fluster as what to do. Should they get a new idol. Finally when Sri Ramakrishna was asked , he turned around and told Rani Rashmoni c(She had ordered the temple to be built and she was devout and pious lady). If your son-in-law breaks his leg will you throw him in the river? That answered the question. Till date the same idol is worshipped in the Kali temple.
There is another story where Paramhansa Yogananda once sat down to meditate in this very temple. Suddenly he found everything insignificant in the room except the idol. The idol and the temple both seemed to be enlarged. And how suddenly the idol turned into the divine mother.
Paramahansa Yoganada speaks of how the essence of a spiritual guru or the chosen deity is captured in images. He says if you tend to meditate on the eyes of the chosen deity or Guru (gaze into the eyes of a photograph) you slowly start imbibing the good sattvic/power qualities of the person. I am sure many of you would have read The Autobiography of a Yogi, that book is the highest selling book ever. But if you see the picture of Yogananda on it, the eyes seem to be alive. So many millions of books printed yet the gaze holds the same intensity.
The subtle energies of spiritually evolved people are not just restricted to photographs and idols. It also permeates through their writings. The Mother (Pondicherry Ashram) has mentioned this many times in her writings.
She speaks of receiving guidance from books which have been written by spiritual value. She says sometimes when you are troubled or just need guidance. Hold the thought, ask the question and with paper knife just slide it into the book ,the page you chose and the sentence that you see first which the paper knife is pointing at (can’t be any book, a book which has evolved spiritual thoughts) will be the answer you are looking at.
I have experienced this many times. But one incident that comes to mind, was when I was in Pondicherry. I was in the Aurobindo ashram and was looking to buy some books. I didn’t have a lot of time on hand, to top it, it was raining and I had kept the autowallah bhaiyya waiting. The book shop would close in twenty minutes and I was leaving the next day. But there were endless books to choose from. I didn’t know what to pick. I was totally muddled. And then I randomly opened a book (by the mother) and the first line that I read on a random page I had turned to was “You will find the answers”. That was it, I bought the book without any hesitation.
This is probably why we are all get drawn to powerful spiritual writings. I learnt about Om Swamiji through his blog. The words carried a subtle energy even though I had never seen him. They were enough to guide help me.
Writing about the energy idols hold, one particular story comes to mind. This refers to a Shiv linga consecrated by Haidakhan Baba. I am not going into detail about who he is, that would need a separate mail. He appears in different places and different times. There is not much known about how and when he appears. In his last human form he appeared in a village called Haidakhan, He constructed a temple opposite the cave he was found in. And this temple has a three faced Shiv Linga. And it is said it breathes. I have never been there , but the few accounts I have read about this Shiv linga, is if you touch it you can feel the heart beat. And for a cautious devotee you can hear the heat beat.
Maybe one day I will go visit this temple. Imagine listening to Shiva’s heart beat!!!