What Does A Deity Represent?

Is the Hindu Pantheon Founded on Superstition?


Times out of number the Hindus have been dubbed as superstitious on this one question of deities. In fact, for the sake of the deities and their representations in the form of idols, Hinduism has suffered widespread condemnation at the hands of its opponents. What is really the basis of this grand structure of the Hindu Pantheon, what the deities really represent, whether the conception of godhead is really part of the superstitious belief, are some of the questions which often exercise the religious mind, and therefore an explanation seems desirable.

There is a great variety of misconceptions prevalent in modern times with regard to the conception of godhead, not only in Hinduism but also in Buddhism. Most people consider the deity to be nothing more than an idol, and they wonder why so many intelligent men waste their time and money in offering worship to such an idol. The Europeans seem to be surprised at finding even litigations going on in the courts of justice for the possession of idols, which, to them, are nothing more than stones. It is a wonder how, in spite of all the abuses showered on these deities and idols, this custom of worshipping deities still survives, not only in India but in almost all countries in Asia. What is the reason for this wonderful potency of idol-worship?

Spirit in Stone

The deities are connected intimately with the Sadhana and Siddhi, and the conception of godhead is an essentially spiritual matter. Therefore, it is not so much the idol or the piece of stone that really matters, but the spirit that is embodied in it, along with all the associations in the human mind pertaining to that particular deity.

The Sadhana, as is well-known, is concerned with the procedure for worshipping a particular deity. This consists in sitting in meditation in a quiet place, away from crowds, and there practising Yoga till a certain state is brought about. In this state the ascetic communes with the Infinite Spirit, or the inexhaustible store-house of energy, which is supposed to be the spirit which created the world -structure. The ascetic, by this communion, draws forth energy from that inexhaustible store-house of energy and becomes powerful himself. This process of the realization of the Infinite Spirit is what is called Sadhana, and when this Sadhana is practiced for a long time with great devotion the ascetic is able to obtain certain supernormal powers, which are called Siddhis, or perfections.

These perfections are of many kinds and include revival of the dead, omniscience, miraculous, movements, flying in the air, and so forth. Altogether thirty-two kinds of Siddhis are generally recognized, and when an ascetic obtains several of these supernormal powers he is called a Siddha or a Supernormal Being. In the Tantras three different types of Siddhas are enumerated, the High, Middling and Low. * According to the author, the Tantras are spiritual Vidyas (sciences) giving directions for a variety of psychic exercises. These lead to the Siddhis by way of Sadhana, but only a few students are suited to the pursuit of this science since prerequisites include a guru who has perfected himself in all the practices, a knowledge of all branches of yoga, and unusual devotion and will power. The highest type of Siddhas are called the Mahasiddhas, and they are able to fulfil all their desires as soon as they feel them.

"It is not so much the idol or the piece of stone that really matters, but the spirit that is embodied in it, along with all the associations in the human mind pertaining to that particular deity." An idol may help the devotee to visualize the deity which, to him, symbolizes God's power or love. For deities are only "embodiments of the Infinite."

In this particular branch of the Indian sciences the process for the realization of the deity, or even the conception of deities, is very detailed. But here we shall only point out that when the Jivatma (the individual soul) commingles with the Paramatma (the Infinite) in one of the high Yogic states it is like the switching on of electricity. The mind-sky is filled with innumerable visions and scenes, until at last, like sparks, the individual visualizes letters or the germ syllables, which gradually assume the shape of deities, first indistinct, then changing into perfect, glorious and living beings-the embodiments of the Infinite. These beings are known as deities, and, once visualized, the deity never leaves the ascetic, but becomes instrumental in giving the ascetic more and more spiritual powers. This process of visualization is described in several well-known works.

Why Variety Exists

The nature of the Jivatma being finite, it is not possible to realize the Infinite in its entirety; that is to say, the result of the mystic experience of the Jivatma also remains finite. And as the object for which the worshipper sits in meditation is different in different cases, the deity visualized also becomes different. It is the Bhavana of the worshipper, which is of the nature of a psychic force, which reacts on the Infinite Energy, giving rise to different manifestations according to the nature of the reaction.

The nature of this reaction is of illimitable variety, and, therefore, the resultant deity also appears in an infinite variety of forms, and this is the chief reason why we find innumerable gods and goddesses in the pantheons of the Hindus and the Buddhists. The ascetic who visualizes a particular deity generally makes it a rule to describe the deity, and the particular process by which this visualization took place, for the benefit of his disciples, so that the latter may realize the deity in the easiest and the most efficient manner.

If these mystic experiences of such profound philosophical import can be called superstition, and the ascetics who visualized them idol-worshippers, so let it be. Reason, surely, will not support the theory.-Kalyana-Kalpatau.

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