The Vedas say na tasya pratima asti. Then why do we worship the Deities and the laminations of the Deities?
Transcription By: Sudha Mehta Mataji
Edited by: HG Murlidhar Prabhu
Question: In The Vedas it is said that the “natasyapratimaasti“. There is no material representation of the absolute then why do we worship the Deities and the laminations of the Deities?
Answer: We have to look at the full context of the Vedic statement to understand what Pratima means. When the Vedas are talking about Pratima primarily they are contrasting the absolute truth with material things.The main point is that the form of the absolute truth is not material and in that sense there is no material representation of the absolute truth. But there is a whole body of Vedic literature called the Pancharatraswhere the concept of deity is mentioned and elaborated. In fact the Pancharatras primarily focuses on deity worship. So there are two broad spiritual paths talked about in the Vedic literature 1) one is the negation of matter for attainment of spirit and the other is the 2) utilisation of the matter as a pathway to the spirit.
So the Vedanta, especially the Upanishads, takes the first path,theJnanamarga or the rejection of matter, for the sake of attainment of the spirit and that is why in the Upanishad the primary focus is on establishing and glorifying the spiritual reality by contrasting it with material reality and rejecting all material attributes with respect to the spiritual reality.
This is an important path but at the same time the Bhakti path which is the conclusion of the Upanishads is mentioned but not elaborated in the Upanishads. Bhakti is elaborated in the Itihaas and Puranas and there it is very clearly mentioned that although the absolute truth is spiritual it is not that we have to reject all matter. Matter can also be used as a path way for spirit and one such path way is the deity;so deity is not considered a material representation but a spiritual manifestation.
To understand the difference between a material representation and a spiritual manifestation we have to understand two kinds of symbolism 1) Ascending symbolism and 2) Descending symbolism.
Ascending symbolism means that there is an abstract concept which one wants to reach and because one cannot reach the abstract concept, one creates a concrete symbol as a means or as a tool for reaching that abstract concept, for example Nationality and Patriotism. So that is an abstract concept and because this needs a concrete symbol we have a flag. Thus by looking at the flag and by saluting the flag one gets patriotic and nationalistic feelings which would not be so easy to invoke without the symbol. In this case the connection between the symbol and the concept is primarily in our conceptualization or in our imagination that is why it is said ascending there is no intrinsic connection. Say India has a tri colour flag but in the future the Parliament decides or the Government decides that now agriculture doesn’t play a major role in our nation and therefore we don’t need the green colour; hence can we make a bi colour flag? We can, because there is no intrinsic connection between tri-color and nationality.
This is the kind of materially concocted form which is rejected by the “natasyapratimaasti” verse; that one cannot by one’s own imaginations create a material representation of the Absolute truth. At the same time in the Bhakti literature for example the Caitanyacaritamrta says “Pratimana hi tumisakshatvrajendranandan”; the devotee when he is holding the deity and praying to the deity he is saying you are not a Pratima you are not a material representation You are the Supreme Lord- You are a Spiritual Manifestation. Hence to understand the concept of spiritual manifestation we have to understand the concept of Descending symbolism
In descending symbolism there is a higher reality and there is a (representation) symbol that connects us with the reality. But that symbol is intrinsically connected in that it depicts in the way the original reality is. So for example there is a person and there is the photo of the person, the photo depicts the person as that person actually is. If for instance, the husband is carrying the picture of his wife in his wallet everyday and one day when he comes back home and his wife sees his wallet and sees the picture of another women she will be enraged. What is this? Now if the husband says “I am thinking of you only but I just changed the picture” the wife will get enraged she will say “I will change the husband”. So we cannot change the way a thing is symbolized when there is a descending symbolism because the connection between the symbol and the original object is not just in one’s conceptualization but it is in the intrinsic nature of that object. So the deity is an example of descending symbolism. That means Krishna as a higher reality is not just an abstract concept. Krishna is a tangible person, although he is spiritually tangible, with a specific form and the deity is a symbol that represents that form directly. Hence it is said, sakshatvrajendranandan. You are directly vrajendranandan. When such a form is worshipped then that form enables us to connect with Krishna, to get purified and to become elevated to the spiritual level of consciousness. Even when we worship the laminations of the deities the basic principles remains. The laminations are not made of mental conceptualization they are based on descending revelations.
Krishna has an eternal form and that form is revealed in the hearts of great sages and that form has been revealed in the scriptures. When we make the deities or we have pictures made based on the deities we are not creating with our own imagination a material representation. We are only setting up or making arrangement by which Krishna can reveal himself through spiritual manifestation. So the deity is Krishna because the deity is a symbol of descending symbolism and that’s why “natasyapratimaasti” is a true Vedic statement but that does not apply to the deities.
“There is no material representation of God” thus means there should not be materially concocted and projected symbolisation of God as per one’s own imagination; however as per scriptural description there can definitely be a depiction of god. And that is the way by which we can get sensory experience of God; through our senses we can perceive Krishna and we can become purified and become connected with him. This is how, even though we are at a material level of consciousness and cannot perceive anything material, Krishna makes Himself mercifully accessible to us through the manifestation of deities. The verse is true natasyapratimaasti but it doesn’t apply to the deity since the deity is not a material representation. The deity is a spiritual manifestation of Krishna. Thank you
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