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Re: worshipping other deities

From: Mani Varadarajan (mani_at_alum.calberkeley.org)
Date: Wed Aug 23 2000 - 16:39:12 PDT

Badri wrote:
> 1) Being born as Vaishnavas is it a sin worshipping
> other Gods ,or is it just that we are not required to
> worship other dieties.Is there any harm in worshipping
> them as long as we realize Narayana is supreme.What
> are we supposed to do when we go to temples which have
> many dieties.Should we worship Perumal and
> deliberately avoid other dieties?

Dear Badri,

Let me offer an alternate point of view.

It depends on your state of mind.  If you have absolute
faith in the purifying grace of Narayana, your mind by 
itself will develop an aversion to worshipping anything
short of this Ultimate.  If you settle for worshipping
anything other than the Ultimate, it only demonstrates
lack of faith and lack of resolve in attaining the 
highest good.  Our acharyas emphatically emphasize that
we should not settle for any of these lesser goals,
and that we must wholeheartedly and single-mindedly
dedicate ourself only to the highest, Narayana.

It is not a "sin" to worship other gods, in that you 
are not a morally bad person for doing so. It is not 
morally wrong like slaughtering a living being or partaking
in such slaughter's fruits.  It is, however, detrimental
if you have resolved to focus yourself on the Ultimate,
because you are falling far short of your goal, and you
are not being honest with yourself.  Rather than 
recognizing your inherent, true nature as a 'sesha' of 
Narayana, you are being enslaved by other things, whether
they be sensual pleasures, wealth, or other deities.
Worship of all these other things are not conducive 
to the highest spiritual good, because there is no
meeting point between them and your essential nature.

If you choose to worship anything other than the our
Blissful Beloved Narayana, you must ask yourself why
you are doing so. If you really do not care for attaining
the highest good in the most direct manner, go ahead and
do as you are doing.  But if you are really resolved
to attain nothing other than Narayana, there is nothing
that anything or anyone else can give that will satisfy
you. So, the bottom line is that you must stay focussed.

But even here, it is important to understand that not
all people are mentally ready to take the plunge into the 
blissful waters of Narayana.  As Nammalvar says, 
"avar avar tamatamadu arivari vagai vagai..." -- people
worship their gods according to their inclination and
capacity to grasp the truth.  What's more, such gods
themselves are not "false" -- "avar avar iraiyavar
kuRaivilar" -- because even within these gods, our Narayana
stands within and is the power that bestows whatever benefits 
they may confer.

Many such people are simply not ready to become 'ekAntis', 
i.e., single-minded in their devotion to Narayana. Perhaps
this is because of their family background or the place they
live; we cannot say. For many such people, worshipping other 
divinities is a necessary step for their mind to become slowly 
purified, to cross over their mundane desires and realize that
the essential truth of Narayana.  We should be careful not
to condemn these people, since their mental outlook is not
conducive to exclusive worship of Narayana. Let them be,
for that is currently the appropriate path for them. Their
worship will slowly purify their mind and eventually it too
will be directed toward Narayana. Yes, it is slower than
the direct path, but this is not our worry.

You also ask a more practical question which face many of us.
If you go to a temple with many deities, I have been taught 
that respect should be given to all, but worship and adoration
is only to Narayana and his parivAras.  There is nothing wrong
in avoiding the other sannidhis. But when confronted by the
other deities installed, we must be respectful. For example, when 
walking down the street, if all of a sudden we come across
an utsavam of Siva Perumaan, we are to respectfully
hold our hands together, and let the utsavam pass on our
right side. By no means should we do anything disrespectful.

Furthermore, we shouldn't apply our rules and our philosophy
to members of other traditions. The way Advaita has evolved,
for example, they worship Siva, Vishnu, Ganapati, Parvati, etc., 
equally. No matter how wrong we think they are, let them be, is
my opinion. That is the way their acharyas have taught them 
for at least a thousand years. Our only quarrel with them 
should be if they challenge us.

aDiyEn rAmAnuja dAsan,
Mani



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