One of the requisites for liberation is understanding Krishna’s words in the Bhagavad Gita: “Others, sacrificing by the sacrifice of knowledge, worship me as One and Manifold, variously manifested, omniscient” (9:15). All the many gods worshipped in India are symbols of the many aspects of the One Infinite God. There is nothing wrong with these symbols or their depiction in pictures or images. In fact we can approach God through reverence for them and can worship God through them, even with offerings. It is a matter of right understanding. And since God is everything there is nothing wrong in looking upon an image as God as long as the worshipper does not think that is all there to God, that God is confined to that image and is not all-pervading Spirit. Regarding astrology, Swami Sri Yukteswar said: “Charlatans have brought the stellar science to its present state of disrepute. Astrology is too vast, both mathematically and philosophically, to be rightly grasped except by men of profound understanding. If ignoramuses misread the heavens, and see there a scrawl instead of a script, that is to be expected in this imperfect world. One should not dismiss the wisdom with the ‘wise.’” It is the same with the use of holy images. “Idolatry” is a matter of the individual’s mind and belief. Here, too, discrimination is a requisite for liberation.
Seeing images is not seeing God if we see only with the two material eyes, even if we worship them. But if we look at them with the one eye of spirit, we will see the One in them. And validly worship them.
Sri Ramakrishna said that water is everywhere, but we must go where it is to be found in its complete, liquid form. One place is in a temple. Shankara established many temples, and he was the supreme non-dualist.
A pitcher is not water, but water can be in the pitcher. It is the same with holy imagery.
True worship is internal, and that should fulfill the words of David: “Bless the Lord, O my soul: and all that is within me, bless his holy name” (Psalms 103:1).
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