Thursday, February 14, 2008

Idolatry

My grandparent's home was deathly quiet as I left my bedroom and crept into the small den. Along one wall was an antique curio, which held the object of my desire: a pristine porcelain Madonna (in the exact same form as pictured, minus the condition issues, which actually make this image even more alluring to me somehow).

I opened the glass cabinet, gently removed the statue, and snuck back to my room and my makeshift shrine. For the next half hour -- in the dead of night -- I worshipped the Virgin Mary.

As beautiful as the statue was, I was left spiritually unsatisfied. With much less excitement, I quietly returned the Madonna to her cabinet and went to bed. I felt alone. Charlie was away in New York at April celebrations with our Guru, and I was lying awake at my grandparent's home in Oceanside, California.

From the beginning, my spiritual ideal was the formless divine and my goal was conscious oneness with it. That's why worshipping anything -- whether it be the Virgin Mary statue or my own guru -- never did anything for me. I wasn't the worshipping kind. Implicit in the act of worship is a state of separateness between the worshipper and the object of his or her worship. I wanted nothing to do with separateness; I longed for union.

As an aside, I wouldn't discover The Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna (available online here) for another year and a half, but I love this early exchange between The Gospel's author "M" (later to become Swami Yogananda's "blissful devotee") and his newly found master Sri Ramakrishna on a related point:

Master: "Well, do you believe in God with form or without form?"

M., rather surprised, said to himself: "How can one believe in God without form when one believes in God with form? And if one believes in God without form, how can one believe that God has a form? Can these two contradictory ideas be true at the same time? Can a white liquid like milk be black?"


M: "Sir, I like to think of God as formless."


Master: "Very good. It is enough to have faith in either aspect. .... But never for a moment think that this alone is true and all else false. Remember that God with form is just as true as God without form. But hold fast to your own conviction."

The assertion that both are equally true amazed M.; he had never learnt this
from his books. ....

M: "Sir, suppose one believes in God with form. Certainly He is not the clay image!"

Master (interrupting): "But why clay? It is an image of Spirit."

M. could not quite understand the significance of this "image of Spirit." "But Sir," he said to the Master, "one should explain to those who worship the clay image that it is not God, and that, while worshipping it, they should have God in view and not the clay image. One should not worship clay."

Master (sharply): "That's the one hobby of you Calcutta people -- giving lectures
and bringing others to the light! Nobody ever stops to consider how to get
the light for himself. Who are you to teach others?"


I never worshipped Guru. True, I had his photograph on my shrine and would meditate on it, but it wasn't worship as such. First of all, while Guru's transcendental photograph was a physically separate object (like the Madonna statue), I was actually trying to merge my consciousness with it and for large parts of my meditation, my awareness of the photo itself (as a photo) would disappear.

More importantly, however, my budding relationship with Guru -- based entirely upon the inner bond I had formed with his photograph (he had yet to speak a word to me) -- was unique. From the start, I was aware that in my case, Guru was a caretaker master. While our connection was sweet and intimate, it was at its core utilitarian. It was as if Guru were a trustee over my development because some earlier master was no longer around.

His relationship with me was avuncular. It was blood close, but unlike a father figure, he would wield no direct authority over me. That's why it was so easy for me to realize the value of Prakash's attitude and why I never had a problem with reverential awe.

That said, I longed to be in New York. My next chance would be in August.

No comments: