Patrika: A Publication of BGT


Bhagavaan Gopinath ji


Articles from Pre-1998 Issues 

Learning from India

by Susan Walters

What can we in the West learn from India? Most students of the subject believe that Advaita Vedanta philosophy-the conception of the Divine Oneness at the centre of everyone and everything-is the most important teaching of India to the world. That is no doubt true. But in my opinion, equally important for us in the West to learn is the worshipful attitude which is so deeply ingrained in the Indian heart and mind. Most Indians are not aware that they possess this endearing and valuable trait. Like the air they breathe, it is taken for granted. But a Western visitor can't help noticing it. This worshipful attitude pervades every aspect of life in India, beginning with ceremonial worship.

An American Poet, Joel Shaw has written a poem titled 'To a Hindu Worshipper' in which he tells how he sees Hindu ceremonial worship.

Not understanding one word you say,
or what you do,
I stand transfixed, watching you worship God.

With what devotion you chant the ancient
Sanskrit and move your hands just so!

The way you offer flowers, the pungent incense,
The flickering lamp, I observe bewildered.

Hindu worshipper, beyond my comprehension,
Accept my loving worship of your worship.

But Swami Vivekananda didn't have a very high regard for such worship. He said, 'Ceremonials are the lowest form of worship. Next to God externai, and after that, God internal'.

Let us next look at the second kind of worship, external worship, one notch above ceremonial worship.

To see Indian external worship, one has only to walk down a busy Calcutta street. The many shrines to various gods and goddesses, the deities on the shelf in every shop, the priests on their way to worship these deities, the namaste the shopkeeper greets you with, even the way he touches the money you give him to his forehead as a token of worship before placing it in a box-these are all examples of external worship. (I mention Calcutta since I know it, but the same thing is probably found in many other Indian cities.)

One touching example of external worship was observed by a man walking along a country road. An old woman was walking down the same road when she happened to notice a road- side marker with the number 3 engraved on it. She mistook the 3 for an Om sign and carefully dusted off the marker, placed some wild flowers on it, and worshipped it before continuing on her way.

The Thakur ghar in every Indian household is also evidence of external worship.

These ceremonials and external forms of worship may seem superficial, but I believe we in the West can gain much by practising them. Through these practices, we forget our little selves, at least for a short time, and think of something beyond our own little egos. Gradually and mostly unconsciously, we build up within ourselves an attitude of worship. With this attitude, other traits follow. We become genuinely modest-like the 'patient Hindu, the mild Hindu', in Swami Vivekananda's words.

However, there comes a time when these rites and rituals fail to satisfy us. We feel the need for going deeper into the spiritual life. We want the last of the three types of worship; we want the God internal. If we are serious about this, we will find a teacher, an Indian Holy Man. From him we get instructions in japa and meditation. He teaches us that the way to God is an inner approach; God is within our own heart; He is our real Self. We learn how to meditate on that Self.

Actually, through rites and rituals we have already been worshipping that Divine Self, though we didn't know it. In worshipping God we have always been worshipping our hidden Self.

Gradually, throughout spiritual practice and the grace of God, we become aware of the truths of the Upanishads, such as tat tvam asi, 'Thou art that'. We understand that this inner Self is in reality the Divine Self of the universe, the unchanging, undying, pure and perfect Ultimate Reality-Brahman. This Self is the one external Existence in all things and beings, their innermost essence. We not only know this, we try to experience this divine Oneness.

As our personal spiritual life deepens through worship, we learn to see God not only in our own heart, but in all. Our relationship with others is then imbued with a spirit of worship and service. We worship God in our parents, our husbands or wives, our children, our neighbours - even our so-called enemies, seeing the divine in them all. This is the key to peace in the family, in society and in the world.

[A learned scholar from America, Susan Walters is engaged in useful literary work at the Institute of Culture, Ramakrishna Mission, Calcutta]



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