Connecting with the Divine – Form vs. Formless

January 2, 2010

Shubhraji Colorado USA

The Divine Consciousness is the One Truth, the source and substratum of this entire universe, as well as our essential Being. To connect with this essence is the aim of all spiritual practice (sadhana).

All religions declare this state of Consciousness to be formless, eternal, omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent. There are many ways to invoke this Truth. Not only do the paths vary-from service to devotion to knowledge, but also even within them, there are diverse methods and techniques to achieve this connection. One needs to define for oneself, what approach is in resonance with one’s inner temperament.

In India, the entire philosophy rests on Vedic truths Vedanta is a universal philosophy of life. The quintessential teachings of Vedanta form the Advaita philosophy (Non-dual Reality). In Advaita, the emphasis is always on connecting with the Formless Reality–or the one, which is without attributes (nirguna).It is One without a second and is referred to as Brahman or the Absolute Reality.

It is difficult for us to connect with the concept of the formless, because the mind by its very nature is in duality and works with form. When I say a word – cat, bird or rose, the mind sees the image that represents that particular word. Even in our present day-to-day existence, we are rooted in the belief of form and substance being a reality for us. This has become part of our paradigm. To approach this state of being directly within oneself is not easy for the average person. Yet a philosophy must provide valid answers for all those who seek to liberate themselves through its conduit. That is why in the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says:
Kleso ‘dhikataras tesam avyaktasaktacetasam
Avyakta hi gatir duhkham dehavadbhir avapyate

Greater is their trouble whose minds are set on the Unmanifested; for the goal, the Unmanifested, is very hard for the embodied to reach.

Sri Adi Sankara the great philosopher (788-820A.D.), who is considered, the ultimate authority in Advaita teachings, stated that the concept of ‘nirguna’ Brahman relates to the highest standpoint of Truth. However, at the lower empirical end of existence this Non-Dual Formless Reality (Brahman) is, correctly referred to in the scriptures as with attributes or form (saguna), as the personal God-Ishwara. This personal God is whom we invoke and worship through numerous names and forms. Sankara too endorsed the need for this concept to cultivate spiritual consciousness. In his inimitable style, he says that as long as people are ‘ignorant’ (he means spiritually ignorant or people who are steeped in the idea of the body being the only reality) there is a need for this concept lift them slowly in the direction of the One Reality spoken of in the Upanishads. He stressed that liberation was only possible by eventually transcending all concepts of personal God (form) and entering into the realm of true knowledge of the formless One without a second ‘nirguna’, Brahman or Consciousness.

So the question is –how do we connect in the most effective manner with Divine Consciousness? We may choose to align ourselves with any name – Christ spirit, Great Spirit, Allah, God, Beyond God State, Buddha, Ahuramazda, Sri Krishna or Sri Rama or the Devi – Divine Feminine or Brahman-The Absolute Reality.

Whether we choose, or have already chosen a path -knowledge, meditation, devotion or service, we need to bring about a meaningful and real connection with our goal. Love is a powerful link to foster a personal connection with Consciousness (the highest form of Love is Devotion or Bhakti). It is unavoidable, even in the case of an intellectual seeker. Love is what binds; it is what brings everything together. To excel in any field a person-be they a professor, a doctor, a lawyer, a business executive or a homemaker, has to have substantial love for their vocation. Real love then is accompanied, by a true understanding of the very nature of the one we love. This is also true of personal relationships. Ever so often people complain that their partners do not understand them sufficiently or at all! True love reveals the nature of the Beloved. Love for Consciousness in Sankara’s vocabulary is a ‘constant remembrance of the nature of one’s Higher Self.’
Moksha karana samagrayum
i Bhakti reva gariyasi
Svasvaroop anusandhanam
Bhakti ritya bhidhiyati

Among the instruments and conditions necessary, for liberation, bhakti alone is supreme. A constant attempt to live up to one’s own Real Nature is called single-pointed devotion. Vivekachudamani, verse 31

In the language of The Bhagavad Gita, this devotion or bhakti is the egoless contemplation with single pointed attention or no otherness, ananya – upon the Divine Reality – who is the essence within the devotee. Even in Srimad Bhagvatam, a scripture containing the acme of devotion and knowledge, the end of all spiritual ignorance and recognition of the One Reality (Paramatman) in everyone and everything, is extolled as the culmination of devotion.

If we examine closely the path of devotion through form (i.e. a cross or an image, – saguna, we see a similar pattern emerging. In the structure of worship of the personal God, one first keeps remembering and meditating upon the glories, attributes and nature of God or Isvara-only to ultimately recognize one’s essential identity with it. In our spiritual understanding, love is then the total identification between the seeker and the sought. It is the end of the ego’s separate identity and the complete merger with Consciousness.

With the practice of connecting through form, it is imperative that the seeker knows what the form represents, for the form is merely a symbol. By this knowledge, one aspires to invoke the same qualities within oneself in order to reach the abode of joy, peace and inner perfection.

In the path of devotion with form, it is not enough for the seeker to be fixated on some sort of idol worship and mere ritualism, as this is not the aim of worship of the personal God. In every religion, a large majority are stuck with this preoccupation. Worship simply is to link all thoughts and feelings to the altar of the Divine to bring our mind and heart into total oneness with the concept that we invoke.

Historically, in the Vedantic tradition this process came about at the time when the collective consciousness of an entire generation was becoming more extroverted. Their intellect was not spiritually subtle to comprehend and dive into the formless aspect of Consciousness. We credit the sage Ved Vyas with the inauguration of these principles, even though some preliminary concepts were present earlier in the Vedic period. The great masters or rishis wisely initiated this concept of devotion or bhakti to yield a twofold effect for the seeker. Devotion purifies the heart of the practitioner, relieving them of their accumulated past impressions. In time, it can also awaken them to the real knowledge, leading to the experience of oneness with the deity or concept they have invoked.

Even after self-realization, we observe that some masters honor the form they have worshipped. There are several reasons for this. Among them are -One: because the form is all-inclusive and a manifestation of the One Consciousness, which encompasses everything. Two: even though they have relinquished their attachment to the form, they continue to honor it outwardly. Three: they wish to set an example for others and to inspire them in their own practice.

The thing to keep in mind is that if this way suits a seeker, it can be an effective and effortless way to connect with the sentient aspect of Consciousness or the living presence within one’s heart also called chaitanya. However, if one is inclined to connect with the formless aspect of Consciousness, one has to find an innovative approach to keep the connection alive in their heart. In both paths, the requisite is the same. The mind and heart has to abide in the highest Truth. Perhaps the best way to express this is Lord Krishna’s universal message in the Bhagavad Gita.
Mayy avesya mano ye mam nityayukta upasate
Sraddhaya parayo ‘petas te me yuktatama matah

Those who, fixing their mind on Me, worship Me, ever steadfast and endowed with supreme faith, these in my opinion are best in yoga.

At the final doorway to Truth, both paths if walked correctly, merge into the actual experience of realization. There is no dichotomy in either if they are understood properly. No conflict, no point of argumentation, because they are strictly suited to the nature of each individual. In-fact the masters, warn us that if we are caught in praise or criticism of either one, we forego valuable time and negate the possibility of the actual experience of Consciousness. The flow towards the Divine, is the most subtle and joyous journey one can embark on. We do not have any need to put down or speak against anyone’s practice. Instead, let us be guided towards naturally and effortlessly to what works best for us. If there is a doubt, a mentor can be of immense help to steer us in the right direction. Such a person is referred a guru or a teacher, who has successfully walked on the path before us!

“A deep, wise, and wonderful exploration of the Vedanta path for relationships both with yourself and with others. Shubhraji provides everything you need to create healthy, fulfilling relationships…”

— Arielle Ford. Author of Wabi Sabi Love and The Soulmate Secret
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