Temples and Idols in this age of reasoning

What do temples and idols mean for your life in the modern age? Beliefnet expert Ram Lingam provides enlightenment on the issue.

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Why idols or sacred images?

An anecdote from Swami Vivekananda’s life explains the concept of sacred images or idols. Mangal Singh, a Maharaja of Alvaar in western India was once visited by Swami Vivekananda. While talking about religion and faith, the Maharaja said he had no faith in idol worship and that he could not worship wood, stone or earth. Looking around, Swami Vivekananda spotted a picture of the Maharaja on the wall. Taking it down he asked the courtiers to spit upon it. Shocked at the request, they declined to do it.

Swami Vivekananda turning to the Maharaja said, “See, your courtiers declined because the picture has the likeness of “you” and brings “you” to their minds though the picture is not “you”. In the same way, the image in the temple brings to the mind of the devotees their chosen attribute of God. They do not worship the wood, stone or earth of which the deity is made from. The idol remains an idol but the worship goes to the Lord”.

Swami Vivekananda added further,

“A symbol is absolutely indispensable for fixing the mind. The mind wants a prop to lean upon and cannot have a conception of the Absolute in the initial stages. Without the help of some external aid, in the initial stages, the mind cannot be centralized. The people of the whole world, save a few Yogis and Vedantins, are all worshipers of idols. They keep some image or other in the mind.”

Sanatana dharma offers different spiritual tools and diverse approaches to divine life. It starts with God symbolisms which are pitched at the level of the seeker. The more subtle the thought pattern the more abstract is the concept of Godhead. The subtlest mind alone is taken to the formless unmanifest nature of the ultimate truth.

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