‘One must propitiate the Divine Mother, the Primal Energy, in order to obtain God's grace. God Himself is Mahamaya. It is His will that we should run about a little. Then it is great fun. God has created the world in play, as it were. This is called Mahamaya, the Great Illusion. Therefore one must take refuge in the Divine Mother, the Cosmic Power Itself. It is She who has bound us with the shackles of illusion. The realization of God is possible only when those shackles are severed.'
The concept of the worship of God as Divine Mother is ancient. It prevailed, in some form or other, in many countries. In Egypt, She was known as 'Isis'; in Babylonia and Assyria, She was worshipped as 'Ishtar'; in Greece, She was known as 'Sibyl'. Catholics venerate the Virgin Mary as the Mother of God.
In India, the worship of God as Mother prevailed even in the pre-Vedic age. The Vedas contain a number of hymns addressed to the Devi (Divine Mother). The Rig-Vedic Devi-Suktam and the Ratri-Suktam of the Sama Veda refer to Her as the Empress of the Universe. In the Upanishads, the Mother is worshipped as the embodiment of all spiritual knowledge. In later centuries, the great Tantras taught the worship and philosophy of the Divine Mother.
To look upon God as Mother is very natural and sublime. Just as the baby is nourished by the earthly mother, so also God as Mother, creates, supports and nourishes all beings. There is greater freedom and spontaneity in the devotee's relationship with God as Mother. Sri Ramakrishna says, 'Just as a child can force its demands on its mother, even so the devotee can force his demand on God as Mother.'
The Rishis of the Upanishads conceived the idea that there is one cosmic power lying in the background of this universe. The power that is necessary in the biological world and in the physical world; in the mountains, in the rivers, in oceans; the power manifested in moral and spiritual life. There is only one power and that is the Divine Mother. This is the central idea at the back of Mother worship.
Vedanta declares that God is both absolute and dynamic; impersonal and personal; formless and with form; transcendent and immanent. This reality called Brahman is the background of the world. Brahman is beyond time, space, and causation; beyond thought or speech.As long as we regard ourselves as psycho-physical beings, conscious of our body, mind, and ego, we cannot conceive of this Supreme Reality. So we need a Personal God, whom we can worship, pray to and approach for protection, guidance, and grace. Thus, the worship of God comes into the picture. That transcendental Absolute God is thought of as having attributes (Saguna Brahman). This dynamic aspect of God is called Shakti, i.e., the divine power of Brahman. The Absolute Brahman and Its power are identical. Brahman and Shakti are not two separate entities.
The Hindu believes that there is only one God and the world of many is nothing but His manifestation or projection. The Hindu also believes that God alone is Real and everything else is an apparent reality. The Svetasvatara Upanishad says, 'This divine power of Brahman is in fire, in water, in the plants, in the trees, and in all animate and inanimate objects.'
The devotee likes to take images and icons etc., as helps in the worship of God. He does not worship the image as God, but he worships God through an image. To worship an image as God is idolatry, but to worship God through an image is a valid form of worship. The external symbol is an aid to the awakening of the spirit of devotion within.
The devotee sees the manifestation of the divine power in nature, i.e., in the sun, the moon, the wind; the power on the moral level i.e., the power of goodness, self-control, non- violence, truthfulness, self-sacrifice, compassion; and on the spiritual level, i.e., the realization of God, or the realization of Brahman. The worshipper embodies all these powers and projects them onto God or Shakti, the source of One Energy as Divine Mother.
Even though the highest conception of God is the Absolute, when looked at from a particular angle of vision, that Absolute appears to us as the personal God, or Ishwara. The Mother worshippers insist that this personal God should be called Mother rather than Father.
Sri Ramakrishna worshipped God as Mother. It was his belief that for the present age the best relationship we can establish with God is to look upon God as our own Mother. The devotees like to look upon God as the Divine Mother, and Mother has various forms. All the different gods and goddesses are nothing but aspects of the same Mother.
Vedanta Magazine 386 Nov-Dec 2015
Copied with kind permission of Swami Dayatmananda
"You were talking of images made of clay. There arises a necessity for them too. These various forms used for worship have been provided to suit the needs of different men at different stages of spiritual evolution.” (Sri Ramakrishna)
Each soul is potentially divine. Worship of God is man's privilege and supreme act, and man has to raise himself to the peak of his being and personality to achieve this act. The aim of traditional ritualistic worship is to prepare man for this act, to purify him and to heighten the spirituality of his being. One must become God to be able to worship God.
The goal in the worship of God is to get into an intimate relation with the Deity. Relationship is the key to human conduct and character. All worldly relationships have reservations, while relationship with God alone is one without any reservations. There can be no secrets between God and devotee, since they are the obverse and reverse of the same reality.
To get into this unreserved relationship with God one must have a knowledge and understanding of the nature and glory of the Deity one worships, for it is
these that make up the personality of the Deity. Puja or worship admirably fulfils this need. Worship forges a special kind of relationship between the soul and God, ultimately leading to the unity
of the individual with the universal.
Worship of God can be mental, verbal or physical. In the Bhagavatam the great devotee Prahlada enumerates nine types of devotion: 'Listening to the stories of the Lord, singing His glories, constant remembrance of the Lord, serving Him in His devotees, ritualistic worship, constantly saluting the Lord, doing all work for His sake, friendship with the Lord, and complete self-surrender.' Anyone or these nine forms of devotion can lead a sincere devotee to the realization of God.
Worship of the Divine is the most effective way of attaining God. A spiritual aspirant can attain his cherished objective in life through worship duly performed according to the prescribed scriptural injunctions. The basic philosophy of the science of worship is: ‘Devo bhutva devam yajet’. The aim of worship is clearly brought out in this definition of Puja: ‘Puja is the oneness of the worshipper and God. This oneness of the worshipper and the Worshipped is verily the realization of the true nature of the Self or the attainment of Brahman. So what is the relation between the Jivatman and the Paramatman?
Sri Ramakrishna says: ‘As a current of water seems to be divided into two when a plank of wood is placed against it edgewise, so the Indivisible appears divided into two, the Jivatman and the Paramatman, due to the limitation of Maya.’ What Sri Ramakrishna means is the individual and the universal, in reality, are one and the same but appear to be different due to Maya. The purpose of puja is to attain to this sameness. And worship is one of the most useful means in the achievement of this ideal. Thus the ultimate objective of all actions like Puja etc., is Self-knowledge or the attainment of Brahman.
Puja is defined in the Kularnava Tantra as that act which destroys the waves of Karmic flow resulting from past births, puts an end to the cycle of births and deaths, and grants complete fulfilment. The ‘complete fulfilment’ is total self-surrender of the worshipper in the worshipped. The complete or cherished fruit of worship consists in the worshipper’s self-identity with the Worshipped. In this context devotees can recall the incident of Shodasi Puja in Sri Ramakrishna’s spiritual practices. For the worship of God to be effective one should discover one’s special relationship with one’s Ishta Devata, one’s chosen Deity. What special attitude an aspirant must develop is usually determined by one’s Guru, or family or religious tradition. Without such special relationship one’s devotion is bound to be shaky and superficial.
In order to realize God, Sri Ramakrishna advises spiritual aspirants to assume one of these attitudes: Santa (peacefulness), Dasya (servitude), Sakhya (comradeship), Vatsalya (parental affection) and Madhura (conjugal love) practised by the Vaishnava teachers. Sri Ramakrishna had practised all these attitudes and attained singular success in all of them. The teachers of devotion have classified those relations into five divisions of the Santa and the rest mentioned above, and advised people to take up one or another of these moods for practice and establish themselves in a loving relationship with the Divine. All these moods when oriented towards God, help the aspirants advance quickly towards the realization of God.
Sri Ramakrishna used to say, "Hold fast to some form of God or some mood, which is to your liking; it is only then that there will be steadfastness. He is realizable by means of spiritual mood (Bhava) alone. How can God be realized by one who lacks it? Spiritual moods are necessary. One should cultivate a particular spiritual mood and then call on Him. As is one's mood, so is one's gain; it is faith that is its root. It is through a mood that love sprouts. Spiritual moods are an imperative necessity. So is faith; it is necessary to hold fast, then only one succeeds.”
These various forms of God are not fictions; they are spiritual realities discovered by saints in the depths of their meditation. Hence Sri Ramakrishna says: ‘If a worshipper is convinced that the images of the Deity in the shape of various Gods and Goddesses are verily divine, he reaches God by their worship. Then one realises that everything, Images and all, is a manifestation of the Spirit. To him the image is not made of clay but of Spirit.’
from Vedanta magazine Nov - Dec 2015
Man is a born thinker. He is always curious to know the cause and origin of the things around him. He is not satisfied with the limitations of life, and wants to get rid of them. The goal of his life is to attain Liberation, and for this he toils on.
The limitation (Maya) is due to ignorance of the Supreme Reality known as Brahman in the Upanishads. It has been described as Impersonal, Eternal, Immortal, Infinite, etc. This idea of Brahman is too abstract for the ordinary people. So people need something concrete to think of, something from where they can make a start and proceed to understand the highest reality.
Swami Vivekananda says : 'All is Brahman; the one without a second; only, the Brahman, as absolute, is too much of an abstraction to be loved and worshipped. So the Bhakta chooses the relative aspect of Brahman, that is, Iswara, the Supreme Reality.'
The Philosophy of Mother Worship
Devi or the Divine Mother is Divinity conceived in its feminine aspect. This is a conception peculiar to the Hindu religion and perfected, perhaps, not met with anywhere. So how is it that the Hindus who talk in terms of Brahman, the Absolute, etc. also speak of a Goddess and worship Her? Sri Ramakrishna provides the answer for this question: "Brahman and Sakti are identical like fire and its power to burn. When we talk of fire, we automatically mean also its power to burn. Again the fire's power to burn implies the fire itself." "What the Vedas call supreme Brahman, we call Kali." These words of Sri Ramakrishna give us the clue to the philosophy of Devi worship.
But the Mother (Shaktas) worshippers believe that the personal God should be called Mother rather than Father because of the kindness, love, mercy and sweetness. They look upon God as the Divine Mother, and for them Mother has various forms. But all these different goddesses are nothing but aspects of the same Mother. Also in human beings, emotions like love, hatred, anger, compassion, etc., are inborn and it is almost impossible for an ordinary man to be completely free from them. Therefore, the devotional scriptures advise him to develop devotion by directing his emotions towards God.
For this, man needs a concrete object, with a name and a form. Hence the Vedas and Puranas speak of various forms of God— like Durga, Kali, Durga, Shiva, Rama, Krishna, etc., for the sake of worship and meditation. It is to think of the Supreme Reality as the Divine Mother and adore Her is easy.
Filial love has its definite claims to distinction. Who is there in this world, who does not love one's own mother? Mother is everything to us. Every man has unquestioning faith in the mother and makes a complete self-surrender to her. The noble mother even sacrifices herself for the welfare of her child.
Naturalness of Mother Worship.
To look upon God as Mother is very natural and very sublime. God as Mother, creates, supports and nourishes all beings. There is a greater freedom and spontaneity in the devotee's relationship with God as Mother. The highest and the purest of all human relationships is that of the mother and child. Mother represents the pure love that knows no barter, no selfishness, no personal gain. The mother's love is a love that never dies. It is said that ‘a wayward child may be born, but never a wicked mother’. Sri Ramakrishna says, 'Just as a child can force its demand on its mother, even so the devotee can force his/her demand on God as Mother.'
Sri Ramakrishna says, `He who is the Absolute Existence, Knowledge, and Bliss is also the all-knowing, all intelligent, and all-blissful Mother of the Universe. The Divine Mother and Brahman are one.'
In a way, the entire universe is nothing but the display of the Divine Power of Brahman, and this Divine Power is worshipped as Divine Mother.
Sri Ramakrishna was a child of the Divine Mother. To Sri Ramakrishna, Kali, the Divine Mother, was not merely the Mother of the universe; She was a living presence. He felt Her presence within and without, at all times, everywhere. He used to say that whatever was done or spoken by him really came from the Divine Mother.
If God, who is the source of all power, all goodness, and all beauty, can be conceived as the Divine Mother, the best way that we can keep our relationship with Her will be as Her children.
The Divine Mother in Her Terrible aspect
When we speak of the Mother as the destroyer, it is not to be understood as making for annihilation. What looks like destruction for our eyes, is only resumption by the creative force of what It projected in creation. Behind the chastisement of every mother, there is great love and the intention that the child should grow up in the right manner. Her chastisement is an act of infinite mercy and compassion. When Kali kills, she does it only to save and shower Her children with the light of knowledge and the grace of Her love. The act of destruction is one of reclamation. That is why every mortal who dies by divine hand attains immortality. (‘Misery is the gift of God’ says Holy Mother!)
The animal sacrifice found in some of the Hindu Pujas is in fact, the Mother demanding the sacrifice of the beast and the demon within us. Until we kill the animal in us we can never become true devotees.
Mother-worship is the straight and swift road to mystic union with the Divine and this is illustrated in the life of Sri Ramakrishna. He declared:
"This attitude of regarding God as the Mother is the last word in Sadhana", ‘O God, Thou art my Mother, I am Thy child'”.
Motherhood is an inclusive concept. It knows no barriers. Thus worship of God as Mother has very great ethical significance. The Mother unites us all in the clasp of Her embrace and there we know no difference of creed or colour, of race or religion.
As Sri Ramakrishna observed from his realisation, ‘Brahman alone is addressed as the Mother. This is because a mother is an object of great love. One is able to realise God through love.'
We can follow Sri Ramakrishna in his prayer:
"To my Divine Mother, I pray only for pure love. I offer flowers at Her lotus feet and pray to Her: ‘Mother, here is Thy virtue, and here is Thy vice. Take them both and grant me only pure love of Thee. Here is Thy knowledge, here is Thy ignorance. Take them both and grant me only pure love for Thee. Here is Thy purity, here is thy impurity. Take them both, Mother, grant me only pure love for Thee. Here is Thy dharma, here is Thy adharma. Take them both, Mother, and grant me only pure love for Thee.”
Let us pray that we may become worthy children of the Divine Mother.
from Vedanta Magazine March - April 2016