The Vedic approach to God
By ‘the Vedic Approach’ I am basically intending the stress on sound vibrations. That is, the usage of mantras and chants or more specifically, ‘chanting the name of God’ as an approach to God. Repeating a name that is sacred is supposed to help in bringing us closer to God. I personally do believe that every name that generates in us a sense of the divine does bring to us all the positive energies of the world. Negative thoughts are warded off by resorting to the repetition of a sacred name and one is assured of a shield of positive vibrations. For the Christian, the name could be Jesus. The Hindus do have a number of names that are used for chanting, but all these names for them imply the one God, the one word Om.
The Upanishad says that ‘he who meditates upon ‘the Supreme Purusha’ with the immortal word Om, is freed from all sins even as a snake is freed from its slough.’
‘Om is Sabda Brahma(the word Brahma or Logos) in the divine mind and therefore by the repetition of Om, one attunes oneself to the cosmic mind and is lifted up spiritually. When the human mind is thus attuned, it becomes a channel for the flow of inspiration from the cosmic mind. Therefore, Om is considered the holiest Mantra(mystic formula for sacred repetition) and is added at the beginning of all other Mantras.’
The Matras (phonetic constituents) of Om are ‘a’, ‘u’, ‘m’, which are symbolic of the beginning, middle and end of all the worlds, entities and concepts represented by them. We Christians know that Jesus has said that he is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. It becomes evident from these words of Jesus that he has infact said that he is the Word Incarnate or in other words the incarnate of Om(also dealt earlier in section I).
It is also obvious that even if a Hindu may not know the Word Incarnate they do know the Word. They have around 33 crore Gods but all of them are worshipped with hymns that begin with the word Om. It is because all these Gods are actually the representation of the innumerable powers of the one God. The Lord Ganesha is called Om-kaara swarupa(of the form of Om). That is, this Elephant God Ganesha is a representation of the letter in Hindi for Om. Every other name of a God, be it Mahesh or Vishnu or any other, is also the name for a similar concrete representation of some of the myriad powers or virtues of the one God.
The Vedas talk about so many Beings, because it is only through the agency of the many Beings that the One Being can be known.’
Therefore it can be understood that the Hindus are not basically idol worshippers (though they do use statues of Gods for worship) as is commonly misunderstood by Christians. The true Hindu worships the one Cosmic Mind through the repetition of the mantra Om.
A question cannot be prevented from coming up as an offshoot here. ‘Does this mean that it is not wrong to use symbols and idols?’ In even asking this question, I am sure every catholic does reflect that using symbols is actually something that we ourselves are not free from. Man is quite sight oriented. He needs to at least face a cross while praying. It could also be a photo of Jesus. Buddha discouraged the use of idols and symbols, but that could not prevent the followers of Buddhism from making statues of Buddha. The Hindu gurus do not really support the use of idols. What is wrong or right about idols?
A method that is helpful to one can be a hindrance to another in achieving the same end. I will take an example to explain this. Teachers in schools are asked to use stories to attract the attention of students to the subject. This is because children are more interested in stories than in subjects. When the subject finally becomes interesting to the student, he does not need stories. Idols of the crores of Gods and also stories linked with them are similarly an age old practice used only to attract the common man to God. It is required only till the interest in God is affixed and the relationship is built.
The problem arises when the simple man never rises above the stories, to glimpse at the real God; hence the universal call to give up idols and the blind faith in the stories related to Gods. Therefore using idols is not essentially wrong but it has been found to be misleading. That is why many Hindu Gurus question the practice of idol worship (even though there is nothing inherently wrong with using an idol for convenience) because it breeds ignorance in many regarding the true nature of God.
What exactly is called the wrong practice of idol worship?
The idol worship that the Bible speaks of is of certain tribes (of those times and those regions) that could not think of anything that is not visible and therefore called any visible thing as God and put their trust in ‘things’ rather than the creator of all things. They created the images of animals and considered the image itself as God! People belonging to the tribes that had such religious practices are referred to as ‘pagan’. Such practices existed before the main world religions were adopted.
Conclusions about a religion, on the basis of some practices of the adherents of the religion, may not be at all accurate. This is because some pagan practices or pagan influences in certain practices are found among the practitioners of today’s major religions too, which I should think is quite an understandable phenomenon. So a Christian would need to study the religious scripture (of concerned religion) rather than the general practices of the followers to be clear about the basic teachings of any religion. Therefore though the term ‘pagan’ is a blanket term used with abandon to the followers of any non Christian religion, yet I find its usage very unnecessary and misleading as it extrapolates the circumstances present in a different land onto other regions.
It should be remembered that if there is a mention of pagans in the Bible it refers to the certain tribes in Israel and around. I mention this because someone recently explained to a group of people (including me) that “To God’s displeasure, Solomon married pagan woman that is Hindu women”! Such a blunder in statements, by Christians in position to teach, is the major cause that misleads the lay Christian to believe that the Bible considers Hinduism as a pagan religion. Just reflect a moment and think- was Hinduism present in the regions, the history of which the bible speaks? Therefore, it should be clear that the Bible does not make any comment on Hinduism. And so if we want to make any comment on Hinduism then we have to study Hinduism rather than search in the Bible for an opinion.
We Christians should take care that though we may reject a method adopted by a particular religion (or by the people who follow a particular religion), we should not go further and discredit the religion itself without understanding it in its entirety. We have to reflect on our personal lives and realize that facing an idol while praying, merely as a convenience and not in ignorance about the truth about God, cannot be called wrong; for it is not the act but the heart, the thought behind the act that matters. It is the person’s heart that makes a method right or wrong. The method itself is not to be blamed.
And so to avoid confusion ‘we should move from the surface and dwell in the depths’. What I mean to say is we must not be too quick to judge others or the religion they follow and should not be confused by merely the phrasing, or the language, to think that two religions are speaking about two different Gods or two different ways to God. We have to go deeper than that to see the true picture.
Coming back to the topic at hand, the true picture is that repeating ‘the sacred name’ is practiced in all religions, though to different extents; the difference being only in the names and not in the power the names represent. The basis behind this approach is the base of all creation, namely ‘vibration’, Om, or Word! ‘Chanting the name of God’ therefore definitely cannot be considered as too far removed an approach, from the Christian approach to God.