Thursday, October 23, 2014

Why Laksmi Should Not be Worshiped: On the Worship of prakrti etc. and The Message of Sankaradeva

It is unfortunate that the worship of maya (literally meaning ‘not-that’ or ‘illusion’ in Sanskrit) should have become so widely prevalent in our traditions in the form of pujas (of Laksmi, Durga, etc.).  The term maya is used synonymously with prakrti or material nature (primal matter) because it is the job of material nature to conceal and obscure God (see earlier post).

The puranas are the solidification of some of the abstract and ineffable ideas of the vedanta for the easy grasp of the lay populace. The poet-seers (because they were poet-seers) personified nature and the material agents present within it.

This gives rise, in the puranic literature, to a profusion of stylized ‘personalities’. Matter or prakrti is personified—anthropomorphized, rather— as ‘Laksmi’ and given feminine characteristics (‘प्रकृति’ is feminine gender in Sanskrit)—the wife, as it were, of Visnu. This helps to make a particular point to the lay mind:

Just as it is the faithful wife’s sole objective to serve her husband and lord (svami), so also the only aim of prakrti is to serve the Lord’s purpose.

It is for this reason alone that in the puranic representations, Laksmi is always seen serving the Feet of Visnu. The Supreme Spirit, Parama Purusa, is Lord of primal matter or Laksmi (laksmipati bhagavanta).  In this way, by abstracting material nature as a personality, the poet-seer is able to demonstrate the superiority, nay the supreme status, of Parama Purusa in relation to this lifeless and totally inert entity called prakrti [1].

But what is happening today in the realm of eternal (sanatana) religion is worship of the un-eternal! In what must be one of the most horrifying examples of misinterpretation in the entire spiritual history of mankind, this lifeless entity called prakriti, this dead matter which is but a tool in the hands of the Supreme Spirit, is being deified, worshipped through pujas etc. and raised to the status of Supreme Being!  Surely this is the height of extreme absurdity! Surely this is literalism gone haywire!

মায়া আদি কৰি যত সমস্তে জগতে জড়
কৃষ্ণেসে চৈতন্য আত্মা শুদ্ধ |
চৈতন্য কৃষ্ণক এড়ি জড়ক ভজিয়া মৰে
কিনো লোক অধম মুগুধ ||৪৭

Whatever there may be, māyā and the rest all the world are gross.
Only Krsna is the Spirit, the Pure Consciousness.
How bewitched and deluded are the people who leave aside Krsna the Consciousness
And die worshipping the gross.
[Nama-Ghosa, 47]

Anthropomorphism, or personification, is attribution of human form or other characteristics to anything other than a human being. There are several ‘personalities’ of the puranas—Brahma, Siva, etc. All of these may be said to represent the material agents or entities of material nature, each with their own respective powers (saktis), domains etc.  These are not the living beings (purusas or jivas) who, by the way, in their true form, are akin to Parama Purusa rather than to prakriti and who, on account of that fact, may be called personalities in the true sense of the term.

Although there is a multiplicity of such ‘personalities’, God (Isvara) is one. This is the Supreme Personality, lord of all the purusas as well as prakrti and of all entities contained within prakrti. He indeed is Narayana, the supreme cause (parama karana) Who is immanent as Visnu within His creation—the macrocosm—and as Paramatma within the microcosm and finally, as Krsna, the Supreme Teacher (Parama Guru) within the historical world. And therefore, as Madhavadeva rightly points out in the Nama Ghosa, while each of the material ‘personalities’ may pray to Laksmi—material nature personified—and report to ‘her’, Laksmi, in turn, must serve and report only to Visnu:

ব্ৰহ্মা আদি দেৱগণে নিচল সম্পত্তি মনে
লক্ষ্মীক সেৱন্ত তপ কৰি |
লক্ষ্মীও সেৱন্ত যাক হেন মহেশ্বৰ বিষ্ণু
আন কোন দেৱ তাঙ্ক সৰি ||১৭

brahmā ādi devagane nicala sampatti mane
laksmika sevanta tapa kari
laksmio sevanta yāka hena Mahesvara Visnu
āna kona deva tānka sari [17] 
All the devas—Brahma et al—wishing wealth, immovable,
serve Laksmi, doing austerities.
He Whom even Laksmi serves, such a Supreme Lord Visnu;
which other deity is equal to Him? [17]

ব্ৰহ্মা মহাদেৱ লক্ষ্মী দেৱী কায়-বাক্যে মনে থিৰ কৰি
পৰম আনন্দে চৰণ সেৱন্ত যাৰ |
সদা জন্ম-জৰা-মৃত্যু-হীন শ্ৰীমন্ত সুন্দৰ গুণনিধি
বিষ্ণুত বিনাই কোন দেৱ আছে আৰ ||৫৮৮

brahmā mahādeva laksmi devi
kāyabākyemane thira kari
parama ānande carana sevanta yāra
sadā janma jadā mrtyuhina srimanta sundara gunanidhi
Visnuta bināi kona deva āche āra [588]

Brahma, Mahadeva (Siva), goddess Laksmi,
resolving firmly in body, mind and speech,
Whose Feet they serve in great happiness.
He Who is eternally devoid of (mutations like) birth, death, old age, etc. and Who is possessor of all opulence, supremely beautiful and reservoir of all fine qualities,
apart from Visnu, which deity is there? [588]

Therefore, even amidst the cacophony of pujas, goddess (read nature) worship, illusion worship, etc., the message of Sankaradeva—exact same as the message of Krsna— rings out loud and clear:
“O all mankind, do worship Hari! Do not worship other entities—‘gods’, ‘goddesses’, etc. Direct your worship to Parama Purusa alone, the Lord of both prakrti and purusa and take sole-refuge (Eka-Sarana) in Him”.

মায়া আদি কৰি সমস্তে অসন্ত
জানিবা জড় নিশ্চয় |
হৰি মাত্ৰ সন্ত চৈতন্য ঈশ্বৰ
পৰম তত্ত্ব নিৰ্ণয় ||২০৫

māyā ādi kari samaste asanta
jānibā jada niscaya
Hari mātra santa caitanya Isvara
parama tattva nirnaya [205]

Starting with nescience (maya), all (material) entities are false;
know them to be lifeless (jada) definitely.
Hari, only, is truth, the conscious (caitanya) Lord—
Supreme Entity (tattva) certainly. [205]

If our objective is to approach God, reclaiming our eternal status as eternal, conscious, joyous personalities in His eternal service, instead of lapsing into death (mrtyu), dissolution and mutation (vikara), then we have to root our intellect in God, not in prakrti or maya. If we worship matter (prakrti), we will become matter-like—unconscious, suffering from mutations, and trapped in death. We will not get the true counsel. If we worship God and do devotion to Him, we attain immortality. We become God-like—which is our essential nature.  In the puranic representations, the attendants (parisadas) of Visnu always look like Visnu!

সত্য অসত্যৰ জড় চৈতন্যৰ
মাজত যিটো প্ৰকাশে |
তাকে বুলি মন সেহি সিটো পাৱে
যিজনে যাক উপাসে ||২০৪

satya asatyara jada caitanyara
mājata yito prakāse
tāke buli mana sehi sito pāve
yijane yāka upāse [204]

Between truth and un-truth, unconsciousness and consciousness,
that which is revealed (situated)
is called mind; whichever entity one worships,
it (the mind) attains to that. [204]

[1] It is the Supreme Purusa Who actuates prakrti or material nature and infuses life, as it were, into ‘her’ to initiate the process of evolution or material creation. This is given in the Bhagavata, 3rd Canto. Maya or prakrti is only a tool in the hands of Parama Purusa. Therefore, Laksmi is always seen serving the Feet of Visnu.

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