2 August 2012 - QA 1

Was Prophet Muhammad a Nirguna Upasaka (follower of the formless)? If yes, then why was Vigraha Aradhana (idol worship) introduced?

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar:

Everybody should progress from Saguna Upasana to Nirguna Upasana, i.e., the worship of the Divine as a form to the worship of the Divine as formless.
The Kaaba stone is also worshipped, isn’t it? That is just like Saguna Upasana. They have to circumambulate the Kaaba stone seven times. And all of them do it. They go and kiss it. All this is nothing but worship of the Divine as a form only. It is like a place of Shiva.

It is in our Puranas, isn’t it? Of the three steps taken by Lord Vishnu during his Vamana Avataara (incarnation), the first step was kept on Gaya. If you go to Gaya, you will find a place where you can see one foot imprint. There is an idol there.
The second step was kept at Mecca. That was a place of worship much before the Nabi (Prophet Muhammad). It was a place of special pilgrimage much before the birth of Prophet Muhammad. There were many idols there and so Muhammad felt that why should there be so many idols there, let there just be one. And he kept only that one stone there for worship. That is a very ancient place of worship.

That is why whether Saguna Upasana or Nirguna Upasana, Lord Krishna says, ‘Kleśo 'dhikataras teshām avyaktāsakta-cetasām avyaktā hi gatir dukham dehavadbhir avāpyate’ (Chapter 12 Verse 5).
People who are body conscious, for them, going directly to the un-manifest brings a lot of sorrow and a lot of trouble in their lives and this is true, we have seen it. If you see Judaism, they underwent so much trouble, so much suffering.
He is not saying this path is wrong or bad. The path of the un-manifest is there but the way is very gruesome, it is a very tedious road and it brings a lot of pain to the walkers on that path.
We have seen this happening to the Jews in the world. And it has happened to the Muslims. In the Muslim religion this is happening from the very inception. But if you see Christians on the other hand, though there was trouble but not as much.
Buddhists, Jains, Tao , Shinto, all these paths were smooth sailing and there was not so much suffering that people had to face as in the time of Muhammad.
In Prophet Muhammad’s time, he himself had to face so much difficulty. Same is with the Prophet of Judaism. Their whole life, their paths were filled with sorrow, filled with hardship, filled with struggle and fight all the way through. And to some extent even the Sikhs had to go through this. Sikhs also worshipped the Avyakta – the unseen and the un-manifest.
So you need to have both. If you want happiness in life, then practice worshipping the manifest form of God (Saguna Upasana). And if you want mukti (liberation) then you must worship and meditate upon the formless un-manifest aspect of God (Nirguna Upasana).
You must honour both Nirguna (formless) and Saguna (manifest form) aspects of the Divine. This practice is worth following.

In the Vedic stream of thought, it is said that one must perform Poojas and other rituals for relieving oneself of suffering and misery. And for attaining happiness, one must meditate upon the formless aspect of the Divine. So in this world as well as the next, we must practice both Shreya (that which is righteous and beneficial) and Preyah (that which is pleasing to oneself) and meditate.