Q: For a devotee, what is more important, worship of the form or worship of the formless?
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar: First you tell me, do you have a form or not?
(Devotee: Yes Gurudev, I have a form.)
You have a form? Where is the form? What is the form of your mind?
(Devotee: The mind does not have a form.)
See, your body has a form but your mind does not. Aren't you a combination of both? You are the body which has a form and you are also the mind which is formless, isn’t it? So you are a combination of the form and the formless. In the same way, the entire creation is the manifested form of the Divine who is formless.
Consciousness is formless and the manifest creation has a form. That is why in our country even the cows are worshiped and considered holy. The Peepal (sacred fig) tree is considered holy, because the Divine resides in everything.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna also says that among trees I am ‘Ashvath’ (Peepal). Has He said it or not?
In the same way, He has said Bhutanaam Chetanaschaas, I am Chetana (consciousness).
He has said, Jeevanam Sarva Bhutesu, i.e., I am the consciousness in all living things.
Even the Gopis (the group of cow herding girls famous for their unconditional devotion to Krishna) went from worshiping the form to worshiping the formless. And this happened very naturally for them. They started seeing Him (Lord Krishna) in everything and at every place. They were not able to live without Him even for a single moment. This is the pinnacle of devotion, the height of devotion.
Devotion always starts with the form and ends with the formless. The traditional practice itself has been like this, first worship the feet, then worship the idol, then worship the saligram (referring to the practice of worship of Lord Vishnu in the form of a sacred black stone), then worship the yantra.
It is said that more important than the idol, is the Yantra (the diagrammatic representation of the deity in the form of symbols).
Every deity has a Yantra and a Mantra dedicated to him or her, and the procedure or rituals of worship of the deity is known as Tantra.
The idol does not get its spiritual strength until its Yantra is installed. And the Yantra does not have any power until it is empowered by the chanting of the Mantra. The mantra also is of no use without the presence of a saint or a seeker.
If you just take a mantra from just anyone, it will not work. The mantra has to be received per the holy tradition and rituals for it to work.
So everything has its own significance.