Chapter 43 — Worship of the Formless Versus the Forms of God

Rama said, “Sage, your knowledge of all truths and the light of your holy discourses have gratified me as much as cooling moonbeams gratify medicinal plants. Your gentle and purifying words are as gratifying to my ears as beautiful and sweet flowers delight the external senses. Sage, if the efforts of men, as you said, are the causes of their success, how did Prahlada attain enlightenment without his effort or attempt?”

Vasishta replied:—

Yes Rama, it was by his courageous efforts that the high-minded Prahlada acquired his divine knowledge. There was no other cause.

The soul of man is the same as the spirit of Narayana. There is no difference between them, just as there is none between oil and sesame seed, or cloth and its whiteness, and as the flower and its fragrance are not distinct things. Vishnu is the same as his spirit and the soul of man, and the human soul is the same with Vishnu. Vishnu and soul are synonymous terms, like plant and vegetable.

First Prahlada came to know the soul by himself. Afterwards, through his intellectual power he was led to his devotions to Vishnu, and he made many converts after his own example. By his own efforts Prahlada obtained his grace and blessing from Vishnu. By the exercise of his own reasoning he came to the knowledge of the Eternal Mind.

Sometimes the soul is awakened of itself by one’s own intuition. At other times the soul is roused by the grace of the personal god Vishnu owing to one’s faith in his person. 10 And though this god may be pleased with a devotee’s prolonged service and devout worship, yet the god is unable to confer spiritual knowledge to one devoid of his reasoning faculty. 11 Hence the primary cause of spiritual light is a man’s intelligence, which is only gained by exertion of his mental powers. The secondary causes may be the blessing and grace of a god, but I wish that you prefer the former method for your salvation, your own intuition.

12 Therefore, first exert your personal efforts to keep the fivefold organs of sense under proper control. Regularly and diligently practice cultivating your understanding and the power of reasoning. 13 For know that whatever gain anyone makes at anytime is only due to his own efforts and not by any other means whatever. 14 Only by relying upon your personal powers can you surmount the insuperable barriers of your sensual desires. Then by crossing over the ocean of this world, you reach the other shore of supreme joy.

15 It requires no personal effort to see an idol of Vishnu, but the mere sight of the idol is not enough to save you, or else the birds and beasts would all be saved by looking at it. 16 If a spiritual guide had the power to save his foolish followers by his preaching, it would also be possible for the spiritual guides of camels and cattle to save their herds in their future lives. 17 It is only in the power of the mind to acquire anything good for one’s self. The favor of Vishnu or Shiva or the influence of money is not able to effect anything. 18 It is by constant practice accompanied by self-resignation and self-control that one is able to effect anything. Whatever he is unable to do by these means is impossible for anyone in the three worlds.

19 Look to the spirit in the spirit and adore the spirit in your own soul. Behold the Supreme Soul in yourself, have the Universal Soul in your own soul, and thus remain with it.

20 Fools who flee from studying the scriptures or practicing self-devotion and reason have adopted the Vaishnava faith as a path leading to their better being. 21 Practice and diligence are said to be steps to self-enlightenment, and rites and ceremonies are represented as secondary courses resorted to when people are unable to practice the former! 22 The senses being unmanageable, what is the good of ceremonial observances? The senses being under control, it is useless to observe the ritual.

23 Without rationality and dispassion of his spirit, it is hard to have Vishnu. When there is cool and calm reasoning of the mind, it is as useless to have the idol of Vishnu as placing a lotus in the hand of the dead and liberated. 24 When you have the qualities of abstraction and composure in your mind, think you have everything in yourself. These being in your possession, you become an adept. Otherwise, you are an ass in a forest.

25 Men are eager to find favor in the sight of the gods, but they do not seek the favor of their hearts and minds. 26 Vishnu, the indwelling spirit of the body, is situated in the innermost soul of every individual. Only the ignorant fool forsakes the innermost Vishnu and seeks the outer form to lead him to the other. 27 The consciousness dwelling in the cavity of the heart is the true body of the everlasting spirit. The outward form of Vishnu, holding the conch shell, club, lotus and the discus, is only a false representation. 28 He who forsakes the real form to follow the fictitious one lets ambrosia pass from his hand in order to pursue some promised sweet delicacy.

29 He who is not settled in the charming scenery of his spiritual meditation lets his frantic mind rove at large after every object that presents itself before him. 30 He who does not have the abstract knowledge of the soul in himself is governed by his infatuated mind and worships the image bearing the conch, discus, club, and lotus in its hands as the supreme lord and god. 31 By practice of continued austerity and a prolonged worship of this deity, the devotee’s mind becomes purified in process of time and gets rid of its turbulent passions at last. 32 The daily practice of self-control and abstract meditation gives the mind purity and, like the mango fruit, the mind gets its accompanying virtues one by one.

33 The soul is said to obtain the virtues of peace, contentment and rest through the external adoration of Vishnu. This is why the practice of idol worship is prescribed in the scriptures. 34 He who obtains his blessing from the all powerful god gets it as a reward for the merit of his long practice, like the fruit of a tree. 35 Mental labor is the foundation of every improvement and of all lasting good in life, just as a well cultivated soil is the cause of a good harvest. 36 Even digging the ground and shaping a hill produces no good without application of the mind.

37 Men may undergo a thousand reincarnations and wander about the earth in various births and shapes, and yet they find no rest or composure of their minds. 38 They may worship Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva forever, and gain their favor also, and yet can have no salvation owing to the perturbed state of their minds.

39 Leave off worshipping the visible form of Vishnu, either internally or externally in your mind or before your sight. Put an end to your reincarnation by meditating only upon your consciousness. 40 Behold the unstained form of the one infinite God in your conscious self by forsaking whatever it is conscious of. Taste the sweet essence of the one real entity, and go over the ocean of repeated births in the mortal world.