Form or Formless Worship? – Bhakti Yoga 1

The twelfth chapter of the Gita is called “Bhakti Yoga” or the Yoga of devotion. The chapter begins with the sloka spoken by Arjuna:

अर्जुन उवाच |

एवं सततयुक्ता ये भक्तास्त्वां पर्युपासते |

ये चाप्यक्षरमव्यक्तं तेषां के योगवित्तमाः ||

EvaM satatyuktaa ye bhaktaastvaaM paryupaasate
ye chaapyaksharamavyaktaM teshhaaM ke yogavittamaaH

Word Meanings:

    evaM – In this way:
    satatayuktaaH – ever steadfast in devotion : ye bhaktaaH – those devotees : tvaaM upaasate – who worship you : ye cha api – and then again, those devotees : aksharaM – indestructible : avyaktaM – unmanifest : teshaaM – of them : ke – who : yogavittamaaH – are the greater knowers of yoga

Arjuna asks the Lord, “Which of your devotees has a greater understanding of yoga? “Those who worship you constantly in this form, as a divine person, or those who think and contemplate of you as imperishable and absolute or without any form?”
Whatever we might think of God is faulty. There are two types of mistakes that make it difficult for us to understand God. Some people say, “The lord is without form. He is nirguNa niraakaara” and therefore get disrespect for God with form. They don’

t accept Him as SaguNa saakaara, with form and qualities. Such people always immerse themselves in meditation and believe that only their way of worship is the greatest. But this is only 50% understanding,

Then there are others who are convinced that the Lord has form. He is made of flesh and blood. He has hands and legs and holds his weapons in his four hands, he is adorned in all jewellery and will accept Him only in the form that they imagine He has. They worship Him in idols or pictures which represent Him. Such people will believe that any one who can think that the Lord does not have form is ignorant.

These are the two different parties who are constantly fighting with one another. As long as we side with one of them, then we also become partial and cannot see the Lord.

This is why Arjuna now asks this question, Who is the greater bhaktha? “evam satatyuktaaH ye bhaktaaH” those devotees who constantly worship you in the various idols, or those devotees who think of you as “aksharaM” or imperishable and “avyaktaM”

as being unmanifest and without form. Which of these is the one who truly understands you?

The reason for this question can be traced back to the earlier chapters. Chapters 9, 10 and 11 discuss the different ways in which the Lord manifests Himself. In Chapter 9, the Lord said:

मया ततमिदं सर्वं जगदव्यक्तमूर्तिना | मत्स्थानि सर्वभूतानि न चाहं तेष्ववस्थितः ||

mayaatatamidaM sarvaM jagadavyaktamuurtinaa
matsthaani sarvabhuutaani na chaahaM teshvavasthitaH

The Lord says,”I am unmanifest and formless and yet I support this entire manifest world in my unmanifest form”


In Chapter 10. the Lord then says that it would be difficult for us to imagine Him as being formless. To make it easy for us to understand Him. he says that all those things that fascinate us, the highest mountains, the deepest oceans, the beautiful Sun. moon and stars, plants every aspect of nature and everything that is around us, anything that we like and appreciate should be seen as a manifestation or Vibhuti of the Lord. He tells Arjuna. whenever you see anything best in whatever form, accept Me there.

In the eleventh chapter the lord appears in front of Arjuna in his two handed form, then reveals himself with infinite hands, eyes and faces. He shows to Arjuna His most peaceful form as well as his most fierceful form. He also reveals to Arjuna that these forms of the Lord cannot be seen even by vedic study, austerities, charity or sacrifices – by veda, tapas, or dhaana. However, it can be experienced by ananyabhakti or unswerving devotion.

The most important thing in life is to learn constantly. In the Sidhbari ashram. there is a signboard that lists 40 definitions of “Who is Old”. One of the definitions read. “When we have all the answers to all the questions and no one wants to ask us. then we are old”. Another definition reads. -if a person doesn’t wan’

t to learn. then he is old”.

The truth is we have every opportunity to learn around us, but we keep ignoring it. One of the most important ways of learning is asking questions and Arjuna. who is confused by all the different manifestations of the Lord that has been explained to him, now asks the Lord. “among the devotees who see you as having form – “

saguNa saakaara” and those who see you without form, as aksharaM or imperishable and avyaktaM or unmanifest, who is the one who has understood the truth?

We also often have the same question in our minds. Whose name should we take? When I am in trouble. who should I call out to? Rama or Krishna. If I call out only to Rama. maybe Shiva will feel bad and so on. In many houses. especially those of South Indians there is an entire photo gallery, called the Puja room. There are so many pictures of Gods, Rama, Krishna, Devi, Ayyappa and Guruvayoorappa so close to each other that there is no space for the Lord to even turn. Whatever picture anyone gives them, these people keep and then the problem starts, who should I call? By seeing the Lord in so many different forms we become confused and afraid.

Thus, Arjuna’

s question is exactly what we have in our minds. How should we know and understand God? If we can understand this, then we can reach the Lord. Taking this question, the Lord answers.

This sloka began with the words, “Arjuna uvaaca”

. The word uvaacha, indicates the spontaneity of Arjuna. He easily asks the Lord. He has no feelings of fear or doubts about asking the question. This truly reflects on the person who is answering him.

Once a Swamiji was in his ashram and his disciple was sitting next to him. A devotee came and told him. “People keep chanting the Lord’s name. It is not enough, if you just chant the Lord’s name-Nothing can be achieved unless we also put in our efforts”. The Swamiji replied “you are absolutely correct” and the devotee goes away. After some time, another devotee came and said, “Nothing can be achieved in this world by our efforts alone. God’s grace is utmost necessary for anything to happen”. Once again, the Swaamiji said, “That’s absolutely correct”. His disciple who had been listening gets a bit confused. After some time, a third devotee comes to Swamiji and says. “Till now. nothing at all has been achieved by man. If man truly had knowledge of everything, then how can you explain why men become sick or go mad’

. It is only God who does everything and men are mere instruments”. To this also the Swaamiji says -That’s correct”. The disciple is now thoroughly confused and asks the Swamiji. “You agreed with all three of them. What is really correct?” The Swaamji answers him. “What is correct is – Till “I” speak to you, you should not listen!!”.

A saint’s reply will depend on the person who is questioning. If a person has intellectual curiosity and if the question is based on that, then the Swamiji will also reply in a manner to satisfy that. If a person asks for time pass then the Swamiji’s answer will also be in the same fashion.

Once a lady brought her son to the Satsangh and introduced him to Swamiji. “This is my son. He is jobless”. The lady complained about her son to Swamiji. “My son never comes to the temple”. The son told Swamiji. “I don t believe in God”. Swamiji replied. “Me too!!”. The boy asked. “Then how, come you are going to the temple’.”. Swamiji replied. “Aise hi. Time pass, You don’t have to believe to go to the temple.” The boy is taken aback. He thinks for a while and then tells Swamiji. I tell my mommy’. “You say God is everywhere. then why should I go to the temple”.”. Swamiji replied. -If God is everywhere. He is in the temple also. So. why should you object’


Arjuna was a simple person and He asked genuinely with intellectual curiosity. There was no mischief in his question. Once a girl asked Swamiji. “Swaamiji, Why do you have a beard.” . He replied, “Are you jealous’.”. The answer should always be befitting the intention behind the question.

Arjuna asks the Lord easily and spontaneously because he knows that the Lord will answer him and dispel his doubt. Arjuna asks. “

Who understands God better?” But by doing so. Arjuna himself distinguished the devotees into two classes and this distinction has been a major cause of dispute between different groups.

In India, in olden times, there was always a difference of opinion between devotees of the Arya Samaaj and devotees of Sanatana Dharma. The Arya Samaajis believed that God does not have form and therefore did not believe in any form of idol worship. The Sanaatana Dharmis on the other hand, believed that the Lord must be worshipped with form. and they believed in worshipping idols. Once the Arya Samaajis and the Sanaatana Dharmis decided to have a “Vivaadh” – a formal debate on this issue. A date was set and a big crowd had been summoned. in the temple hall . The Arya Samaaji had arrived and the Sanaatana Dharmi did not come. So. they thought he was scared. It was a Shiva temple and the priest of the temple decided to take up the argument on behalf of the Sanaatana Dharmis. He told the Arya Samaajis, you give your argument first and then I will reply to you. The Arya Samaaji started with “Om bhur bhuvaH suvarOM and explained how the Lord is unmanifest . The pujaari was a simple man. He replied, “ I will pick up this ‘Saguna Saakara” idol of mine and break it on your head. You hit me with your formless God. Let us see who wins?”

. Argument closed!!

Such discussions are futile are meaningless. There is nothing big or small in Lord’

s devotion, but unfortunately we get caught up in this.

We will discuss the Lord’s response in tomorrow’s post.

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