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Chapter 4: The Transformative Power of Idols

Worship is such an inner, subjective and personal matter that it cannot be expressed or demonstrated. Anything inner and personal in life cannot be demonstrated. If my heart is cut open you will not be able to see love in it; nor will you find anger, hate, forgiveness or compassion. You will find only a sort of pump for the circulation of blood. If after putting me on the operating table and investigating my heart, a surgeon certifies that I have never experienced any love or hate, I have no way of proving him wrong. Will the surgeon confirm my claim that I have loved? He may say that I am deluded. But if I ask the doctor whether he has had any experiences of love or hate, if he is logical and honest he will say that he also has had such delusions; otherwise, the heart as seen on the operating table is only a pump-like object for the circulation of the blood, and there is nothing like a heart which feels love or hate.

If your eyes are operated on and examined, it will not be possible to prove that they have seen dreams. How can you know from an eye opened up on the operating table that at night, while closed, it has seen many dreams? We all see dreams, but where do they exist? Dreams may be unreal, but their existence cannot be denied. However unreal a dream might be, it happened somewhere within. If it was a frightening dream, when you wake up your heart will be beating faster - even if it was unreal; if you cried during your dream, when you wake your eyes will be wet. Something has happened internally but the outer, the physical eyes, do not reveal anything: whatever is inner, subjective and personal cannot be seen outwardly.

An idol can be seen - as can the heart or the eye - but worship cannot be seen. Worship is like love or a dream; hence when you pass a temple you can see the idol but not the worship. So if you saw Meera dancing before an idol you would think she was mad, naturally, because her worship cannot be seen. She just seems to be dancing in front of a stone!

When Ramakrishna was appointed to be the priest in the Dakshineshwar temple in Calcutta, after a few days people began to complain about him. It was said that before offering flowers to the deity Ramakrishna first smelled them himself, that before offering the deity food he himself tasted it. This was thought to be sacrilegious.

Ramakrishna was summoned before the temple committee and asked for an explanation. He said that whenever his mother had fed him, she would first test the food to decide whether it was tasty enough for him, she would first decide whether it was worth giving to him; so he was doing the same with the deity. How could he offer food that he had not tasted? How could he offer flowers that he had not smelled? The committee said this went against all the rules of worship.

But Ramakrishna asked, “Can there be any rules for worship? Can there be any rules for love?”

Where there are regulations, worship dies. Where there are regulations, love dies. Love is an outpouring of inner feelings which are very personal and individual. There is a universal truth in this which can be recognized. When two lovers love, though they are both loving, they love in their own individual way. The manifestations may be entirely different, but there is a similarity of experience. Their love may have its own individuality, but within their love the same soul resides.

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