[Advaita-l] Proper worship in Shankara's tradtion

Jaldhar H. Vyas jaldhar at braincells.com
Tue Feb 28 17:44:51 CST 2006

On Fri, 24 Feb 2006, harish subramanian wrote:

> What is the position of Adi Shankaracharya on worship
>     of different Gods (other than the five priciple
> gods
>     of panchayatana worship)?

A clue as to his views can be given by examining the bhashya on Gita 10.24 
(I think that's the right shloka, I don't have a copy with me at the 

Here Krishna Bhagavan says (very rough translation):

Those who sacrifice to the Devas go to the Devas, those who sacrifice to the 
Pitrs go to the Pitrs, those who sacrifice to the Bhutas go to the Bhutas 
and those who sacrifice to me come to me.

Lets' start with the Bhutas.  This word is often translated as "ghost" and 
I have even seen some Gita translations say "evil spirits" but this 
misleading.  Shankaracharya glosses it as beings like Vinayakas, Matrkas, 
etc.  Other commentators have slightly different lists but the gist is it 
refers to the host of minor divinities which are still widely worshipped 
at the popular level of Hinduism today.

It is wrong to call them evil.  The problem is not they are evil but
capricious.  You can worship them and they might be favorably disposed to
you or on a whim they may not.  An interesting thing for me is how
universal this idea of mischief making spirits is.  I actually grew up in
a village in England and despite the fact that my neighbors were nominally
Christian they also had a lot of folk tales about "faeries", who if not
treated with the proper respect could cause all kinds of bad luck to
happen.  I think this is a reflection of the precariousness of life most
humans have had to live with until recently.  One bad harvest, or failed
monsoon, or cholera epidemic could spell total disaster.  Thus the Gods of 
the farmer are as unpredictable as nature.

Back to Shankaracharya, he classifies this kind of worship as Tamasic 
because it is not based on love of God, but fear of punishment.  It may 
lead to good results or it may not.  One never knows in advance.

The Pitrs are our own divinized ancestors.  They have worshipped the Devas 
properly through Vedic means and have reached their exalted position in 
Heaven due to their good deeds.  However they have attempted to strike 
deals.  They said "I will worship you if you give me this reward in 
return."  whether the reward is wealth or progeny or heaven etc. it is 
selfish.  Thus this type of worship is considered Rajasic.

The worshippers of the Devas are those who do so simply out of love and 
duty. They ask for nothing and accept what comes or does not with a steady 
mind.  This form of worship is Sattvik and leads to purification of the 
self.  However it still has one flaw in that it considers the worshipper 
and worshipped to be seperate.

The highest are those who are beyond the three gunas, who know Bhagavan in 
His true form and as not seperate from their own self.

So we can see a clear progression from chaos to (external) order to

>     Though it is acceptable to worship any of the
>     different gods(Ultimately,all worship leads to the
>     lotus feet of Vishnu). I think it is not correct to
>     worship any Non Vedic deity as it may lead to delay or
>     even reversal of spiritual progress.
>     For instance , reverence of sai baba or Jesus may be
>     okay, but to worship them as God may be harmful or
>     even disastrous.

Based on what I wrote above we can analyze any religion.  We will probably 
find views that support sattva, rajas, and tamas to various degrees. 
Following Shankaracharya, I think we should try and see the good, and 
leave out the bad.  See Shankaracharyas' critique of the Vaishnava 4 vyuha 
theory in the Brahmasutrabhashya.  He carefully notes he is attacking the 
philosophy only not the practices such as going to mandir, nama parayana 

All forms of Theism (including "Hindu" ones) suffer from the huge defect 
of saying that you can come close to God but no further.  Thus ultimately 
they will become dead ends to the sadhaka unless distorted out of all 
recognition and isn't it disrespectful for us to think we know more about 
how to interpret other peoples religions than their own followers do?

>     Can anyone provide me Information on texts that teach
>     panchayatana (according to vaidik tradition) form of
>     worship properly.

Please note that panchayatana puja is strictly speaking not Vedic 
tradition but sampradayic because it was instituted by Shankaracharya.  Of 
course it is firmly based on Vedic ideas.

>     There are some clarifications in this regard
>     1. There is a story of Shankara stopping the worship
>     of Yama. Can I know the context surrounding this?

I'm not familiar with that one.  Perhaps someone else can jump in?

>     2. What is Shankara's position on worship of Skanda.
>     He is not included on the original set of five gods.

As far as I know, that is a custom only prevalent in the Tamil areas.

>     3. What is Shankara's opinion on worship of Buddha. I
>     am aware of the differnces in the two sects.But what
>     is the position of Shankara.

Buddhism was already extinct in Southern India when Shankaracharya 
flourished and on the decline elsewhere.  He does not mention it at all in 
the context of worship and there is no doubt he thought it was the worst 
kind of heresy from the philosophical point of view.

Jaldhar H. Vyas <jaldhar at braincells.com>

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