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  1. Is it they worship, the power inside idols.
  2. They use it as a point of concentration.
  3. Only a representation.
  4. God is present in idol.

4th option included after reading question here. What is the significance of Murthi pooja (idol worship)?

marked as duplicate by user1195, Sarvabhouma, The Destroyer Oct 2 '17 at 17:31

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A partial answer to this question has been given in a previous question as pointed out in comments to the question. Nevertheless, I will add an additional answer.

The clearest explanation of image worship that I have come across is that of Swami Tapasyananda:

…Worship of a God who is not also the Absolute is idolatry, and a mere Absolute, who is characterless and is irresponsive, is not better than matter. The Vedanta accepts the Supreme as both Personal and Impersonal. When the votary in the course of his spiritual development becomes de-personalized on achieving the elimination of his ego-based body-mind, he will be able to understand the true Impersonal. Till then, that is, so long as he is a person, the Impersonal and the Absolute can only mean for him a Personal Being who is much more than what he, a person, has grasped or can grasp of Him. To illustrate, the Impersonal-Personal Divine of the Vedanta is the ocean and the God of adoration of the devotee is like a big field or backwater into which the water of that ocean has flowed. The many deities that form the object of worship of Vedantism are like these tanks and backwaters in the analogy. They are so many manifestations of the Personal-Impersonal Sat-chit-ananda in the thought structures of those who adore Him, or are forms adopted by Him for the achievement of cosmic purposes in his world-play. The worship of these forms with an understanding of the infinitude that informs their finitude ...... is the only form of true worship that the human mind is capable of, so long as man remains a limited person. The other ideas of the Divine which Semitic religions hold – their so called boasted monotheism – is only a form of disguised idolatry; for when it is said that Jehovah is a jealous God, or that there is no God but Allah, it is obvious that the Supreme Being is being identified as an exclusive individual and not as an expression of an Infinite Being in terms of the human mind. When the link with the Infinite is forgotten, a Deity, whether it is a monotheistic entity or a polytheistic being becomes a mere idol. Real worship of the Supreme Being is possible only when the principle of Vedantic theism is understood – that principle being the perception of the Infinite Personal-Impersonal Being through a limited manifestation of Him.

A Vedantic Deity is never aggressive, demanding the overthrow of other deities. But, a monotheistic Deity, always a jealous God, cannot tolerate another deity. As Toynbee has pointed out, the monotheistic Deity of the Semitics is only an apotheosis of the group or tribal consciousness of certain people, a sentiment that held together societies before nationalism took its place. Just as the nationalistic patriotism is eager to absorb all other countries, that form of group consciousness masquerading as monotheism wants to supplant all other religions and establish its Deity in their sanctuaries. Proselytism, for which many religions stand but which has no place in the Vedantic scheme, is the consequence of the Infinite Being but a personalisation of the group consciousness of a people.

The principle enunciated above in regard to Deities is applicable also to worship of God in holy images, which critics, who are practicing real idolatry, have stigmatised as idolatry. The Vedantin’s God is not an individual as the Semite’s. He is the Universal Spirit who has manifested as All-Nature. He is one with all, and if a person with faith wants to see Him anywhere, He is present there. Like water running all through the ground, He is everywhere; and if the well of faith is dug, He becomes available for worship. A holy image is thus a point at which His real presence is available for imperfect man to apprehend and commune with. It is not a mere means for practising concentration as some apologists say. It is much more. It is a point of real communion with the Divine when the eye of faith reveals Him as accepting the worship and offering made by the devotee.

[Adapted from Swami Tapasyananda’s introductory remarks in ‘A Primer of Hinduism’ by D.S.Sarma]

  • It is a point of real communion with the Divine.. please cite scriptural reference for the claim of XYZ – Abdur rehman Oct 2 '17 at 14:25
  • Read Sri Ramakrishna's life by Swami Saradananda where he directly experience the divine present in Dakshineswar Kali temple. The idea has arisen from the experience of Yogis. – Pradip Gangopadhyay Oct 2 '17 at 14:58

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