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Does the Yoga Vasistha, written by Sage Valmiki, strongly discourage or even prohibit idol worship?

How can idol worship be then reconciled with the Yoga Vasistha?

Men in vain rely on mantras and medicines, on austerities and charities, and on the adoration of idols for relief; while their bodies are subject to diseases like the sea to its surges. - Yoga Vasistha 3.73.27

The pure spirit of the eternal, infinite and all powerful, cannot be the object of ritualistic worship, which relates to finite gods or idols. - Yoga Vasistha 6.40.10

Therefore O sage! retract your sight from idols and idolatrous worship, and adopt your view to spiritual adoration; and be of an even, cool and clear mind, be dispassionate and freed from decay and disease. - Yoga Vasistha 6.40.13

It is the infantine ignorance which raises up this idol of egoism, though it is found to exist no where; just as little children make dolls and images of gods and men, that have no existence at all. - Yoga Vasistha 7.57.4

  • I am unable to make sense of these translations. May be I will write an answer if and when I get time. – user17987 Sep 30 at 6:43
  • The English translation of Swami Venkatesananda does not have any of these verses. – Pradip Gangopadhyay Sep 30 at 12:37
  • if somebody worhsips idol as god than its idolatory we are worshipping god in idol.. so there is no idolatory here. if you are from other religion think that as idol than you worship..than its idolatory.. ask any hindu you is worship that idol as god, this question who he/she is worshipping he will say the gods name not idol.. – Prasanna R Sep 30 at 17:30
  • one had accrue many punyas in many lives to worship god like this.. other wise its problematic – Prasanna R Sep 30 at 17:32
  • @PradipGangopadhyay Check page 259, the translation should be there in one of the lines. Looks like someone made this book out of a discourse that ran for several days so looks a bit disorganized. – sv. Oct 1 at 1:24
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I am not an expert in Sanskrit, but I do not think some of these translations are correct.

Yoga Vasistha 3.73.27

मन्त्रौषधितपोदानदेवपूजादिभिर्हता । बहिर्गिरिनदीतुङ्गतरङ्गवदुपद्रुता ॥ २७ ॥

mantrauṣadhitapodānadevapūjādibhirhatā | bahirgirinadītuṅgataraṅgavadupadrutā || 27 ||

Quoted translation is -

Men in vain rely on mantras and medicines, on austerities and charities, and on the adoration of idols for relief; while their bodies are subject to diseases like the sea to its surges.

The Sanskrit word used in the above verse is devapUjA or worship of the gods. There is no specific suggestion of idol worship anywhere in the verse, as far as I understand. The verse above is suggesting that mantras, medicines, worship of gods, austerities and charities, by themselves do not produce liberation.

That worship of gods, by itself, is not going to result in liberation is well-known even from the Bhagavad Gita -

अन्तवत्तु फलं तेषां तद्भवत्यल्पमेधसाम्। देवान्देवयजो यान्ति मद्भक्ता यान्ति मामपि।।7.23।। (Gita)

7.23 That result of theirs who are of poor intellect is indeed limited. The worshippers of gods go to the gods. My devotees go to Me alone. (Gita)

So the Yoga Vasistha is not saying anything different here. It is reiterating the teaching of the Gita.

Yoga Vasistha 6.40.10

पूज्यपूजाद्यवच्छिन्नो देवो नित्यामलात्मनः । सर्वशक्तेरनन्तस्य नेश्वरत्वस्य भाजनम् ॥ १० ॥

pūjyapūjādyavacchinno devo nityāmalātmanaḥ | sarvaśakteranantasya neśvaratvasya bhājanam || 10 ||

Quoted translation is -

The pure spirit of the eternal, infinite and all powerful, cannot be the object of ritualistic worship, which relates to finite gods or idols.

Again, I am unable to find any reference to idols in the verse. The verse is saying that the infinite Atman cannot be particularized by ordinary worship. There does not seem to be any specific suggestion to idol worship.

What the verse is saying is nothing new, because even the Kena upanishad already says that brahman is not an object of worship. This is because brahman is the subject. However, for the purpose of upAsana, brahman can be treated as an object of worship. Shankara mentions all this in his bhAshyas. So, once again the Yoga Vasistha is reiterating the teachings of upanishads and traditional advaita.

YV 6.40.13

तदीयां दृष्टिमुत्सृज्य तथेमामवलम्ब्य च । समः स्वच्छमनाः शान्तो वीतरागो निरामयः ॥ १३ ॥

tadīyāṃ dṛṣṭimutsṛjya tathemāmavalambya ca | samaḥ svacchamanāḥ śānto vītarāgo nirāmayaḥ || 13 ||

Quoted translation -

Therefore O sage! retract your sight from idols and idolatrous worship, and adopt your view to spiritual adoration; and be of an even, cool and clear mind, be dispassionate and freed from decay and disease.

If you look at the previous two verses prior to this verse (6.40.11 and 6.40.12), they are saying that brahman cannot be limited by any form or shape. Nor is brahman limited by space and time. As before, there is no specific suggestion about idol worship in this verse. These verses are saying to abandon all ideas of brahman being limited by anything. This is again nothing that Shankara or other advaitins have not said. Every advaitin knows that brahman is not limited by a form or space or time. But still advaitins worship idols by superimposing the idea of brahman on the idol The reverse should not be done. The idol can be worshipped as brahman, but brahman is not limited to an idol or form or shape (nor is brahman limited by space and time). The preceding Yoga vasistha verses are talking about the latter.

YV 7.57.4

अहंभावपिशाचोऽयमज्ञानशिशुनामुना । अविद्यमान एवान्तः कल्पितस्तेन संस्थितः ॥ ४ ॥

ahaṃbhāvapiśāco'yamajñānaśiśunāmunā | avidyamāna evāntaḥ kalpitastena saṃsthitaḥ || 4 ||

Quoted translation is -

It is the infantine ignorance which raises up this idol of egoism, though it is found to exist no where; just as little children make dolls and images of gods and men, that have no existence at all.

To the best of my knowledge, there is no reference to idol worship here The verse is making reference to imaginary creations of little children. I do not see any references to either gods or men in this verse, leave alone their idols.

From my knowledge of Sanskrit, I do not think any of these verses say that idol worship is prohibited. The teachings of the above verses are completely consistent with the upanishads, the bhagavad geeta and the commentaries upon the same by Adi Shankara.

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    Yes. You're right. I found a Swami Venkatesananda English translation online here and it agrees with your translation for verse 6.40.13 on page 259 (the printed number at the bottom of the PDF page) – ruben2020 Sep 30 at 18:01

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