The Meaning and Importance of the Symbol, Form and Outward Acts of Worship

There is a great temptation, given the inclination of the mental faculties to create hard and fast differentiations and dualities, to either decide that the outer form of worship, including the specific idols, symbols or rites, is all-important or alternatively, to determine that it has little relevance in terms of true spiritual development in relation to the inner spirit and meaning of the worship.

It is also quite true that heavy reliance on the outer forms of worship lead to, in most cases, the creation of an outer shell with very little inner substance, as people conduct the ceremony without focus on the significance of it. This has occurred in most religions, even when the origin of the symbol or specific ritual held substantial inner sense when it was originated.

Sri Aurobindo however looks deeper into the matter and finds that there is an important role for the outer form to play, as long as it is the expression of the deeper inner aspiration: “For if without a spiritual aspiration worship is meaningless and vain, yet the aspiration also without the act and the form is a disembodied and, for life, an incompletely effective power.” The outer act or form allows the inner spirit within the seeker or devotee to take a more concrete form and thus, have its impact on the outer levels of the being and in the world. “…but few can dispense with the support or outward symbols and even a certain divine element in human nature demands them always for the completeness of its spiritual satisfaction. Always the symbol is legitimate in so far as it is true, sincere, beautiful and delightful, and even one may say that a spiritual consciousness without any aesthetic or emotional content is not entirely or at any rate not integrally spiritual. In the spiritual life the basis of the act is a spiritual consciousness perennial and renovating, moved to express itself always in new forms or able to renew the truth of a form always by the flow of the spirit, and to so express itself and make every action a living symbol of some truth of the soul is the very nature of its creative vision and impulse. It is so that the spiritual seeker must deal with life and transmute its form and glorify it in its essence.”

Once again we see here the integrative and balanced approach that Sri Aurobindo has developed to neither deny the inner nor the outer aspect of the spiritual aspiration as expressed through worship.

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga, Part One: The Yoga of Divine Works, Chapter 6, The Ascent of the Sacrifice-2, The Works of Love–The Works of Life, pp. 153-154


2 thoughts on “The Meaning and Importance of the Symbol, Form and Outward Acts of Worship

  1. Just beautifully expressed! Thank you. The inward leads a better outward. The outward leading towards inward for better renovation and renewal of consciousness,and helping for the expression of new forms. I offer the flower Marigold- the plasticity at The feet of The Mother. Thank you.

  2. Dear Mr. Krinsky,
    thank You for the daily messages. For foreign readers, it could be helpfull to use shorter sentences.

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