Religious symbols

Religious symbols: Does bhakti lie in merely sporting religious symbols? Would a person become a good devotee of Lord Siva simply by smearing his forehead with sacred ash? Would a person become a good devotee of Lord...

The Hindu, August 21, 2016

Faith
Religious symbols
Does bhakti lie in merely sporting religious symbols? Would a person become a good devotee of Lord Siva simply by smearing his forehead with sacred ash? Would a person become a good devotee of Lord Vishnu just by wearing the Vaishnavite symbol on his forehead?
External symbols are there to remind us that this life is impermanent and that we must turn our thoughts towards God. The symbols by themselves will not take us closer to God. Why then should we sport symbols?
The sacred ash is to remind us that we all ultimately end up as a fistful of ash, said D.Gnanasundaram in a discourse. Sporting symbols is a way of acquiring discipline and curbing worldly thoughts.
There is a very interesting take on the Ramayana in popular story telling. Ravana tries his best to woo Sita, but is unsuccessful. His ministers then suggest that he should dress up like Rama in order to fool Sita. But Ravana replies that if he dresses up like Rama, then he will begin to think like Rama and will no longer covet another man’s wife! So a mere disguise can turn a person’s thoughts the right way. How much more potent will religious symbols be then!
Vaishnavite preceptor Nanjeeyar defined who a true Vaishnavite was. A man who wept upon witnessing another person’s sorrow was the one who could be termed a Vaishnavite. He who delighted in another person’s difficulties could never be called a Vaishnavite. So it is the cultivation of good qualities that make a man God-realised. That is why Saint Thayumanavar spoke of the need for patience, humility and generosity. These are the qualities that will lead us to God, whom Thayumanavar described as the nectar that we never tire of.
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