For a long time, I was very hostile to the notion of worship. While I had embraced spirituality, and had no doubt as to the existence of divine beings all manifesting from the supreme source of The Way, the notion of worshipping any of this made me feel uncomfortable. I saw it as a form of subjugation and belittlement. In a very Zen way, I reasoned ‘If we are all already God, then what is there to worship? I would just be worshipping an externalized form of the selfless self from which I emerge – and wouldn’t that be delusion?’
To a limited degree, the answer to this is ‘yes.’ But that is not the point. As I came to realize through the concept of ‘expedient means’ posited by the Buddha in The Lotus Sutra, a practice or teaching is only important insofar as the effect it has on the consciousness of one who receives it, or puts it into action. If you want to know the efficacy of a thing, look at the fruit it bears. Don’t get distracted by differences in methodology – just observe the results they enable people to obtain.
So what benefits does worship enable one to obtain? One of the biggest obstacles to enlightenment is the ego. The ego is the part of us that always says ‘ME FIRST – FUCK EVERYONE ELSE!’ It is the part of us that consider our own needs, being, and consciousness to be greater, and more important than that of any other being. These beliefs may not always be conscious – but if we look at the way these unconscious beliefs govern our lives, we will begin to see the ego’s trademark influence.
However, in worship, prayer, and devotion, this mentality is rigorously opposed. When we stop focusing on our own importance, and searchingly admire that which exceeds us in scale, greatness, age, wisdom, and goodness – anchoring our thoughts in infinity, instead of within our own limited span of concerns –then we begin to loosen the bonds of self-attachment. If we make a habit of anchoring our minds in such away, we can eradicate our selfishness altogether.
Many of us will already have had some conception of this feeling, spiritual or atheist. Many are drawn to the sweetness of relationships, savouring the selflessness we momentarily taste, when we love someone so much, we will place them before ourselves. Others feel the same way when confronted with suffering, the vastness of space, or the immensity of unfathomable mountain ranges.
But, even the best of lovers are fallible – even the longest-lasting of mountains and worlds are essentially destructible. So, focusing on that which is indestructible, on that which is infallible, and beyond all doubt, we find something eternally reliable, that can never let us down, for it will never go away. Never there, yet always there. Ever lost, yet always found. There is no subjugation in this – only the subjugation of the ego mind – the false self. The arguments my intellect had put up a barrier against worship was just my ego trying to defend itself. Ignorance can sound very clever and reasonable when it wants to.
So, what is worship? Anchoring yourself in the infinite. It is only when we are able to comprehend our own tiny fragility, that we can become a vessel for the full power and resource of the universe.