Friday, December 07, 2007

On Sandhya Worship

While browsing through the archives of advaitin list, I came across a beautiful dialogue between a devotee and HH Sri Chandashekara Bharati on Sandhya Worship. It is long, but should be read by anyone interested in the ancient meditation practice of Sanatana Dharma. Also, people interested in meditation would benefit from by reading it. Further, the dialogue gives an idea on how teaching is done in Sanatana Dharma in a progressive way, with concrete answers to seekers at different levels of maturity, leaving no one with a sense of missing the big point. I am reproducing it in the full.

A touring Educational Officer once met His Holiness and said,

"I have occasions of being in constant touch with young boys, mostly Brahmanas, studying in schools which I have to inspect. I have found that even the boys who perform their sandhya do so more as a form than as real worship. I shall be very grateful if Your Holiness would give me some valuable hints which I could convey to them"

I am very glad to see that you are not content with mere official routine of inspection but desire to utilise the occasion for the betterment of the boys. It will be well if all educationists, inspecting officers or teachers, realise that they have been entrusted with the very grave responsibility of training up young men in the most impressionable period of their lives. In my opinion they are really to blame if they confine their attention only to the prescribed text books and neglect the spiritual side of the young generation.

I always keep that end before me and I don't miss any opportunity of talking to the boys and giving them some useful advice. It is mainly with a view to do that work better that i request Your Holiness to give some practical suggestions.

Even if the boys to whom you propose to convey such suggestions may not benefit by them, you will certainly be benefited.


You may therefore, for the present, ignore the boys and ask such questions the answers to which are likely to be useful to you.

The first question which suggests itself to me is with reference to the sandhya worship. What is the deity or upasya devata in the sandhya Worship?

Before we consider that, please tell me what you understand ordinarily by the sandhya worship?

By sandhya worship we mean the worship of the rising Sun, the setting Sun or Sun in the mid heavens.

Quite so. Comprehensively speaking, you mean worship of the Sun?


You tell me that sandhya is the worship of the Sun and yet you ask me what is worshipped in the sandhya. Don't you think it is an unnecessary question?

Put so, it may seem an unnecessary question, but my real question is, what is the Sun that is worshipped?

What do you understand ordinarily by the Sun?

We mean the bright celestial orb in the sky.

Then it is that bright celestial orb that is worshipped.

But that orb is, according to science, mere inert matter in a state of high combustion and is certainly not worthy of being worshipped by intelligent beings like ourselves. It can neither hear our prayers nor respond to them. I cannot believe that our ancestors were so ignorant as to address their prayers to a mere burning mass of matter

I quite agree with you. They could never have been so foolish.

What then did they see in the Sun to justify their prayers being addressed to it?

You said just now that addressing of prayers to inert matter cannot be justified by reason.


What then must be the nature of the entity to which a prayer is addressed?

The primary condition is that it must not be mere inert matter, but must be endowed with intelligence.

And the second condition?

That it must be able to hear our prayers and be powerful enough to answer them.

Quite so. If our ancients were not fools and yet addressed their prayers to the Sun, their conception of the Sun must have been quite different from that of mere inert matter, in a state of high combustion.

Yes, they must have also postulated of it intelligence, the capacity to hear us and the ability to help us.

The 'us' including not only all those who are now living to raise their hands in prayer to the Sun, but also the generations, past and future, infinite in number though they may be?

Of course.

The entity that is worshipped as the Sun is therefore one whose intelligence or ability knows no limitation of space or time.

It must be so.

You have now got your answer to the question as to who is worshipped in the sandhya? It is an intelligent Being, omniscient and omnipotent in the matter of hearing and responding to its votaries.

Your Holiness then means that it is a deva who has his habitation in the solar orb?

Quite so. He has not only his habitation there, but the solar orb itself is his physical body.

Your Holiness means that the deva enlivens the solar orb, just as we do our physical bodies?

Just so.

If then he is embodied just like us, how does he happen to have such high intelligence or power as to merit our obeisance?

He attained that status by virtue of the appropriate karma and upasana done by him in a previous life.

Does Your Holiness mean that he was at one time just like ourselves and that he attained that status by his endeavour?


Then he is no more than a jiva, which I aIso am. Why should a Jiva make prostration before another Jiva, howsoever superior?

Why should your son or pupil respect you and why should you show respect to your superior officers? Are not both of you jivas?

No doubt we are. But we respect our superiors as it is in their power to help us or injure us, if they so desire.

That is a very low kind of respect. Anyhow, taking even that kind of respect, we must respect Surya devata if it is in his power to help us or injure us, if he so desires.

Of course.

Being a jiva as much as your superior officers, he will help you if you appeal to him for help or injure you if you ignore or despise him. In your own interest then, you are bound to worship him and secure his goodwill.

But 1 need not court the favour nor fear the displeasure of my superior officer, if I carry out the duties of my office faithfully.

Quite so.

If I preserve that attitude, there is no reason why I should propitiate my superior officer

Certainly not.

Similarly, if l carry out strictly the duties enjoined on me by the sastras, I need not propitiate any other jiva, be he the highest devil.

Quite so.

Then, should I not give up the worship of Surya devata?

Certainly you may, unless of course such a worship is part of the duties enjoined on you by the Sastras.

How can that be?

It is true that an honest and strict officer in performing the duties of his office need not mind the pleasure or the displeasure of his immediate superior. But the mere fact that he thinks it necessary or obligatory to perform those duties properly, shows that he has as the ultimate end the pleasure, or avoidance of the displeasure of a still higher officer who is superior to him as well as to his immediate superior. Even if he has no personal acquaintance with that higher officer, he always has in the background of his mind an undefined power, call it the King or the Government, when he performs the duties of his office. And that power has the ability to benefit him by a recognition of his services or to punish him by taking note of his delinquencies. Further, that power rules both him and his immediate superior officer. If therefore that power requires him to behave in a particular manner towards his superior officer, he cannot afford to disobey that injunction, for if he disobeys, not only does he incur the displeasure of that officer but also of the higher power.

That is so.

Similarly, if a power which rules both you as well as Surya devata requires you to conduct yourself in a particular manner towards that deva, you cannot afford to neglect that injunction, but must conform to it or take the risk of incurring the displeasure of that deva as also of the higher power.

It is no doubt so. But in that case, in prostrating myself before Surya devata, I shall be really worshipping the higher power even when my worship may seem addressed to the Surya.

What of that?

If I am able to conceive of such a higher power who rules even the Surya, that power is really the worshipped entity although to all appearances the worship is addressed to the Surya only.

Quite so.

But Your Holiness said that it, was Surya devata who was worshipped?

Yes. It is correct so far as persons who are not able to conceive of a higher power are concerned. To those however who can conceive of that power, He is the real upasya. That power is called Hiranyagarbha. He enlivens and ensouls not only the Surya, but all devils. He enlivens and inhabits not only the solar orb but all things. He is the cosmic personality who is the soul of all things.

I suppose just as we have the sense of I 'in our physical bodies, so does that cosmic personality has the sense of "I" in the entire cosmos.

He has.

If so, the difference between Him and me lies not in the presence or the absence of the sense of 'I' but only in the degree, the range or the magnitude of that sense. Mine is restricted, His is extended.

It is so.

if it is the sense of "I" that is responsible for the concept of a Jiva, he must be as much a jiva as myself

Quite so. In fact He is called the First Born.

Then, even if this higher power happens to belong to the category of Jivas, just like myself, the same objection which I mentioned against the worship of Surya devata holds good in his case also.

What then would you like to worship?

A transcendent power which is not a jiva.

Have it then that it is such a transcendent power that is worshipped in the sandhya. We give Him the name of lswara, the Lord, or the antaryami, the inner ruler.

But I have heard it mentioned that the terms Lord' and Ruler' are only relative terms which are used in regard to Him when we want to describe Him in relation to the universe, which is 'lorded over 'or 'ruled' by Him.

Yes, it is so.

It cannot be that we can have no conception of him apart from his relationship of some sort to the universe. His relationship to the universe can at best be only an extraneous circumstance. In His essence, He must have an independent existence quite unrelated to anything else.

You are right. We call that unrelated essential existence Brahman.

If it is so, that must be the real object of worship rather than the relative aspect called lshwara.

It is even as you say. It is really the unqualified Brahman that is worshipped in the sandhya.

I cannot really understand Your Holiness. You first said that it was the solar orb that was the objector worship, but when I pointed out that it was only inert matter, you said that it was Surya devata that was the object of worship; when again I pointed out that he was only a limited jiva like myself, you said it was Hiranyagarbha, the cosmic soul, that was the object of worship: when once again I pointed out that he was after all a jiva, however cosmic his sense of 'I' may be, you said that lswara the Lord and Ruler of the universe was really the object of worship; and lastly when I said that even he is but a relative aspect of Brahman, you said that the object of worship was Brahman itself

I did say so.

But I fail to see how all these statements can be reconciled.

Where is the difficulty?

The object in a particular worship can be only one. How can it be the solar orb or the deva enlivening it or Hiranyagarbha or Iswara or Brahman at the same time?

I never said that it was the solar orb or the devil and so on.

Does Your Holiness mean to say then that the object of worship is the solar orb and the devil and Hiranyagarbha and Iswara and Brahman all put together?

Nor did I say anything of that sort.

How then am I to understand Your Holiness' statements?

When did I tell you that the upasya was Surya?

When I mentioned that the physical mass of burning matter cannot be the object of worship.

Before you mentioned it, I said that it was even that mass that was the upasya.


I never mentioned that it was the solar body or the deva as an alternative. To one who cannot conceive of an enlivening soul, the upasya is the physical mass; to one, however, who declines to accept inert matter as an object of worship, I said the upasya was Surya devata. The upasya is ever one, but its exact nature varies with the competence of the worshipping aspirant. The upasya gets further refined when even the concept of a devata does not satisfy the enquiring devotee. We say then that it is Hiranyagarbha. When even such a concept seems meagre or unsatisfactory, we tell the devotee that he is really worshipping the Supreme Lord himself When he begins to feel that even the Lord-ness is a limitation of His essential nature, we tell him that it is the infinite Brahman itself that is really worshipped. Where is the difficulty?

Does Your Holiness then mean that it is not possible to definitely say what the object of worship in the sandhya is except with reference to the mental equipment or intellectual advancement of the worshipper?

How can there be an object of worship if we ignore the worshipper? The nature of the worshipped necessarily depends upon the nature of the worshipper.


Take me for example. All of you show me respect. But the object of respect, though it is, roughly speaking, myself, does differ with each one of you. Ordinary people respect me and like to see me surrounded by glittering paraphernalia; their attention and respect are claimed by those articles rather than by my personality. Such people will show the same respect to others who have similar paraphernalia. Their homage is not therefore really paid to me but only to the paraphernalia. Some others respect me for the position that I hold or for the Asrama in which I am. Such people will equally respect others who are or may come to be in such a position or in such an Asrama, their homage is therefore not paid to me but to my position or to the Asrama. And some others may not care what position I hold or in what Asrama I am, but give me homage wherever I go and however I may be; their object of respect is my physical body. A few others will not mind if my body is dark or ugly or even diseased, but will nevertheless give me homage if by purity of mind and character or by the power of my intellect and learning or by any spiritual merit that I may possess I command their respect. Very few indeed will respect me for the spark of divine intelligence which inheres in me, as it does in all of you.

Of course it is not possible to say that all the devotees that approach Your Holiness are of the same mental equipment.

Quite so. But, ordinarily all these people, whether they really tender homage to the paraphernalia or to my status and Asrama or to my body or to my mind or to my intellect or to the divine spark in me, prostrate before me to show their respect. Can you tell me, apart from any reference to the several devotees, to whom or to what they prostrate?

It is no doubt very difficult to answer

Similarly, with every kind of worship. Externally viewed, there will be no appreciable difference between the one who respects me for the paraphernalia and another who respects me for the divine spark in me. Externally viewed, there will similarly be no appreciable difference between the devotee who in his blind faith is content to address his prayers to the luminous Sun and another who turns to it as a visible symbol of the infinite Brahman. The question as to what is the upasya in the sandhya worship can therefore be answered only in this way.

I now understand how in the simple worship of the Sun all possible stages in spiritual perception have been provided for

It is not only this, for you will find if you consider the matter still further, that all the three ways known as karma, bhakti and Gyana have been given places in the daily worship, but that is a different matter. Simple as the sandhya worship seems to be, it is sufficient to help us on to the highest stages. It is as useful to the highest aspirant as it is to the beginner. It is a folly, therefore, to belittle its value or to neglect it in practice.

At the beginning, I had hinted at progressive teaching employed in Sanatana Dharma. Even beyond the profound example of HH Sri Chandashekara Bharati holding the hand of the questioner, and leading him to realize the essence of Sandhya on his own, is the example of how the Sandhya worship itself is designed, so that its regular practice leads the seeker to realize the higher reality in a progressive manner. Beautiful, isn't it!
[PS: This was originally posted on 12/13/07 at 9:04AM.]
Om Tat Sat!


Unknown said...


Many thanks Amar, for posting that divine dialogue. The value of the dialogue is immense.

Your other topics are also of great utility for sadhakas. Pl. keep up the good work you are doing. Comments or no comments, let your posts keep coming.

Best wishes and warm regards,
Om Tat Sat

Unknown said...

praNAms Shri Subrahmanian-ji,

I welcome to my humble blog. I really loved your writings on Advaitin group. In particular, your translation of Shri Dakshinamurthy Stotra helped me comprehend some of its subtle meaning.

praNAms again,

Sujatha said...

Pranams Sir,

I started to read this article with a view to educate my son (in the process educate myself too) on the importance of Sandhya workship..

But as I started to read the article, the way Swamiji explained step by step.. Learnt so much..Beyond words to explain.

Thank you so much for this wonderful post.


ramakrishna u said...

Namaste Smt. Sujatha-ji,

Welcome to my blog and thanks for the comments. Swami-ji's explanation is really beautiful.

I am very happy to know that you are interested in educating your son in practising the oldest structured form of meditation available to mankind.

The importance of the Ritual-part, the Pranayama-part, the Mantra-part and the Dhyana-part have also been explained in a methodical fashion in a book by Ramakrishna-mission titled "Om Gayathi and Sandhya" by Swami Mukhyananda.

Here is the link. Hopefully you will find some help in that book too!

Best wishes again

Rajya said...

Wonderful conversation. Thanks for posting. I shall forward this to my husband and brother.

How can there be an object of worship if we ignore the worshipper? The nature of the worshipped necessarily depends upon the nature of the worshipper.

These lines from this article have conveyed so much to me. Thanks a lot.

ramakrishna u said...

Namaste Smt. Rajya-ji,

Thanks for the comments.

A single sentence from a Jivanmukta can convey to the seeker more than an entire library of books. That makes the words of these Swami-ji precious.

Unknown said...


Please read "Dialogues with Guru" By R Krishnaswami Iyer.
This contains many more dialogues HH Sri Chandrasekhara Bharati Swamigal had with devotees.

Please read "Fate & Free Will"

ramakrishna u said...


Thanks for the suggestion. I will read the book.

Shivakumar said...

Hello Sir I would like to be a recipient of your daily inspiration mailing list, my email id is