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Worship of God with and without a Form
In the chapter on devotion, Krishna expounds on the worship of God both with and without a form. The Gita compares these two modes of worship and points out which is better, which is easier and safer for devotees at each stage of their spiritual progress. The Gita declares that it is impossible to realize the formless and attributeless divine principle except by going through the stage of worshipping God with form and attributes.
As long as you have attachment to your body and remain steeped in body consciousness, you will not be able to understand and reach the formless aspect of the Supreme. You attain the necessary qualifications to worship the formless only after you have overcome your attachment to the body, your attachment to the world, and all your other attachments. Therefore, as long as you identify yourself with the body, and think that you have a particular form, then you must also visualize God with a form. So, you start your spiritual journey by worshipping God in a particular incarnation, having certain recognizable divine qualities. Gradually, after following this path for some time, you can change your practice to worshipping the formless aspect of the Supreme.
In truth, the whole world is the form of God. Everything you see everywhere is the form of God. But to begin with, you focus on a particular form of God, one of the avatars or incarnations of God. These divine incarnations are associated with the physical universe. Corresponding to these physical forms there are the subtle forms of the Lord which are in the mental or the subtle aspect of the universe. The physical and mental domains have to do with the senses and the mind. Transcending both the senses and the mind is the causal universe. This causal universe is made up of the subtlest manifestation of matter, containing in potential form the seeds of all names and forms. This causal aspect is experienced every night in deep sleep. Here the formless aspect of the Lord can be experienced.
During the waking state the effect of the mind and the senses will be very strong because they are associated with the phenomenal world. During the dream state, associated with the subtle world, the senses will not hold sway over you, but the mind will be very active. In the deep sleep state, associated with the causal world, the mind gets dissolved and does not comprehend the sense impressions. It is only in such a state, when the mind and senses are totally inactive, that it is possible to experience the formless aspect of the divinity. But, this can be experienced even in the waking state, when the mind becomes perfectly steady and equanimous and the senses are maintained tranquil and inactive. Then, you enter the causal state while awake and experience the formless aspect of divinity.
Many devotees base their spiritual experiences only on God manifest in name and form. The form and the formless are both essential for a devotee. It is like having two legs for walking or having two wings to fly. To reach the final spiritual goal you must have the two legs of form and formless, putting one in front of the other, with the one leg representing form, taking its support from the other, which is the formless. It is important to realize that the manifestation of the Lord with form is only transient, whereas the formless aspect of the divinity is permanent. It is everpresent and unchanging. Here is a small example to illustrate this principle.