Understanding the Concept of Ishta

"Of course, the strain is greater for those who have 
their mind attached to the Unmanifest,
as attunement with the Unmanifest is attained with
difficulty by the body-conscious people.”

Bhagavad Gita (12.5)

A Guru, a True Spiritual Guide knows how to deal with his or her audience. If an overwhelming majority of the audience falls in the category of “body conscious people” – he would never advocate worship of the Unmanifest, the Abstract. He knows it would be very difficult for them to fix their mind on the Brahman, the Achintya – beyond the comprehension of their chitta, their mind-core.

So, he or she would advocate the worship of the Manifest, a certain Form, any one of the innumerable forms of the Divine. This is the concept of Ishta in the Sanatana Dharma, popularly referred to as Hindu Dharma. Not Hinduism, for the Hindu Way or Philosophy of Life is beyond all isms, doctrines and dogmas creating divisions in the human society.

Unfortunately, this Wisdom of Our Genuine Gurus is often misunderstood. Decades ago, one such genuine Guru goes to the West and within few years achieved what none of his contemporaries could achieve.

First, he faced the hippies, those who were feeling lonely and fed up with the cold war, the broken and the down-trodden – a confused lot of people.

Next, he faced the scholarly type, those who considered their scholarship, their intellect as all in all.

Both, indeed, most of the people he met, were “body conscious”, in the sense they were not really exposed to the Eastern Mysticism and Spirituality.

He often referred to them as Yavans, Mlechhas, the meat-eaters – less civilized. Initially, it was difficult for them to even let go of meat, alcohol, and illicit or free sex. He could not have advocated the worship of the Unmaifest. It would have been too much for them.

Thus, He Advocated the worship of one of the forms of the Divine that he referred to as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. One hundred percent in line with the Sanatana Dharma that gives us the freedom to choose our own Ishta, and consider the Ishta as the Supreme One. This is Sanatana Dharma.

In order to have the chitta or mind-core of his disciples fixed on the Deity, he even warned them not to waste their time in reading and discussing matters irrelevant to their sadhana or spiritual practice. Once again, this is Sanatana Dharma. Such discipline is very important in the beginning.

His wisdom suited well to the Western Mind. And, his success was remarkable, almost unprecedented in the modern times.

Studying His Life from many different sources, especially the last phase, we can easily conclude that he was yet to take the disciples, the students, the devotees to the next level. Even on his deathbed, he made contacts with his Gurubhais, fellow students of his late Master, and discussed many things. Including, seeking their forgiveness, for any offences that he may have made. What a Man!

It is sad and disheartening that many of his disciples today have turned so fanatic in their Worship of Ishta, that they often openly degrade the worshippers of other Deities, having different Ishta.

Certainly not all, but majority of them reject all other paths, all other philosophies, which have enriched Sanatana Dharma. They even use a degrading term for all those following other paths and philosophies.

They Forget the Fact that the path – the tradition, or whatever one may call it – that they follow is but only one of at least three major paths, three major traditions. And, within each one of those major traditions and paths, there are several sub-paths, sub divisions.

Having been part of the same tradition, having studied under the same Master representing one of the subdivisions, he started a movement with distinct features not to be found, or at least not the same as others. So?

This diversity is the beauty of Sanatana Dharma. Let us not destroy this. Let each one of the Sanatanis follow his or her chosen path, worship his or her own Ishta, and celebrate the Oneness of Dharma!

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