The Importance of Worship

 As a young boy in Vrindavan, I used to play cricket, a sport that has a huge fan base, which is comparable to followers of popular faiths in India. In my neighbourhood, I was known for consistently hitting long shots (similar to home-runs in baseball) and when my friends praised me, it made me feel like I was a good cricketer. I was competitive during matches but in contrast, my role model in the sport, Rahul David, was calm and mellow. He was known as “The Wall”, the one who was unshakable and a master in his strokes. I really wanted to be like him and someday become a professional. In fact, I had made myself out to be a great cricketer in my head, so the dream of actually becoming one seemed like a real possibility to me. I decided to go to New Delhi, to a coaching school run by a famous cricketer.
During trials, I was asked by the coach to bat. I played some nice shots and a few trainee boys cheered for me. This made me feel like I was different and good. After the trial, my coach came and sat next to me. He tapped me on my shoulder and said, “You played well. Where did you learn to hit like that?”
“I am self-taught, Sir,” I replied.
“That’s what I thought,” the coach said as he looked at me with concern. “See, there is an issue with the way you are holding your bat. Your posture isn’t great. The position of your head, the way you were looking at the ball and your way of picking balls to hit is poor, and there is a problem with the way you are hitting the ball.”
My impression of how “good” I thought I was at cricket was shattered. My coach could read the disappointment on my face. In a gentle manner, he said to me, “Don’t feel discouraged. I am here to teach you everything. But we should start our journey of learning cricket under a good coach from the very beginning.” Similarly, most of us are self-taught worshippers of our deities at home. We put our hearts into worshipping, and perhaps this is the reason other devotees praise us. But to be a really good devotee, we need guidance, just like I needed a coach to become a better cricketer.
The Brahma Yamal, (1.2.202) states:
शुित-सृित-पुराणािद-पञरात-िविधं विना ।
ऐकािनकीहरेर्भिकर्उतातायैव कलते ॥
śruti-smṛiti-purāṇādi-pañcarātravidhiṁ vinā
aikāntikī harer bhaktir utpātāyaiva kalpate ॥
This verse highlights the result of self-taught worship. It may appear that the devotee is steady in his practice, but if he lacks faith in the words of God in the form of the Veds, Smritis, Purans and Pancharatras, and thus rejects them, his efforts will only create disturbance in his spiritual life.
When our gurus try to teach us, we may feel discouraged, or sometimes we feel comfortable with what we already know and we don’t want to learn more. Or we may be happy to be recognised as the best in our community and thus we don’t care enough to change. In all honesty, being the best at cricket was just a personal passion or goal, so the stakes are nothing compared to that of worship. Worshipping Radha-Krishn, Sita-Ram or any other god and goddess is not a game, because every act of carelessness on our part affects our Beloveds, just as every act of carelessness affects the close relationships in our lives. Therefore, we need a guru who can teach us how to perfect our worship in a way that pleases our deities.