“The Hindu discipline of spirituality provides for this need of the soul by the conceptions of the Ishta Devata, [Ishta means that which is desired, that which is liked, admired] the Avatar and the Guru. By the Ishta Devata, the chosen deity, is meant, — not some inferior Power, but a name and form of the transcendent and universal Godhead. Almost all religions either have as their base or make use of some such name and form of the Divine. Its necessity for the human soul is evident. God is the All and more than the All. But that which is more than the All, how shall man conceive? And even the All is at first too hard for him; for he himself in his active consciousness is a limited and selective formation and can open himself only to that which is in harmony with his limited nature. There are things in the All which are too hard for his comprehension or seem too terrible to his sensitive emotions and cowering sensations. Or, simply, he cannot conceive as the Divine, cannot approach or cannot recognise something that is too much out of the circle of his ignorant or partial conceptions. It is necessary for him to conceive God in his own image…”
This is now the other way round. In the true learning you become like God that is our ultimate course of action. But in the beginning you like God to be like you, not yourself becoming like God, but you like that form of God which is like you and you turn more easily to this aspect of the Divine which is more like you.
There is a very difficult word in English: anthropomorphism. To make God in the image of man. To think of God as if he is a human being, regarding him as a human being is anthropomorphism. Because human beings are pleased when you praise them therefore they approach God to praise him so he may be pleased with them. We believe, just as human beings are pleased by flattery, God also is pleased by flattery. It is not true but it is to look upon God as if he is a human being. When you strike somebody you feel that he will take revenge against you similarly you revolt against God and you believe that God will take revenge against you. God will not like you; God will be offended. You do not know that God is never offended –– he is the Divine. Sri Aurobindo says, God is not offended by your revolts. He is like a mother. He understands your revolts and even in your revolts he comes to you and embraces you. But that requires a higher knowledge of the Divine otherwise normally we think that he will be offended, but he is not offended. To image God in man’s image, that is anthropomorphism. But even that has its use because God uses everything. Every method of man is used by God for his purposes. So this idea of looking upon the Divine in the form in which we like him, God also takes that form. If you like a certain form of God and say that you like it very much then God takes that form also and treats you through that. “It is necessary for him to conceive God in his own image or in some form that is beyond himself but consonant with his highest tendencies and seizable by his feelings or his intelligence. Otherwise it would be difficult for him to come into contact and communion with the Divine.” Anthropomorphism has its uses –– you start with it and ultimately you will come to God himself and then throw away anthropomorphism.
“Even then his nature calls for a human intermediary so that he may feel the Divine in something entirely close to his own humanity and sensible in a human influence and example.” Even ishta devata may not be enough. A god who is very near to you may not be enough for you to approach God. You may come to a human form that is why the human guru is needed. “This call is satisfied by the Divine manifest in a human appearance, the Incarnation, the Avatar — Krishna, Christ, Buddha. Or if this is too hard for him to conceive, the Divine represents himself through a less marvellous intermediary, — Prophet or Teacher. For many who cannot conceive or are unwilling to accept the Divine Man, are ready to open themselves to the supreme man, terming him not incarnation but world–teacher or divine representative. This also is not enough; a living influence, a living example, a present instruction is needed.” You may have ishta devata or you may have incarnation as a great being who lived in the physical but as an incarnation. Even that may not be enough. You may have a teacher, a prophet, but a prophet of the past may not be enough you need sometimes a living teacher one who can talk to you physically, one you can see living day after day: a living influence, a living example, a present instruction is needed.
“For it is only the few who can make the past Teacher and his teaching, the past Incarnation and his example and influence a living force in their lives. For this need also the Hindu discipline provides in the relation of the Guru and the disciple. The Guru may sometimes be the Incarnation or World–Teacher [as Arjuna found in Krishna his living teacher and it so happened that Krishna was not only a human teacher but also an incarnation] but it is sufficient that he should represent to the disciple the divine wisdom, convey to him something of the divine ideal or make him feel the realised relation of the human soul with the Eternal.” He may not be a great prophet; he may not be a great incarnation. If the teacher can give him the knowledge of the Divine, can take him to the experience of the Divine, even that is enough and even that should be provided for.
“The sadhaka of the integral Yoga will make use of all these aids according to his nature…” There is nothing that is denied in the Integral Yoga. You can worship a human teacher who may not be a great incarnation, you can worship a teacher who is an incarnation or a prophet either of the present day or of the past or you can go to a god [ishta devata, favourite god or goddess] or you go directly to the Supreme Teacher within yourself. Any and all, everything is admitted in the Integral Yoga. “The sadhaka of the integral Yoga will make use of all these aids according to his nature; but it is necessary that he should shun their limitations and cast from himself that exclusive tendency of egoistic mind which cries, ‘My God, my Incarnation, my Prophet, my Guru’ and opposes it to all other realisation in a sectarian or a fanatical spirit.” this is the evil which be avoided. You may love your teacher, but to say, “My teacher is the only teacher in the world and none other. My prophet is the only prophet in the world”, this exclusiveness. The Supreme God is the only God, the one without a second, all other forms are secondary forms and we should take them all in their supreme light. “All sectarianism, all fanaticism must be shunned; for it is inconsistent with the integrity of the divine realisation.” There is a beautiful prayer of Sri Aurobindo where he praises all the gods and then he says, “Now liberate me from all the gods.”