For Jews, Christians, and Muslims, hearing the word of God and responding to it is all-important. In Hinduism, the emphasis is upon the visual — seeing the divine image. Diana L. Eck, Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies at Harvard University and author of Encountering God: A Spiritual Journey from Bozeman to Banaras, has written an illuminating paperback about darsan, the single most common and significant element of Hindu worship. It means religious seeing or the visual perception of the sacred.
In this polytheistic religion, Eck notes, "not only must the gods keep their eyes open, but so must we, in order to make contact with them, to reap their blessings, and to know their secrets." The author explores the "aniconic" embodiments of divinity in stones, earth mounds, and other aspects of nature including the Ganges River and the Himalayas. She also examines the meaning of the "iconic" images of Siva, Krsna, Durga, Ganesa, and Visnu that are evident everywhere in Indian life and culture.
One of the most interesting chapters in the book discusses the treatment of gods and goddesses in the home as divine guests who elicit the spiritual practices of reverence, nurturing, and devotion. Darsan is also part and parcel of temple worship, pilgrimage, festival celebrations, and the honoring of saints and sadhus. This brief but poignant overview of the importance of seeing the divine image in India is a gem.