Thou Shalt not Make a Graven Image - further thoughts
Different images of the Divine are like different spectacles, no two people need the exact same prescription. You wouldn't put on someone else's glasses and expect to be able to see clearly, nor is there any point in shoving yours into someone else's face and saying "Can't you see?!" Different spectacles are good and necessary to accommodate and allow for human diversity.
Be tolerant, don't knock each others' glasses off each others' face in a fight over who is wearing the right strength. Yours is right for you. Theirs is right for them.
The commandment not to "make a graven image" is about people's inability to comprehend the essence of what they are looking at. If you don't fall into the trap of attachment, you can have all the images you like, graven or otherwise. An image can help focus your mind on the absolute behind. It becomes problematic only when people insist that their specs are the only correct prescription, or that no one is ever allowed to wear glasses…
For the majority of people not having an image is better, because attachment is second nature to them, it's almost a reflex, and thus they cannot help but become attached and start arguing. Where there is no specific image, there is less details for the mind to become attached to and argue about.
They are unable to see that each image is but an expression of the same reality. White light has no colour. It is ALL colours.
Below is a quote from one of my favourite poems by Rumi, the famous Persian mystic and poet of the 13th century, and the painting it inspired me to create, years after I first came across the poem. In the poem he addresses his guru, Shams, whom he had initially criticized in a jealous rage for his absence and noted how he is unaffected by opinions and appearances and is so pure that he simply reflects what is around him. It's hard to put into words, I could dedicate a whole bog post just to that poem, and maybe I will.
آینهای! رنگ تو عکس کسیست
تو ز همه رنگ جدا بودهای
You are a mirror! Your apparent colour is but someone's image. You yourself remain separate from all colours.
You wouldn't look at something red and complain that it ought to be green, would you? Well, except if we are talking about traffic lights! Why would you say to someone who believes in A, they ought to believe in B instead? It's not that you shouldn't share your beliefs and perceptions, if you disagree with someone, go ahead, tell them. Tell them politely and respectfully, that way they get the choice to change their mind. Or not. If you never share your divergent views, you are essentially depriving that other human being of the opportunity to learn from your mistakes and insights. They haven't had the experiences you've had, so why not make those available to them? It might save them from having to go through the same long and slow, potentially painful learning process that you have been through. At the same time though, be magnanimous about it should that person choose to ignore what you've shared; they just might need to study an issue in more detail by making their own experiences!
The same goes for different opinions: they are but pictures of reality, taken from different angles. Reality itself remains the same. It has no opinion. It's the different way of looking at it that makes it a bone of contention.
The issue of multiple expressions for the same reality has fascinated me from an early age. When I was about four, my kindergarten friend, who was half-Turkish, bashfully confessed one day when we were playing out in the woods, that her mother was a Muslim. "You know…" she said, eyes cast down, playing with a twig, "…please don't think I'm a weirdo or something... but my Mum, she believes in Allah!" I was utterly astonished at my friend's embarrassment, and replied without a moment's doubt or hesitation "But that's the same! That's just another name for God!" I have no idea where this innate knowledge came from, but in my mind it was crystal clear that having different words, or images, or concepts, to describe something, did not affect it's validity. A similar situation occurred one morning at the breakfast table, when I was 11-14, not entirely sure, I said to my Dad "Why do people argue whether the world was created or has evolved? Why can't they just agree that it was created, and the mechanism for that creative process is evolution?" I just couldn't understand why the two were seen as mutually exclusive and I still can't.
When I looked at this beautiful image of Shiva the other day, it opened a channel in my mind that allowed me to perceive Divine peace and beauty, the image served as a key to unlock my soul and allow spirit to flood in. The image is but that: a key, a cue, a clue, a trigger, a tool. But for the time being, this particular image is what works for me and gives me access to a spiritual dimension of myself which I would otherwise remain detached from and unaware of.
To insist that this is the only valid image of the Divine would be daft. Nor do I have to convert to Hinduism to benefit from its profound effect. That too would be pretty misguided and meaningless, a hollow action, turning something real into something fake by formalising it. A mistake that many people make, when they discover something that works for them: they try and hold on to the initial "it works" feeling by becoming rigid and regimented about it. There are people out there whom I would describe as "orthodox and fundamentalist pagans". This seems almost a contradiction in terms, considering that the reason people are turning to those old belief systems is that they are tired of the tyranny of organised religion and are feeling attracted to a more fluid, more instinctual and accessible form of spirituality that is founded in nature and respectful of the environment. But their egos' need for rules and the absolute is so great that they soon introduce to their new religion the same inflexible fundamentalism they think they are turning their backs on. Thus the innate truth and beauty of every path becomes corrupted and tarnished by their egos' need to be right, to have something specific to cling on to. Now THAT'S how you make yourself a graven image!!! The kind thou shalt not make. There are fundamentalist atheists too, Richard Dawkins is one for example.
You can find your truth, live your truth, speak your truth, share your truth (my sincere best wishes and good luck to you in that endeavour), but you cannot MAKE IT SOMEONE ELSE'S TRUTH!!!