Why do Hindus do Idol Worship? A Scientific and Spiritual exploration

Why do Hindus do Idol Worship? A Scientific and Spiritual exploration March 4, 2015

Idols in the Hindu temples are not toys or statues. They are physical bodies which have been energized to vibrate in a certain way such that they impact everything around them. The entire concept and the science behind the idols and their handling is given under Agama Shastra, a tantric scientific methodology that has been perfected over many millenia. The idol as indeed the entire temple becomes a vibrating body that can impact any person that is in the vicinity of the temple. This practice of energizing idols was traditionally known as “Prana Prathishta“, literally meaning Establishment of the Life force in the idol. In English, although not completely consistent, we could use the word consecration for it.

Is it even possible to energize a physical substance, one may ask, in such a way that it can impact physical reality, using meditational techniques? Can something which is apparently being done via mental and intentional ways, impact physical reality? The answer lies in the research by Stanford’s Dr. William Tiller.

Fellow to the American Academy for the Advancement of Science, Professor Emeritus William A. Tiller, of Stanford University’s Department of Materials Science, spent 34 years in academia after 9 years as an advisory physicist with the Westinghouse Research Laboratories.

In his over 40 years of work, along with traditional science, Dr. Tiller has also worked in areas which some may term as esoteric, albeit using the normal scientific rigor! One of his research areas has been what he calls as psychoenergetics. This revolves aroundIntention Host devices”.

For the past 35 to 40 years, in parallel with my traditional science research and teaching at Stanford University, I have been seriously investigating the effects of human intention on both the properties of materials (inorganic and organic; non-living and living) and on what we call physical reality.

From this research, I and my colleagues have discovered that it is possible to make a significant change in the properties of a material substance by consciously holding a clear intention to do so. For example, we have repeatedly been able to change the acid/alkaline balance (pH) in a vessel of water either up or down, without adding chemicals to the water, by creating an intention to do so.

For his experiments, he has carried out experiments with highly trained Tibettan monks, and found that their intentions can ‘condition’ space in a machine on an atomic level (subatomic technically). For more details, please watch his videos introducing his Intention Host Device (Video 1A, 1B, II, III).

The Hindu temples are made to the strictest dimensions and rules as per Agama Shastras. They are scriptures in Tamil and Sanskrit scriptures which detail out methods of temple construction, idol creation, philosophical doctrines and meditative practices. Some of these practices are considered pre-Vedic and some post-Vedic.

While the Agama are many in number, each of them consists of four parts: Kriya Pada, Charya Pada, Yoga Pada and Jnana Pada. While Kriya Pada expounds more tangible rules– rules of construction, sculpting, carving consecration of Idols etc. the Jnana Pada deals with something more lofty, the philosophy and spirituality of temple worship.

Temples and places of worship cannot be built arbitrarily or on the strength of some local notion, for everything is laid down categorically in the Agama shastra. For example, for a pilgrimage the three essentials are Sthala, Tirtha and Murthy, where the Sthala refers to the place of the temple, the Tirtha signifies the temple tank and Murthy stands for the idol. There are rules in the Agama Shastra for just about every aspect, including the smallest detail, from the positioning of the holy figurine to the materials from which the temple is to be constructed.

Unlike the Vedic guidelines, that focus more on Havan Building, Agama Shastra dwells at length on idols and figurines of the deities. It dwells in such detail that it is in places almost like a scientific blue print for temple making.

From the size, to the mudra of the idol, to the Mantras used and even the size and dimensions of the outer wall and the that of the sanctum sanctorum are all detailed out. When such a rigor is followed, then it is possible to energize the idols to vibrate in a certain way. This has been the reason to use idols in a temple. Something that was a scriptural and Yogic science, has today also been approached and empirically tested in science labs of Stanford and other Universities in US and Europe!

So is Hindu’s idol his God or not?

The answer needs to be properly understood. In the Hindu tradition, God has been largely absent in traditional sense. For example, two of the major Hindu philosophies – Samkhya and Advaita – are primarily atheistic! Samkhya calls this existence to be a play between Purush and Prakriti. Which essentially means “Masculine” and “Feminine” energies. Or “Yin-Yang” as they are known in Far East. There is no Parmatama or God. In Advaita on the other hand, which is a non-dualistic school, there is no two. Only one indivisible existence in terms of Universal Consciousness!

In such a tradition, what is God then? The concept of God as described by Krishna in Bhagwad Gita’s 9th and 10th chapters is central to the Hindu tradition per the scriptures as well. When asked by Arjun “Who are you?”, Krishna points to discrete things – from mountains to Vedas to music, to emotions, the good things and bad, and equates himself with all of them. Once he has discussed a fairly vast expanse of discrete things, he declares “I am All”!

In mathematical terms, Krishna was describing Himself as the “Infinite curve” with several discrete points, such that every discrete point describes the curve completely! In Spiritual terms, if everything is ONE Universal Consciousness, then how can one distinguish between point A and point B? In that state, there is no distinction of Space and Time. If that is so, then at the gross level, no matter what you look at, it describes the Divine completely.

Again, this concept of the Hindus has been proven to be in alignment to the distinction between Quantum world and the Physical world. Even though every molecule is distinct with its own properties, at the sub atomic level, it is one wave! Somewhere, the wave gives way to the material reality as one goes from subtle to the gross.

In this vast expanse of One Indivisible Universal Consciousness, everything conceivable is a manifestation of that same One showing up at the gross level as matter. That is why, even though Sanskrit term for Creation is Kriti, the Hindus never used it to describe this Existence. Instead they used the term Srishti! Srishti comes from the word Srijan. Srijan is the growing of a tree from a seed. Tree is the manifest form and seed the unmanifest.

So, to a Hindu devotee, it doesn’t matter whether it is a tree, a rock, a piece of metal or a cow – everything is but a manifestation of the One Universal Consciousness – or his Divine! On the infinite curve of the Divine, every discrete point describes and manifests the Divine completely.

Is a Hindu’s idol God? Scientifically and Spiritually it is a resounding YES! At a more mundane level, that idol has been consecrated or energized to bring well being to him. It is therefore a complete system of Spiritual and Social growth, something that those who denounce Idol Worship have never been able to comprehend. Both Spiritually and Scientifically they have made a fool of themselves!

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  • Sagrav

    Dr Tiller is a known practitioner of pseudo science: http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2010/03/16/alternative-science-alternative-medicine/

    I wouldn’t use him as an ‘authority’ to back up your claim that ‘energies’ and ‘vibrations’ can get attached to inanimate objects.

    • Well the guy who wrote that piece you have cited, happens to be a surgeon talking about physics. Dr. Tiller on the other hand is a physicist from Stanford. May I say – End of Discussion?

      Opinions Sagrav, they say, are like arseholes.. .everyone has one. I don’t know about a subject, so I defer to one who is credible. I have a problem depending on a ranting Surgeon for my knowledge in Physics.

      Most importantly, if one is serious about scientific critique of Dr. Tiller’s work, one should obtain his findings based on Empirical research and try arguing about that as opposed to running him down personally! So, to be credible in science, I would expect one to argue as a scientist not a rhetorical quack!

  • Yonatan

    Thus monism, the oneness of Brahman precludes the possibility of a relationship and therefore of love fore what is love without her object? And what quality could this supreme Brahman possess for the worshiper? What good is achieved in offering prasadam when the recipient thereof is absent? Then that which encompasses everything encompasses nothing?

    This is where I have difficulty with advaita vedanta. When the beloved is denied through this pantheist immanentism what becomes of the forlorn lover? And if there is no divine will no choreographer of the dance twixt purusha and prakriti what possibility remains for love?

    God defies conceptualizing and defies knowing but seeks the lover as she yearns for Him. That is slowly what I am coming to understand.

    • Yonatan – we need to look at Devotion, Belief, state of Advaita a bit more closely to clearly understand what you are grappling with.

      Devotion of a devotee is different from belief of a believer. Believer approaches his/her belief as a part time job. Even when he/she says aloud that the deity/god etc is the truth, he is not willing to fully invest in it. He pays the minimum due. Devotee on the other hand, is different. he/she has no other agenda and no other goal. So that love transcends the person very easily.

      Advaita is that state of non-duality. So far from being a conflict, Devotion is the easiest way to experience Advaita.

      It all becomes foggy, when you look at Advaita as some esoteric philosophy and not a state of being. When you look at Devotion from the lens of belief. For whatever one speaks of Devotion looked through the lens of a Believer will be incorrect.

      That is why, the conceptualizing is completely misplaced when we discuss devotion.

      Now, when we go to Purush and Prakriti, that realization is not for a Devotee. That is for a Jnana Yogi or a Kriya Yogi. The one who uses intellect and one who masters energies. For them, those qualities – the Masculine and Feminine (not to be confused with Male and Female) – assume importance.

      Way and path – Jnana, Bhakti, or Kriya or even Karma – are just paths. They depend on who YOU are, not indicative of the final destination. So it is best to find what your path is and get going. Kriya Yogi cannot start judging a devotee (Bhakti Yogi). If he is lucky, he will have the sensitivity and reach a level of consciousness where Bhakti in him flowers as well.

      • Yonatan

        Thank you for your prompt reply.

        To express this love this devotion it would seem that one cannot avoid using concepts and hence division follows. And as your response suggests to me, it becomes a clash of convictions when we attached too much significance to words. Then beliefs become a false identity as if words that scratch the ineffable surface suffice for the whole picture of reality.

        In my devotions there is no oneness just the light and I an empty vessel filled with that love. But the I as a separate presence remains though in the background. It is more in the sense of ich und du ( I and thou) of Martin Buber but not in any philosophical sense. As a vessel, I am filled with light and love but there is still the ‘I’ hence dvaita.

        In Jnana Yoga when one masters these energies, what is one truly mastering? Is this not the pursuit of self as lord over one’s vital energies or mind and bodily functions? I am from the West and live there and the teachers who have come to us almost as a single chorus have stressed self-mastery and self-liberation. These seem to me empty and possibly misleading notions or perhaps misleading in that they needs be recontextualized.

        Why must the sadhanas remain so separate? Is there not the possibility that they can converge Jnana, Bhakti, and Karma margas? What destination can be final in the face of that which possesses no bounds?

        Alas, for me I have no path to follow. I am but a broken vessel. I have no name for this not even tat, not sat nam and not Shiva. And in my birth religion with its countless names none suffice.


        • Yonatan – My Pranam to you first of all. Where you are, very few reach.

          It is our perception that when Masters plant the seed of Spiritual path, they do so with just one of the four. A seeker – when he evolves, gets rounded in all four ultimately. But unless one whose energies are very fixed hasn’t had any Sadhana to “loosen” himself up, it would be futile to take him on the path of Bhakti. It will not work.

          But no matter what way you go, only your own self effort works. Self Effort is inward, not outward. This self effort is facilitated by a Master/Guru, but not completed. For, that would be a farce! There is no savior to absolve you of your sin by dying himself. That is a good story, but it is counter-productive to a spiritual seeker.

          As for your situation, I wouldn’t look for a name. It would be as if you are learning to swim and suddenly in the middle of a lap you stop and start thinking – Am I Mark Spitz or Michael Phelps?

          Just look for the truth by separating everything out that is not absolute. Truth will emerge. Unless you want to write a book, (and then you should be calling yourself a Spiritual seeker, but a businessman) you don’t need words or names or philosophies.. just the urge and pain to know your own self. Truth and the hand to take you there will emerge. Guru is not a person, my friend, it is the quality of this Existence. It has to work! 🙂

          • Yonatan

            Thank you for your response. And yet still, I am just a beginner taking his first baby steps. Then I must trust to let things go their way rather than seeking a particular path. Just simply surrender to this love.


          • loveendures

            “There is no savior to absolve you of your sin by dying himself. That is a good story,”

            Not I am trying to convince you here. I view this in a different way.. Savior is some thing to do with salvation and the word salve in Greek is about healing. Sin is about ignorance of God/Love. Death of Jesus is the ultimate expression of love (of God so to speak that He had to restrain as the human freedom was at stake, He let the evil to have its day) .. No one is compelled to believe this story.Personally I find it amazing.
            Thanks for reading


    You always know how to hit the nail on the head. Nice one Desh. 😀

  • Malai

    Stop groveling at the feet of westerners. Who cares if we worship idols or not? That whole concept is an Abrahmic one. Our system is different and in no way needs to be compared to theirs. They do not control the narrative.

    • loveendures

      Who said all Westerners are Abrahmic and all Hindus ( geography) believe in religious practice of Hinduism?

      • Malai

        Um, I don’t know. Certainly not me.

  • loveendures

    It is all about conditioning, our ancestors, parents teachers passed it on and on we just follow, If one finds pleasure in worshiping an idol that is his/her belief. The fact is unconditional love is something we learn as we grow.

    • If it is “learnt” then it is not unconditional. Either unconditional love IS or NOT. Its not something that you “learn”. That’s the problem with most people who juxtapose religious stuff on spiritual traditions. They mess up the very fundamental meanings themselves.

      As for “idol Worship”, I don’t think you understood the post. There is no such thing as “Worship” of idol in a traditional sense. Idol is engaged in only one of two ways – either for energy imbibing or for devotional purposes. Worship was never the aim. This distortion is very recent.

      • loveendures

        Thank you Desh

        As individuals we do have divergent views. It is OK. If you find comfort finding God through idols that is your choice. It is OK with me.

        • What is not God? You have a fixed idea of God, that is your belief. Believing something that you do not know of, does you or anyone no good.

          When you look at the scientific view of existence, one finds that world is a phenomenon that is both consciousness (at the Quantum level) and Material (at the gross level). In that consciousness – the intelligence primordial energy existence lies the source of the material world.

          Hindus have been saying the same thing for ages now. If God is everything (underlying consciousness of the manifest material world), infinite, and immanent, then what is not God? Rather what is not divine?

          If you can understand that, then this differentiation between what can and what cannot get you to God will disappear. But that needs seeking sans any belief. Try it sometime… Cheers.

          • loveendures

            Thank you for your reply

            “You have a fixed idea of God” I wish I had that ..

            It is not that I do not think God is not immanent, but to me idols give a human conceptual view how the God would look, like ever smiling, blue, white, black etc, always holding some type of weapon etc. In BG at the “curious” request by Arjuna, Krishna shows his world vision that scares Arjuna asking Krishna to return to human form essentially “God”saying to stop describing Him in conceptualized forms. I never said what and what not gets me to God.

            My belief is like you said God is immanent but more than that He is Love,

          • well, you have not understood the import of the whole view of Idol Worship or Murtis.

            One, God – if it is omnipresent/immanent etc – cannot be confined to any form. Yet, every form is a manifestation and complete representation of that consciousness. When someone sits in “Upasana” to say, Krishna. It is not that Krishna’s idol is God, but if one is in such a state out of devotion, then it is one’s bhakti . That is one reason why one would “use” idol.

            Other, more prominent and stemming from Kriya yoga is that it can be used to pass on the “Grace” and “energy” of a certain Yogi to all who sit in its vicinity. Now, that has its basis in Agama Shastra which is the basis of creating temples the way they are. Ancient ones at least.

            As for Bhagwad Gita and Krishna – you have gotten him completely wrong. Your interpretation does not work with Chap 9 and 10, where when Arjun asks Krishna “Who are you?” and he likens himself to everything from Sam Ved to Gambling to Meru. If he had to say – as you purport – that he “to stop describing Him in conceptualized forms”, why would he liken himself to all of them? Ever thought of it?

            Let me explain to you:

            are only two ‘fundamental topologies” to get to the state of Mukti – One,
            become Zero; Second, become Infinity. (the paths of Bhakti, Kriya,
            Karma, Jnana) run on these two “topologies’)

            Become Zero – When Sage Yajnavalka was asked W’hat is God”, he replied
            “neti, neti”. Not this, not this. Whatever one could observe was God,
            for God was the Observer! So you start eliminating whatever you
            observe – emotions, body, thoughts…. till you come to the constant
            vibration or the humming of the existence (Aum as some have called).
            Even that is “Observable”. So eliminate that.. and you come to the
            final state of “nothingness”.

            Infinity: When Krishna was asked “Who are you?” In the 9th and 10th
            chapter, he discusses completely discrete things “I am that, I am
            that..” And finally comes to “I Am All!!”. He was not going to Zero..
            but Infinity. For a consciousness that is Infinite, he is describing discrete points, where EACH AND EVERY POINT describes the infinite consciousness fully!

            So Divinity can be experienced in every part of the creation and beyond. To be completed in that state however, one goes to either of the ends.

          • loveendures

            First of all I sincerely thank you for your interest in explaining.. kind of lengthy 🙂 That is OK

            In summery you say “So Divinity can be experienced in every part of the creation and beyond.” I agree with that. an experience not an explanation.

            This blog is about Idol worshiping. To me idols are created by people like us. ( Not some natural stuffs like sun, wind etc )We even go into wild imagination of depicting God with several arms, wearing all kinds of cosmetics, mostly smiling, painted with different colors ( we love our Gods being fair skinned) almost all of them carrying some sort of weapon ready to bonk us should we cross the line. etc.. just human concepts ideas etc.. Then we we make more of these, they need to bathed, they need to be clothed and decked with shining jewelries, then special food to be offered whether the idol eats or not. In many temples there are male and female idols and people make elaborate rituals of a wedding ceremony of the idols. Some temples even have sleeping ritual at night. I guess in the ancient days they did not have much entertainment why not have some fun with the idols?

            I can go on.. I do think it is all matter of belief. Question is it rational or irrational ?
            You decide

            Thanks again

          • loveendures

            “neti, neti” is the best and wise answer.. impossible to describe God. Who can understand infinity ? That had to be the end of Idol worshiping.

          • That’s your problem. You want ONE answer and be happy with that. That’s not seeking. That’s spirituality by rote. It doesn’t work. Neti neti may not even work for you … then? Not all paths work for everyone.

          • loveendures

            Hello Desi

            What does that mean when you say it is my problem? When did I mention one answer ? What do you mean it does not work ?

            Neti Neti to me means God can never be put into a neat box
            We human beings first of all created an external theistic God as a coping mechanism out of fear from self awareness ..( may be Tillich and Freud were right) went even further carving idols in our image .. this is not unique of Hinduism… whole set of rituals were created around these idols and it has been a one slippery slope since then.
            Temple people are busy with the should dos, must dos and have to be dones rituals I mentioned in another reply. Temple theology is very pervasive and it took me a long time to step away from this.
            This is not a criticism against a person or his/her belief and no one has to agree with the way of my thinking.
            Thanks for reading

          • loveendures

            In my POV State of Mukti is a matter of freedom. As human beings ( including Saints) one can never full become free, some how and some time we do become bound, but the wiser ones soon try to get back to the nonbinding state.

          • I am not looking for POV.. that isn’t how Hinduism works. Please realize Mukti is NOT a belief! It is an experience of real liberation. I have had a momentary experience and I can say that it is profound and real. For those who are completely liberated, it is a complete living experience. So, as I said, I don’t need to go by some belief of PoV.. its neither here nor there. I go by my own experience and understanding.

          • loveendures

            “it is one’s bhakti . That is one reason why one would “use” idol.”
            worship or bhakti is highly individual.. not necessarily one has to use an idol.. To me God is in spirit some thing I have experienced.. not I can explain.

          • Fine, you enjoy that. Just as I cannot trash your experience as useless, it would be rather presumptuous of you to criticize the experience of a devotee! Isn’t it?

  • M Raghavan

    The Western idea of not being able to know God, what to speak of giving him form, is based on a purely dualistic philosophical tradition. God has created the world, and is everywhere in terms of His being able to see everything and everyone. But, at least from a Western perspective, He is physically not everywhere.

    Personally, I have always had trouble with this One Universal Consciousness concept. In such a world view, where is there room for ethics, morals and human purpose? Should a murderer not be judged in light of a pacifist because they both originate from the same One Consciousness?

  • Prashant Dixit

    God is nature god is omnipresent. Worship nature you worship god only. God manifests in the form of nature and even that manifestation has a sacred geometry behind. A shankh has spirals exactly how divine ratio explains similarly nature everywhere god is just a manifestation in the form of nature. Human feel the formlessness of the god hence idols are used as a means to reach to god. Here is another must read article on idol worship: http://www.rockingbaba.com/blog/index.php/2015/08/08/significance-of-temple-and-idol-worship/

    • I think this is a simplistic and apologist view of Murti puja or idol worship and I completely disagree with you.

      Let us understand something – who told you God is everywhere? Have you ever seen god? You are simply parroting something that someone has said somewhere without experiencing.

      Please remember those who EXPERIENCED the divine – the Rishis – were ALSO the people who consecrated temples! So, either you follow them completely or you don’t follow them on any thing. Don’t go around taking some throwing some kind of philosophy please.

      Temples are NOT about god. If god is everywhere and you had experienced it ANYWHERE, by now you would have been enlightened. You aren’t. So – there are only two possibilities – (1) Either god ISN’T everywhere or (2) It cannot impact you in any way!

      Temples were consecrated in such a way that anyone – even a person who is so closed as to not experience the divine anywhere – may have a moment of awareness and thus connect to the source within. That is the ONLY reason.

      In Hinduism, god is a tool.. as is the temple.

      • Prashant Dixit

        I am certainly not the enlightened one nor I would bring disgrace to the enlightened ones by calling myself as one amongst them, I am still a part of this maya. Coming back to the point that I mentioned that nature is a manifestation of god came from the Bhagvad Gita where lord Krishna gave Arjun a complete commentary of his manifestations and opulence to Arjun in chapter no. 10 from verse no. 16 to 42. Lord Krishna mentioned that amongst cow he is Kamdhenu, amongst Rudras he is Shiva, amongs mountains he is Meru and many other things Lord Krishna said. Moreover Hindus dont just worship idols, they worship nature too that is a cow, river, tree, tulsi, snake, sun, agni etc. I have no problem calling it a tool or calling temple a tool or anything. All I meant in my comment was the interpretation of the verse given in Bhagvad Gita.

        • I am not enlightened, but I don’t go around second guessing the Enlightened beings. Agastya Muni and Patanjali consecrated thousands of temples. Krishna HIMSELF set up over a 1000 Ashrams across India – which had to have a temple! If these beings spent a LIFETIME on this work, how could their work be so utterly useless that it could have been done with the tree outside your house? The reason is they wanted something for the masses who aren’t in the mould of Chaitanya or Meera. Which includes you and I. For a Meera, however, they didn’t need to bother with a temple, a rock – any rock – would do just fine.

          I understand what Krishna said in Gita. The question asked to him was “Who are you?” by Arjun. In that he was defining the infinite in a discrete way.. ending with the final statement “I am All”! It had NO mention of everything being a temple!

          And, the word for “prayer” is not as understood in the modern world. The word is Upasana. Its meaning comes to “being in place of”. When you offer Upasana to a tree and are NOT the tree in your complete experience, it is not Upasana to Krishna-as-in-tree. To be a tree and to be Meru, to be Samved, to be a sun – when Krishna spoke about it – was NOT mere statement. He WAS them! He was ONE with everything. That is the being of an comprehensive Enlightened being. You and I are not there. Let us not pretend to things that were said in complete seriousness of EXPERIENCE! In case of Krishna, He WAS IN PLACE of those entities. Its the point of highest devotion. Let us not confuse that with folding hands and asking for silly deals or praising some god without even doing serious contemplation or spiritual work on ourselves.

          Now coming to temples. Temples are not temples unless they are CONSECRATED properly. Other than that, they serve merely emotional purpose. Even those at home need to be taken care of and should have some component from the Guru to really be useful. A temple of a real Devotee is quite another matter. But a temple of a Meera is only speaking to Meera.

          Btw, one of the things that Krishna said in those verses was “Amongst all the bad habits, I am gambling”. How often have you prayed in Las Vegas casinos? So, please do not pick up lines of beings like Krishna without context and throw them around. It will make a mockery of their work!!

  • Paromit Chatterjee

    If you guys can describe GOD such beautifully…what about the ghosts and demons and black magics? Any thoughts to share?
    As for the Idol worship..I think its a psychological.. more like information cascade or ripple effect in early ages that’s still going on….Yes. Vedas says not not worship idols..because HE is every where..As far as I have studied the science and theology I think TIME is the ultimate thing that we should worship. Because worshiping a God in a temple (Made according to Agama Shastra or not) doesn’t solve your problem instantly, not you will be enlighten..unless the right time comes..It doesn’t matter if you have worshiped to a idol or anything or else haven’t worshiped at all. Things will happen when it should be.
    But temples and idols do have a large impact in the development of social status among the humans, for instance – There are thousands of people alive because these temples provide them food and shelter, who have no one or no where to go. They also units people…so that’s the thing I think.

    • Enjoy your beliefs, Paromit. Whatever I had to say I have in my article. The experiments are self evident and the whole way of creating temple is standard in the ancient times.

      • Paromit Chatterjee

        I do respect your beliefs Sir. I was just sharing my one.. 🙂