“The conditioned soul may have one kind of body in the present birth, but he has a different body in the next birth. In the material world, the living entity has no fixed body but transmigrates from one body to another. The Lord, however, does not do so. Whenever He appears, He does so in the same original body, by His internal potency.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 4.6 Purport)
The common misconception posited by neophyte transcendentalists and enemies of the Supreme Lord is that Krishna and His various expansions appear on earth in material bodies. Material refers to matter, and body refers to the outer covering of the soul. For the individual conditioned living entity, there is a difference between matter and spirit, body and soul. For the Supreme Absolute Truth, there is no such difference. While our bodies constantly change, with the soul repeatedly appearing and disappearing through the processes of birth and death, such changes do not take place for the Supreme Lord. Everything attached to the Lord is always transcendental, so if we are to give any attention to vanity and outward appearance, it should be directed towards Him.
The desire to look beautiful results in the purchase of makeup products, fancy clothes, and facial ornaments. In this respect, vanity certainly can play a beneficial role, especially when it comes to beautification. If our outward appearance is pleasing, then other things often fall into place. If we’re going on a job interview, we will surely dress ourselves very nicely, in a professional sort of way. If an employer sees that we are appropriately dressed, it shows that we have taken the time to give a positive appearance. If we hadn’t taken this time, the employer may be led to think that we are lazy and that we’re not concerned with detail. A lazy employee is a bad employee, so slovenliness is not the idea we’re trying to convey when seeking employment.
While beautification is also important in other aspects of life, if we were to study every area where vanity plays a role, we’d see that the ultimate objective usually relates to sex life. The woman wants to attract the attention of the man, so she makes sure to wear nice clothing, makeup, and jewelry. Similarly, the man wants to attract the woman, so he pays special attention to his hair, shirt, and cologne. The objective is to connect with an attractive partner and enjoy the resulting relationship.
This desire for sexual relations through a committed partnership certainly isn’t a bad thing, but it falls short of meeting the ultimate objective in life. Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, tells us definitively what the ultimate purpose in life is. His teachings are found in the Bhagavad-gita, a book which chronicles a discussion that took place five thousand years ago between Krishna and His cousin Arjuna. Krishna is not a mythological figure, but rather a historical personality who appeared on earth and enacted wonderful pastimes a long, long time ago. His teachings to Arjuna make no mention of the Hindu faith, nor are they directed towards any particular class of men. His instructions touch on issues relating to the soul, its relationship with matter, and its highest occupational duty. In this way, we see that Krishna is not merely a Hindu God, but rather the Supreme Godhead and greatest teacher, a person who is meant to be everyone’s friend and ultimate reservoir of pleasure.
Krishna’s teachings, which are based on the Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India emanating from Krishna Himself, touch on a wide range of topics, but the first instruction imparted to the new student, an opening salvo if you will, is the difference between the body and the soul. Individuality comes from the spiritual spark residing within the body. The soul can be thought of as the owner, the chief resident of the material dress. The body can be thought of as the house. This house is composed of material elements, so it cannot be taken as superior. We may reside in a giant high-rise building, but we could never say that the building is superior to the human beings who constructed it or those who reside within it. If not for their tireless efforts and expert planning, the building would have remained in the form of scrap metal and raw materials. The living entity, whose actions are driven by the internal spirit soul, is the master of matter.
The house known as the body is constantly changing, as is obvious to the sober person. The changing of houses, or moving day if you will, occurs at the time of death. At this time, the soul leaves its current home and immediately enters a new one. This new home is located in one of two places: the material world or the spiritual world. If the soul is placed in the material world, its home is again subject to creation, maintenance, and destruction. The opposite is true if the home is in the spiritual world. A spiritual body is unchanging, unbreakable, and full of knowledge. When a person enters their spiritual abode, both their soul and body take on the same qualities. Therefore the ultimate aim of life is to accumulate enough spiritual credits to be able to purchase a spiritual home.
Even if one is unaware of the difference between the material and spiritual worlds, the changing of the bodies should still be evident to them. We see that famous movie and television stars of the past look completely different when we see them in newer movies and shows. Since the activities of their youth were recorded on tape and DVD, it becomes easier to see the difference in the appearances of their bodies. The aging process takes hold and it causes the facial features to lose their beauty. This is only natural since everyone is working their way towards death, a time when the body is completely discarded.
Armed with this knowledge, the wise don’t pay as much attention to outward appearance. If the body is going to be discarded, how important can it be? The secret to success in life is not to simply reject attention to appearance outright, but rather to direct this concern towards something worth beautifying. No entity in this world is more worthy of our attention than the Supreme Spirit, and thanks to the teachings of Krishna and His devotees, we know that the Supreme Lord has an ever-existing form, a transcendental body which never deteriorates. Since His body is completely spiritual and unchanging, it would make sense that all items of beauty should be directed towards Him.
“Unintelligent men, who know Me not, think that I have assumed this form and personality. Due to their small knowledge, they do not know My higher nature, which is changeless and supreme.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.24)
How can Krishna’s body be unchanging? While the rules of material nature affect all living entities equally, they don’t apply to God. When Krishna was on the battlefield of Kurukshetra and delivering His spiritual discourse to Arjuna, He was over one hundred years of age. In reality, Krishna doesn’t have an age, but in terms of the amount of time that had elapsed since His appearance in the womb of Mother Devaki, Krishna was over one hundred years old. Though He was old enough to have great-grandchildren, He didn’t look aged at all. You will never see any paintings or pictures of Krishna depicted as an old man. Though He is the oldest person, adyam-purusham, He is always youthful and blissful. The non-devotees have a hard time understanding this fact. They take the laws of nature to be absolute, so even if they think of Krishna as a manifestation of the Supreme Truth, they take His body to be material.
“Although I am unborn and My transcendental body never deteriorates, and although I am the Lord of all sentient beings, I still appear in every millennium in My original transcendental form.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 4.6)
Okay, so Krishna’s body is spiritual, but how does this information help us? Where is this spiritual body? How are we supposed to go about decorating it? Luckily for us, Krishna takes other forms which are identical in nature to His original. One such form is His name. While Krishna is the fountainhead of all forms of the Divine, He has many non-different expansions which people can worship with just as much faith and still receive the same result of going back to the spiritual world. One of Krishna’s most celebrated expansions is Lord Rama, the handsome and pious prince who appeared on earth long before Krishna did. While both of these forms of Godhead aren’t directly present on earth today, one can still associate with them through their names found in the famous maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”.
The name is the best way to connect with God, especially for the people of this age. But again, we have material elements all around us, so it would be nice to find a way to use them to serve the Lord’s transcendental body. This is where the archa-vigraha, or deity, comes in. Though the earthly elements such as wood, stone, and resin are considered dull matter, when used in the construction of a deity, they become spiritualized. This is a little difficult to understand at first, since we are basically introducing an exception to the rules of nature. We can think of it this way: matter is inferior and the cause of bondage only as long as it is not used for Krishna’s service. When matter is used for our own beautification or for purposes of sense gratification, it has no relation to Krishna. In one sense, matter can never be separated from Krishna since it is something that He created, but when we say that it has no relation to God, this is according to the vision of the living entity. After all, Krishna is not looking for salvation or release from the cycle of birth and death. Separation and association are important concepts only for the conditioned living entities.
So when we construct a nice deity of Krishna, Rama, Vishnu, Narasimha, Chaitanya, and other vishnu-tattva expansions of God, we are purifying the material elements. Since these elements are reconnected with their Creator, they are no longer subordinate or inferior. The lesson here is that we should certainly take the time to clean ourselves up and make our outward appearances presentable, but the primary focus should be on Krishna. The Lord is eternally situated in knowledge, and a person who sees that Krishna’s body is always transcendental is one who truly sees. By decorating the deity, offering prayers to and worshiping it, and chanting the non-different names of the Personality of Godhead in front of it, we can close the deal on the purchase of our spiritual body, the non-changing sublime dress of the liberated soul.
Categories: deity worship