“My dear friends, not only living animals, but even inanimate objects like the rivers and lakes of Vrindavana also become stunned when Krishna passes with peacock feathers on His head and His body smeared with the minerals of Vrindavana. With leaves and flowers decorating His body, He looks like some hero.” (A gopi speaking about Krishna, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 34)
Man, regardless of his age or stage in life, will search for heroes, objects of affection and worship. Usually this search results in the adoration of family members, friends, or notable public figures. But one issue causes this entire system to fall apart: fallibility. Man is destined to fail, for every human being must suffer through death at some point. Moreover, this fallibility often manifests prior to the end of life, thus dashing the hopes for perfection invested by those offering the worship. One personality, however, has always been infallible and will continue to be so in the future. This person, the most supreme and sublime of individuals, thus becomes the only candidate worthy of our idolatry and our hero worship. The world needs this hero today more than ever.
Does everyone take to some type of hero worship? They most certainly do, even if the worship is of the self. The Vedas, the oldest scriptures in existence, which emanate out of India, describe the nature of the soul in great detail. The soul is taken to be an autonomous entity which is so small that its measurement is akin to the size of a tiny fragment of the tip of the average human hair. Yet this tiny entity is so powerful that it serves as the fuel for the engine of activities in all forms of life. As soon as the soul is present, a body takes on a life and can thus perform activities. Once the same soul exits said body, the entity is deemed lifeless, with the body decaying soon afterwards. Aside from the soul being extremely powerful, it has natural qualities and tendencies. Since this soul originally comes from a more powerful soul, it is not meant to reside alone. Rather, its natural disposition is towards associating with other souls. The nature of this association is meant to be pure and providing of transcendental bliss. Though the soul is geared towards associating with other souls, there is still a leader, or Supreme Soul, to which all subordinate souls direct their affection and activities. This association – the minute souls living in perfect harmony with other similar souls, all the while dovetailing their transcendental activities for the satisfaction of the Supreme Soul – can only take place in a purified environment, the likes of which cannot be found in the individual conditioned soul’s current home.
The place we currently reside, a realm known as the material world in Vedic parlance, is a separate domain from the purified environment where souls are meant to interact. In the material realm, the souls assume various guises known as material bodies. Instead of working in harmony towards pleasing the Supreme Soul, the individuals actually take to competing with one another. In this temporary and miserable world, every living entity is seeking to be the leader, the supreme object of affection and the ultimate enjoyer. Since this pursuit is a flawed one, the end-result is always misery and disappointment.
The original constitutional position of the soul always remains the same, regardless of the soul’s current environment and activities. Therefore, even in the material world, the individual spiritual sparks maintain their penchant for association and the offering of love and adoration. The individuals run into problems, however, in that their affection gets diverted towards other individual spirit souls, who regardless of their makeup and demeanor, can never compare in potency and quality to the Supreme Soul. In more simple terms, we living entities take to worshiping fallible human beings instead of the Supreme Infallible Entity residing in the purified environment of the spiritual sky.
The soul desires association and the exchange of love. Every individual has a desire to love someone or something. One person loves their wife, another their husband, and some even their cats and dogs. Pet owners can develop great attachments to their animals, not worrying at all about having to take their dogs out for walks and cleaning up the bodily fluids that they leave behind. While the most common exchange of love involves direct worship of other living entities, there is also the penchant for hero worship. Taking an ordinary human being who possesses some extraordinary ability, the individual living entities elevate these personalities to hero status. In order for someone to be deemed a hero, they must be the recipient of love, adoration, and fame. The nature of this adoration may vary, with some taking to praising the hero’s efforts in writing and others willfully parting with their hard earned money to purchase whatever the hero is selling. Nevertheless, the hero is praised for their efforts, and they are essentially deemed as infallible. Everyone is looking for this hero, the embodiment of perfection. Everyone wants to worship someone who is a cool customer, someone who never wilts under pressure, someone who has all the answers.
Issues arise, however, when the hero falls down. To ere is human, so naturally whoever we make out to be a hero will eventually fall from grace. After all, even the most exalted figures still put their pants on one leg at a time. The falling down of a hero can be quite disheartening though. The same press that fawned over a particular personality suddenly shifts their emotions to hatred and disgust. We could list specific examples of ordinary human beings who were elevated to hero status only to have their stature torn down later on, but there are too many to choose from. A politician gets praised for their ability to garner votes and pass meaningful policy changes. Yet if the same politician loses an election or goes on to support a failed piece of legislation, they get labeled a bum. A particular star athlete may be very successful in a sport for an extended period, but eventually time catches up with them. The same athlete who once dominated their sport soon has trouble keeping up with the newcomers. Many celebrity figures fall down in their personal lives. They may get caught driving drunk, abusing a spouse or a love one, or even making racial epithets. Suddenly, the bloom comes off the rose, and the person who was once viewed as saintly now doesn’t get the time of day from the average citizen.
So what can be done? Should we stop loving? Should we suppress our natural disposition towards praising and elevating those that we love and adore? Religion exists specifically to address this issue. While religion is generally associated with a type of faith, the nature of the soul and its relationship with the Supreme Soul has nothing to do with sentiment, geographic location, or blindly following a particular spiritual leader. Rather, it is a matter of science that the soul is meant to worship and adore the Almighty God. In the Vedic tradition, the entity we know as “God” is described in more meaningful terms such as Achyuta and Krishna. Achyuta means one who never falls down. Right away this reveals God’s nature as the ultimate hero, the only candidate worthy of our eternal love and adoration. The name Krishna speaks to God’s all-attractive nature. Not only is the Lord the greatest hero, but He also provides the topmost happiness to those who associate with Him. It should make sense to us that the most attractive person would also supply the greatest transcendental bliss to those who are drawn in by His attraction.
So God as Krishna is the most attractive and the supreme object of pleasure, but how does this help us? Obviously Krishna resides in the spiritual world and currently we don’t, so what can we do? How do we associate with the hero that the world so desperately needs? Luckily for us, Krishna, as the only infallible entity in the world, is also the most compassionate. While the wayward spirit souls chose to appear in the material world, wherein their desire to become God could be acted upon, the Lord still put into place a system whereby they could return to the transcendental realm, the land reserved for the purified souls. This system is known as dharma, which can be taken as religiosity, occupational duty, or simple piety. Dharma can be thought of as the ultimate system of right and wrong, the supreme set of guidelines aimed at keeping the individual soul in constant contact with the Supreme Soul. While the individual soul, or jivatma, is so powerful that it can drive the activities of a lifeless body, there is another soul residing side by side within the heart. This soul, known as the Paramatma, belongs to God. As the localized aspect of the Supreme Lord, the Paramatma is actually responsible for the results of all activities. This should make sense as the individual spirit souls are actually quite powerless. They may have a minute amount of independence in how they choose to interact with material nature, but the reactions to such actions cannot manifest without the intervention of divine forces.
“I am seated in everyone’s heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness. By all the Vedas am I to be known; indeed I am the compiler of Vedanta, and I am the knower of the Vedas.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.15)
Since the Supersoul resides with the individual soul, there is actually never any separation. This means that God is always with us. The issue at hand, however, relates to consciousness. Upon descending to the material world, the individual consciousness, the supreme thought process of any form of life, shifts from serving and worshiping God towards worshiping the individual along with other manmade heroes. Thinking in terms of “I” and “Mine”, the individual becomes forgetful of the presence of the Supersoul which lives inside its own body. This flawed mindset, which is akin to viewing the self as God, is the root cause behind the existence of the material world. If every living entity shed this mindset, there would be no life on earth, and thus no earth. Every soul would be residing in the spiritual world alongside Krishna.
Dharma was put in place to allow the living entities to purify their consciousness by changing the mindset from “I am God” to “God is me”. Since Krishna is the origin of all matter and spirit, we can all be considered part of Him. Since God is part of us, we are meant to constantly associate with Him in the most intimate way. This level of intimacy is far greater than anything we can experience in our interactions with our fellow man. Even conjugal love, the most potent form of emotional exchange, has no equivalent in the spiritual world, for no material emotion can compare in purity and potency to the pure transcendental love that is exchanged between the liberated spirit souls and the Supreme Soul.
Dharma is aimed not only at elevating one to the platform of Krishna consciousness, but also at keeping one at this heightened level of awareness. Shedding the “I am God” mindset is not easy, for even ordinary hero worship is based off this flawed mentality. Thinking of another fallible living entity as God is the same as thinking of ourselves as God. This is because there is no difference in quality between one individual soul and another. To purify our consciousness, we need to take to activities that keep us connected with Bhagavan, which is a name that describes God’s ultimate feature as the Supreme Entity who possesses every opulence imaginable. Since dharma can vary based on a person’s primary objective, there can be competing definitions of right and wrong, piety and sin. Therefore, the Vedas give us a more specific term to describe that discipline which aims to keep one connected with Bhagavan. This term is bhagavata-dharma, which can be translated as devotional service.
Devotional service is the religion of love, the most purified spiritual discipline. It can consist of nine different processes, with one of them being worship. Instead of worshiping fallible living entities, the discipline of devotional service advises us to adore the Infallible. In order for this worship to take place, there must be a worshipable object, an entity or figure to which we can offer our prayers and obeisances. To facilitate this practice, the Lord incarnates in the form of the deity. Deity worship is apparently forbidden in many of the prominent spiritual disciplines around the world, but there is no valid justification for this. Since worship of God is the quintessential religious activity, it stands to reason that the Lord would have a transcendental form. Worship of God would then surely involve mentally offering obeisances to this transcendental form. If it is beneficial to worship God in our minds, what is the harm in worshiping a carved statue or picture representation of the same transcendental form?
Not only is such worship not harmful, but it is indeed most beneficial. The key to success in spiritual life is to change one’s consciousness. Shedding the “I am God” mentality requires dedication to transcendental activities. Deity worship affords us this opportunity, a way to constantly tend to and worship the Supreme Lord in a body which is fit for the offering of love. God created matter after all, so taking His material elements and crafting a statue representation of His transcendental form is certainly in line with religious practice. In fact, this is a labor of love, an act of pure devotion the likes of which can’t be matched. Not only is the deity beneficial to those who offer their love and worship directly to it, but it also helps others ascend to the platform of Krishna consciousness. Simply professing a religious faith is not enough. One has to walk the walk instead of just talking the talk. Deity worship gives credence to our pledge of allegiance to the Supreme Lord, proving to others that the panacea of blissful spiritual life is a reality and not a Utopian myth.
The deity, being a visual representation of Krishna or one of His non-different vishnu-tattva forms, is wholly worthy of our worship. Some may protest that adherents to bhagavata-dharma are simply concocting an infallible hero that doesn’t exist. “They were burned by their own heroes in real life, so they took to worshiping a mythological character, someone whose exploits were simply conjured up by various poets of the past.” Even if one were lured in by this fallacious line of thinking, there is still no harm in worshiping Krishna or His deity. As mentioned before, the individual spirit soul has a penchant for hero worship. Lacking God consciousness, the conditioned soul will take to worshiping itself or some other fallible entity. By definition, this mode of hero worship is destined to secure anguish and heartache. Worship of Krishna, however, will never meet this end. Devotees would rather take their chances with Krishna, who is all-blissful and the giver of the transcendental knowledge found in the Puranas, Ramayana, and Bhagavad-gita, than fall prey to worshiping fallible living entities who are merely assigned hero status by other conditioned souls. As they say, “The proof is in the pudding”, Krishna’s hero status is validated by the visible results seen by those who sincerely take to devotional service.
The lesson here is that if we are going to invest our hopes in anyone, why not Krishna? His deity is so beautiful and flawless that our eyes can never get enough of looking at Him. If we don’t have the benefit of seeing the deity every day, we can still associate with Krishna through the transcendental sound vibration of His holy name. This non-different form of the Lord can be produced by every single person through simply chanting the most sacred of formulas: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Now more than ever, the world needs Krishna.
Categories: deity worship