“In some of the Puranas the evidence is given that if someone is simply meditating on devotional activities, he has achieved the desired result and has seen face to face the Supreme Personality of Godhead.” (The Nectar of Devotion, 10)
Deity worship is a time honored practice of the Vedic tradition. “Be conscious of God.” This is the tag-line, the slogan, if you will, for those who follow bhakti-yoga. It seems simple enough. Consciousness is not dependent on tradition. It is not restricted to nationality. Both men and women have consciousness, so gender is not an issue either. God consciousness is the original consciousness, so whatever tools can be used for regaining it, for once again bringing to mind the closest and dearest friend, who is the Supreme Lord of all planets and the best friend of everyone, become worthwhile.
To prohibit deity worship is to prohibit the exercise of love itself. In traditions which ban this practice, in ignorance the thought is that an idol gets worshiped. But in fact, some worship must take place. There must be some obeisance paid, at least in the mind. If there is worship in the mind, why not in the flesh? Why not in a formal way, towards an object that depicts some of the transcendental goodness of the person of whom we are trying to be conscious?
Parvati was trying to explain this to her friend one day. She described deity worship in terms of arranging a meeting. The worshiper and the object of worship should never be separated, she explained, because they are meant to be together. Simply arranging that meeting can do so much. She relayed a story from her own life to further illustrate the point.
It was a few years after we were married. We were living in this tiny apartment. Ishan and I were relatively happy. We got along well. He would work long hours and come home tired. I would always have dinner ready. Still, since we were so close, we were bound to have disagreements every now and then. The one I remember most vividly was when my mother came to visit.
Now maybe this was bad on my part, but I didn’t want to hear his negative reaction. My mother was going to come and stay with us for a few weeks, and I didn’t tell Ishan. He doesn’t get along with her at all. My mother can be tough to deal with sometimes, but still, I love her. I like having her in the house, especially since Ishan is gone for most of the day.
Anyway, he came home and saw her and that was it. He went ballistic. He started screaming at me, making a scene. My tendency in these situations is to fight back. So I yelled at him, telling him that he was being rude. My mother intervened too, which didn’t help matters. As a result, Ishan stormed out of the house, taking some of his clothes. He went to stay with one of his friends.
I felt bad about what happened, but I wasn’t going to apologize. I was fuming for days. My mother told me to at least see him, as he had tried calling. He wanted to talk, but I didn’t. She explained to me that if we simply met, since we loved each other so much we would forget everything that had happened. Sure enough, that’s exactly how it ended up. He came home one day to pick up some clothes, and as he was leaving we bumped into each other. Instantly, we both apologized. We hugged and made up, and the cause of the disagreement was forgotten quickly.
Parvati told her friend that the living entity is similarly attached to God since a long time back. Worship of Him is as natural as marriage, friendship or any other close relationship. In fact, it is the best relationship, one from which all others are derived. Going to worship in the temple is a way for arranging this meeting, especially for those who have completely forgotten about God.
Parvati acknowledged that sometimes the temple culture can be tainted by mismanagement or social pressures caused by seeing the same people on a regular basis. So she told her friend that even superior to deity worship is chanting the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. The sound of these names can reawaken the dormant God consciousness, and change the life of a person in an instant. Worship can take place even within the mind, so no one is ever restricted from reuniting with God.
Though to worship deity seeming strange,
Consider it like meeting of lovers to arrange.
Known to us since a long time back,
Misery when consciousness of Him to lack.
At the deity with love and devotion see,
And from ignorance instantly be set free.
If difficulty in this process to find,
Know that can worship also in the mind.