“Kintu prabhor yah priya eva tasya: the spiritual master is not God, but is the confidential representative of God. The distinction is that between sevya-bhagavan (he who is worshiped) and sevaka-bhagavan (he who is the worshiper). The spiritual master is God, and Krishna is God, but Krishna is the worshipable God whereas the spiritual master is the worshiper God.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Teachings of Queen Kunti, 26 Purport)
FriendOne: I’ve been wondering something lately.
FriendTwo: What’s that?
F1: Well, I’m sure you’ve thought the same thing from time to time.
F2: You realize I have no way of knowing what you’re talking about.
F1: I mean, to the outsider it must look a little strange. Possibly confusing as well.
F2: Will you tell me what you’re talking about already!
F1: Oh, sorry. When you enter a temple where bhakti-yoga is the focus, there seems to be a lot going on at the altar.
F2: You mean with the different paraphernalia? Like the whisk and the ghee lamps waving, the conch shell blowing, and the bell ringing? It’s all a sign of respect. It’s actually how you would greet a guest at your home, especially in ancient times. Think of it like being so happy that the Lord of the universe has agreed to enter your home and stay for a while as your preferred guest.
F1: That’s not what I’m talking about, but thanks for the free lesson [sarcasm]. Anyway, what I mean to say is that the worship is not directed at one person. There are a lot of people worshiped on the altar, it seems.
F2: I see. And you don’t know who every person is?
F1: Most of the time I do, but sometimes I have to ask. Don’t you think it’s a little distracting? Isn’t God supposed to be the main person worshiped? Isn’t He the person we’re trying to be conscious of?
F2: Oh, okay. So you think that with all the other stuff going on, the worship is getting diluted.
F1: There’s that, but then the newcomers will also wonder. For instance, someone asked me the other day if His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada is Krishna. They wanted to know if He is an incarnation of God appearing on earth.
F2: Are they new to all this?
F1: That’s the thing – not really. They’ve been attending the weekly programs for a while now. They obviously don’t pay attention to the lectures much, and they probably get confused by the worship of the guru.
F2: So what did you tell this person?
F1: I was a little frustrated, to be honest. I told them that they need to read the books more, like the Bhagavad-gita As It Is and Teachings of Lord Chaitanya.
F2: Yeah, it’s odd that they didn’t know such a fundamental truth. The guru should be treated as good as God, but He is not God Himself. In fact, that is a very important teaching. If you think that the guru is God, it means that if you enlighten yourself to the point that you’re a guru, you can also become God.
F1: Right. Maybe that’s why I was so upset at the question. Then I got to thinking, though. Maybe the style of worship is confusing. You know, when you visit other temples, where bhakti isn’t the main focus, you get so many deities. You get a separate section for each of the famous gods of the Vedic tradition.
F2: I know what you’re referring to. And people go in there, choose their favorite god, offer their respects, and then leave. They think you can worship any god and have the result be the same.
F1: Right, so how is it different in the temples where bhakti-yoga is practiced?
F2: The difference is that you’re extending the love and appreciation towards people who support the Supreme Lord. With demigod worship, you’re always asking for something. You want money. You want good health. You want a better situation in the afterlife.
F1: And in pure bhakti, you only ask to have love and devotion, right? Like no matter where you are, you only want service to the Supreme Lord in His personal form.
F2: Exactly. Bhakti-yoga can be defined in many ways, and one of them is “constant appreciation.” Instead of asking for things, you sacrifice. You give your valuable time, energy and thoughts. You use whatever abilities you have for pleasing the Supreme Lord.
F1: The guru is very important in bringing that level of bhakti.
F2: That’s it. You’ve nailed it. The guru gets worshiped because without them, you wouldn’t know that Krishna is God. You wouldn’t know that the Supreme Lord is a person with spiritual attributes. You then appreciate the efforts of the saints who came previously in the line of instruction. You have so much love for Radharani, who is the feminine aspect to God. She loves Krishna so much; she makes Him happy. Krishna enjoys her association, so on the altar it is for His benefit that she gets placed next to Him.
F1: So could you explain it as you’re worshiping God as a family, instead of alone?
F2: That is a good way of putting it. When the devotee is not in the temple, they’re still seeing Krishna, who resides in every living being as the Supersoul. The worship is always there if you are transcendentally situated in consciousness. In the formal atmosphere, you wish you could worship every person that has special meaning to you, but you limit it to a few important personalities. It doesn’t mean that the supporters are God; it just means that they are significant in your understanding of Him. They’ve shown you how to please Him. They are responsible for your having found the true mission in life.
So many the altar area sharing,
Worship for each with love and caring.
To Supreme Lord are they the same,
Just in different roles, with different names?
Like extended family with Him sitting,
In appreciation worship for them befitting.
The guru treated as God, but never to Him equal,
For giving us Krishna deserving treatment regal.