“Since the source of the energies is one and the same, the energies can be utilized according to the will of their source. For example, the Lord can appear in the form of the archa-vigraha, a Deity supposedly made of earth, stone or wood. Deity forms, although engraved from wood, stone or other matter, are not idols, as the iconoclasts contend.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shri Ishopanishad, 5 Purport)
Friend1: What do you think is the biggest stain on Vedic culture?
Friend2: Stain? Like something bad?
Friend1: The one thing that is preventing it from being more popular.
Friend2: That’s an interesting question. There is a flaw in the premise, however. Popularity should not be a factor.
Friend2: Let’s take the example of two plus two. We know that it equals four. Everyone acknowledges this, correct?
Friend2: What if certain people refused to accept it?
Friend1: Then they are stupid.
Friend2: That would be our opinion. What if the majority of the people refused to accept it?
Friend1: That would never happen.
Friend2: Oh, I beg to disagree my friend. Something like that could very easily happen. Look at the way court cases are covered in the media. People make up their minds before any of the facts come out. Then when the facts utterly refute their conclusion, they remain obstinate.
Friend1: That’s true.
Friend2: People do things the wrong way so often today, but it’s the people on the other side who get labeled crazy.
Friend1: Alright, but you’re getting off topic here. I was thinking the biggest stain on Vedic culture is the caste system.
Friend2: The idea of divisions by quality and work or the degraded birthright system?
Friend1: The latter.
Friend2: Oh, I think I know where you’re going with this. First of all, I wouldn’t say that the caste system is part of Vedic culture. It is more a way of life, a symptom of a specific society that has deviated from its original culture.
Friend1: Right, but people will associate it with Hinduism.
Friend2: And it’s difficult to explain to them that Hinduism is something entirely different. It is a hodgepodge of different beliefs and faiths. The word itself is not found in the original texts that make up the culture. Hinduism is a term applied by outsiders who don’t know the eternal truths found in Vedanta philosophy.
Friend1: My point is that the caste system, where people claim superiority over others based solely on birthright, shines a negative light on Vedic culture as a whole.
Friend2: There’s no doubt about that.
Friend1: Competing with the caste system would be the restricted entry into temples.
Friend2: Oh, where they don’t allow non-Hindus?
Friend2: I agree with you there. It’s a little ridiculous. They make the determination off of appearance. They don’t care what’s on the inside. A person could be the biggest atheist, who totally rejects Vedic teachings, but if they look a certain way they are allowed in.
Friend1: To you and me it’s obviously discrimination, racism, or whatever similar term you want to apply. How come others don’t see it that way? How does something like that even start?
Friend2: Well, you realize there is an original purpose to the prohibition, right?
Friend1: What do you mean?
Friend2: It’s similar to the evolution into the caste system. The origin is described in the Bhagavad-gita, where Krishna says that according to guna and karma, qualities and work, there are the four divisions of occupation and spiritual institution. It is a scientific system meant to keep order in society, to facilitate progressive advancement towards the ultimate goal of God consciousness.
Friend1: Right, and since then it became degraded to what we have now, the determination by birthright. So you’re saying the prohibition on certain people entering the temple is logically based in the beginning?
Friend2: Yes, and you see evidence of the justification everywhere. What is in the temple?
Friend1: Umm, God?
Friend2: Yes, but in what manifestation?
Friend1: As the deity.
Friend2: And do you know how many people reject the idea of deity worship?
Friend1: Yeah, which is pretty silly. If you’re supposed to think of God and worship Him, why not do so physically? Why should it be limited to mental worship? If you and I have a form, why can’t God have one? Actually, why can’t He have many forms? Deity worship is really important.
Friend2: See, you understand all of these things, but the layperson does not. If they enter the temple with their improper understanding, they won’t get anything out of the worship. Essentially, they are not qualified to see the deity.
Friend1: Interesting. But today the image of the Supreme Lord is everywhere.
Friend2: And what is the response to that?
Friend1: Some people have a negative reaction. They don’t understand that Krishna is all-attractive, the Supreme Lord in His original form. Oh, I see what you’re saying. They see God’s form and it doesn’t have a positive impact. It would be better if they didn’t see Him like that.
Friend2: Exactly. First qualify yourself. If you think the deity is merely wood, stone, marble, or whatever material went into its construction, you are a fool. Then you will share your foolish understanding with others, and negative consequences will result.
Friend1: Are you saying that you agree with today’s prohibitions?
Friend2: The image is everywhere. That is the unfortunate fact. To prohibit people based simply off external appearance is ridiculous. If they want to restrict entry, they should at least try to find out if the person is qualified or not. Because otherwise you’re still allowing unqualified people in.
Friend1: How do we fix the situation?
Friend2: There are plenty of temples that do allow anyone to enter. You can share the holy names with people. You can display the deity in the proper way to the public through the festival known as Ratha Yatra, where Krishna rides in a chariot for everyone to see. This is Kali Yuga, after all, so even religious life will not be perfect. You’ll have blemishes here and there, but this doesn’t invalidate the original Vedic culture, which is spotless.
Risky if to everyone deity shown,
When Lord’s true position not known.
Then improper understanding to share,
Others of deity’s potency not aware.
In reality Krishna any form can occupy,
When worshiping, better first to qualify.
Blemishes here and there, plenty to see,
But spotless original Vedic culture always to be.