“He accepts the form of archa-vigraha (worshipable Deity) just to accept service from His different incapable devotees. By the mercy of the archa-vigraha, the form of the Lord in material elements, the devotees who are in the material world can easily approach the Lord, although He is not conceivable by the material senses.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.12.9 Purport)
Not sure what God looks like? Want to worship Him, but have no idea where to go? Is it through reading books? Is it through meditation, like a revelation that just comes to you? Is it from listening to someone else, an authority figure?
Fortunately, there is the merciful incarnation known as the archa-vigraha. At first glance it is an ordinary statue. On the simpler side, perhaps a painted picture put inside of a frame. It’s the reception that makes the difference. There is attention from others, in a reverential attitude. They worship at regular times, most likely in the morning and night. They offer items like a lamp, flowers, water, and incense.
This is a nice and quick way to become God conscious. The practice descends from authority. The deity is based on that authority. When the source is imagination, then the practice is idol worship, to which there is no value.
Simultaneously, there are so many contradictions. As the deity represents the Supreme Personality of Godhead, it is able to bypass these different conditions of impossibility.
1. God cannot be tied down to a single name
In the more formal version of worship seen in the temple, the deity is neither alone nor without a name. The Supreme Lord stays there alongside His energy, the person closest to Him in terms of interest. This person displays pure devotion, and worshiped together the couple can give the world to anyone.
The deity pair gets different names. Radha-Madana-Mohana. Radha-Vrindavanachandra. Lakshmi-Narayana. Sita-Rama. These names help to identify the specific form that is manifest on the altar, but in fact God cannot be tied down to a single name. That would limit Him, and by definition He is unlimited, or ananta.
2. He is never just a statue
Another property to the Almighty is advaita. This means “non-dual.” That is to say the Supreme Lord cannot be limited to a single space. The deity in the temple helps to arouse consciousness of spiritual things, including the source of both material and spiritual energies, but to think that God does not reside anywhere else is incorrect.
Just as He lives in more than one temple, He is not limited to a single statue. Otherwise, everyone in the world would have to attend a single service, in one location, at a single time, to have their prayers heard.
3. It is impossible to limit His size
The statue has fixed dimensions. It has a certain height and a certain width. Even if the statue were life-size, when many times it is not, the depiction is not completely accurate. The Almighty cannot have measurements placed on His features, which are transcendental. This is one reason He is also known by the name Adhokshaja.
4. It is not possible to appropriately dress Him
In the Mahabharata there is the story of Queen Draupadi and her plight against enemies to her family. They attempt to show her naked in front of an assembly of respected people, and the means is through removing her sari. In desperation she calls out to Krishna, who is both the Supreme Lord and the great well-wisher of their family. Krishna takes the form of Draupadi’s sari, giving it the ananta property. No matter how much the villains pull, they can never make Draupadi naked. The sari keeps expanding.
In the same way, it is not possible to buy enough cloth to appropriately dress God, who is the universal form and more. Everything we know to exist, from this universe and others, put into a single image for analytical purposes is known as the virata-rupa. Krishna one time showed this form to Arjuna as a way to give evidence to the doubts about His Divine nature.
These contradictory elements exist with deity worship, but Krishna is so merciful that He appears in that form anyway. He will not let the devotee suffer. If they need help in purifying the consciousness, it arrives in various forms. If a person cannot attend a temple service on a regular basis, if they have no means of performing scheduled worship at home, they can still connect with God. They can chant the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Contradictions with deity many,
Like how limited to place any?
Or possible enough cloth to find,
Who with size not limited by mind?
More than inanimate statue so,
Like the universal form to show.
The practice beneficial and given still,
So that pure devotion in heart to fill.
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