“There is no difference between the thumblike Vishnu in the womb of Uttara and the full-fledged Narayana in the Vaikuntha-dhama, the kingdom of Godhead. 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)
Friend1: I know that Bhaktivinoda Thakura considered the worship of the deity to be really important.
Friend2: It’s an integral part of the Vedic tradition for a reason. The acharya does not concoct. They do not make up principles and practices. That is the meaning to parampara. Take the message from the predecessors and don’t change. Perhaps adjust to time and circumstance, but the foundation remains.
Friend1: Which is devotion to God the person. That is the end goal.
Friend2: A change in consciousness. Turn it around from the very beginning, before the illusion has a chance to gain majority influence for life.
Friend1: Away from sense gratification as a goal and towards the Divine light.
Friend2: Know that you are not the body. You are spirit soul, atma. As there is an individual soul, a Supreme Soul exists, as well.
Friend1: Okay, so someone else might agree with that but then have issues moving further.
Friend2: What do you mean?
Friend1: They accept the existence of God. They believe in a higher power. They want to worship Him. At the same time, they strongly object to the idea of deity worship.
Friend1: They don’t have logical reasons; just references to their sacred books and the like.
Friend2: What is the danger?
Friend1: Creating an idol. The idea is to never create an image of God. That is offensive. Creating then leads to worshiping, and that is an even bigger sin.
Friend2: Again, why? What is the harm? If you are supposed to worship, then why not have a physical activity associated with it? Why not see features?
Friend1: But God is beyond the mortal body. He cannot be limited to a statue or picture.
Friend2: Of course not. The Vedas agree with that, as well. The name Adhokshaja says that the Supreme Lord’s features are beyond measurement. Nevertheless, the deity is there as a sign of His mercy. The one who is impossible to know arrives in a form that can be understood to some degree. The one who is nirguna apparently shows a saguna form, though gunas in the material sense never apply to Him anyway.
Friend1: Isn’t it a little sectarian, though?
Friend2: What is?
Friend1: The deity. The image challenges others. It creates the “My God versus your God” game.
Friend2: This is not a game. Why would others feel threatened?
Friend1: Precisely because they don’t worship such an image. Actually, they have no image at all.
Friend2: And therein lies the danger. When you lack the deity, it is much easier to forget God. He forever remains a myth. No wonder people would be afraid of Him. This means that they don’t know Him. No wonder they would get hung up on rules and regulations, trying to strictly apply them and condemning people to hell who slip up. No wonder He would be forgotten throughout the journey of life, replaced with other deity-like figures.
Friend1: That is true. People worship all-kinds of non-Divine entities, like pets, celebrities, athletes, politicians and the like.
Friend2: The archa-vigraha is not some neat vehicle aimed at helping the less intelligent. For sure the wise person understands that God is all-pervading, not forced to stay only in the temple or a statue. At the same time, there has to be an understanding of spiritual features, of life in liberation, of how it is different from the way things occur at the moment. Meditation on a single visual, made from authority and not imagination, can account for all of that.
Bhakti philosophy to lure,
But of certain practices unsure.
Like worship of deity done,
Not hints of idolatry some?
My God/Your God paradigm creating,
Sectarian differences reinstating.
Harm actually when deity lacking,
The illusory then easier distracting.