“No one can check the thinking activities of a living being, nor the feeling, willing or working processes. But if one wants actual happiness, one must change the subject matter only. Instead of talking of the politics of a dying man, one might discuss the politics administered by the Lord Himself. Instead of relishing activities of the cinema artists, one can turn his attention to the activities of the Lord with His eternal associates like the gopis and Lakshmis. The almighty Personality of Godhead, by His causeless mercy, descends on the earth and manifests activities almost on the line of the worldly men, but at the same time extraordinarily, because He is almighty.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.6.34 Purport)
Friend1: I think people following the bhakti path will always run into a popularity problem.
Friend2: How so?
Friend1: Take this scenario. Say on a given day I am spending time with two family members. They live away from me, so it is not like I see them every day.
Friend2: Is this a vacation or are you at home?
Friend1: Let’s say that we are in a city foreign to us. Vacation is fine, or maybe just a weekend getaway.
Friend1: On a given day I want to visit a local temple. The presiding deities are Lakshmi-Narayana.
Friend2: The goddess of fortune paired with her husband. The energy side of God along with God Himself, who is the energetic.
Friend1: Yes, the archa-vigraha. God is both nirguna and saguna. He is never bound to material qualities but for our benefit, to help us in understanding Him, He displays distinguishable features.
Friend2: To facilitate worship. Hence the deity in the temple, who is like the chief resident. Supposedly material elements crafted together to form an image, but in fact the entire process is authorized.
Friend1: Making the deity spiritual, non-different from the person it represents. I get it. That is why I want to visit. I have seen pictures on the internet, but the in-person connection is a whole new experience. You feel something.
Friend2: Like you are meeting a long-lost friend, someone who has had your best interests at heart since before you can remember.
Friend1: I am excited, but the relatives are not. Their face turns sour as soon as they hear the suggestion. They would rather go to the cinema.
Friend2: Makes sense.
Friend1: That is what I mean. We will always run into this problem. Television and movies are always more popular than devotion to Bhagavan, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Friend2: That is the meaning of maya. The material world is maya’s kingdom.
Friend1: I have heard many spiritual leaders bemoan the situation. They think the pop culture is the main reason for the degradation of society as a whole. What can be done?
Friend2: I heard a very interesting take from His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. He says that if you create a void relating to the Supreme, unnecessarily at that, people will try to fill that void in other areas.
Friend1: Can you explain further?
Friend2: If you keep telling people that God is without form, that He is this attribute-less energy, that we are all God, then that diminishes the appeal of worship. If you and I are both God, then why do I need to visit a temple? What good is that going to do for me? Why should I chant the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare?
Friend1: Yet the attraction towards variety remains.
Friend2: The tendency will lead you elsewhere. It is only natural. The spirit soul is individual. Individuality does not prefer to merge into nothingness, which the impersonal side of religion describes as the ultimate end. Rather than end my existence, I will look to continue my individuality through other paths.
Friend1: I see. And if we explain that there is indeed a personal side to religion, to Vedic culture, we stand a better chance of making the sale, so to speak.
Friend2: Oh, for sure. Bhakti-yoga is full of variety. Vedic literature is so expansive for that very reason. Otherwise, there would only be Vedanta-sutra or maybe a few verses from the Bhagavad-gita. Even in that discourse between Krishna and Arjuna, which is philosophy in the truest sense, there is so much potential for variety based on the references to personalities, places, situations, history and the like.
Friend1: That is true. You could talk about the history of Arjuna and the Pandava brothers. There is mention of saintly people like Prahlada and Vyasa.
Friend2: And don’t forget Krishna’s pastimes. The lila of Bhagavan is endless. The stories nourish the soul and give enthusiasm to continue in service, to find new ways to put a smile on His face. Something as basic as a visit to the temple becomes an eagerly anticipated excursion, such as in your hypothetical situation. The satisfaction derived is so great as to dwarf anything that may result from watching a scripted performance of the mundane variety.
When in popularity scale comparing,
Not well your preference faring.
For television and cinema greater taste,
Temple visit viewed as a waste.
Reason that in religion attributes eliminated,
But individual existence not terminated.
The personal side making better appeal,
That endless lila of Bhagavan to reveal.