“By Me, in My unmanifested form, this entire universe is pervaded. All beings are in Me, but I am not in them.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.4)
मया ततम् इदं सर्वं
न चाहं तेष्व् अवस्थितः
mayā tatam idaṁ sarvaṁ
na cāhaṁ teṣv avasthitaḥ
“The archa-vigraha. The chief resident of the temple. The house of worship designated for that specific purpose. Congregate with like-minded, interested observers and followers. Set aside some time on a periodic basis, perhaps once a week, to worship.
“No need to meditate with your eyes closed. No contemplating nothingness. No falling asleep. A specific direction. Targeted prayers. Features to remove doubts. The vigraha, which is like a body, is for the purpose of worship, archanam.
“Not that the Supreme Lord has become stone. He is not limited in size or shape. The statue can fall from the altar, but God never falls down; He is achyuta. The deity is a manifestation of His mercy. He is so kind to me that He allows me to understand Him to some degree. He offers assistance in the process, knowing full well that devotion will rescue me from the tumult, chaos, despair and uncertainty which surrounds me.
“In a verse of the Bhagavad-gita , Shri Krishna refers to the avyakta-murtina. The generally accepted translation is ‘impersonal form.’ If you dig deeper, we have the same concept of a murti. It is a kind of body. The deity in the temple is a murti, for example. A distinct object. A specific place which can be identified through the sense of sight.
“Avyakta can mean ‘unseen’ or ‘unmanifest.’ I understand how the two terms taken together can refer to the impersonal form, but how can you see something that is by definition unseen? If I refer to something as a murti, does that not mean it has form? Are not the two terms contradictory?”
The avyakta here is in terms of man’s ability to perceive. When God stands before Arjuna as Shri Krishna, the identification is easy. Even the atheists, the deniers, at least acknowledge that someone is seated on the chariot next to the leading bow-warrior for the Pandavas. They may vehemently deny the Divinity of Krishna, but they are not foolish enough to say that no one is there offering instruction.
अवजानन्ति मां मूढा
मानुषीं तनुम् आश्रितम्
परं भावम् अजानन्तो
avajānanti māṁ mūḍhā
mānuṣīṁ tanum āśritam
paraṁ bhāvam ajānanto
“Fools deride Me when I descend in the human form. They do not know My transcendental nature and My supreme dominion over all that be.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.11)
Avyakta-murtina is Krishna dispersed throughout the creation. Not that He has to stretch Himself into a painful position, that He becomes divided or lessened to a degree. The unmanifest is simply a way to understand Him. It is also worshipable in the same way as the murti in the temple.
The distinction is in the increased difficulty. It is easier for me to understand God through a picture of a person with features than it is to appreciate Him by conceiving of the entire universe as an abstract. After all, we deal with distinctions, vishesha, on a daily basis.
Currently, I am sitting at a desk in the office. That office is located in a particular city. The train takes people to and from. I return home to another city. There are other buildings, and the roads are wider. The ocean separates my land from those of others. Above the surface of the earth is the sky, and beyond that is outer space, with many other planets, including the amazing sun.
But who actually contemplates in that way? At least on a regular basis, as a form of meditation, the practice is rare. The avyakta-murtina is a factual concept, but one difficult to notice. Especially for someone who is embodied, duality is associated with every aspect of living.
Therefore, the recommendation is to worship the personal form. When repeating a prayer in the form of a mantra, direct it towards someone that you know has transcendental features: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.