“The mother-in-law did the arati and offered gifts, following tradition. Looking at His dark face again and again, she felt happiness in the heart and great attachment.” (Janaki Mangala, 165)
सासु उतारि आरती करहिं निछावरि |
निरखि निरखि हियन् हरषहिं सुरति सवरि ||
sāsu utāri āratī karahiṃ nichāvari |
nirakhi nirakhi hiyan haraṣahiṃ surati savari ||
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada recommends deity worship, known as archanam in Sanskrit. The people of a specific region may have grown up with a prohibition on any resembling practice. They were told that it is sinful to worship an idol, that they are going against the faith inherited from their ancestors. God is to be worshiped, but from within. There is certainly no discussion as to a transcendental form or identifiable features.
The acharyas of the Vedic tradition understand the necessity of some understanding of God’s position, especially with respect to the individuals who are worshiping Him. I have a head, hands, legs, a face and so forth. Those features identify me temporarily, but they do not represent who I am. The features change throughout the course of life, so much so that I don’t recognize a photo of myself from the childhood years.
To God belongs a form, though it is transcendental in nature. This version of the Almighty may also be referred to as saguna. The root definition is, “with qualities.” This is not to say that the Supreme Lord is bound by any type of structure covering His true essence. The qualities are transcendental in nature, but the identifiable version is for both locating God and comparing His standing to ours.
If we are to worship internally, within the mind, what is the harm in putting a reality to the vision? If I am thinking of a specific image within the mind, does it harm anyone to translate the visual to canvas? We keep photographs around to remind us of people and places, so why not do the same with God Himself?
He is not limited by the deity, but rather we get a glimpse into the world of the unlimited through the interaction. We may even find that we are afforded certain privileges that would otherwise be prohibited.
1. Reveal your innermost thoughts
It is one of the risks of establishing a close friendship. While it is therapeutic to let your thoughts out, to share experiences and air grievances, the other side gains valuable information. If ever the relationship turns sour, they can use that information against you. You hope that never happens, but in this world of duality a friend can turn into an enemy at a moment’s notice. Sometimes your most beloved son might side with the country from which you are trying to separate and establish independence, as occurred during the Revolutionary War period in America.
When worshiping the deity, I can reveal everything. I can share all of my concerns. I can explain what I went through the previous day, what I was feeling, to where I would like to go moving forward. I can ask for assistance in making difficult decisions.
The Supreme Lord is already the all-pervading witness. He knows my thoughts, my aspirations, my dreams, my shortcomings, my embarrassing moments, and especially my weaknesses. With the deity standing in front of me, I can at least remember that such a relationship exists, that I am never truly alone in this world.
He will never use that information against me. He will not turn to others to seek an advantage. He will never abandon someone who has surrendered to Him, as they can never be lost to Him, no matter what takes place.
यो मां पश्यति सर्वत्र
सर्वं च मयि पश्यति
तस्याहं न प्रणश्यामि
स च मे न प्रणश्यति
yo māṁ paśyati sarvatra
sarvaṁ ca mayi paśyati
tasyāhaṁ na praṇaśyāmi
sa ca me na praṇaśyati
“For one who sees Me everywhere and sees everything in Me, I am never lost, nor is he ever lost to Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.30)
2. Stare for an extended time without shame
Try doing this with someone in the flesh, who is not the deity, and you might run into the following:
“Why are you staring at me? Are you a psycho or something? Seriously, stop! If you keep it up, I will call the police. I always thought you were creepy to begin with, and this latest episode confirms my suspicions. I don’t care how beautiful you think I am, you are beginning to frighten everyone.”
With the Supreme Lord, you can stare for as long as you wish. If your devotion is pure, Bhagavan creates further opportunities for the visual connection to continue. The deity is a factual representation of the features belonging to the qualified Brahman, after all.
For instance, the deity of Rama is no different than the celebrated incarnation of the same name. He was the eldest son of King Dasharatha, and one time He lifted a mighty bow in the sacrificial arena created by King Janaka.
This feat earned Rama the honor of marrying Janaka’s eldest daughter named Sita. The nuptials afforded Janaka’s wife the opportunity to do arati of Rama directly. She waved welcoming lamps in front of Him, and she was staring at the incomparable beauty the entire time.
No one stopped her. No one thought the practice odd or out of place. She repeatedly derived supreme happiness in the heart, as described by Goswami Tulsidas. This is the fervent desire of the acharyas and Bhagavan Himself, that we always be happy. Through the direct association we have the opportunity to experience that bliss again and again.
Acharyas wanting for me,
That always happy to be.
So different methods to provide,
Where in devotion can confide.
With the deity worshiping steady,
Seeing one who inside me already.
For as long as I want to stare,
And innermost thoughts can share.
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