“We may find some mailboxes on the street, and if we post our letters in those boxes, they will naturally go to their destination without difficulty. But any old box, or an imitation, which we may find somewhere, which is not authorized by the post office, will not do the work. Similarly, God has an authorized representation in the Deity form, which is called archa-vigraha. This archa-vigraha is an incarnation of the Supreme Lord. God will accept service through that form.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 12.5 Purport)
Friend2: Please elaborate.
Friend1: That when we want to send mail to some place, we have to find an authorized receptacle. You can’t drop your properly stamped letter into just any box. You have to find one where the mail apparatus will pick up the letter and deliver it to the proper destination.
Friend2: How does that compare to deity worship?
Friend1: You can’t just make up a god. I guess that is the foundation for the prohibition against idol worship we commonly find in spiritual traditions around the world. Don’t make a statue of something and decide that it is fit for accepting worship.
Friend2: Why not?
Friend1: Like the mailbox analogy, it is not authorized. You have to direct the worship in an authorized way.
Friend2: Okay, but who is the authority in this case?
Friend1: Parampara. The disciplic succession. They give information on the various objects of worship and the resultant effects based on an approach.
Friend2: There isn’t a single object of worship?
Friend1: There is, but He manifests differently based on the time, circumstance, and level of understanding within the worshiper. For instance, the demigods are like God, but not quite. They are administrators in a material realm, and so if you worship them you get benefits that fall within the jurisdiction of that realm.
Friend2: What does that mean? In plain English.
Friend1: The material world is limited by time and space. Any benefit derived from a demigod has the same limitation. The rewards are temporary in nature. The worshiper only finds flickering happiness.
ते तं भुक्त्वा स्वर्ग-लोकं विशालं
क्षीणे पुण्ये मर्त्य-लोकं विशन्ति
एवं त्रयी-धर्मम् अनुप्रपन्ना
गतागतं काम-कामा लभन्ते
te taṁ bhuktvā svarga-lokaṁ viśālaṁ
kṣīṇe puṇye martya-lokaṁ viśanti
evaṁ trayī-dharmam anuprapannā
gatāgataṁ kāma-kāmā labhante
“When they have thus enjoyed heavenly sense pleasure, they return to this mortal planet again. Thus, through the Vedic principles, they achieve only flickering happiness.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.21)
Friend2: Worshiping the Almighty is different, then?
Friend1: A separate deity. That is the authorized way. You cannot take a tree and offer it items thinking that you have found God. The same with the cloud, the river, a painting you made at home, and so forth.
Friend2: I see.
Friend1: The question I have relates to verification. Given that I trust parampara, how do I compare against someone who doesn’t have the same trust?
Friend2: What do you mean? You are looking at competing versions of worship and want to validate which one is authentic?
Friend1: Yes, exactly. Is there a mechanism? Sort of a quality control test to measure effectiveness. The other side might say that their concocted form of worship is equally as valid.
Friend2: It can be, if it is along the same lines. You would have to determine the qualities that result. Has a person increased their consciousness of the Almighty? Do they begin to see God everywhere?
Friend1: How would they have such a vision if they are limiting their worship to a specific statue or painting?
Friend2: Well, that is the secret. That is the difference between authorized and imagined. If you are following the authority of parampara, you will have noticeable and measurable effects in the aftermath.
Friend1: Such as?
Friend2: You will begin to notice God everywhere. You will understand the basic distinction between matter and spirit. As you progress further along, you will be so thankful that Bhagavan has been kind enough to appear in such a form.
Friend1: What is the source of the appreciation?
Friend2: Because His transcendental body is too large to fathom. Because He is too great for me to comprehend. Because I will never truly know how saguna and nirguna are the same for Him. Despite my limitations, He helps me to understand Him. That is the mercy of the archa-vigraha, known to those who worship in the proper way.
ददामि बुद्धि-योगं तं
येन माम् उपयान्ति ते
dadāmi buddhi-yogaṁ taṁ
yena mām upayānti te
“To those who are constantly devoted and worship Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 10.10)
Though with significant time clocked,
And on single image locked.
Only authorized way when,
That God everywhere to see,
Not only is He for me.
Outside also and in the tree,
As deity most merciful is He.