“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)
1. How can God be in the control of human hands?
“I mean, that thing looks like a toy to me. Sort of like the doll you give children for playing, except maybe more valuable. Any person can go up there and pick it up. They can walk out of the building with it, if no one saw them.
“How can that be God, then? Why are people kneeling before it? It is not like the statue can do anything to them. It is not like there will be a lightning strike if you fail to show the proper respect.”
2. Why is there someone alongside the Almighty?
“We are worshiping God, right? Then why is there someone else on the altar? It appears to be a female. I don’t understand. Is God enjoying in front of me? Does He get yelled at like every other husband? How can He come under the control of a woman?”
3. Why is the form different if I go to another temple?
“In the temple I visited yesterday, the deity was a small boy holding a sweet in his hand. Today, the statue is standing, with a flute drawn to the mouth. Why is the depiction different? Why do I sometimes see four people on the altar?“
4. Why doesn’t everyone follow the same standard of worship?
“At that one temple, they do the worship ceremony at a specific time. They offer all sorts of items at the time of arati. At this other temple, the process is completely different. The songs are not the same; I think it might be in another language, too.”
The deity is known as the archa-vigraha in Sanskrit. This is a merciful representation of the Supreme Lord, kind enough to grace our vision during a time of otherwise darkness and illusion. I can barely understand how my body is changing, from day to day, through the decades and culminating at death, so how will I notice the presence of the one who is deathlessness personified?
I mistake a snake for a rope. I see the mirage in the distance in the desert, thinking that there is finally water to help with the high temperatures. I think that finding a paramour will lead to lifelong happiness and that if I only earn a few more dollars per year then everything will be settled.
The deity is for my benefit. There is no impetus or requirement on the part of the person being worshiped. He is not obligated to appear before me, on command, as if He is my order supplier. There is no need for Him to reveal Himself to me, when I have otherwise shown no interest in getting to know Him.
Fortunately, He is not petty. As He has accompanied me in every lifetime thus far, by His promise of liberation through surrender He would have to be the most forgiving person ever known. This is because He would forgive the lengthy time that I have spent turning away from Him, thinking that I could do everything on my own.
माम् एकं शरणं व्रज
अहं त्वां सर्व-पापेभ्यो
मोक्षयिष्यामि मा शुचः
mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja
ahaṁ tvāṁ sarva-pāpebhyo
mokṣayiṣyāmi mā śucaḥ
“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.66)
Within the mercy there is additional mercy. The deity is not a singular manifestation. There are different forms, representing different functions the Almighty performs and the multifarious ways in which He engages with those closest to Him.
The person next to Him on the altar is typically the goddess of fortune. She is the shakti and He the shaktiman. She is the energy and He the energetic. She is the pleasure potency and He is the one who takes pleasure.
The names could be different for identifying the same individual. Shri Krishna is both the life and soul of the cows in Vrindavana and the one who ran from the battlefield against the stubborn Jarasandha. Shri Rama is both the husband of Sita and the sun of the solar dynasty. Narasimha is both the protector of Prahlada and the slayer of the leader of the Daityas.
The deity is never under the control of anyone, but the statue or picture representation better facilitates worship. I cannot find enough cloth to cover the entire universe [virata-rupa] but I can manage with a dress for a single statue in the temple. I can more easily fix my attention on the beautiful deity than I can on the formless feature which pervades everything.
मया ततम् इदं सर्वं
न चाहं तेष्व् अवस्थितः
mayā tatam idaṁ sarvaṁ
na cāhaṁ teṣv avasthitaḥ
“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)
The standard of worship does not have to be the same for every person. Sometimes, there simply isn’t the means. One person is poverty stricken, so they can only offer some fruit or water. Another person sets up elaborate worship in a large establishment, with hundreds attending the ceremonies on a timely basis.
In whatever condition we find ourselves, at whatever age, at whatever skill level, at any level of intelligence we have the opportunity for yoga, for reconnecting with our long-lost friend, who happens to be the most merciful and kind person we could ever imagine.
Not enough cloth to find,
Or proper focus of mind.
Or sufficient attention to give,
Or with proper respect to live.
But Bhagavan as deity showing,
So that His mercy knowing.
Where success either high or low,
With that worship His grace to know.
Categories: the four