“At that time, Nityananda Prabhu had heard the story of Sakshi-gopala from the townspeople. He now recited this again, and Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu heard the narration with great pleasure.” (Chaitanya Charitamrita, Madhya 5.9)
साक्षि-गोपालेर कथा शुनि, लोक-मुखे
सेइ कथा कहेन, प्रभु शुने महा-सुखे
sākṣi-gopālera kathā śuni, loka-mukhe
sei kathā kahena, prabhu śune mahā-sukhe
“Two activities from which I derive tremendous joy and pleasure are visiting well-maintained and historically significant temples of Lord Vishnu, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and hearing about the lives of saints in the Vaishnava tradition, past and present.
“In story after story, you hear about how a spiritually empowered person, a representative of Vishnu on earth, interacted directly with the deity in the temple. It may be that one person was accustomed to offering a blanket on an annual basis. They happened to skip one year because of sudden poverty. The deity communicated through the pujari, the head priest, that they were anticipating the offering, which was missing.
“In another case, a person makes a mistake in their worship ceremony. It is innocent enough, but the deity appears in a dream to that person and highlights the error. The deity seems to appear in dreams quite often with these saintly people. That is how they receive information of hidden worshipable forms, of locations where to find important paraphernalia necessary for worship of the proper standard.
“I certainly believe these stories. As stated previously, I get tremendous joy reliving the vital elements. I was just thinking, though. How are others going to believe? It is a statue that talks, after all. It is known to be an inanimate object, as there is a before and after. The starting state is raw materials. After construction through human effort, paurusham, there is the worshipable deity, archa-vigraha, in the temple.
“There is the famous story of Sakshi-Gopala. This is the deity of Shri Krishna as the witness. The story is so endearing that Chaitanya Mahaprabhu took great pleasure in hearing it. The story is important because it shows how even members of the brahmana community might mistake the deity for stone or some material object. Worshiping as a matter of fact, going through the motions, they don’t see the transcendental potency.
“I love these stories, but I could see people raising objections. Why doesn’t the same deity appear in everyone’s dreams? Why doesn’t Vishnu interact directly with every person who approaches Him in the temple? Would that not settle so many doubts as to the existence of God and the proper direction in life?”
It should be remembered that the deity is not some exhibition for a museum. It is not a carnival game, either, where you drop a few coins and expect to see a magic trick in return. It is the merciful incarnation of the Supreme, appearing in a way that we can slightly understand Him.
Vishnu is both nirguna and saguna. The meanings are identical, but the mechanism of understanding is different. As nirguna, He is without form, but pervading the entire space. A similar term is avyakta-murtina.
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 deity is the saguna form, as it has features distinguishable based on external perception. There are still limitations. Though the deity in the temple is a certain height and weight, this does not mean God is limited. Though the deity can be carried on a cart and paraded through town, we should not mistakenly believe that God is under the control of ordinary beings. He is always the superior; He is never subordinate to anyone.
In the hypothetical case that Vishnu decides to interact directly with every person who approached Him in the temple, the endeavor would be a huge waste of time. The vast majority of individuals in the material world are in the conditioned state. They are completely under the illusory spell of maya.
This means that if they should happen to see a Supreme Being in a specific location, they would ask for the most meaningless rewards. Increased wealth. Relief of a burden in their daily lives. Perhaps an indefinite extension to life within the material world, however great it may deteriorate going forward.
The factual interactions we hear about through recorded history are always with devotees of pure heart. They are not seeking anything personal, in a competitive spirit. They are only looking to further their devotion, to have obstacles cleared and obstructions removed.
In other words, there must be qualification. This is a preliminary step. Otherwise, there will be useless exploitation of the direct interaction with the personal form. If there is a desire for more money, increased sense pleasures, and the like, then there are other avenues for seeking satisfaction. We can already find such enjoyment through manipulating the circumstances of the manifest world.
There are even other heavenly figures who can be approached. In many cases, they are bound by duty to produce boons after proper worship has taken place. Vishnu is under no such obligation, and so He reserves the wonderful interactions for those who will truly benefit from the experience. We can understand the nature of bhakti as a discipline to be the same way.
Deity in the temple located where,
Worshiped while standing there.
But for the truly deserving,
Special interaction reserving.
Like story of witness wonderful and true,
And many other miracles too.
Vishnu not like through order bound,
Mercy by pure devotion found.