“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
“I’m sure people bring this up often enough that there have been answers delivered. I just can’t seem to find them, after a cursory glance through portals that have a search function. It is an aspect to an ancient tradition that might seem outdated today, but still has its ardent followers.
“They are true believers in the sense that they view the deity as God Himself. Known in Sanskrit as the archa-vigraha, this is the merciful form; at least as far as we know. There is the visible beginning and end. The start is a collection of gross elements. Earth, stone, wood, brass, etc. A human being then applies effort to effect the transformation.
“Eventually, through rituals and procedures, accompanied by the chanting of sacred hymns, you have the deity installed in the temple. Depending on the location and importance of the geographic area, that new deity might receive hundreds of visitors a day. As the people enter, they lower their heads in respect. They bring offerings such as fruits and flowers. They gasp in amazement when the curtain opens, revealing the Divine image.
“I say that this might seem outdated today only because of the advancements in technology, which facilitates travel above and beyond. Vehicles travel to the depths of the atmosphere and beyond. They do not find a heavenly kingdom. They do not see powerful beings administering the universe.
“They see a vast expanse. Endless space, which is certainly something to appreciate. For as many questions as are answered through the discovery, just as many new ones emerge. Nevertheless, the complete vision tends to put many religious traditions into the back of the mind, as a reminder of times past.
“Wouldn’t it be great if the deity interacted directly with the worshipers? I know that there are documented cases of such taking place, in the lives of saintly people. Why not have it for every person? I think that would settle the doubts. Perhaps you have answered this before. Maybe an acharya has an explanation, but I hope you see where I am going with this. I certainly believe in God, and I would like as many others to follow the same, for that is their greatest hope for eternal happiness.”
While the idea is nice in theory, the reality would not match the expectations. If the deity were to reciprocate every prayer and desire directly, it would turn into a carnival act. Something like a vending machine, where you drop a coin to start the show. The deity would then talk or give out a benediction.
The entire experience would be cheapened. Look no further than the ocean. It already provides so much. It is reliable. It is steady. It agrees to alter its course based on the phases of the moon. It accepts boats and surfing vehicles. It carries objects from one place to another.
A person is free to take as much as they want from the ocean. It is the very example of the vending-machine type interaction. The ocean is an aspect of nature, but it has a source. It has an origin. It is powerful and overwhelming in its reach.
Do people tend to appreciate the ocean? Are they thankful for its many blessings? Do they approach in a reverential manner? Do they stop and consider what life would be like without the ocean?
On the contrary, we see exploitation and abuse. No issue if there is an oil spill. Throw as much garbage as can escape public scrutiny. Pollute without consequence. Take as much as possible, and give no appreciation in return.
The Supreme Personality of Godhead is not so cheap. He can be understood only by devotional service, bhakti-yoga. There is no other way. The deity is for the devotees, to offer mercy through what is known as the saguna form. This is God in a version that can be somewhat understood, though not fully.
भक्त्या माम् अभिजानाति
यावान् यश् चास्मि तत्त्वतः
ततो मां तत्त्वतो ज्ञात्वा
bhaktyā mām abhijānāti
yāvān yaś cāsmi tattvataḥ
tato māṁ tattvato jñātvā
“One can understand the Supreme Personality as He is only by devotional service. And when one is in full consciousness of the Supreme Lord by such devotion, he can enter into the kingdom of God.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.55)
The pomp and circumstance correspond with the seriousness of the interaction. The deity is the chief resident in the established place of worship, the temple. The more a person gives to the process, to approaching, to worshiping, to offering service, the more they will get in return.
The more offering in turn,
The more getting in return.
With deity experience to see,
Supreme Being is He.
But kindly in that way appearing,
For our ignorance clearing.
Not cheap or made for exploitation,
Spiritual science at foundation.