“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)
With rapid advancement in technology, experiences change. What previous generations went through no longer applies. People today have to hear stories of the past in order to gain an understanding. Since this is all God’s creation, even with the constant changes there is the positive aspect in gaining new angles of vision into Divinity.
As an example of experiences that no longer apply, several decades ago a teenager could enter a store that sold music. The recording artists would make money by selling their original work, which was then pressed onto vinyl records. Later on, there were also cassette tapes and compact discs.
A person might purchase a record based simply on the cover art. They have no idea what the music will sound like until they get home. When they bring the item home, they have to listen to the record explicitly. It is not easy to switch to something else. There is an active investment in time.
The same could be said of television viewing. In times past, you manually turned the dial attached to the television set. When you found something to watch, you sat back and consumed the programming. Changing to something else was not so easy.
Today, everything is available almost instantly. Pull up music with a few gestures on the smartphone. Live events stream directly, on something resembling a brick in dimensions. What you are watching could be taking place thousands of miles away.
The entire scene fits in the palm of your hand. You are seeing highly skilled athletes on the field of play, in front of an audience consisting of thousands. There is the ability to pause, to rewind, to skip ahead in case of a recorded presentation.
The convenience of the experience does not correlate to the greatness of the original presentation. That is to say, the field of play is much larger than the smartphone device. The players are greater in size; they cannot be controlled by the hands. The number of people in attendance is overwhelming in scope.
This comparison helps to explain the practice of deity worship within the Vedic tradition. At first, it seems a little strange. There is a statue or painting sitting in a specific place. It could be a room in a house. It could be a large building established for the purpose of worship by the public.
The object of worship is supposed to be the person it represents. Not simply a way to remember. Not a representative who will forward everything to a higher authority. The deity is supposed to be non-different. This is the mercy of the Almighty.
Yet the deity came to be through human effort, paurusham. There were the raw materials in the unmanifest state. After some work, the materials turned into a worshipable figure. That figure can be picked up. It can be cleaned. It can be put to rest and it can be dressed on a daily basis.
How, then, can such a figure be God? How could the Almighty come under the control of a mortal? Is it not sinful to apply form and substance to someone who is beyond the dualities of the material world? Is not the image limiting or diminishing of His stature?
The idea is that the archa-vigraha represents the endless mercy of Bhagavan, which is another name for God. He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. His greatness is to such an extent that we cannot properly apply measurements. For this reason, He is also known as Adhokshaja.
He is taller than the tallest and smaller than the smallest. He is the entire cosmic manifestation and more. He moves at a speed greater than the wind. He has the ears to hear everything going on, and His memory is perfect. He never falls down, Achyuta.
As His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains, the deity is something like the authorized receptacle for accepting worship, similar to the mailbox. If we have a package to send, we cannot just place it anywhere. If it gets dropped off at the right place, it will more than likely reach its intended destination.
The deity is the saguna form to help us understand the spiritual nature to God’s features. We think only in terms of birth and death, before and after, and everything in between. We cannot properly comprehend someone who is nirguna, or without material qualities. The saguna manifestation helps us to understand, to an extent. The wise accept this mercy and take advantage of it, moving further along in transcendence.
With deity worship choosing,
Further along moving.
Towards transcendence gliding,
Deity and guru guiding.
Situated in temple where,
God Himself standing there.
In merciful way to show,
Transcendental qualities to know.
Categories: deity worship