“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.6)
यं यं वापि स्मरन् भावं
त्यजत्य् अन्ते कलेवरम्
तं तम् एवैति कौन्तेय
yaṁ yaṁ vāpi smaran bhāvaṁ
tyajaty ante kalevaram
taṁ tam evaiti kaunteya
“Unless you have witnessed it personally, it is a little difficult to describe to others. If you visit a location of the world where the culture of bhakti-yoga is prominent, the visit to the established temple has a typical flow.
“Visit on a weekend or a special occasion and there will be a line of people trying to enter. The security team overseeing the establishment creates a protocol for controlling the crowds. Enter through one gate. Proceed slowly, getting a vision [darshan] of the deities on the altar. Pay your respects and then quickly move along.
“If you are lucky enough to arrive prior to the arati ceremony, you might be able to find a seat. This way you don’t have to leave. You will not be rushed. Nevertheless, the experience resembles attending a rock concert with general admission seating. The patrons rush towards the stage, which in this case is the altar. They are mad after seeing the celebrities which are the deities. The attendees want to get as close to the front as possible.
“I understand the validity of deity worship. I understand that the archa-vigraha, the murti, is an extension of the causeless mercy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This is God in the saguna form, wherein we can begin to distinguish some characteristics, in the manner in which we are familiar for drawing distinctions.
“At the same time, you have a priceless treasure in Vedic literature. These are works describing and glorifying the personalities situated on the altar. You have both philosophical truths and historical narratives. You have predictions about the future and explanations of the origin of everything.
“Which is more important? Worshiping in the temple or reading the books? Do we need knowledge or is devotion the primary goal? Would someone possessing the knowledge feel justified in viewing deity worship as something inferior or lesser?”
There is a reason His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada translates the Sanskrit terms of bhakti-yoga, bhagavata-dharma, buddhi-yoga, karma-yoga, and sanatana-dharma as “Krishna Consciousness.” As explained in Bhagavad-gita, the consciousness at the time of quitting the body determines the nature of the next existence.
The person who is conscious of Krishna during that time attains the same nature as Him. They achieve elevation to His realm, which is imperishable. While the manifest universe flows through cycles of creation and annihilation, the Vaikuntha space is eternally there. It was never created and it will never be destroyed.
अन्त-काले च माम् एव
स्मरन् मुक्त्वा कलेवरम्
यः प्रयाति स मद्-भावं
याति नास्त्य् अत्र संशयः
anta-kāle ca mām eva
smaran muktvā kalevaram
yaḥ prayāti sa mad-bhāvaṁ
yāti nāsty atra saṁśayaḥ
“And whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.5)
With the goal established, the means towards achieving it is not that important. Whether someone is able to be conscious of Krishna through reading a book, visiting a temple, contemplating the beauty of the universe, remembering saints who keep the tradition of bhakti going, or simply saying a name – the final goal is what matters.
श्रवणं कीर्तनं विष्णो: स्मरणं पादसेवनम् ।
अर्चनं वन्दनं दास्यं सख्यमात्मनिवेदनम् ॥
śravaṇaṁ kīrtanaṁ viṣṇoḥ
arcanaṁ vandanaṁ dāsyaṁ
“Hearing and chanting about the transcendental holy name, form, qualities, paraphernalia and pastimes of Lord Vishnu, remembering them, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, offering the Lord respectful worship with sixteen types of paraphernalia, offering prayers to the Lord, becoming His servant, considering the Lord one’s best friend, and surrendering everything unto Him (in other words, serving Him with the body, mind and words) – these nine processes are accepted as pure devotional service.” (Prahlada Maharaja, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.5.23)
Prahlada Maharaja lists nine different potential activities for the outpouring of love and devotion towards God the person. There is no pigeonholing into a certain path. A person can follow in the manner that best aligns with their nature.
As for the plethora of reading material available, we see that people tend to be inquisitive. The more intelligent they become, the more they mature through the life experience, the more they like to know about the world around them.
That same inquisitiveness can be applied towards the universe itself. The bhagavata culture can explain the reason for living. It gives the reason behind the multitude of species, the changing of seasons, the influence of time, and also the way to transcend birth and death.
अध्येष्यते च य इमं
धर्म्यं संवादम् आवयोः
इष्टः स्याम् इति मे मतिः
adhyeṣyate ca ya imaṁ
dharmyaṁ saṁvādam āvayoḥ
iṣṭaḥ syām iti me matiḥ
“And I declare that he who studies this sacred conversation worships Me by his intelligence.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.70)
Who would not benefit from accessing such information? Who would not feel uplifted in setting aside their prejudices and experiencing the limitless kindness of the one who is residing in the heart of every living being? Whether visiting the temple or reading Vedic literature, increasing consciousness of Krishna is always the most worthwhile endeavor.
Most worthwhile endeavor,
Giving transcendental pleasure.
Not to one way limited,
With nature befitted.
Worshiping Krishna so,
Of nine processes to know.
Visit to temple in line to proceed,
Or sacred text daily to read.