“Why do Hare Krishna devotees worship idols?” This is a question sometimes asked by Christians, and perhaps it may arise in the minds of followers of the Islamic faith and others also.
Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura, foremost devotee of Lord Krishna in the 19th century, answered the question of idolatry in his book ‘Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, His Life and Precepts’. This book served as an advance guard in the spread of Krishna consciousness outside of India, for in 1896 (coincidentally the same year that His Divine Grace Srila A.C.Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada took birth) Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura sent copies of it to libraries and Universities in the West.
Krishna consciousness took permanent root overseas in the 1960’s and 70’s, when Srila Prabhupada established his International Society for Krishna Consciousness in all corners of the globe. Along with the chanting of ‘Hare Krishna’, Srila Prabhupada established temples in which the Deity form of Lord Krishna is worshipped, in a system that is similar to that found in countless temples throughout India.
Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura acknowledged that there are those who object to the concept of worshipping Srimurti (the Sanskrit term for the Deity form of Lord Krishna). He wrote: They say, “It is idolatry to worship Srimurti. Srimurti is an idol formed by an artist and introduced by no one other than Satan himself. Worshipping such an object would arouse the jealousy of God and limit His omnipotence, omniscience, and omnipresence!”
To this we reply, “Brethren! Candidly understand the question and do not allow yourself to be misled by sectarian dogmas. God is not jealous, as He is one without a second. Satan is no other than an object of the imagination or the subject of an allegory. An allegorical or imaginary being should not be allowed to act as an obstacle to the development of our loving relationship with God.”
Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura, with pure and saintly vision, discloses to the reader that God is personal and all-beautiful; His holy and perfect personality exists eternally in the spiritual world (the Kingdom of God) and He is identical with His all-beautiful form, having such powers as omnipresence, omniscience and omnipotence. Great sages such as Srila Vyasadeva, the compiler of the Vedic scriptures, and others, have seen that beauty in their soul’s eyes and left us descriptions. “According to those descriptions, one delineates a Srimurti and sees the great God of our heart there with intense pleasure. Brethren! Is that wrong or sinful?”
Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura continues: “Those who say that God has no form, either material or spiritual, and at the same time imagine a false form for worship are certainly idolatrous; but those who see the spiritual form of the Deity in their soul’s eyes, carry that impression as far as possible to the mind, and then frame an emblem for the satisfaction of the material eye for continual study of the higher feeling are by no means idolatrous. When seeing a Srimurti, do not even see the image itself, but see the spiritual model of the image and you are a pure theist. Idolatry and Srimurti worship are two different things!
tell you the truth, Srimurti worship is the only true worship of the
Deity, without which you cannot sufficiently cultivate your religious
feeling. The world attracts you through your senses, and as long as you
do not see God in the objects of your senses, you live in an awkward
position, which scarcely helps you in procuring spiritual elevation.
Place a Srimurti in your house. Think that God Almighty is the guardian
of the home. Offer food to Him and take it as His prasada (mercy).
Flowers and scents should also be offered to Him and accepted as prasada. The eye, ear, nose, skin and tongue all have a spiritual culture. You do it with a holy heart and God will know it and judge you by your sincerity.
“If divine compassion, love and justice could be portrayed by the pencil and expressed by the chisel, then why shouldn’t the personal beauty of the Deity be portrayed in poetry or in picture or expressed by the chisel for the benefit of man?”
The Srimad-Bhagavatam, glorified as being the cream of Vedic scriptures, states that the Absolute Truth, lying beyond our perception of the temporary things of this world, can be known in three aspects:
i) The Absolute Truth pervades all regions through the impersonal energy known as Brahman, which is compared to the all-pervading rays emanating from the Sun.
ii) The Absolute Truth, in His localised aspect, is to be found residing in the heart of all living beings as the Paramatma (the Supersoul). He is standing alongside the individual soul (the atma) and thus witnesses all our activities, and He is present even within atoms.
iii) The highest aspect of the Absolute Truth is known as Bhagavan
(the Supreme Personality of Godhead who is full of all opulence), and it
is this personal feature of God that is the adorable object of devotion
for numberless souls. He is known in different languages by names such
as Almighty God, Allah and Jehovah, and in Sanskrit by names such as
Jagannatha (the Lord of the Universe) and Krishna (the all attractive).
Srila Bhaktivinode Thakura states that the excellence of the Lord lies in His having mutually contradicting powers. Thus there is no contradiction in saying that the Lord can exist simultaneously in these three separate features, and the Lord can also transform a material object into a spiritual one by His own sweet will.
Srila Prabhupada has written in the Sri Caitanya Caritamrta that, “Because the material elements are the Lord’s own energy and because there is no difference between the energy and the energetic, the Lord can appear through any element. Just as the Sun can act through the sunshine and thus distribute its heat and light, so Krishna, by His inconceivable power, can appear in His original spiritual form in any material element, including stone, wood, paint, gold, silver and jewels, because the material elements are all His energy. The scriptures warn that one should never think of the Deity within the temple as stone, wood or any other material element.”
Thus, if the Lord wishes to appear in the form of a Srimurti so as to receive the loving worship of His devotee, not only do we limit God, but also we are guilty of sacrilege, by saying that He cannot or will not do so. In fact the Lord relishes the opportunity to do so, for there is only one thing that He requires from us, and that is our love.
The Vedic scripture Sri Brahma-samhita states: “I worship the primeval Lord, Govinda (Krishna as the protector of cows), who is always seen by the devotee whose eyes are anointed with the pulp of love. He is seen in His eternal form of Syamasundara (Krishna whose darkish complexion is indescribably beautiful), situated within the heart of the devotee.”
Throughout history there have been many accounts of how the Srimurti, the Deity of Lord Krishna, has enjoyed loving reciprocal exchanges with His devotees. The Story of Sakshi-Gopala, (The Witness to the Wedding), is one such account.
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