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By:Mahanidhi Swami

The following article answers the commonly asked question, “Are you worshiping an idol or is it really God?” And then Srila Prabhupada provides some philosophy and logic to improve our understanding. To conclude the article there are some FAQAA. This is another article I found on my hard drive with an unknown author. I thank that person and pray for their long life. May all benefit from this article.

Jai Jai Sri Radhe!

I. Is Deity Worship Idol Worship?

LORD Kåñëa’s appearance in deity form is another display of His compassion, another opportunity for loving exchange with Him. The deity is not a material idol. With our present eyes and other senses we can perceive only matter, though we may appreciate the existence of spirit. For example, when a person dies we note that consciousness, the soul’s energy, leaves the body, but we cannot see the soul itself depart. The supreme soul, the Lord of the universal body, is similarly not visible to material eyes, but He makes Himself visible as a deity to accept our service. All the material elements are God’s energies. He can use them as He likes and appear as He likes. He is omnipotent. For Him there is no distinction between matter and spirit.

One may fashion a deity of wood, stone, clay, or jewels, or the deity may be a painting or a drawing. Mind too is God’s subtle material energy, so a mental image of the Lord in line with scripture is also a worshipable deity. The key is that the deity must be a form authorized by scripture, just as a mail box must be authorized by the post office. Dropping your mail in any old box will not do. As each mailbox has the support of the entire postal system, the deity form authorized by the Lord through scripture has the same unlimited potency as the Lord Himself.

Service rendered to an authorized deity on the other hand, whether we fashion the deity of stone, wood, paint, or mental elements, is service to the Lord Himself, to His original personal form of eternity, bliss, and knowledge. Servants of the deity gradually realize that they are in direct contact with the supreme person.

II. Srila Prabhupada on Deity Worship and Realizing Bhagavan Sri Kåñëa

God is present everywhere. He is omnipotent, omnipresent. He is present here in the temple as arcä-vigraha, the form of the body by which He can accept our worship. It is not that He is different from the original Kåñëa. No, He is Kåñëa, the same Kåñëa, goloka eva nivasati, who is living in Goloka Våndävana, but akhilätma-bhütaù [Bs. 5.37], He can present Himself in different forms for accepting service for realization.

The arcä-vigraha is also Kåñëa. Therefore, adhokñajam. Adhokñajam, adhah-kåtaà akñajaà jïänam. Our knowledge is what we see. We can see stone. We can see metal. We can see other material elements, wood. Kåñëa has appeared as we can see Him. Because we cannot see more than stone, wood, metal, therefore Kåñëa has appeared as stone statue. But He is not stone statue. That we have to understand. He is Kåñëa, but He is so kind that He has appeared before us as we can see Him.

And Kåñëa is, being omnipotent, He can accept your service any way. Provided you want to render service, Kåñëa is ready to accept it. Therefore our duty is that we should never think of this Deity as something made of stone or metal. We should always think, “Here is Kåñëa personally present.” That is devotion. And we should worship Him like that. We should offer respect, that “Here is Kåñëa. Similarly, we cannot see at the present moment by the imperfect senses what is Kåñëa. Therefore it is Kåñëa’s kindness that He has appeared before you in a manner by which you can see Him. This is Kåñëa’s mercy. (SP 750303sb.dal)

III. Questions and Answers on Deity Worship

1. How does the completely spiritual, transcendental Supreme Personality of Godhead Bhagavan Sri Kåñëa appear in the form of the arcä-vigraha, a Deity supposedly made of earth, stone or wood?

Bhagavan Sri Kåñëa has unlimited varieties of inconceivable potencies, and thus by his sweet will He can convert His material energies into spiritual energy.

2. But why does Bhagavan Sri Kåñëa choose to manifest in the deity?

As materially conditioned souls we cannot see the Supreme Lord due to our faulty impure vision. To favor His loving devotees and accept their service Sri Kåñëa agrees to appear in a so-called material form known as the arcä-vigraha. The deity form of the Lord is not fashioned according to the whims of the worshiper. This form is eternally existent with all paraphernalia and a sincere devotee can perceive it. Devotees are not worshiping an idol. They are factually worshiping Bhagavan Sri Kåñëa, who has agreed to appear before them in an approachable way.

Srila Prabhupada clarifies this principle by comparing the Deity to a postal mailbox. The government post office has fixed authorized mailboxes in many locations. Posting a letter in any of these mailboxes will give the same result as bringing it to the main post office. Any old box or some non-government box, which we may find somewhere, will not work.” Similarly, Sri Kåñëa has authorized the arcä-vigraha incarnation, so He will accept service through this form. Bhagavan Sri Kåñëa appears in this way for the convenience and accessibility of His devotee.

3. How to increase my faith in deity worship?

One can solidify his convictions by studying Srila Prabhupada’s teachings on Bhagavat-tattva and sakti-tattva contained in the Caitanya-caritamrta, Sri Isopanisad and Srimad Bhagavatam, and also by reviewing the many Vedic verses that confirm Deity worship. One can gain strength and inspiration from reading pastimes about the reciprocation between the Deity and His devotees like Ksira-cora Gopinatha and Mädhavendra Puré; Säkñi-gopäla and the brahmana; Gopala and Raghunandana Thakura; ISKCON Mayapura’s Jagannatha and Nrsimha Deity pastimes; and the many pastimes of Lord Jagannatha in Sri Ksetra Jagannatha Puri. The Vedas abound with testimonies proving that the Deity of the Lord is not a stone, brass or wooden idol but completely Bhagavan Sri Kåñëa.

4. Are worshipers of the deity are in the lowest stage (kanistha) of devotion? The answer is no. In reality, both beginners in bhakti and perfectly realized souls like Srila Raghunatha dasa Gosvami engage in deity worship. What is the difference? A neophyte, kanistha-adhikari, devotee sees the arcä-vigraha as a representation of God, whereas the advanced devotee, uttama-adhikari, sees that the Deity is really Bhagavan Sri Kåñëa Himself. Gauranga Mahaprabhu displayed intense ecstatic symptoms in relationship with the Deity of Lord Jagannätha in Puri. He swooned in divine rapture just by seeing Lord Jagannätha. During the Ratha-yäträ, Mahaprabhu would gaze upon the Deity with eyes full of longing and a heart surging in separation as He glorified Vrajendranandana Syamasundara Jagannatha in the mood of Rädhäräëé. During the medieval period, Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu was famous as a world class scholar and Vedantist who defeated the greatest philosophers and logicians of the day. Therefore, His divine revelations and raptures in relationship with the deity form of the Supreme Lord can never be taken as sentimentalism or fanatical idolatry.

5. Will the Deity speak?

The Deity form of the Lord is made of earthly elements but it is not material. Those elements (wood, brass, clay, stone), although separated from the Lord, are also part of Sri Kåñëa’s energy. Because there is no difference between the energy and the energetic Lord, Sri Kåñëa can appear through any element as in the case of Nrsimha who appeared from a stone pillar. As the sun acts through sunlight to distribute its heat and light, Sri Kåñëa, by his inconceivable power, appears in His original spiritual form in some material element.

Philosophically, since all material elements emanate from the supreme spiritual entity, nothing is really material; everything is transcendental. The Deity, as in the case of Saksi Gopala, can act just like the Supreme Person Kåñëa and speak and walk for his devotee. To a non devotee, however, the Deity will appear to be made of stone, brass or wood. But for the pure devotee, the Kåñëa Deity will speak, walk or even play as Madana Gopala did in Mathura. “Being omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient, Kåñëa can deal with His devotee in any form without difficulty. By the mercy of the Lord, the devotee knows perfectly well about the Lord’s dealings. Indeed, he can talk face to face with the Lord.” (Cc. 2.5.97)

6. What is the difference between idol worship and Deity worship? The word “idol” is derived from the Greek word eidolon, “image.” An idol is a powerless image of a person or thing, such as a photograph, painting or statue. An idol and the substance it represents are not the same thing. An idol is simply an image of the original, perhaps even something imagined.

The word deity, on the other hand, is derived from the Latin word deus, God. Unlike objects of this material world which are separate from their names and forms, the names and forms of God are transcendental and absolute. Because God is absolute, His name, form and person are not different from Him.

In the material world the name of something is not the same as the substance. For example, if we are thirsty, we cannot experience refreshment simply by calling “Water, water, water.” But because God is spiritual and absolute, when you chant Kåñëa’s name, see Kåñëa’s form and discuss Kåñëa’s pastimes, you will experience direct union with God. The proof is your experience. Followers of all religious traditions experience direct communion with God by praising Him, praying to Him or seeing His form. That is the universal experience of the Absolute Truth.

Giridhari Shyama ki jai!

Radha Shyamasundara ki jai!

By:Mahanidhi Swami

The eleven points below reveal different aspects of the common daily practice of Thakuraji puja, or the worship of the Deity whom each devotee loves and serves. I collected the article from the “Acarya Folio” and am presenting it here for your benefit. Although the author was not mentioned, I sincerely thank that great soul for this wonderful illumination. May the light of these words brighten your minds, and may the light of your love forever be offered to your beloved Thakuraji.

Jai Jai Sri Radhe!

I. Arati Ritual and the Five Elements

The Sanskrit word arati literally means “before night.” Ratri (night) when prefaced with the letter a indicates dusk. The waving of the lamp before the Deity thus implies the dispelling of the night of our material sojourn with the light of devotion through which God is revealed.

In addition to the lamp, the traditional arati includes other items, which along with the lamp correspond with the eightfold material elemental constituents. In the Bhagavad-gita, Sri Krsna mentions these elements thus:

bhumir apo ‘nalo vayuh kham mano buddhir eva ca

ahankara itiyam me bhinna prakrtir astadha

“Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence, and material ego, these eight elements constitute my separated material energy.” These material elements, five gross and three subtle, cover our soul. Corresponding with the gross material elements are the senses and sense organs: earth-smelling (nose); water-tasting (tongue); fire-seeing (eyes); air-touching (skin); and ether-hearing (ears). These five senses make up our physical dimension, while mind, intelligence, and material ego make up our psychic dimension. Under all of this we reside, like a diamond in the rough. Although our consciousness is covered by a mountain of material misconception causing us to identify ourselves with our body and mind, its potential to shine remains undiminished. Rituals such as arati are intended to remove the mountain of our misconception, as well as shed light on our positive potential in a life of transcendental love.

II. Arati Means Offering Your Self

During the arati, first and foremost the devotee offers himself. In so doing, he removes ahankara, the material ego. He identifies no longer as the material body and mind. He identifies not with his personality derived from material association and experiences, rather with the notion that he is a servitor of the Deity. Thus in preparation for performing the arati, the devotee will often perform bhuta-suddhi, a ritual in which one adopts the ego of a servant. He may think of himself as such in a general sense or, in more advanced stages, in terms of his particular awakened siddha rupa, the perfected spiritual body in which he will participate eternally in Krsna’s lila. A typical mantra chanted during the bhuta-suddhi in the Gaudiya Vaisnava lineage is one that Sri Chaitanya himself chanted.

nähaà vipro na ca nara-patir näpi vaiçyo na çüdro

nähaà varëé na ca gåha-patir no vana-stho yatir vä

kintu prodyan nikhila-paramänanda-pürëämåtäbdher

gopé-bhartuù pada-kamalayor däsa-däsänudäsaù

“I am not a brähmaëa, I am not a kñatriya, I am not a vaiçya or a çüdra. Nor am I a brahmacäré, a householder, a vänapratha or a sannyäsé. I identify Myself only as the servant of the servant of the servant of the lotus feet of Lord Çré Kåñëa, the maintainer of the gopés. He is like an ocean of nectar, and He is the cause of universal transcendental bliss. He is always existing with brilliance. “ (Padyavali 74)

In this mantra, Sri Chaitanya dismisses identification with the structure of varnasrama, the Vedic socioreligious system in which souls are classified in accordance with their physio/psychological karmic makeup. Reaching beyond religion, Sri Chaitanya identifies himself as a maidservant of Krsna, the eternal husband of the gopis. If one can perform the arati with this ego, one needs not a lamp and oil, for such a perfected sadhaka’s eyes darting in sidelong glances serve as the lamp, and the prema of their hearts the oil.

III. Offering Articles Represent What?

In the traditional arati ceremony, the flower represents the earth (solidity), for all fragrance is found therein. The water and the accompanying handkerchief correspond with the water element (liquidity). The lamp represents the fire element (heat), the peacock fan the air (movement), and the yak tail camara fan the ether (space). The incense represents the purified state of mind, and one’s intelligence is offered in the discrimination required with regard to timing and order. The priest offers these items with the right hand, while ringing a bell with his left hand.

IV. Role of Chanting Hare Kåñëa in Arati?

In the Gaudiya tradition, true to its emphasis on the efficacy of chanting the sacred names of God, the offering of all the arati items is preceeded by uttering the name of the Deity one is worshipping. Additionally, the Hari-bhakti-vilasa of Sanatana Goswami and Gopala Bhatta Goswami states that the blowing of the sankha, or conchshell, before and after the items are offered is essential.

V. Articles Represent Uncovering the Self

Thus during the arati, the devotee unravels himself from the entanglement of material nature by offering the Deity all of the material elements that color his consciousness. In the case of krama mukti (going step by step through all levels of consciousness, as Gopa-kumara did in Sanatana Goswami’s Brhad-bhagavatamrta), the devotee will meet all of the deities presiding over the material elements and realize that they are eternally worshipping the supreme Deity. Those who perform arati can thus conceive that they are in presence of all of these deities in their purest expression of devotion to Krsna, an experience witnessed at the time of liberation.

VI. Private and Public Aspect of Arati

Arati is both an individual activity performed regularly by the temple pujari and a public activity that devotees attend with great enthusiasm. During the arati the sweet aroma of pungent incense pervades the room, lights are dimmed, and gongs, bells, drums, and cymbals reverberate. Temples are traditionally illuminated by natural lighting, such as ghee or oil lamps, adding much to the mystical atmosphere that purifies all the participants.

VII. Arati Needs Three Types of Purity

Three types of purity are necessary for arati. The articles offered must be pure, dravya-suddhi. The offering procedure must be pure, kriya-suddhi, which depends on strictly following the instructions of revealed scripture and one’s guru. And finally, the consciousness of the offerer must be pure, bhava-suddhi. One’s consciousness is pure by having a service attitude and absorbing oneself in meditation. As bhava-suddhi intensifies, one enters into the spiritual world of Krsna lila, and the ritual becomes one’s reality.

VIII. Puja According to Seasons

Many temples, which understand their Deity seva to be nondifferent from the direct service of Radha-Krsna, modify certain aspects of the worship according to changes in season and climate. During the coldest winter months in Vrndavana, the Deities are bathed with hot water and a burner of hot coals heats the Deity rooms. Going for darsana, one sees that gloves, hats, foot-warmers, shawls, and even earmuffs are offered to most Deities. In the peak of the hot season, from Candana-yatra to Sarat Purnima, flowers and incense replace the (hot) ghee lamp at the noon arati in the Radha-ramana temple in Vrndavana. Many festivals with grand flower arrangements are held, sometimes with water fountains and fine mists of aromatic scented water cooling the Deities. Other times, during the last evening arati, musical accompaniment is played very softly just before the Lord takes rest.

IX. Raganuga Bhakti Arati

While arati is a ritual that purifies the heart, a ritual leading to higher reality, it is also a reality unto itself. Such is the nature of bhakti, for devotion is both means and end. As we have heard, even the gopis perform arati, thus there is arati for the sadhaka and arati for the siddha. The Gaudiya Vaisnava lineage advocates the raga-marga, the path of passionate love of Godhead. As the sadhaka qualifies himself for raganuga sadhana, his orientation toward the rituals of devotion changes. The path of raga requires that the sadhaka regularly contemplate the eternal lilas of Radha-Krsna, and thus in the beginning stages of raganuga bhakti, the sadhaka thinks of the arati ceremonies throughout the day in relation to the eightfold daily pastimes of Radha-Krsna. Indeed, it is from these pastimes that the arati ceremony derives.

X. Asta Kaliya Lila and Arati

The eternal daily lila of Krsna is divided into eight sections that comprise the twenty-four hours from sunrise to sunrise. It is in the sunset pastime that the arati ceremony has its origins. At sunset Krsna returns from the forest with his friends and calves. The sun sets with embarrassment, acknowledging Krsna as the light of lights, who lights both day and night, defeating the splendor of the sun. All the residents of Vrndavana have been waiting impatiently for him throughout the day. Were it not for Krsna’s friend Madhumangala and his appetite, Krsna might not return home, so absorbed he is in his sportive play with his friends. As he approaches the village, Nanda Baba, his father, sees him from the rooftop of his house and signals to all of his dear son’s arrival. Decorated with the dust of the pasturing grounds raised by the hooves of his calves, Krsna appears more beautiful than when he left that morning. Mother Yasoda collects him in her arms, mildly admonishing him for his tardiness. She praises Madhumangala for bringing him home, as mother Rohini brings a ghee lamp to inspect Krsna’s body for scratches incurred in his sportive forest play (although in fact they may be due to his secret rendezvous with the gopis ). The lamp dissipates the night and enhances the union of Krsna and his devotees, dispelling the pangs of their separation. From this lila, just before night, arati has its eternal beginning. The lamp of his devotees’ love is thus held to the Krsna sun and that love-lamp itself is thus further illumined.

XI. Asta-Kala Lila Arati Application

During the ritualistic day of the sadhaka, the day begins with mangal arati, one and a half hours before sunrise. This time corresponds with nisanta lila, the end of night and the waking of Radha and Krsna in the bowers of Vrindavana. While the beginning sadhaka views the arati as the end of the long night of his material slumber, and the dawning of his day of service to sri guru, the siddha envisions his soul’s participation in the lila, assisting those waking Radha-Krsna and helping the divine couple to reach their homes before the sunrise speaks of their secret love to all. As ordinary souls dread the end of night and slumber on in ignorance, the sadhaka rises early to conquer the ignorance of sleep. Yet the ultimate soul, Radha-Krsna, dreads the sunrise in the lila of love, for it brings to a close the union of Radha and Krsna and gives rise the pangs of their daytime separation, in which their secret paramour love must remain hidden. Thus it is stated in Sri Gita:

ya nisa sarva-bhutanam tasyam jagarti samyami

yasyam jagrati bhutani sa nisa pasyato muneh

“What is night for all beings is the time of awakening for the self-controlled, and the time of awakening for all beings is night for the introspective sage.” (Bg. 2.69)

It is said in the Vedas that proportionate to the removal of darkness, the light of knowledge awakens in one’s heart, and to that extent kama, the heart’s longing, is destroyed. Yet it appears that in Vrindavana this is just the opposite. When the darkness of night comes to an end, the light of daybreak only increases the desire of Radha and Krsna to be united again. The customs of Vraja are beyond the reach of even the Vedas ! What is day for the sadhaka is night for those not treading the spiritual path. Yet what is day for the sadhaka is at the same time night for the siddha who lives in the lila of Radha-Krsna. The sadhaka takes joy in rising early to the new day, while the siddha laments in transcendental ecstasy over the separation of Radha-Krsna that the rising of the sun mandates. This transcendental lamentation is most desireable, and awakening to this ideal is mangal arati, the most auspicious arati of all.

Nisanta-lila: Pastimes at the End of Night

The brahma-muhurta, beginning an hour and a half before sunrise is the most spiritually auspicious time of day. The first and foremost arati of the day, mangala-arati, is performed during this time period, sometimes as early as 4 a.m. Any devotional activities performed during this time are greatly enhanced in terms of their spiritual potency and acquired benefits. Thus attendees are recipients of a heightened spiritual upliftment especially manifest during the brahma-muhurta. It is the pujaris good fortune to awaken the Deities by the melodious recitation of auspicious verses while gently massaging the Deities lotus feet.

Visvanatha Cakravarti Thakura has written in his Gurvastaka, a popular song revealing the exalted position of the spiritual master, that one who meticulously sings this song daily during the brahma-muhurta achieves spiritual perfection. Mangala-arati corresponds with the awakening of Sri Sri Radha and Krsna in their forest nikunja (grove) slightly before the rising of the sun. As their loving pastimes close for the night they hurry to their respective homes. Sadhakas meditate deeply at this auspicious time of day on this important pastime and the strong feelings of separation of Radha and Krsna as they part company. Sincere devotees who are eager to increase their devotional dedication, faithfully attend mangala-arati without fail.

Prata-lila: Morning Pastimes

After returning home and being awakened by Mother Yasoda, Krsna bathes and milks the cows, sometimes meeting Radha for pastimes at the Yamuna River. Here they may enjoy an early morning light meal, like sweets (Bala bhoga ). Srimati Radhika leaves for Nandagram to cook for Krsna in Mother Yasoda’s kitchen. Similarly, after mangala-arati, sadhakas bathe the Deities, dress Them and feed Them various nicely prepared sweets and other preparations. Deity seva includes many opportunities for service of the highest order. Cooking many varieties of tasty foodstuffs to offer the Deities is a most important service, for this is reserved for Krsna’s best servitors, Srimati Radharani, Mother Yasoda and their most qualified associates. Cleaning is another very important service–for cleanliness is next to Godliness. In the advanced stage of devotional service, one continuously remembers these eternal daily pastimes of the Lord and His associates, while engaging in their various Deity sevas.

Purvahna-lila: Forenoon Pastimes

Returning home once again, Krsna bathes and dresses for the forest, simply and elegantly with many flowers and other natural things such as peacock feathers, valuable jewels and gunja-bead malas. He wears a vaijayanti garland composed of at least five different colored flowers, which is always long enough to touch his knees or feet. Krsna decorates other parts of his body such as his head, neck and chest extensively with flower garlands. He then appears for his morning meal cooked by Sri Radha, after which he goes to the forest of Vrndavana with his cows and cowherd boy friends. Srimati Radharani also goes to the forest on the pretense of performing surya-puja, worship of the sun, but in actuality Her sole purpose is to meet Krsna at Radha-kunda. Sadhaka’s meditate on these pastimes as they dress the Deities of Radha and Krsna in a mood of preparation for a day of forest sporting and perform the morning dhupa arati. Enthusiastic devotees eagerly await the darsana of the Deities in Their nicely dressed state with multicolored silken dresses adorned with beautiful jewelry and aromatic garlands of flowers.

Madhyahna-lila: Midday Pastimes

The noon raja-bhoga offering of a full meal to the Deities is their main offering of the day and corresponds to Krsna’s lunch-often a forest feast send by Mother Yasoda. This happens amidst many wonderful and enchanting amorous pastimes with Sri Radha and her charming associate gopis in the many wonderful groves of Radha-kunda. At the time of the offering of these foodstuffs to the Deities, devotees traditionally sing the Bhaja Bhakata-vatsala, Bhoga-arati song of Bhaktivinoda Thakura for the pleasure of the Deities–a heartfelt expression of Krsna’s enjoyment of the innumerable tasty preparations offered.

Aparahna-lila: Afternoon Pastimes:

Awakening from a midday rest (Utthapana ), Krsna joins the Surya puja disguised as a pujari and then returns home to bathe and dress for the evening. Similarly the Deities are awakened from Their afternoon rest, offered a light snack and arati.

Sayam-lila: Dusk Pastimes

The Sandhya-arati takes place at twilight, the sandhi or joining of day and night, just after the evening offering of foodstuffs. It is the time when Krsna takes his evening meal and after milking the cows takes rest. This is perhaps the most festive arati of the day with many enthusiastic visitors in attendance. This arati is also called the Gaura-arati by Gaudiya Vaisnavas, for they absorb themselves in thoughts of the arati of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu singing the Kiba Jaya jaya gauracander song, vividly describing this arati.

Pradosa-lila: Evening Pastimes

The last darsana of the evening is called aulai darsana, arising from the Hindi word meaning to call or holler “last darsana.” Krsna will no longer be available publicly–retiring to his inner chambers for the night, only to leave for his nightly rendevous with Sri Radha and close associates.

Nakta-Lila: Midnight Pastimes

Lord Krsna’s most confidential pastimes take place at night in the bowers of Vrndavana. Here He engages in many wonderful lilas with His beloved gopis such as rasa-lila, water sports, amorous pastimes and sleeping. Devotees, realizing the inherent sweetness of this service, are happy to dress the Deities in nightclothes and after offering a light refreshment and short arati, invite the Deities to take rest. A perfect way to end the day.