Deity Worship, Not Idol Worship!

From Back to Godhead

By His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Lecture given on July 16, 1969, in Los Angeles

A talk given on the occasion of the installation of the deities Sri Sri Rukmini Dvarakanatha.

This function of installing the deity is authorized. Several times I have given the example that when you put your mail in a box on the street, because it is written there “US Mail” you know that it is an authorized box. And if you put your letters within this box, they will surely reach the destination. The post office will work. So there is no difference between the huge post office building and that small box, because it is authorized.

Similarly, the difference between idol worship and deity worship is like that. Unless the authorized process is accepted, it is idol worship. That is the general rule. If somebody thinks, “There is a box, red and blue, on the street. Why shall I go to that box? Let me have a similar box at my door, and it will be cleared by the postman because it is blue and red,” oh, that will not be. Because the box you put at your door is not authorized.

Similarly, we have to worship the deity according to the authorized system. In our Gaudiya-sampradaya there is an authorized system given by the Gosvamis, and that is presented in a big book called Hari-bhakti-vilasa. Everything is stated there, especially how a Vaishnava family should perform its religious functions. The book is in the category called Vaishnava smriti. We follow shruti and smriti. Sruti is the Vedas, and smriti means derived from the Vedas. Srila Rupa Gosvami says in the Bhakti-rasamrita-sindhu (1.2.101),

pañcaratra-vidhim vina
aikantiki harer bhaktir

“Devotional service of the Lord that ignores the authorized Vedic literatures like the Upanishads, Puranas, and Narada-pañcaratra is simply an unnecessary disturbance in society.” The pañcaratriki-vidhi, introduced by the great sage Narada, is a special concession for this age. It centers on deity worship. There is vaidika-vidhi and pañcaratriki-vidhi. Vaidika-vidhi refers to religious rules prescribed in the original Vedas, and they are therefore very authorized. But vaidika-vidhi is especially meant for those who are highly elevated brahmanas.

In this age it is accepted as a fact by the shastras, or scriptures, that everyone is by nature a shudra: kalau shudra-sambhavah. That means that people have no spiritual training. In this age nobody is actually a bona fide brahmana by birth. Formerly they used to be. The family traditions that included the garbhadhana system for conceiving qualified children were strictly followed; therefore a son born of a brahmana father was accepted as a brahmana – not immediately, but after going through the prescribed process for becoming a brahmana. But in this age, because it is very difficult to find a person who is born of a qualified brahmana, the Narada Pañcaratra is there. One must accept either the principles of shruti, or the Vedas, after which come the smriti and the Puranas, or one must accept the pañcaratriki-vidhi.

No Rubber-stamped Devotees
We are introducing deity worship in this temple, but actually the deity can be worshiped only by the bona fide brahmanas. There was agitation in India, perhaps you know, when Gandhi stamped some persons as harijana, or “God’s people.” They were bhangis – sweepers, or cleaners of the toilet room. The British government was creating factions – high caste, low caste. So Gandhi thought, “I shall make these bhangis harijanas, great devotees.” But simply by rubber-stamping, how can they become devotees? That is not possible. Without following the pañcaratriki-vidhi, they remain the same unclean drunkards or people with many nonsense habits. Simply by rubber-stamping they become harijana? No.

Here, what we are doing, is not rubber-stamping. We are actually training according to the pañcaratriki-vidhi. We are training our students to become brahmanas: to refrain from four kinds of sinful activities, to take bath regularly, and so on. And above all, they are chanting Hare Krishna, which cleanses away all sinful activities. In this way a harijana can be made, but you cannot just pick some nonsense person with bad habits and rubber-stamp him “harijana.” No. There must be a process.

There is no hindrance for anyone to become a harijana, God’s person, or a devotee. Hari means God, Krishna, and jana means His person. Just as we have government servants, harijana means the servant of the Supreme Lord. That is not an ordinary thing. There is no harm in creating harijanas by a regular process, but you cannot make harijanas simply by stamping.

The Bhagavad-gita (9.32) says that everyone has equal opportunity to become a devotee.

mam hi partha vyapashritya
ye ’pi syuh papa-yonayah
striyo vaishyas tatha shudras
te ’pi yanti param gatim

“O son of Pritha, those who take shelter in Me, though they be of lower birth – women, vaishyas [merchants] and shudras [workers] – can attain the supreme destination.” A low-class birth or an animal birth is understood to be due to sinful activities in the previous life. But Krishna says never mind. Even a person born in a sinful family can become Krishna conscious by a bona fide process. Vyapashritya means taking shelter of a bona fide process. Not an imitation, bona fide. And bona fide process is one that is enjoined in the authorized shastra – shruti, smriti, purana, pañcaratra.

According to the Vedic system, a boy born in a brahmana family is allowed all the samskaras, or the reformatory, purificatory processes, but a girl is not. Why? Now, because a girl has to follow her husband. So if her husband is a brahmana, automatically she becomes a brahmana. There is no need of separate reformation. And if by chance she may be married to a person who is not a brahmana, then what is the use of making her a brahmana? That is the general method.

So even though born in a brahmana family, a woman is taken as a woman, not as a brahmana. But Krishna says, “Never mind whether she is a woman, or a shudra, or a vaishya, or any other caste. Never mind what family she was born in. For anyone who is made Krishna conscious through a bona fide process, the path to Vaikuntha, the spiritual world, is open.”

Krishna consciousness is so nice. It opens the door to the highest perfectional platform for everyone, provided one follows the rules and regulations. That’s all. That is the only condition. Otherwise, if simply by imitating somebody thinks, “Oh, I can become a great devotee. If such and such person can become a great devotee, I can too.” No. Rupa Gosvami has warned against that way of thinking: shruti-smriti-puranadi- …

If we simply imitate, oh, that will not do. So do not try to imitate. Follow the simple rules and regulations. The process is very nice. And above all, chant Hare Krishna. You’ll become purified.

Qualified to Approach Krishna
Without being purified you cannot touch Radha-Krishna. In the Vedas it is stated, “Without becoming Brahman, you cannot approach Brahman.” Without becoming fire, you cannot approach fire, because of the inconsistency of temperature. It will burn. Here is fire [lit as part of the deity installation ceremony], and I am feeling the temperature, but the flames within the fire do not feel it, because the temperature is the same. Similarly, without becoming Brahman, without understanding oneself, realizing oneself, no one can approach Brahman.

Krishna is the Parambrahman. That is stated in the Bhagavad-gita (10.12). Therefore you have to keep yourself very purified; otherwise you cannot touch Krishna. That is not possible. It is fire, so you have to become fire. And how to become fire? You are also fire, but now you are covered fire, covered by this material body. Therefore you have to spiritualize this body by the purificatory process. An iron rod is iron, but if you put it into the fire, it becomes warm, warmer, warmer, then red-hot; then it is fire. Similarly, by chanting and following this regulative process, you are becoming warmer, warmer, warmer, warmer. And when you fully become red-hot warm, then your body is as good as Krishna’s.

So we have to keep ourselves always in the fire of Krishna consciousness; then everything is all right. Otherwise, it will become dull, and it will be simply idol worship. That’s all. That is the difference between idol worship and deity worship. If there is no life, then it is idol worship, hedonism. And when there is life, feeling, “Where is Krishna? Here is Krishna. Oh, I have to serve Krishna. I have to dress Him. I have to serve Radharani. She is here. Oh, I must do it very nicely. And as far as possible decorate Her to the best capacity.” In this way, if you always feel Krishna conscious, then you are fire.

If you think this is a brass idol, then it will remain a brass idol to you forever. But if you elevate yourself to the higher platform of Krishna consciousness, then Krishna – this Krishna – will talk with you. This Krishna will talk with you.

Vamsidasa Babaji Maharaja, a contemporary of my Guru Maharaja, was talking with his deity. And the deity Madana-mohana was talking with Sanatana Gosvami. Sanatana Gosvami at that time, about five hundred years ago, had no temple; he was hanging his deity on the tree. So Madana-mohana was talking with him.

“Sanatana, you are bringing all these dry chapatis, and you don’t give Me even a little salt. How can I eat this way?”

Sanatana Gosvami said, “Sir, where shall I go? Whatever I get I offer You. Kindly accept it. I cannot move; I’m an old man.”

You see. So Krishna had to eat that. [chuckles] Because the bhakta is offering, He cannot refuse. The real thing is bhakti. What can you offer to Krishna? Everything belongs to Krishna. What have you got? What is your value? And what is the value of your things? They are nothing. Therefore the real thing is bhaktya; the real thing is your feeling. “Krishna, kindly take it. I have no qualification. I am most rotten, fallen [Prabhupada weeps], but I have brought this thing for You. Please take it.”

This will be accepted. Don’t be puffed up. Always be careful. You are dealing with Krishna. That is my request.

Thank you very much.


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