When God is present everywhere, why should we worship him in the temple images?
Certainly, God is present everywhere, but is he accessible to us everywhere? Water is present everywhere in the air as water vapor, but can we just hang out our tongue and access that water whenever we feel thirsty? No; we need to go to a tap. Similarly, though God is present everywhere; we need his accessible form as manifested in the temples.
The need for an accessible manifestation of God is indispensable. Even in the imaginary storyline of OMG, God appears before Kanjibhai in a materially visible form and protects him in miraculous ways. Only on seeing this form does he get converted. Thus, even a skeptic who rejects all material manifestations of God needs a material manifestation to develop his faith.
In real-life, unlike in OMG’s imaginary storyline, God doesn’t appear personally to each one of us – at least not till we are adequately purified. Then how can we access God? To help us, those saintly people who have seen him as he actually is in his transcendental form have described that form for us. Moreover, the scriptures tell us that we can and should depict God according to that description, for if we worship him devotedly he will accept our worship.
A movie scriptwriter may fictitiously make God speak that Deity worship is unnecessary, but that statement expresses the opinion of the scriptwriter, not the will of God. To know God’s will, we have to refer to the scriptures. And the scriptures strongly and repeatedly endorse Deity worship. For example, the Uddhava-Gita (Krishna’s instructions to Uddhava) comprises the largest philosophical section of the great devotional classic, the Srimad Bhagavatam, and it includes one full chapter (11.27) on Deity worship. Thus here the same Krishna in whose mouth OMG puts words condemning Deity worship speaks his actual will, enjoining Deity worship. Many other Puranas glorify Deity worship. And the Pancharatras are an entire library of books that systematically elucidate the principles and practices of Deity worship.
Our vision is functional and valuable, but not necessarily factual
People often ask, “If the soul and God are real, why can’t we see them ?”
But the question begs itself: Do we really see things as they are?
Consider our computer where we may see an icon that represents a file. Though the icon appears on a particular location within the computer’s folder structure, that is not where the file is actually situated. In fact, if we get down to the physical memory disk, the data contained in the file is distributed at various locations as patterns of zeroes and ones. Yet for our functional purposes, the notion of a file as represented by an icon is valuable – it enables us to move, copy, delete, open and edit the file.
Similarly, for us as spiritual beings, we have been given the body as a machine for functioning in this material world. The Bhagavad-gita (18.61) refers to the body as a machine and indicates that it works under the direction of the indwelling Supreme. With this body, we have been given a vision that is functional, but not fully factual. Our vision doesn’t enable us to see all of reality; it enables us to see the part of reality that we need to see for functioning. To reject the spiritual because we don’t see it with our functional vision is to conflate the functional with the factual.
If we wish to understand how data is really stored in a disk, we need special education and training. Similarly, if we wish to understand the actual nature of reality and see the spiritual, Gita wisdom stands ready to train and equip us for expanding our vision. Through philosophical education and spiritual purification, we gradually realize that the spiritual is as real as the physical, in fact, is the foundational reality for physical reality.
Spiritual surrender is not an admission of defeat – it is a vehicle to victory
In contemporary idiom, the word “surrender” conjures strong negative imagery. When a warrior is overpowered and has no way to resist or escape, he surrenders, which is a reluctant, often resentful, admission of defeat.
This negative conception may make us recoil when bhakti wisdom urges us to surrender to God. However, spiritual surrender is an entirely different ball game, as can be seen from how it is demonstrated in the Bhagavad-gita.
In the Gita, the first mention of surrender comes in the beginning when Arjuna surrenders to Krishna, admitting his inability to figure out the right course of action and seeking knowledge of dharma (02.07). This is the only reference which somewhat resembles the negative stereotype of surrender.
How the Gita’s conception of surrender is positive is revealed as its thought-flow evolves. It (07.14) declares that those who surrender to Krishna will cross over worldly illusion. Here, surrender is shown to be eminently positive, as a means to attain victory in the war against illusion. And the fundamental illusion is that God and we are antagonists – that his definition of pleasure is opposite to our conception of pleasure. Gita wisdom counters this illusion by explaining that God is our greatest well-wisher; he wants us to attain the greatest fulfillment by realizing our eternal nature as his beloved, blissful parts.
When Arjuna understands Krishna’s omni-benevolence, he responds to the call for surrender (18.66) with a whole-heartedly affirmative reply (18.73). He declares that the Gita’s message culminating in surrender has helped him overcome his illusion and doubts. And the Gita concludes with a prophecy of the surrendered Arjuna’s imminent victory in the upcoming war (18.78).
When we too open ourselves to Gita wisdom, we will see surrender as supremely empowering, as the cherished vehicle to life’s ultimate victory.
Freedom comes not by rejecting all restrictions, but by respecting the right restrictions
Some people advocate that we reject all restrictions, claiming that only by such rejection will we attain freedom.
Yes, restrictions can take away our freedom, but does that apply to all restrictions? We all have some natural habitats – they restrict us and they free us too. Consider, for example, a fish. Its natural habitat is water; it is restricted to living in water. And yet within water, it can swim freely up, down, right, left – everywhere. If in the name of freedom it were made to reject the restriction of living in water, it would suffer and suffer terribly. If not brought back into water quickly, it would even die.
What applies to our physical body applies to our spiritual essence too. We are at our core souls. As the soul’s defining energy is consciousness, the natural habitat of the soul is the right state of consciousness. That right state is the state of loving harmony with the all-attractive whole, Krishna, whose parts we are eternally (15.07).
When in the name of freedom we reject this restriction, our pleasure-seeking nature makes us seek pleasure through our senses. Pandering to their demands subjects us to struggle. And yet, we can’t not pander to them because we can’t live without pleasure. Tragically, we end up enslaved by our senses’ endless demands.
Practicing bhakti-yoga and making our consciousness devotional situates us in Krishna. Steady bhakti practice helps us find inner security in the knowledge and experience of his unfailing love for us. Being thus spiritually boosted, we can work and contribute without the insecurity that often plagues those whose self-worth comes from externals.
By thus accepting the restriction to be situated where we are meant to be, like a fish in water, we become free to relish peace and bliss.
Our individuality is meant to lead us towards our spirituality, not away from it
In today’s individualistic culture, people feel, “I want to be who I am. And no one should stop me.”
The intention underlying this feeling is fine, but its expression is often misdirected. We often believe that we can express our individuality by acquiring particular looks, styles, gadgets and other such material things. But do these define who we are? Tomorrow, someone else may acquire those things. Will they become us? Or will we stop being ourselves? Certainly not.
Our individuality ultimately comes not from material things, but from our spiritual core. That core is the soul, which the Bhagavad-gita (15.07) states is eternally a part of God, Krishna.
When we let material things define our notion of expressing our individuality, we undersell ourselves. At best, we bring out dim reflections of our individuality. At worst, we bring out its most distorted aspects. Why? Because materialism often fuels and fans our lower desires, desires that are best eradicated, not expressed.
To bring out the best aspects of our individuality, we need to first act spiritually by practicing bhakti-yoga. Such practice connects us with Krishna, the all-pure Whole, thereby purifying us. That is, our lower desires become weakened and our higher desires become strengthened. Thereafter, when we express ourselves according to our talents and interests, what comes out as our individuality is noble, laudable and inspirational. Indeed, centering our individuality on our spirituality doesn’t lead to our rejecting our material side – it leads to our harmonizing our material side with our spiritual essence and purpose.
Therefore, while practicing bhakti for purifying ourselves, we need to focus on those aspects of our individuality that lead us towards our spirituality. By such selection and expression, we will free ourselves from our worst side and give expression to our best side.
Article written by Chaitanya Charan dasa