On the material platform, the picture of a person and the person himself are different. By seeing the picture of a friend, one may be reminded of the friend, but the picture is only a representation, not the actual friend himself. However, on the spiritual platform, God’s form and God are non-different.

Further, in the material world a person is different from his body, for the body is made of matter whereas the person is the spirit soul within the body. But God being fully spiritual is free from such dualities. The Supreme Personality of Godhead and His transcendental form are of the same spiritual identity. According to Vedic literatures each part of His body can perform any of the functions of any other part. Although we can only see with our eyes, the Lord can not only see with His eyes, but also taste, smell or hear with them. In this way the transcendental form of the Supreme Lord is unlimited and all-powerful.

The forms of Krsna that we see in His temples are not imaginary creations. They are made exactly according to the descriptions of the Vedic literature. The Deity is not an icon made out of whimsical imagination. When we see Krsna’s Deity form we are actually seeing the form of God. “Deities in temples accurately represent what God looks like;” however, the reason the members of ISKCON worship the form of the Deity as if it were actually God Himself is because that Deity form of Krishna is Krishna Himself. The Deity is treated with reverence, because the form of God is also God. There is no difference between His form and Himself.

Eternally transcendental appearance

The form of the Lord is eternally transcendental wherever He appears, even in this material world. In the case of an ordinary living being coming to the material world, he is subject to many limitations of material energy. He is covered with a temporary material body that troubles him with many miseries. He is subject to old age, disease, death and accepts another body.

But in the case of Supreme Lord, He is not under the laws of material nature. He is beyond those laws, just like a king who is visiting a prison is beyond the laws of the prison. The transcendental form of the Supreme Lord is full of opulence and power. Due to this power He can appear in the material world in His transcendental form as the Deity but at the same time remain as the transcendental Lord.

Another objection that can be raised is “how can God have a form made of ordinary matter like wood or stone?” This again is due to our narrow vision of looking at things. From God’s point of view, there is no difference between matter and spirit, for He can change spirit to matter and matter to spirit. Everything is His energy and He is all-spiritual. Therefore all of His energy is also spiritual. We call it “matter” and “spirit” according to how it acts upon us, but in reality it is one spiritual energy. To understand this, Srila Prabhupada has given an excellent analogy. Electricity is energy, although sometimes it works in a refrigerator to cool things and sometimes in a stove to heat things. The expert electrician who can master the electrical energy can use the same energy to perform both the functions. In the same way, the Lord, the master of all energies can turn matter into spirit at His will. No one can stop Him from doing that. There are no limitations on God, that’s why He is God!

Eternally omnipresent

If we analyse carefully, in one sense, the Lord is present already in stone, wood and everywhere else because everything is His energy. Wherever His energy exists, He Himself also exists there, just as the sun is present wherever there is sunshine.

A person who is fully God conscious can recognize God’s presence in His energy and therefore he can see God everywhere. However for those who are not so advanced, the energy of the God can be shaped into the transcendental form of God so that even in this material world we can see the transcendental form of the omnipresent Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Some of those who are too addicted to the idea of a formless impersonal God, criticise Deity worship in a temple. They say “God is everywhere, why should we worship Him in the temple?”. The irony is that they themselves have answered their own question. If God is everywhere, He must be present in the temple also. No one can deny the fact that God is everywhere, but we can’t see him everywhere. Originally we are all eternal servants of God, but now we have forgotten our relationship with Him and therefore we don’t have the vision to see Him everywhere. Due to His causeless mercy, He appears as the Deity form in the temple so that even in this world of forgetfulness, we can see Him and revive our eternal relationship with Him.

It’s mentioned earlier that Lord can change matter to spirit. How does He do that? He does that when He appears, by the grace of His devotee, as the transcendental form of the Deity. When a pure devotee calls upon the Lord to kindly appear in the form of the Deity carved or painted as per the scriptures, and accept his humble service, the Lord agrees to do so, provided everything is done according to the scriptural regulations.

The pure devotee’s sincere attitude to serve the Lord and his strict adherence to the rules of the scriptures are the essential ingredients that make the Deity worship uniquely different from idol worship.

If one worships an imaginary form, his worship is whimsical idolatry. But if one worships the authorised transcendental form of the Lord with a sincere desire to serve Him, and strictly adheres to the scriptural rules and regulations then his worship is transcendental and the Lord will certainly accept it.

Srila Prabhupada gives another powerful example to explain this, the post office and an authorised mailbox. Some houses may be far away from the post office, so the postal officials install authorised boxes in various locations so that we can use them to send our mail. One may paint any box of one’s own imagination and call it a mailbox, but that is of no value. Similarly, a form of God coming out our own imagination is nothing more than an idol; but the authorised form of God coming from scriptural descriptions is as good as the Lord Himself. In that Deity form the Lord will accept our service and will reveal Himself to us more and more.

At the present moment, we may see the Deity to be no more than wood or stone, but that is due to our defective vision. The Lord is not visible for our blunt material senses. We have to purify our eyes by seeing through the vision of the scriptures and by rendering devotional service to the Lord. If we follow this process we will be able to see the Supreme Lord.

Purification process

Devotional service is the only way to know the Lord. It is stated in Padma Purana

ataù çré-kåñëa-nämädi

na bhaved grähyam indriyaiù

sevonmukhe hi jihvädau

svayam eva sphuraty adaù

“No one can understand the transcendental nature of the name, form, qualities and pastimes of the Lord through his materially contaminated senses. Only when one becomes spiritually saturated by transcendental service to the Lord are the transcendental name, form, qualities and pastimes of the Lord revealed to him”.

Its specifically mentioned here that we can purify our senses by purifying the tongue. Among the senses the tongue is the toughest to control. Despite this one can control it very easily by eating food first offered to Krsna and by chanting the holy name of Krsna – Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Hare Hare. This will certainly purify the tongue of any person and when the tongue is thus engaged in the service of Krsna, all other senses can also be engaged.

Deity worship gives an opportunity to purify our senses in this way. When the Lord appears before us as the Deity, we can purify our minds by thinking about Him, our eyes by simply looking at Him, ears and tongue by hearing and chanting His holy names, our nose by smelling flowers offered to Him and our bodies by standing up to see Him, bowing down before Him and dancing before Him.

Krsna says in Bhagavad Gita ye yathä mäà prapadyante täàs tathaiva bhajämy aham: “As all surrender unto Me, I reward them accordingly.” Therefore for those who accept the words of Vedic scriptures and try to appreciate the Lord’s presence in the Deity from by rendering service, the Lord will one day reward them fully revealing Himself to them.

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