Śrīla Bhakti Rakṣak Śrīdhar Dev-Goswāmī Mahārāj explains the basis of engagement in Deity worship.
Student: What is some prescribed worship for a brahmachārī who carries a Deity with him?
Śrīla Śrīdhar Mahārāj: Deity worship is necessary in the primary stage. As our ear experience can help us by taking the Name, so our eye experience cannot be excluded. That also can help us. If material sound can help us, then material vision can also help us. Through that also, transmission is possible. We have faith in sound. Sound is more subtle, but it is still a material thing which is received by the material ear. So, the material eye can see only material form, but that experience can also help us. The Lord can come through that medium also. But it must have spiritual connection. That is what is all-important.
If it is only sound, then it is Nāmāparādha. We will not take the Name from any man in the street. We must receive the mantra, the Name, from a proper Guru. Why? The sound has classification. There is material sound, and there is spiritual sound, Śabda‑brahma. Do you follow?
Śrīla Śrīdhar Mahārāj: So, what we can see may be spiritual or may be material. Matter won’t help us to get out of material existence, but spiritual sight can help us get away from material sight just as spiritual sound can help us to get away from material sound. Everything can be a transcendental medium. Sound, being more subtle, is more efficient, but taste also, of real prasād, will help us to get out of the material conception of life. Touch also. Everything, if backed by transcendental interference, may help us. Even our dress. There is a famous statement of the devotee Uddhava:
uchchhiṣṭa-bhojino dāsās tava māyāṁ jayema hi
(Śrīmad Bhāgavatam: 11.6.46)
“We shall conquer this illusion of māyā, our illusory experience, only by engaging ourselves in the service of Your prasād, Your remnants. We shall honour the mālā [garlands] and the gandha [fragrances] which You have already enjoyed. We shall dress ourselves in the dress that You have already used. We can also use the ornaments that You have used. With the prasād, the remnants, that You have given us, we shall conquer māyā, this world of misunderstanding. It is only necessary to anyhow connect sincerely with things that are connected with the transcendental Lord.
Our sight, our eyes, should not be let loose to see anything and everything. Rather, whatever I shall see, I shall see in connection with the Lord. The eyes must be engaged in His connection: His figure, His dress, His ornaments, His dhām. The ears must be engaged in His connection, the tongue in His connection, the touch in His connection—everything should be engaged in His connection. That sort of experience must be developed. Then, we shall get out of this mundane environment.
It is mentioned,
yena janma-śataiḥ pūrvaṁ vāsudevaḥ samarchitaḥ
tan-mukhe hari-nāmāni sadā tiṣṭhanti bhārata
“One who has engaged oneself in archan for a hundred births will find that the Name of the Lord automatically appears on one’s tongue.”
When the Vāsudeva-mūrti has been worshiped for a hundred births, then one will have some facility to take the Name of the Lord, which is more subtle. So, archan is for the lower class, and the Name for a little higher class. But archan also depends on sound. Sound guides archan, but some model is necessary for those who cannot independently take up the facility of sound. In the lowest stage, in archan, one will be allowed to handle things. One can’t concentrate on the sound and the meaning underlying the sound, but if one is allowed to handle the Deity with the hands, the eyes, and engage in so many movements, one will have facility, and at this stage one will think it to be some realistic movement for oneself. In archan more so than sound, more demand is put on bodily engagement, on the whole self.
Sound is more abstract, and archan is more concrete. Much energy is necessary to perform archan, but to take the Name very little energy is necessary. In archan, you are to do many things. There is movement. Archan will engage the movement of the whole body. Regularly, you will have to rise in the morning for maṅgal ārati, and then you will have to purify yourself, attend to the Deity, bring the bhoga, take it out, offer ārati, and so on. With all these things in archan, there is more physical and intense engagement.
Student: For a brahmachārī who doesn’t have any fixed residence …
Śrīla Śrīdhar Mahārāj: Being a brahmachārī or sannyāsī does not matter. The stage of the devotee is the concern. Not only the form, but the stage, the internal realisation—everything goes according to that. Generally, sannyāsīs are meant to preach and brahmachārīs meant to perform archan. But one can preach in brahmachārī dress or in gṛhastha dress also. Preaching is something else. Gṛhasthas may also do archan. Anyone can do anything, but the general classification is that archan is in the beginning, and Name is a higher form of service.
To take the Name really means to preach. That is something solid. When only we take the Name, that may be abstract, and there is the possibility of self‑deception. No attention may come. It may be that the repetition of the sound is going on with any sort of idea. Archan means we have to utilise more energy than in Nāma‑bhajan. Nāma‑bhajan is higher. It is in a higher plane, while archan has more necessity in the physical plane. A gṛhastha should engage in archan because he is in the gṛhastha‑āśram and has to deal with many things. All those things must be connected with the transcendental Lord, and then they may be used. Otherwise, we are only making some sound with the lip or the tongue, and with that, an abstract thing, we are going on in our own way in material life, with so many thoughts of material things and very little of the sound. The serving attitude in connection with the personal truth must have connection whatever we do here, whether archan or bhajan, whether preaching or śravaṇ, kīrtan, smaraṇ, vandan, or any other form of devotion. The very life, the very spirit, is to have connection with the Supreme. Some sort of movement must be created in our mental plane, and some change must be brought in our mental system. That is, both the tendency for exploitation and for renunciation must vanish, and they will be repressed by the tendency to serve. We are serving units. We are neither members of the world of exploitation nor hunters of imaginary liberation. We are a concrete part of the realistic world, a whole-centred world where the Lord is all-good. Die to live. Everything is for Him. We are for Him. We are not for us or our individual interest, but we are for the whole. The whole is to be revered, and the whole is sweet. The whole is healthy, wholesome, and loving. That sort of change must come in our midst, and anyhow we must try.
Spoken 18 February 1983