An excerpt from Jaiva-dharma.
Eternal Dharma and Idolatry
Chapter Eleven of Śrī Jaiva-dharma
Śrīla Bhakti Vinod Ṭhākur
Published in Śrī Gauḍīya Darśan,
Volume 3, Issue 6,
Saturday, 11 January 1958.
Mullah Sahib: The spiritual form of the Supreme Being is mentioned in our Koran also. That we are bound to accept. If we go to make a replica of that spiritual form, however, it becomes mundane, and that we call an idol. The Supreme Being is not worshipped by worshipping an idol. Please tell me your viewpoint in this regard.
Gorāchā̐d: The Vaiṣṇava scriptures prescribe the worship of Bhagavān’s pure spiritual form. There are no prescriptions for advanced devotees to worship earthly objects, that is, things produced from earth, water, and so forth.
yasyātma-buddhiḥ kuṇape tri-dhātuke
sva-dhīḥ kalatrādiṣu bhauma ijya-dhīḥ
yat-tīrtha-buddhiḥ salile na karhichij
janeṣv abhijñeṣu sa eva go-kharaḥ
(Śrīmad Bhāgavatam: 10.84.13)
[“Those who think a corpse made of mucus, bile, and air is one’s self, one’s spouse and family are one’s own, earthen images are worshippable, and bodies of water are holy places, and who never associate with the wise are nothing more than donkeys fit only to serve cows.”]
We can see the non-establishment of worship of material entities in authoritative statements like Bhūtejyā yānti bhūtāni [“those who worship material things attain only material ends” (Bg: 9.25)]. There is, however, an important point in this regard. Human beings attain different levels of qualification in a gradation according to their knowledge and purity. Only those who have understood pure spiritual existence are able to worship a purely spiritual form. As far below as people are from this, so far only can they understand it. The less qualified cannot understand spiritual nature at all. When such persons meditate on the Lord in their minds, they inevitably imagine a form of an aggregate of material qualities. Thinking an earthen form is a form of the Lord is the same as meditating on a material form within the mind. Therefore, worshipping a Deity is beneficial for persons in this stage. In fact, the absence of Deity worship is very inauspicious for the general populace.
When people are inclined towards the Lord, then they are dismayed not to see a Deity of the Lord in front of them. The less qualified who follow dharmas in which there is no Deity worship are extremely materialistic and averse to the Lord. Therefore, Deity worship is the foundation of human dharma.
The great souls meditate on the pure spiritual form of the Supreme Lord that they have seen through pure spiritual practice within their hearts which are purified by devotion. After meditating, when their heart purified by devotion extends out towards the material world, then a reflection of that spiritual form is portrayed in the material world. In this way, the form of Bhagavān is reflected by the great souls and becomes a Deity.
For the highly qualified, this Deity is always a spiritual form. For the intermediate, the Deity is conscious, and for the lesser qualified, although at first a material form, gradually the Deity becomes a spiritual form as their intelligence is purified by realisation. Therefore, the Deity of the Lord’s form is fit to be served by all classes.
It is not necessary to worship imaginary forms, but worshipping a Deity of the Lord’s eternal form is highly beneficial. Even amongst the Vaiṣṇavas, Deity worship has been established for those in all three classes. There is no fault in this regard because by this arrangement all souls are gradually benefitted:
yathā yathātmā parimṛjyate ’sau
tathā tathā paśyati vastu sūkṣmaṁ
(Śrīmad Bhāgavatam: 11.14.26)
[Kṛṣṇa: “As an eye smeared with ointment can see small objects, so the soul purified by hearing, chanting, and remembering My divine glories perceives subtle truths (the reality of My form and Pastimes).”]
The spirit soul in this world is covered by the material mind. The soul is unable to know itself and unable to serve the Supersoul. Through practices of devotion, such as hearing and chanting, the soul’s strength gradually increases. As it increases, the bonds of matter loosen. To the extent that the bonds of matter loosen, the soul’s natural propensity becomes predominant and the soul’s own vision and actions develop.
Some say the soul should abandon all impermanent things and endeavour only to attain that which is permanent. This is known as the cultivation of dry knowledge (jñān). Where is the conditioned soul’s ability to abandon all impermanent things? Can someone who is bound in a prison become free just by desiring to free themself? Rectification of the offences for which they are imprisoned is the purpose of their imprisonment. The spirit soul’s forgetting that they are an eternal servant of Bhagavān is their original offence. At first, by whatever means, if their mind turns slightly towards the Lord, then by seeing His Deity form, hearing discussion of His Pastimes, and so on, the soul’s previous nature gains strength. The soul becomes able to realise spirit to the extent that the soul gains strength. Serving the Deity and hearing and chanting about the Lord are the only means for those of very low qualification to gain such strength. The great souls, therefore, have prescribed service to the Deity.
Mullah Sahib: Is meditating within the mind not better than fabricating a Deity with material elements?
Gorāchā̐d: The two are the same. The mind is restricted by matter. Everything you can think of is material. For example, if you say, “All-pervading Brahma”, then you are bound to think of an all-pervasiveness like that of the sky. “We are thinking of Brahma”—in such thought must arise a conception of Brahma limited by time. Space and time are material things. If meditation and other mental activities are not beyond time and space, then how can they reach truth that is beyond matter? “Eliminating earth, water, and so on, we have imagined a Deity made of space.” This too is entirely idol worship. There is no particular material element that can used as a means to realise spiritual truth. Bhāva (feeling) for the Lord is the only way, and that is present only within the spirit soul. Only when inspired by chanting the Lord’s Name, singing about His Pastimes, and worshipping His Deity does bhāva grow strong and become devotion. The Lord’s spiritual form is revealed only by pure devotion. It cannot be revealed by knowledge (jñān) or action (karma).
[To be continued …]