Śrīla Bhakti Rakṣak Śrīdhar Dev-Goswāmī Mahārāj explains how we should attend to the Lord’s presence all around us.
He heard that the devotee had come, but he posed in such a way that he did not hear because he thought, “If I go there to take care of a man, I shall commit offence here by disregarding my worship of the Deity.” He took a Vaiṣṇava as man, and Śrī-mūrti as God Himself. This was his fault, and offence came for that. So, it is the dictation of the śāstra that if we are engaged in the service of the Deity in the Temple and we hear that a devotee, a Guru or Vaiṣṇava, of higher order has come, then we should take permission from the Deity and then go and attend to the devotee. Later, we shall come back and finish the worship. We must do this because a Vaiṣṇava is not just a man; there is also the expression of the Lord within him. So, he is to be regarded not just as a man, but as a devotee, and that means that God’s existence in his heart is clear and is more important than the Deity. It is the Lord’s order that He is present as the Deity. By His direction, His will, He is there, but at the same time it is His direction that He will live in the temple of the heart of His devotee, and that is more clear, more useful, and more real for us. So, we have to respect that first. His appearance in the heart of a devotee is more real.
When I first came to Śrī Gauḍīya Maṭh, I saw that the Deity of Śrīman Mahāprabhu was stored in a room on the roadside on the ground floor of a hired house and that the Guru Mahārāj was living in a room on the first floor. I asked a devotee, “Is Mahāprabhu made of wood or what?” He rebuked me like anything: “What do you say? Mahāprabhu Himself is here. He is not made of earth or wood or minerals or anything. He Himself is here.” “All right” I said, “He Himself is here. But why then is your Gurudev, who is considered to be the greatest devotee of Mahāprabhu, not by the side of Mahāprabhu, who Himself is here? If Mahāprabhu Himself is present here, then the greatest devotee must be seen by His side, but he is on the first floor in a safe position and here the Deity is on the ground floor near the road. What is the reason for this?” Then, the devotee told me, “Mahāprabhu is also present in his heart. He is not apart from Mahāprabhu. He is always engaged in showing his devotion to Mahāprabhu who resides in his heart, and that is a higher expression of Mahāprabhu’s presence.” I could not understand so much at the time, but still I thought, “Yes, there must be something, some reality, in this statement.” Afterwards, I came to know that Mahāprabhu is present both in His devotee’s heart and as the Deity, but His presence in the heart of the devotee is a higher expression of Himself than the Deity.
The original Deity expresses Himself in this world in a five part gradation: Para, Vyūha, Vaibhava, Antaryāmī, and Archā.
Para: He always exists in His original position. Vyūha: His extends Himself on all sides to manage the affairs in Vaikuṇṭha. Vaibhava: He comes down to this world as Matsya, Kūrma, Varāha, Nṛsiṁha, Vāmana, and so on to help to the fallen souls. Antaryāmī: He is in the heart of every soul as the Paramātma, the Supersoul. Archā: He comes to our level of sense thinking to attract our energy and attention away from this gross plane towards that finest plane from which He has come down. The five expressions of the Supreme are specially mentioned in Rāmānuja’s philosophy.
Student: We read in Pastimes in Śrī Chaitanya-charitāmṛta and Śrīmad Bhāgavatam of devotees having direct experience of the Lord through Śrī-mūrti, that they speak, come off the altar, and so on.
Śrīla Śrīdhar Mahārāj: Yes. Sākṣī Gopāl, Rādhā Ramaṇ, and others. It is also possible. He can assert Himself everywhere. If He likes, He can assert Himself anywhere and in any way according to His sweet will. He is everywhere, and He even came and broke out of a pillar before Prahlād as Nṛsiṁhadev. It is easy for Him to come in full form. It is an easy thing. He can even come out of an atom and assert Himself with full force. He can do anything.
Student: But something greater is to be learned in the association of a devotee than in Śrī-mūrti because …
Śrīla Śrīdhar Mahārāj: Of course. That is passive, and here it is active. The book also is passive, but more living than Śrī-mūrti. The book, the śāstra, will give you more than Śrī-mūrti, and the sādhu will give more than what the book, the scripture, can. This is the general rule, but to a devotee, everything may be of the fullest conception, especially when He wills it.
vana dekhi bhrama haya ei vṛndāvan
(Śrī Chaitanya-charitāmṛta: Madhya-līlā, 17.55)
Even a jungle can give you a conception of Vṛndāvan and Kṛṣṇa. Everywhere you may find it. By His will, you can do anything and everything. His regular ordinary sanction is that a devotee’s association is best, but by His special will, He can do anything and everything. There is the ordinary law of the country, and then there is an emergency law, an ordinance may be proclaimed: “Everything belongs to the state during the war. No personal property.” His will, His autocracy, is above all. General law is there for the general public, for students, according to a gradation moving step by step, but special connectivity is reserved to be utilised anywhere and everywhere.
Spoken 22 January 1983