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51 West Allens Lane
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19119
I am seventeen years old, and for the last year I have been reading Back to Godhead and various books on Krsna consciousness. I've greatly enjoyed them. I have come up with many questions, but out of all of them I have chosen two.
First, why do you worship God (Krsna) in the form of a statue? Is God not everywhere we look and even within us? Why must we bow down to something of clay or rock?
Second, are Srila Prabhupada and his disciples who have become bona fide teachers worshiped by bowing down to them, or by creating statues of them and worshiping those? If so, why?
I would he honored if you would explain these things to me and thus solve my problems.
Judith Ann Gavin
Auckland, New Zealand
OUR REPLY: Your first question is one often raised by persons of Judeo-Christian background, largely because of the commandment against worshiping graven images. We also accept this commandment. The process of Krsna consciousness is based on scripture. A devotee never acts whimsically. Even one who has attained spiritual perfection must continue to follow scriptural injunctions.
The scriptures of the Vedic tradition direct us to make authorized forms of the Lord from material elements. By certain prayers and devotional rituals we invite the Lord-for whom nothing is impossible-to accept our service through those forms. Although the Deity may appear to be a lifeless statue, in many instances the Deity has openly reciprocated His devotee's service and devotion.
The omnipotent Personality of Godhead is fully capable of making spirit into matter and matter into spirit. Therefore, he can easily appear in the home or temple of His loving devotees in His Deity form. In our present materially contaminated state we cannot see God in His original, spiritual form. He therefore mercifully comes before us in a form we can see. By learning to see God-and develop love for Him-as the Deity, we will eventually be able to see Him everywhere.
Of course, one may not arbitrarily fashion a form and worship it as God. One has to worship the authorized form, just as, for example, in mailing this letter to you, I have to deposit it in an authorized mailbox. I cannot put it in any box that happens to be on the sidewalk and expect it to be delivered to you.
To worship a concocted form as the Deity is idolatry. One has to consult the scriptures and worship according to their directives. That purifies the heart of a devotee and prepares him or her for rendering direct, personal services to Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
There are numerous important points to be made in this connection, but that would take many pages. I want to answer your other question as well. I refer you, therefore, to the Sri Caitanya-caritamrta and theSrimad-Bhagavatam, both translated into English by Srila Prabhupada, for further explanations of the philosophy of Deity worship, as understood by the great saintly devotees in our line since time immemorial.
Now for your second question. Lord Krsna Himself teaches that the disciple should accept the spiritual master to be as good as God because he is God's representative. Understanding that the guru is the instrument of divine grace, the disciple bows in humility at his feet, thus attracting the merciful glance of the Lord.
In our modern world, people tend to overreact when they see that a guru accepts a disciple's display of humility. And they generally fail to appreciate that the guru also has a spiritual master, to whom he bows in all humility. But humility is the crown jewel of all spiritual qualities. It is the principle by which saintly persons conduct themselves in a spiritual society or culture.
That's why the disciples of spiritual masters after Srila Prabhupada continue to practice bowing before their spiritual masters. We do not worship the new gurus in "statues," however, because this is generally not practiced while the guru is still present. After he goes to the spiritual world, his disciples may continue to remember and worship him in a deity form. Far more important, however, is that the disciple carry out the order of the spiritual master and help him spread Krsna consciousness all over the world.