The world around us is changing at an ever-increasing rate. The notion of keeping up with the changing world may have relevance in devotional service. But is this perspective relevant in all areas of our practices of bhakti? Are there some elements of devotional service that must always be constant? Srila Prabhupada wrote:
The greatest danger to our movement will come when we manufacture and create our own process for worshiping the deities. … Whatever is going on, follow it just to the exact standard as I have given you, that’s all.
Srila Prabhupada often speaks about pancaratrika and bhagavata vidhis, the theme for this, our first issue of Arcana News for 2016, stressing their interdependence and importance for practitioners of bhakti yoga. ISKCON’s temple worship is clearly an element of pancaratrika vidhi. The rules of the pancaratra are specifically meant to regulate our activities, mind and senses, and thus help us to understand we are not the body and we are ultimately a servant of Krishna. Personal purification is one of the main results of deity worship. Srila Prabhupada writes:
The temple worship will keep us sanctified, and when we shall preach in sanctified, pure heart, the preaching will be immediately effective. So we have to follow the two parallel lines simultaneously for successful execution of devotional service.
Or as Jiva Gosvami explains, “Although sankirtana is sufficient for the perfection of life, the arcana, or worship of the deity in the temple, must continue in order that the devotees may stay clean and pure.”
Some may consider that in this age the pancaratra is not so relevant and that it is sufficient to simply focus on the chanting of the Lord’s holy name. Some misunderstand the appropriate mood of temple worship in ISKCON temples. This is manifest in different ways. How the deities are dressed, the mood of worship, or our interpretation of our relationship with the Lord, the way we interact with the deities, how strictly we follow the worship process and the rules and regulations of deity worship, etc. Yet Srila Prabhupada clearly explains in his purports that for this age of Kali, “Without the help of such codes [of the pancaratra], one cannot approach the Lord…” and “[the pancaratra is the] prescribed purificatory process suitable to the age and time.”
Bhagavata vidhi, also known as bhagavata marga or raga marga, broadly refers to activities such as hearing and chanting, studying Srimad-Bhagavatam, etc. In the Bhagavad-gita it is explained that even though we are followers of the bhagavata marga, still we engage in devotional service according to the rules of the pancaratrika vidhi.
While the pancaratrika vidhi is what helps to situate a devotee in the purity required to approach the Lord, the bhagavata marga gives us the inspiration or taste that enlivens us in our practice of devotional service. While all of us experience some glimpses of bhagavata marga in our day-to-day practices, the bhagavatamarga is particularly suited or available to those who are elevated to the consciousness of the residents of Vrndavana.
In our practice of deity worship in ISKCON, though predominately pancaratrika vidhi, it is actually a blend of pancaratrika and bhagavata vidhis, as explained by Srila Prabhupada in the following extract from Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.24.45-46, purport:
Generally the worship of the Lord begins with the worship of Narayana, or Visnu, whereas the worship of Lord Krsna and Radha is most confidential. Lord Narayana is worshipable by the pancaratrika-vidhi, or regulative principles, whereas Lord Krsna is worshipable by the bhagavata-vidhi. No one can worship the Lord in the bhagavata-vidhi without going through the regulations of the pancaratrika-vidhi.
Actually, neophyte devotees worship the Lord according to the pancaratrika-vidhi, or the regulative principles enjoined in the Narada-pancaratra. Radha-Krsna cannot be approached by the neophyte devotees; therefore temple worship according to regulative principles is offered to Laksmi-Narayana. Although there may be a Radha-Krsna vigraha, or form, the worship of the neophyte devotees is acceptable as Laksmi-Narayana worship. Worship according to the pancaratrikavidhi is called vidhi-marga, and worship according to the bhagavata-vidhi principles is called raga-marga. The principles of raga-marga are especially meant for devotees who are elevated to the Vrndavana platform.
Srila Prabhupada also explains, if we accept one without the other it will become troublesome later.
So both things should continue: bhagavata-marga and pancaratriki-marga. … Both of them should be accepted, parallel line. Otherwise, one without the other will be later on troublesome.
Even though we are followers of advanced souls known as raganuga bhaktas, and we may be inspired by the Lord’s Vrndavana pastimes and our ultimate destination is His supreme abode of Goloka Vrndavana, it is still necessary for us to approach the Lord through the rules and regulations of the pancaratra in order for us to become purified enough to gain access to the Lord’s abode in the spiritual world.