The desire to see God, to touch God, to talk to God is in itself probably the strongest argument for His existence; besides the logic and evidences from the scriptures, this direct experience is very significant indeed. Bringing Deity Worship from the insiders circle of elderly pujari-priests and making it part of the congregational development is probably the only way it may become part of the positive future for many places in ISKCON. While everyone hankers for direct experience of God in person, it is rarely attained, even for great souls like Sri Narada of Srimad-Bhagavatam, what to speak of the beginners like us. Yet Srila Prabhupada and the acaryas place the arcana, or Deity Worship, in the realm of service opportunities for neophytes. It is true that the worship of God in His deity form may attract neophytes, but it will also promote us to the next level of advancement, if done properly. Thus expanding the scope of Deity worship is a direct preaching, especially if done in an attitude of care and encouragement to the aspiring devotees. The “proof of the pudding is in the tasting” (sometimes misquoted as “proof is in the pudding”, which is not true..) and the practical experience of God via processes of bhakti-yoga provides that conclusive personal proof of His existence, yet the arcana process of tasting requires and demands the community expansion to survive these days.
While attending the Srila Prabhupada on Deity Worship ILS seminar in Mayapur this year a question was asked by the facilitator on the possible strategy for Deity Worship in ISKCON for decades to come. Times do change, and those who joined in the ’80s may notice a change of direction or even a decline in arcana standard. Yet it is exactly the way one deals with the difficulties that provides one with a possible and a positive answer. Increasing community participation is not only inline with Srila Prabhupada’s instructions it is also a strategic development in arcana, considering the movement he started becomes more and more based in congregation.
When concluding this Sunday feast video presentation, that was showed an hour-long feature film of our yatra in the late ’90s, I put the question to the congregation and asked for volunteers to take up the evening services to the Deities during the week. I was really pleased with a positive response. When given a chance to see and serve the Lord directly, devotees usually do not resent. Only an hour or two after-work is an affordable option for many householder devotees or even students. It provides one with an opportunity of a lifetime and a way to become more qualified. A senior pujari, who has been living outside of the temple for some 18 years, also came forward to offer a part of the evening programme, another Prabhupada disciple already offered a day during the week. These are very positive and encouraging news, and I can only hope that devotees will take it up more and more, considering that the evening schedule was custom tailored to suit the needs of the congregation, to make it more manageable and compact.
Would you not want to have a direct sensual perception of God? Is it not an attractive proposal? Why not take a break from daily routine and material role? Besides being able to hear His name (nama) and His glories (sastra-pramana), worshiping His form (rupa) is probably the quickest and most affordable way, for a beginner, to proceed in the process of pleasing God. Nothing may come close to the constant absorption of an advanced devotee, yet even for neophytes like us, even an evening or an hour a week can provide an opportunity and the blessings of purification. I would like to ask Vasnavas to bless the efforts of congregational involvement in the Deity worship, as with everything else in this imperfect world, the most difficult of tasks will become possible with the blessings of the devotees of the Lord; so please bless these five congregational devotees who started their part time involvement this week in the Belfast temple; and please pray that even a neophyte will be given a chance to experience the blissful transcendent form, rupa, of God by direct perception, or at least get a glimpse and meditation on His mercy.
(Attached: Krishna sundari Dasi performing arati to Radha-Madhava dressed in Holi-style outfit)