Question: I actually have had a burning question that I cannot ask anyone in my circle of temple folk. I now feel that you would be the best authority to answer it (and please forgive my crude articulation): I have read in several places that the yuga dharma in the age prior to Kali-yuga was deity worship, and that this isn’t the yuga dharma for the age we live in currently. Do you feel that the current state of deity worship in Kali-yuga is a sentimental holdover of the prior age, and ultimately unnecessary now, or is it still a valid means of spiritual advancement and very necessary for our current movement? Are we not far enough into Kali-yuga yet to fully appreciate the chanting being the means, and still hold some fondness for the bygone era? Please advise.
Answer by Hridayananda Maharaja:
Regarding Deity worship: even in this age, Deity worship definitely helps us to advance in Krishna consciousness. Prabhupada often gave the example of a train running on two parallel tracks, Bhagavata-vidhi (preaching Bhagavatam) and Pancaratrika-vidhi (Deity worship, which is conducted according to Pancaratrika rules). At the same time, in this age, chanting and preaching are the central processes. Prabhupada emphasized that Deity worship keeps us strong and pure for preaching, so preaching is the central activity. In that sense, we are not missing the yuga-point.
I was struck by a story in Rancor Prabhu’s history of early ISKCON in the UK. An intelligent French girl came from Paris to learn about Krishna consciousness, and despite staying in the temple, serving etc, even seeing Prabhupada, she couldn’t quite grasp personalism, having been immersed in impersonal metaphysics. Then, in her own words, one day she made a flower garland for the Deities and her epiphany occurred. She understood that God is a person. Being personally inclined more to the intellectual side, I found this to be a salutary story. At the same time, when Prabhupada asked me in 1974 to be GBC for Latin America, he said to me: “Let the others build temples and worship the Deities. For the more advanced devotees, there is preaching, writing books etc.” Prabhupada also often said that Deity worship, as a central process, was for the neophytes.
So putting all this together, we come up with a balanced view of the matter. Thus, were I to do a new project away from the temples, I would definitely have some simple form of puja, both for my own purification and for the other members, though I would of course try to do this appropriately in terms of scale and emphasis.
With best wishes,
Hridayananda das Goswami