AN EXCERPT FROM RADHANATH SWAMI'S THE JOURNEY HOME
In which he addresses the westerner's fear of worshiping a "cartoon character"
The further you read The Journey Home, the better it gets. It starts with the exciting snapshots of 1960s hippie culture, world travel on a shoestring and thrilling brushes with death. A bunch of rajas (action) to draw the reader in. And then it hits home (so to speak) with a brilliant passage like this:
I told him how, when I first saw deity worship in India, it had repelled me a little, striking me as strange and superstitious. "But after spending so much time with holy people who naturally accept their deity as a form through which to communicate with the one God, I have come to accept deity worship as beautiful. Now I want to understand the scriptural philosophy behind it. Can you help me?"
Asim sat up near a patch of tulasi bushes, rubbed his chin in deep thought and took a moment before replying. "Really, I'm not qualified to explain these things, but I'll share what I heard from my guru and what I've read in the Vedic Scriptures." As the bees moved from flower to flower, collecting nectar, I drank in his words.
"God is unlimited and independent," Asim began. "To say He cannot appear in the deity form is to limit Him. The Vedas also condemn idol worship. Historically, there were traditions in both East and West where people concocted forms and worshiped them out of superstition with no clear conception of the one God. Quite often, they had selfish or evil motives. It is this type of idolatry that has been condemned through the ages. In the age of the Bible and Koran, it was common among non-believers. But this is not the type of deity worship approved of by the Vedas. Legitimate deity worship, according to the Vedas, is a science in which the Lord is called with devotional rites to appear in designated forms. In these forms He accepts our devotional offerings, all for the purpose of purifying the worshippers' body, mind, and words by fixing in us the remembrance of the Lord. The aim is to please the Lord through surrender and love."
A butterfly with iridescent purple, red, and yellow wings fluttered by and landed on Asim's thigh. He sat still, appreciating its beauty. "Just look," he said, his voice overflowing with happiness. "Creation is a gallery of art with a masterpiece wherever we look. I long to meet the artist. Everything emanates from the Lord. All material elements are the Lord's energy. By His will He may choose to appear in His own energy as a deity to help us focus our minds and senses in loving servitude. Just as electricity manifests in a light bulb to radiate light, so God can permeate the deity with His presence. Electricity is invisible to the naked eye and the bulb by itself gives light only when the electrical energy infuses the bulb with its presence. Then we can see and fell the light. In a similar way the Lord may appear in the tangible form of a deity to help us see and feel His presence and reciprocate with our love."