Chapter 117: The Importance of Deity Worship Along With Book Distribution
Śrīla Prabhupāda Uvāca 117
The Importance of Deity Worship Along With Book Distribution
Touching down in Mexico City proved to be an extraordinary experience. Śrīla Prabhupāda, a transcendental emissary from Goloka Vrindavan, was greeted with honor by his devotees. Śrīla Prabhupāda bypassed all the mundane customs check points and airport facilities and walked directly from the plane to a waiting limousine. The devotees had also arranged a police escort to accompany Śrīla Prabhupāda's vehicle through the city as he went to the temple. This was an extremely pleasant change from our normal grueling airport experience. We were accustomed to being treated with suspicion like potential criminals as we went through customs at other international airports.
During the drive to the temple, Śrīla Prabhupāda expressed his appreciation for the VIP treatment. Eager to continue to please His Divine Grace, Hrdayananda Mahārāja took this opportunity to report to Śrīla Prabhupāda about all the exciting service the Spanish BBT had accomplished. Many books were being translated and distributed in the Spanish language. Śrīla Prabhupāda was delighted to hear that the glories of the Lord were being spread.
When he arrived at the temple, Śrīla Prabhupāda took darshan of Their Lordships and later asked for the Deity mahā-prasadam. This was Śrīla Prabhupāda's standard practice as he traveled from temple to temple. He always took personal interest to see how the Deities were being worshiped. It was as if Śrīla Prabhupāda was Kṛṣṇa's transcendental inspector making sure the Deity worship was being maintained nicely by his children.
After sampling the mahā-prasadam, Śrīla Prabhupāda said, "This prasadam is horrible. The Deity worship here is not up to standard. It is important to worship the Deities very nicely." Śrīla Prabhupāda again stressed, "It is as important to perform first- class Deity worship as it is to distribute books."
I was shocked! I had never heard Śrīla Prabhupāda criticize the Deity worship anywhere before. My heart went out to the devotees doing the cooking, but I knew it was their turn to get some merciful instruction. This would be something they would never forget. I speculated about Śrīla Prabhupāda's relationship with the Deities. Being of mundane vision, I saw the beautiful forms of the Lord, but couldn't recognize the innate principle of reciprocal interaction (lila). Sometimes, I tried to imagine what it might be like to take darshan of the Deities and see Kṛṣṇa as Śrīla Prabhupāda undoubtedly did. Śrīla Prabhupāda emphasized how we must understand that Kṛṣṇa is nondifferent from His form in the temple room. He kindly reminded us again and again.
"Kṛṣṇa is here in His Arca Vigraha form," he would say.
During this visit, His Divine Grace let everyone know it was imperative to perform first-class Deity worship along with book distribution. After all, the purpose of Śrīla Prabhupāda's books was to understand that Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Personality of Godhead and we are His servants. Deity worship is the application of the principles delineated in Śrīla Prabhupāda's books.
When it was time for Śrīla Prabhupāda to leave Mexico City for Caracas the devotees arranged the same police escort to the airport, hoping to alleviate the usual red tape caused by international travel. It didn't work very well. When Śrīla Prabhupāda arrived at the airport, there was a delay before he could board the plane. He had to stay in the car for almost one hour. While sitting there he said, "It would have been better waiting in the lounge. I am having to wait in the car."
It was an uneasy time for all of us realizing Śrīla Prabhupāda did not have the opportunity for his disciples to see him off. Śrīla Prabhupāda transcendentally reciprocated with his many disciples at airports all over the world. For some devotees, this constituted a large part of their personal association. Śrīla Prabhupāda felt great separation from his disciples while being denied this pleasure. He understood a great opportunity to enliven them was being missed. I felt uneasy about Śrīla Prabhupāda's displeasure.
When Śrīla Prabhupāda arrived at the temple in Caracas, Venezuela it was like an instant replay of his arriving in Mexico City. He took darshan of the Deities and later in his room sampled the mahā-prasadam.
"These purīs are terrible," Śrīla Prabhupāda again said. "The vegetable is horrible. This prasadam is not good. Deity worship must be first-class. You must worship the Deity very nicely!"
Again I was surprised. It was unusual for Śrīla Prabhupāda to reprimand his disciples by saying they must improve the Deity worship. Either way, Śrīla Prabhupāda kindly encouraged his young disciples to make advancement on the spiritual path.
It was never that Śrīla Prabhupāda was upset with us and we were doomed. He would stress the importance of performing our service with care and attention. This was the example our beloved Spiritual Master gave us. Everything Śrīla Prabhupāda did was with the utmost attention and devotion to the Lord.
Śrīla Prabhupāda enjoyed his stay in this part of the world and was impressed with the sincerity of the devotees. I also enjoyed being at the Caracas temple since I lived there for a few months when I first left Śrīla Prabhupāda's personal service in January of 1974. I knew most of the devotees well and, for me, it was like going home.
Śrīla Prabhupāda, you have created a large family of Vaiṣṇavas. You are the munificent father and grandfather of tens of thousands of devotees of Lord Kṛṣṇa. You have very kindly made it possible for your followers to go anywhere in the world, take darshan of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and enjoy the association of friends and family. This is one of the great fringe benefits of being a member of your ISKCON society. Please allow this prodigal son to remain within your family, always.
You instructed us that book distribution and deity worship must go side by side. Your books inspire and give us knowledge to serve Kṛṣṇa. Deity worship allows us to practice devotional service. Their Lordships are the original root source of this Vaiṣṇava family. Without Them, we are lost. Your books are like attractive, cordial invitations to please come and personally serve the Deity. Our duty is to remind whomever we meet that we are all servants of the Lord. Lord Kṛṣṇa's Deity worship takes place at your temples around the world. Your books invite everyone, "Please, come and serve the Lord." Deity worship is the zenith of loving service. Your books give us the knowledge to come to this platform. You are calling us all "Back to Godhead."