Often, I have come across a denigration of the Vedic Culture of Worship of God as “idol worship”. “Idolatry is a sin, you are going to hell”, I have heard very often.
And because the education system I was schooled in was western in its origin, there were many subtle and not-so-subtle references to this idea that somehow or other, this worship of Deities in the Vedic temples was deeply wrong.
And of course, this early conditioning gave me fodder for my atheism, my voidism, my impersonalism, my agnosticism, and essentially held me back from pursuing a spiritual path of any kind.
What is an idol? And how can a stone or metal or wooden image be God? Or how can a message written down in any language represent God?
It’s a fact that God is non-material, and therefore cannot be perceived by material senses. But the material senses are all I have, then how do I perceive God?
First of course, the perception of God is by hearing about Him. His name, His pastimes, and His qualities. In other words, the Name of God is the Form of God.
So, a name written down, is also God. Because God is Absolute, then God is fully present in His name.
But those scriptures which contain God’s name also contain descriptions of God’s qualities, of God’s interactions with others like myself, persons of the flesh. Jayadvaita Swami, born into Judaism, writes “Whose worship is Idol Worship”…
That very same God with the Names, is also described to have a form. Not a form like mine, which suffers birth, death, old age, and disease, but a form that is Eternal, Full of Joy, and Full of Knowledge.
How may I perceive that form with my two little material eyes?
As confirmed in the Padma Purana,
na bhaved grahyam indriyaih
sevonmukhe hi jihvadau
svayam eva sphuraty adah
“No one can understand the transcendental nature of the name, form, qualities and pastimes of the Lord through his materially contaminated senses. Only when one becomes spiritually saturated by transcendental service to the Lord are the transcendental name, form, qualities and pastimes of the Lord revealed to him.”Padma Purana
Therefore, God, out of His kind mercy, appears before me in a form that I can very well perceive. But when He does, that form is non-material. That same old paint, wood, stone, and metal are transformed, just like an ordinary paper and ordinary ink are transformed with the name of God.
If worshipping a form of God according to the scriptures is wrong, then so is revering the name of the God written down or spoken even, because to utter a name in sound is to cause the form of the word to manifest.
Those who hate “idolatry” should then possess no Cross, no Qu’ran, no Wall, no Scripture, no Shrine, Nothing.
Idolatry is worship of the mundane, be it a car or a beautiful actor, be it a very knowledgeable professor of some mundane subject of the material world, or a great orator, or businessperson.
The supreme abode of the Personality of Godhead, Krishna, is described in the Brahma-samhita as chintamani-dhama, a place where all desires are fulfilled. The supreme abode of Lord Krishna, known as Goloka Vrindavana, is full of palaces made of touchstone. There are also trees called ‘desire trees,’ which supply any type of eatable upon demand, and there are cows known as surabhi, which supply a limitless supply of milk. In this abode, the Lord is served by hundreds of thousands of goddesses of fortune (lakshmis)and He is called Govinda, the primal Lord and the cause of all causes. The Lord is accustomed to blow His flute (venum kvanantam). His transcendental form is the most attractive in all the worlds—His eyes are like lotus petals and His bodily color like clouds. He is so attractive that His beauty excels that of thousands of cupids. He wears saffron cloth, a garland around His neck and a peacock feather in His hair.A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, in the Bhaktivedanta Purports to the Bhagavad Gita As It Is