On the western bank of the Bhagirathi, in the Koladvipa district of Navadvipa, there is a famous village named Kuliya Paharpura. At the time of Sriman Mahaprabhu, a highly respected and influential Vaisnava named Sri Madhava dasa Cattopadhyaya (also known as Chakauri Cattopadhyaya) lived in that village. Chakauri Cattopadhyaya had a son named Srila Vamsi-vadanananda Thakura. By the mercy of Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, Sri Vamsivadanananda had tremendous power and authority. Everyone addressed him as Vamsi-vadanananda Prabhu, because they regarded him as an incarnation of Krsna’s flute. He was renowned as a special recipient of Sri Visnupriya’s mercy.
After Sri Priyaji’s disappearance, Vamsi Prabhu transferred the Deity whom she had worshiped from Sridhama-Mayapura to Kuliya Paharpura, and his descendants carried out the service of this Deity for some time after that. However, when his descendants obtained the mercy of Sri Jahnava Mata, and moved from Kuliya Paharpura to Sripat Baghanapara, the worship of the Deity was continued in Kuliya-grama by the sevaites from Malancha.
Kuliya-grama is situated on the opposite side of the Ganga from Pracina (old) Navadvipa, and at that time included many small settlements, among which Cinadanga and a few others were quite famous. Once, a devotee merchant in Cinadanga arranged a spiritual festival in the temple of Kuliya Paharpura and issued invitations to many brahmana-panditas and all the Vaisnavas within the thirty-two square mile circumference of Navadvipa. On the day of the festival, the Vaisnavas came from all directions, each accompanied by their own entourage. Sri Ananta dasa came from Sri Nrsimha-palli; Goracanda dasa Babaji came from Sri Mayapura;
Sri Narayana dasa Babaji came from Sri Bilva-puskarini; the renowned Narahari dasa came from Sri Modadruma; Sri Paramahamsa Babaji and Sri Vaisnava dasa came from Sri Godruma; and Sri Sacinandana dasa came from Sri Samudragarh.
The Vaisnavas’ foreheads were decorated with vertical tilaka markings (urddhva-pundra), indicating that their bodies were temples of Sri Hari. On their necks they wore tulasi-malas, and
their limbs looked splendid, being stamped with the names of Sri Gaura-Nityananda. Some held hari-nama-malas in their hands; and others loudly performed sankirtana of the maha-mantra, Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare, to the accompaniment of mrdanga and karatalas; and some danced continuously as they moved along chanting,
srikrsna- caitanya prabhu nityananda
sri-advaita gadadhara srivasadigaura-bhakta-vrnda.
In the bodies of many of the Vaisnavas were seen the external manifestations of ecstasy, such as torrents of tears and hairs standing on end. While weeping some called out fervently, “O Gaura-Kisora! When will You grant me a vision of Your eternal pastimes in Navadvipa?” There were many groups of Vaisnavas who sang srinama with the accompaniment of mrdanga and other instruments as they walked. The women of Kuliya, who were also bhaktas of Sri Gauranga, became astonished to see these spiritual emotions, and praised the spiritual good fortune of the Vaisnavas.
Proceeding in this way, the Vaisnavas arrived at the natyamandira (dancing mandira) directly adjacent to the Deities’ altar. This was where Sriman Mahaprabhu would dance and perform sankirtana. The merchant who was sponsoring the festival greeted all of them. As a symbol of submission, he wore cloth around his neck, and he fell at the Vaisnavas feet expressing sentiments of great humility. When all the Vaisnavas were seated in the natyamandira, the temple sevaites brought prasadam flower garlands and placed them around their necks. The poetic slokas of Sri Caitanyamangala were then melodiously chanted, and upon hearing the ambrosial lila of Sri Caitanyadeva, these Vaisnavas began to manifest various types of sattvika-bhavas.
While they were thus absorbed in premananda, the doorkeeper entered and addressed the authorities of the temple: “The chief Mullah of Satsaika Paragana is sitting outside the assembly hall with his associates and followers. He requests to have a discussion with some of the Vaisnava panditas.” The temple authorities in turn informed the exalted pandita-babajis that the Mullah had arrived, and desired to speak with them. As soon as the Vaisnavas received this news, due to a break in the flow of transcendental rasa, the mood of their assembly became overcast with dejection.
Krsna dasa Babaji Mahasaya of Sri Madhyadvipa inquired from the temple authorities, “What is the Mullah Sahib’s intention?” Knowing the Mullah’s purpose, they replied, “The Mullah Sahib wants to discuss some spiritual matters with the Vaisnava panditas.” They added that the Mullah was the foremost amongst Muslim scholars, and was highly respected by the Emperor of Delhi. Although always devoted to the promotion of his own religion, he was not in the least inimical or belligerent toward other religions. The Temple authorities humbly requested that one or two Vaisnava panditas should come forward and discuss the sastra with him to display the pre-eminence of the sacred vaisnavadharma.
Some of the Vaisnavas felt inspired to speak with the Mullah Sahib, seeing an opportunity to propound vaisnava-dharma. In the end, they decided amongst themselves that Goracanda dasa Pandita Babaji of Sri Mayapura, Vaisnava dasa Pandita Babaji Sri Godruma, Premadasa Babaji of Jahnu-nagara, and Kali-pavana dasa Babaji of Campahatta should discourse with the Mullah Sahib. All the other Vaisnavas could also go to witness their discussion when the recitation of Sri Caitanya-mangala was completed. Hearing this decision, the four babajis loudly exclaimed, “Jaya Nityananda!” and followed the mahanta into the large courtyard outside the temple.
The Mullah and his company were seated in the courtyard under the pleasant and cooling shade of a large banyan tree. When they saw the Vaisnavas approaching, the Mullah and his party stood up cordially to receive them. Knowing all jivas as servants of Krsna, the Vaisnavas in turn offered dandavat to Sri Vasudeva situated in the heart of the Mullah and his associates, and then took their respective seats. The setting was extraordinary to behold. On one side sat fifty well-dressed Muslim scholars with white beards, with their majestic, decorated stallions tethered behind them. On the other side, four Vaisnavas of divine appearance sat in a humble mood. With great anticipation, many Hindus, came and sat behind them. Many others gathered there as well, taking seats nearby.
Pandita Goracanda was the first to speak. He inquired, “O great souls, why have you summoned such insignificant people as ourselves?”
Mullah Badrud-Din Sahib humbly replied, “Salam! We desire to ask a few questions.”
Pandita Goracanda said, “What knowledge might we have that can possibly answer your erudite questions?”
Badr ud-Din Sahib came a little closer and said, “Brothers, the devas and devis have been worshiped in Hindu society since ancient times. Now, we see in our Qur’an-sharif that Allah is one, not two, and that He has no form. It is an offense to make an image of Him and worship it. I have a doubt about this issue, and I have consulted many brahmana-panditas in the hope of resolving it.
Those panditas replied that Allah is actually formless, however, one cannot possibly conceive of that which has no form. Therefore, one should first make an imaginary form of Allah, and meditate upon Him by worshipping that form.
“However, I am not satisfied with this answer because creating an imaginary form of Allah is the work of Satan. It is known as ‘but’, and it is completely forbidden to worship it. Far from pleasing Allah, such worship only makes one subject to His punishment. We have heard that your original preceptor, Sri Caitanyadeva, corrected all the faults in Hindu dharma, yet His sampradaya also makes provision for worshiping material forms. We want to know why you Vaisnavas have not given up the worship of material forms, although you are expert in the decisions of the sastra.”
The Vaisnava panditas were inwardly amused at the Mullah’s question. Outwardly, they declared, “Pandita Goracanda Mahasaya, kindly give a suitable reply to the Mullah’s question.”
Pandita Goracanda said graciously, “As you order,” and proceeded to answer the question.
Goracanda: He whom you refer to as Allah, we call Bhagavan. The Supreme Lord is one, but He is known by different names in the Qur’an, the Puranas, and in different countries and languages. The prime consideration is that the name which expresses all of the Supreme Lord’s characteristics should be given prominence. For this reason we have greater esteem for the name Bhagavan than the names Allah, brahma, and Paramatma. The word Allah refers to that Being who has no superior, but we do not consider that greatness or supremacy is the highest characteristic of the Lord. Rather, the characteristic which evokes the highest degree of wonder (camatkarita) and sweetness (madhuri) is worthy of the utmost regard.
Something that is exceedingly great inspires one type of wonder, but minuteness is a counterpart to greatness, and it inspires another type of wonder. Hence, the name Allah does not express the highest limit of wonder because it expresses greatness but not minuteness. On the other hand, the word Bhagavan implies every type of wonder imaginable.
The first characteristic of Bhagavan is complete aisvarya (opulence), which refers to the ultimate limit of greatness and minuteness. The second characteristic is that He is the most powerful, because He possesses all saktis (sarva-saktimatta). That which is beyond the reach of human intellect is governed by Isvara’s acintyasakti (inconceivable potency), by which He simultaneously possesses form, and is formless. If one thinks that Isvara cannot have a form, one rejects His acintya-sakti, by which Bhagavan manifests His eternal form and pastimes before His bhaktas. Allah, brahma, or Paramatma are nirakara (formless), so they do not have any special wonderful characteristics.
The third characteristic of Bhagavan is that He is always mangalamaya, auspicious, and yasa-purna, all-famous. Therefore, His pastimes are full of nectar. His fourth characteristic is that He possesses all beauty (saundarya), and all living beings who are endowed with transcendental vision see Him as the most beautiful person. Bhagavan’s fifth characteristic is that He has limitless knowledge (asesa-jnana). This means He is pure, complete, omniscient, and transcendental to mundane matter. His form is the very embodiment of consciousness and is beyond all material elements (bhuta). His sixth characteristic is that, even though He is the master and controller of all jivas, He is unattached (nirlepa) and independent (svatantra). These are Bhagavan’s six primary characteristics.
Bhagavan has two manifestations: His feature of aisvarya (majesty) and His feature of madhurya (sweetness). His madhurya manifestation is the supreme friend for the jivas, and it is that personality, known as Krsna or Caitanya, who is the Lord of our hearts. You have said that worshiping some imaginary form of the Lord is worship of material forms, but-parast [Arabic] or bhuta-puja [Sanskrit], and we also agree with that. The dharma of the Vaisnavas is to worship the fully conscious, eternal Deity form of Bhagavan. Therefore, idolatry (but-parast) is not part of the Vaisnava doctrine.
One should clearly understand that the Vaisnavas’ worship of the Deity is not idolatry. One cannot prohibit Deity worship simply because some books forbid idolatry; everything depends on the quality of faith in the worshiper’s heart. The more one’s heart can transcend the influence of matter, the more competent one will be to worship the pure form of the Deity. You are the Mullah Sahib, the chief of Muslim scholars, and your heart may be free from the influence of matter, but what about those of your disciples who are not so learned? Are their hearts free from all thoughts of matter?
The more one is absorbed in thoughts of matter, the more he will be implicated in the worship of matter. Although he may claim that the Lord is formless, his heart is still filled with thoughts of matter. It is very difficult for the general mass of people to worship the pure form of the Deity, for such worship is strictly a matter of personal qualification. In other words, only one who has been elevated beyond the influence of matter can transcend thoughts of material form. I sincerely request you to consider this subject carefully.
Mullah: I have considered your statement carefully. You say that Bhagavan refers to six astonishing attributes of the Supreme, and I have concluded that the Qur’an-sharif describes the same six qualities in relationship to the word Allah. There is no point arguing over the meaning of the word Allah; Allah is Bhagavan.
Goracanda: Very good. If that is so, you must accept the beauty and opulence of the Supreme Being. It is then admitted that He possesses a splendid form in the spiritual world, which is distinct from the world of mundane matter. This is our divine Deity form.
Mullah: In our Qur’an it is written that the Supreme Entity has a divine all-conscious form, so we are compelled to accept this fact.
However, any image of that spiritual form is material; that is what we call but. The worship of but is not the worship of the Supreme Being. Please tell me your viewpoint on this.
Goracanda: In the Vaisnava sastras there is a provision for worshiping the divine spiritual Deity form of Bhagavan. For the elevated class of devotees no prescription has been given to worship material objects composed of earth, water, fire, or other elements. It is said in Srimad-Bhagavatam (10.84.13):
yasyatma-buddhih kunape tri-dhatuke
sva-dhih kalatradisu bhauma ijya-dhih
yat tirtha-buddhih salile na karhicij
janesv abhijnesu sa eva go-kharah
One who considers this corpse-like body, comprised of the three elements vata, pita, and kapha, to be his real self; who regards his wife, children, and others as his very own; who considers mundane forms made of earth, stone, or wood to be worshipable; and who regards mere water to be a place of pilgrimage – but who does not consider the bhagavadbhaktas to be more dear than his very self, to be his very own, to be worshipable, and to be places of pilgrimage; such a person, though human, is no better than an ass among animals.
It is said in the Gita (9.25):
bhutani yanti bhutejya
Those who worship matter go to the realms of matter.
We see from these and many other conclusive statements that there is no basis in sastra for the worship of dead matter. There is an important point to consider in this. Human beings have different degrees of qualification according to their knowledge and samskara. Only those who can understand pure spiritual existence are competent to worship the pure spiritual form of the Deity.
One’s understanding is proportionate to one’s development in this regard.
Those whose spiritual qualification is extremely low cannot understand the pure, spiritual state of existence. Even when such people meditate on the Lord within their minds, the form that they imagine is material, and meditating on a material form within the mind is the same as constructing a form of physical elements, and regarding it as the Lord’s form. That is why it is beneficial for a person on this level of eligibility to worship the Deity. Factually speaking, it would be most inauspicious for the general class of people if there were no worship of Deities. When ordinary jivas become inclined toward the service of the Lord, they become despondent if they cannot see the Deity form of the Lord before them. In religions where there is no worship of the Deity, members who are on a low level of spiritual qualification are highly materialistic and oblivious to Isvara, or in a state of distraction. Therefore, worship of the Deity is the foundation of religion for all humanity.
The form of Paramesvara is revealed to the mahajanas through their trance of unalloyed jnana-yoga, and they meditate on that pure, transcendental form in their hearts, which are purified by bhakti. When the bhakta’s heart is revealed to the world after his continuous meditation, the image of the Lord’s transcendental form is fashioned in this mundane world. The divine form of the Lord, having been reflected in this way by the mahajanas, has become the form of the Deity.
The Deity form is always cinmaya (spiritual and conscious) for those who are on the highest platform of eligibility. Those on the intermediate level see the Deity as endowed with perception and awareness (manomaya). This means that the intermediate devotee has faith that the Deity is conscious of his thoughts and prayers, and accepts his mood of worship. However, the intermediate devotee, unlike the advanced devotee, does not directly perceive the Deity as the spiritual all-conscious form of Bhagavan. Those on the lowest level initially see the Deity as material (jadamaya), but in time, the Deity reveals His pure spiritual form to the intelligence purified by spiritual love. Consequently, the Deity form of Bhagavan is suitable to be worshipped and served by all classes of devotees. It is unnecessary to worship an imaginary form, but it is highly beneficial to worship Bhagavan’s eternal Deity form.
The Vaisnava sampradayas give this provision for people on these three levels of eligibility to worship the Deity. There is no fault in this, for it is the only arrangement by which the jivas can
gradually attain auspiciousness. This is confirmed in Srimad- Bhagavatam (11.14.26):
yatha yathatma parimrjyate ‘sau
tatha tatha pasyati vastu suksmam
O Uddhava, as the eyes that are treated with therapeutic ointment can see very minute objects, similarly, when the heart is cleansed of material contamination by hearing and reciting the narrations of My supremely pure activities, it can see My subtle transcendental form, which is beyond the purview of matter.
The jivatma is covered by the material mind, and in this state he cannot know himself or render service to Paramatma. However, by performing sadhana-bhakti – which consists of hearing, chanting, and other devotional practices – the atma gradually develops spiritual power. As that power increases, material bondage slackens, and the more material bondage is relaxed, the more the soul’s own natural function comes into ascendancy. Thus, one gradually attains direct perception of the self and Isvara and engages directly in spiritual activities.
Some people think one should endeavor to realize the Absolute Truth by rejecting all that is not truth. This is known as the cultivation of dry knowledge. What power does a conditioned soul have to renounce objects that are not inherently real? Can a prisoner who is confined to a cell liberate himself simply by desiring to do so? His objective should be to eradicate the offense that has placed him in bondage. The jivatma’s principal defect is that he has forgotten that he is an eternal servant of Bhagavan, and that is why he is bound by maya and forced to suffer material happiness, distress and repeated birth and death in this world. Although a person may initially be busy in sense gratification, if for some reason or another his mind becomes a little inclined towards Isvara, and he regularly takes darsana of the Deity and hears lila-katha, his original nature of being the eternal servant of Krsna will be strengthened. The more strength this inherent nature develops, the more competent he becomes to perceive spirit directly. The only hope of spiritual progress for those who are the least spiritually qualified is to serve the Deity and to hear and chant about the Lord. That is why the mahajanas have established service to the Deity.
Mullah: Isn’t meditating on a form of the Lord within one’s mind superior to imagining a form with the help of the material elements?
Goracanda: They are one and the same. The mind follows matter, and whatever it thinks of is also material. We may say that brahma is all-pervading, but how can our minds actually conceive of this? We will be forced to think of it in terms of the all-pervasiveness of the sky. How can the mind go beyond this consideration? Our conception of brahma is therefore constrained by the limitation of material space.
If one says, “I am meditating on brahma,” the experience of brahma will be limited by material time, for it fades when one’s meditation is concluded. How can the mind’s meditation grasp an object that is above matter when it is conditioned by time and space, which are material phenomena? One may reject the idea that the form of the Deity can consist of material elements such as earth and water, and one can imagine that Isvara is situated in the directions or space, but still, this is all bhuta-puja, the worship of matter.
No material object can support one’s attainment of the transcendental goal. The only thing that facilitates this is the awakening of the inclination towards Isvara. This inclination is inherent within the jivatma, and is gradually strengthened and converted into bhakti when one utters the name of God, recites His pastimes, and receives inspiration from beholding the Deity (sri vigraha). The Lord’s spiritual form can be experienced only by pure bhakti, not by jnana and karma.
Mullah: Matter is distinct from God. I think that it is better not to worship material objects, because it is said that Satan introduced the worship of matter to keep the living entities bound in the material world.
Goracanda: Isvara is one without a second, and He has no rival.
Everything in this world is created by Him and is under His control. Therefore, He can be satisfied with any object when it is used in His worship. There is no object in this world one can worship that can arouse His malice, for He is all-auspicious. Even if a person such as Satan exists, he is no more than a special jiva under the control of God, and has no power to do anything that is opposed to God’s will. However, in my opinion, it is not possible for such a monstrous living entity to exist. No activity can take place that is contrary to the will of Isvara, nor is any living entity independent of the Lord.
You may ask, “What is the origin of sin?” My answer is as follows. Vidya (knowledge) is the understanding that the jivas are servants of Bhagavan, and avidya (ignorance) is forgetfulness of this. All jivas who, for whatever reason, take shelter of avidya sow the seed of all sins in their hearts. In the hearts of those jivas who are eternal associates of Bhagavan, there is no seed of sin. One should understand this truth of avidya carefully, instead of imagining an extraordinary myth about Satan. It means that it is not an offense to worship the Lord in material elements. Worship of the Deity is most essential for those of low spiritual eligibility, and it is particularly auspicious for people of high spiritual eligibility. In our opinion it is mere dogma to think that the worship of the Deity is not good. There is no logic or evidence from sastra to support this position.
Mullah: The inclination toward God cannot be stimulated by worship of the Deity, because the mind of one who performs such worship always remains confined to the properties of matter. Goracanda: We can understand the defect in your theory by studying the ancient historical accounts of those who became great devotees. Many people began to worship the Deity while they were neophytes, but as their devotional mood developed through the association of pure devotees, their realization of the transcendental and conscious nature of the Deity also increased, and eventually they became immersed in the ocean of prema.
The irrevocable conclusion is that sat-sanga is the root of all spiritual advancement. When one associates with bhaktas of Bhagavan who are fully situated in divine consciousness, one awakens
transcendental affection toward Bhagavan. The more this transcendental affection increases, the more the material idea of the Deity vanishes and through great good fortune this divine consciousness gradually unfolds. In contrast, the advocates of non Aryan religions generally oppose Deity worship, but just consider how many of them have attained spiritual realization (cinmayabhava)? They waste their time in useless arguments and malice. When have they experienced true devotion to Bhagavan?
Mullah: There is no fault if one performs internal bhajana of God in a mood of love, and externally engages in the worship of the Deity. However, how can it be worship of God to worship a dog, a cat, a serpent, or a debauchee? Our revered prophet, Paigambara Sahib, has vehemently condemned such worship of material objects.
Goracanda: All human beings are grateful to God. No matter how many sins they commit, occasionally they become aware that God is the supreme entity, and when they are endowed with this belief, they bow down before the extraordinary things of this world. When ignorant people are inspired by their gratitude to God, they naturally offer respect to the sun, a river, a mountain, or to enormous animals. They express their hearts before such things and display submission to them. Granted, there is a vast difference between this type of worship of material objects, and transcendental affection toward the Lord (cinmaya bhagavadbhakti). Still, when such ignorant people adopt a mood of gratitude to God and reverence toward material objects, it gradually produces a positive effect. Therefore, if one examines the situation logically, one cannot ascribe any fault to them.
Meditation on the formless, all-pervading feature of the Lord and offering namaz or other types of prayers to an impersonal aspect of the Lord are also devoid of pure transcendent love, so how are these methods any different from the worship of a cat, for example? We consider that it is essential to arouse bhava towards Bhagavan by any means possible. The door leading to gradual elevation is firmly shut if people on any level of worship are ridiculed or condemned. Those who fall under the spell of dogmatism, and thereby become sectarian, lack the qualities of generosity and munificence. That is why they ridicule and condemn others who do not worship in the same way as they do. This is a great mistake on their part.
Mullah: Then must we conclude that everything is God, and that to worship anything at all is worship of God? That would mean that worship of sinful objects or the sinful tendency is also worship of God. Do all these different types of worship please God?
Goracanda: We do not say that everything is God. On the contrary, God is distinct from all these things. God creates and controls everything, and everything has a relationship with Him. The thread of that relationship runs through everything, and that is why one may inquire about the presence of God in all things. As one inquires into the presence of God in all things, one can gradually taste or experience the supreme transcendental and conscious entity. This is expressed in the sutra,
“Inquiry leads to experience.”
You are all learned panditas. If you kindly consider this matter in a generous mood, you will understand. We Vaisnavas are completely disinterested in material things and we do not want
to enter into long drawn-out arguments. If you kindly permit us, we shall now go to hear the sublime musical narration of Sri Caitanya-mangala.
It was not evident what conclusion the Mullah Sahib reached as a result of this discussion. After a short silence he said, “I have been pleased to hear your point of view. On another day I will return and inquire further. Now it is late and I wish to return home.” He and his party then mounted their horses, and departed for Satsaika Paragana.
The babajis loudly uttered the name of Sri Hari with great delight and entered the temple to hear the recitation of Sri Caitanyamangala.
“NITYA-DHARMA & IDOLATRY”