Deity worship has immense benefits for a devotee struggling to practise Krishna Consciousness.
The distractions and temptations are many, and so are the internal challenges and quarrels with our own loved ones. At such times, Deity worship helps a sincere devotee seek solace and peace, beyond his own incorrigible mind and senses.
Making your home a temple
When a family has a clean and attractive altar at the centre of the house with well-dressed and well fed deities, the atmosphere at home changes. The air is surcharged with divinity; the family members feel an unspoken presence of some other personalities. And these are special people at home; they know what we are doing, and they love us unconditionally!
A householder friend who recently welcomed deities at home shared his realization: “Earlier I’d have lot of fights with my wife, and now also we do have our stressful exchanges. But there is a big difference these days. When our argument gets on my nerves, I quit and sit in front of the deities and chant a few rounds of japa. I suddenly feel peaceful, and loved. I am able to get back to my wife and sincerely apologize. She too has expressed that when I am gone to work, she spends time with deities praying and chanting, and finds life in general worth living, and staying with me of some meaningful purpose.”
Chanting is another aspect of our lives that takes a qualitative leap forward with deities at our home. Chanting is often stressed as the most important activity in the life of a spiritual practitioner, yet when we sit to chant we face repeated challenges by the mind. When we have deities at home, we have inadvertently created a sacred space; we now know where to chant. Earlier you would chant with the television on or while driving to the office or while glancing through the newspapers and never even realized that you were spaced out in your Japa. Now with the deities, one becomes conscious of his poor Japa.
Changing the modes from passion to goodness
Service to the deities and their presence in our daily lives compels us to improve all aspects of our devotional life. Since Deity worship requires us to be personally clean, the physical surroundings at home become conducive for chanting. The clean and spiritual area of the altar has a spill over on the other parts of the house. The modes change; from passion and ignorance, the house in general and the altar in particular permeate a mode of goodness ambience.
Generally most people think they are masters and controllers, and this state of consciousness mars relationships and causes constant stress and anxiety. In a typical household scenario the husband or the father may think that events should happen ‘my way’ and ‘I am the boss’. The wife or the mother may know or may wish to be the person in charge at home. The children may throw tantrums thinking they deserve what they ask and when they demand. This subtle undercurrent that internally propels family life only brings misery in the long run. And this inner thought process changes when the family members come together to serve Krishna in the form of His deity. The father now knows he is not the master. The wife sees her husband is humble in front of the deities, and they are the owners of the house. The children know that parents are conscious of serving the deities and they pick on the same mood. In several families I visit during my preaching tours, I see children have a natural and spontaneous attraction to serve the deities. Thus the childhood samskaras or impressions make a lasting impact on the hearts of the devotees.
Krishna’s reciprocation with devotees
The best benefits of having deities at home come when we consciously strive to please them. And what will please them the most? When we sit before them and chant Hare Krishna and hear SrimadBhagavatam or other scriptural discourses from other devotees the deities are immensely pleased.
The Srimad Bhagavatam recounts the moving account of Lord Krishna with many sages being received at the house of the poor Srutadeva. Earlier Krishna and the sages had visited king Bahulasva who being a great devotee received Krishna gorgeously and worshipped Him with sandalwood paste and offered Him opulent ornaments. Srutadeva on the other hand was not wealthy, yet he and his family possessed immense love for the Lord and they worshipped Him to the best of their ability. After bowing down to the Lord, Srutadeva began to dance with great joy, waving his shawl. He then offered simple straw and grass mats to Krishna and since he fell short of the mats, he rushed to his neighbours and borrowed them, and simply but happily welcomed Krishna. In external contrast to the king’s welcome of sandalwood paste, Srutadevaoffered fragrant clay and water and joyously wondered how although he is unqualified the Lord and the exalted devotees have come to his humble dwelling to accept his service.
He then offers a series of heart-felt prayers, and reveals what would please the Lord the most:
“You reveal Yourself within the hearts of those persons of pure consciousness who constantly hear about You, chant about You, worship You, glorify You and converse with one another about You.” (SrimadBhagavatam 10.86.46)
If we welcome Krishna in His Deity form, and hear and chant about Him, He’d certainly reveal Himself to us, and help us in our spiritual life; we’d come closer to Krishna and our relationship would only get more intimate.
And centred on deities, when we chant, pray and eat together, we transcend from the material to the spiritual. As a devotee put it wonderfully, “The family that prays together, stays together; that sings together clings together, dines together, shines together and dances together, advances together”