Chaitanyadev and Image Worship
By Prof. Nisi Kanta Sanyal
Mr. Melville T. Kennedy M.A., in his 'Chaitanya Movement' (p.247), in enumerating the defects of the Bhakti movement of Chaitanya mentions the use of images 'which play so prominent a part'. He goes on to observe that the common defence of image-worship, that it is a necessary aid for ignorant and spiritually undeveloped folk, manifestly cannot be applied to Chaitanya, one of Bengal's greatest sons. The writer has given his clear opinion on p.114 where he states that Chaitanya fully shared the view-point of His time, and believed in the reality and blessedness of the God's presence in the 'image before him'.
Mr. Kennedy is rightly opposed to the worship of images of wood and stone. But Sree Chaitanya never taught the worship of such images. Sree Chaitanya Charitamrita puts the point of view of Sree Chaitanya in a very clear manner. 'There is no greater blasphemy against Vishnu than to suppose that His Body is mundane'. (Ch. Ch. Adi. VII 115). Sree Chaitanya commanded His followers on their arrival at Puri not to see the image of Jagannath in the Temple but to seek, from the sea-shore the sight of the Chakra or disc at the top of His temple. (Ch. Ch. Madhya XI. 183). Those who are liable to see only the image of wood, according to Sree Chaitanya, have no business to enter the temple of Jagannath. Neither did Sree Chaitanya see His God in the image of wood. As a matter of fact He did not see the wood at all. Sree Chaitanya Charitamrita has described the nature of the vision of the devotees of the highest order. 'The pure devotee sees inanimate entities and also entities that possess animation; but he does not see their material forms (images). Instead of matter he finds everywhere the manifestation of the Godhead of His Cherished worship'. (Ch. Ch. Madhya VIII, 274).
Sree Chaitanya did not believe that His God was present in any image of wood or stone. The Ganges was to His perfect vision the waters of spiritual pedic lavation of Krishna and not any material substance. When He emphasises the worship of Ganges-water and wood-Brahma He does so to contradict allegorical or poetic misinterpretations of the reality of transcendental manifestations testified to by the narratives of the Scriptures.
The Philosophical back-ground is provided by the doctrine of Divine descent (Avataravad). Krishna is the Transcendental Supreme person. His Realm is also Transcendental. Krishna has power to descend with his realm to the plane of mortal vision. Thus alone is the worship of Godhead by mortals made possible and they are enabled to avoid the worship of idols.
Another philosophical help is supplied by the Doctrine of the existence of the mundane world as a perverted reflection. This mundane world is the perverted reflection of the absolute Realm. Every detail of entititive existence, of this world is a reflection of the wealth of spiritual entititive existence, the region of the Absolute. Therefore, 'the 'Archa' or the Visible Form of Godhead ' and Ganges-water need not be conceived of as either wood or water, nor their transcendence as concoctions of the human brain. The Bhagavat informs us that the supremacy of the Divinity consists in this that He is able to retain His supremacy over every entity intact even when He manifests His Appearance in the likeness of a mundane object and seems to be subject to the laws of Physical Nature.
We are, however, also cautioned against committing the further blunder of supposing that it is open to mortals to have a sight of the Divine form of Sree Jagannath merely by entering the temple at Puri. Jagannath is certainly visible at Puri to all persons, and yet He is also always liable to be seen only as common wood by those who do not possess the spiritual vision. But the worshippers of Sree Jagannath are not, therefore, idolaters. This is so because they alone worship God's Real Manifest Form. If any among such worshippers fail to find His transcendental Form they can also get rid of their misfortune only by following the method of worship of Sree Jagannath laid down in the scriptures, under the guidance of persons who really possess the true spiritual vision and judgement.
Sree Chaitanya was consistently opposed to the doctrine of non-differential monism--the error that is bound to overtake all persons who seek to find the Absolute Truth on the unhelped resources of their individual reason. The monists deny the existence of specifications in the Absolute. They also deny the reality of transcendental activities of the pure devotees of Godhead. The monists are the consistent opponents of the worship of the Transcendental Form of Godhead who manifests His Descent to the view of conditioned souls to enable them to be redeemed through real worship of Godhead by means of their spiritualised equipments. This is only true form of worship that is possible in this world. All other forms of worship are idolatries and their professors can be justly charged with the perpetration of the worst form of blasphemy.