In the Vedic tradition, idol worship is a very big part of life. With a tradition that has thousands of Gods and Goddesses, each person has their own Ishta Devata, a worshipper’s favourite deity. However, there is a huge difference between worshiping an idol and worshiping through an idol. This incident in Nithyananda’s life explains that difference.
Nithyananda was on his way to Somnath, one of the twelve Jyotirlinga shrines of Shiva. In one of the nearby villages, an elderly woman invited him to stay with her. She was a great Krishna devotee and had a small Krishna idol. She would cook some food and offer it to the idol, and then eat some herself. She led a very simple life, with few possessions and little wealth, but was very content. She would bring food to Krishna every night and would even talk to him. She would sit by the idol casually and talk to it as if it was real. This was her daily routine, which went on for an hour, after which she would eat the food and go to sleep. After one week, Nithyananda started preparing to continue on his journey, and seeing this she began to cry. She promised him that she would never ask him to work, and that he could stay with her without any obligations. Yet, he had to decline, for he was a sadhu, an ascetic, and they were not supposed to stay in a place for more than a few days. Staying anywhere for too long can create attachments, so until they achieved enlightenment, they had to move from place to place.
When Nithyananda did not change his decision, she immediately ran to her Krishna idol and asked him to convince Nithyananda to stay. She kept telling the idol how she was so happy with Nithyananda staying with her, and she begged him to convince him to stay. Then suddenly, she stopped crying. She wiped her tears and said to the the idol, “Oh, you’re saying he has to go? Okay, I understand, he is a sadhu. If you say so, I will stop crying.” Like this, she consoled herself. This was too much for Nithyananda. He could understand her talking to the idol, giving it food, but her asking Krishna to convince him was too much!
Nithyananda thought she is herself replying on behalf of Krishna. He thought she was just imagining Krishna talking to her. He went to her and told her that it is ok for her to have bhakti (devotion) towards Krishna, but the idol cannot talk back to her or convince Nithyananda not to go. He felt that she is in an illusion and she should come out of it. In the Vedic tradition, because all sadhus are a step higher than grihis, or householders, he felt that he was right in what he said. In her innocence, the lady said, “No, no baba, I’m not lying! He is sitting right there!” At that moment, she held his hand. The moment she held his hand, to his utter shock, Nithyananda saw Krishna as a simple child, a small baby, just as it is described in the Bhagavatam. He had a small flute, with his hand on his face and a peacock feather in his unclean hair. His mouth was also unwiped, the food still around it. He was right there, as real as the old lady or the hut around them.
After falling at the feet of Mata Vibhootananda Puri Devi, Nithyananda’s first teacher and inspiration, this old lady was the second person at whose feet he fell. She was shocked. She was so innocent that she believed that all sadhus and saints were capable of having the darshan or glimpse of Krishna like she had. She did not understand why he was so shaken.
Not only was she living with the divine, she could also transmit this experience to others, just with the touch of her hand. This was initiation. Once she left his hand, he could no longer see Krishna. People meditated for years to get just one glimpse of the divine, and she was living with divinity everyday! He used to observe her as she would leave the house. She always locked the door to her small house with nothing valuable in it, and when he asked her why she bothered, she said, “ What if a dog comes inside and hurts Krishna? What if Krishna goes out and gets hurt on the road?” Such was her connection, her love. Even the way that she looked at the idol was filled with purity.
When someone is in the dream state, they cannot conceive the idea of a waking state. They do not remember that there is a different reality than what is happening in the dream. Like this, when they are in the waking state, they cannot understand the concept of a super-conscious state. To connect them to the super-conscious state, deity worship is used. When one melts and merges into the divine through deity worship, he accesses the super-conscious state. However, when there is a belief that the deity is a representation of God, there is a gap between God and the deity. Their ego, what they think they know about that God, will be what they are worshiping, and not the God or Goddess themselves. The old lady’s connection to Krishna only happened because she believed that the deity is God. Only when this understanding happens, one can worship through an idol.
Adapted from Paramahamsa Nithyananda’s teachings