“If one offers Me with love and devotion a leaf, a flower, fruit, or water, I will accept it.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.26)
What’s with all the decorations?
It’s Halloween, man. I’m excited. I’m going to get a huge pumpkin and carve it to make a jack-o-lantern. Also, I’m going to put some more spiders around everywhere, get dressed up in a scary looking costume, and be ready to greet all the trick-or-treaters.
Isn’t all this kind of lame? Why are you going to so much effort?
No, it’s a lot of fun. You should try getting into the spirit of things. Put on a cool costume and get with it. You have to live a little, and these holidays give you a chance to break out of the monotony.
Indeed, holiday time allows for the creative juices to really flow. During Christmas, you can put wreaths and tinsel all around to keep with the green motif. Santa Claus paraphernalia, reindeer images, whatever is associated with Christmas, Winter, New Year’s, etc. can go into your decorations. The same goes for other holidays like Easter, the Fourth of July, Halloween, and Valentine’s Day. In one particular endeavor, however, that festive attitude can be carried over to every single day, leaving ample time to fancy up the place, to make everything look really nice. Since this is done for the pleasure of someone else, the decorating turns into an act of love, and thus becomes supremely satisfying.
The work is for the pleasure of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. If you have an abstract conception of God, the decorating likely won’t happen. Evidence of this can be seen with the Christmas holiday. Though it has the word Christ in it, hardly anything about the holiday touches on Christ’s life or teachings. The holiday is now more commonly equated with promoting the general practices of “kindness” and “giving”. “Be nice to others, tis the Christmas season. If there is any time during the year that you should be nice, it should be during Christmas. It’s really important to be with family during the Christmas holiday.”
When the picture of God is more clearly painted, when He is acknowledged to be the personality that He is, the service offered can be more genuine and long lasting. We know this based on the beautiful decorations seen in Krishna related temples. There are garlands of flowers, offerings of incense, beautiful surroundings to the altar, and wonderful dresses put on the deities. This decorating also occurs every day. The Supreme Lord and His eternal consort are like the exalted guests who come over the house, except they seem to arrive every day. Whatever is acquired through hard work is used for the guests’ pleasure.
Several issues may be raised in this connection. For starters, how do we know that Krishna is God? If I come from a Christian background, I’m told that carving a statue and worshiping it are strictly forbidden. Also, God’s features are never revealed to me, so to say that the Supreme Lord has a flute and a partner He enjoys with seems rather odd. But if we apply a little logic to the issue, we’ll see that the authenticity of Krishna’s supreme standing and the statements of the Vedas describing Him can be tested through one’s own effort.
For instance, if I go up to you and say that this piece of wood I’m holding in my hand is God, likely I won’t make much sense to you. If I sit down and start worshiping that piece of wood, bowing before it, I might seem even stranger. I need to do more than just point to blind faith, as any person can do that. One person has their quotes from their scriptural text and another has their own. To see if the worship is legitimate, the proper mindset needs to result. We know that the qualities of austerity, cleanliness, mercy and truthfulness are appreciated in people already, so when they manifest together and to a high degree in a devotee who follows Krishna-worship, we should take their pattern of behavior to be noteworthy.
Overall happiness is the most important factor to consider. If there is a God, He should be happy, as only someone who can’t get what they want will have reason to be angry. If you’re God, you can do whatever you want, whenever you want, so there is no reason for unhappiness. And then if God is always happy, the people that worship Him should also feel that pleasure. If you hang around miserable people all the time, you will be miserable. If you sit and watch the television newscasts day after day, you can’t help but turn into an envious creature who is constantly unhappy and angry that some people are supposedly doing well at the expense of others. On the other hand, if you’re around peaceful people, who know how to apply the equal vision to all forms of life, who are kind and polite, who follow the righteous path, you can’t help but have those good qualities rub off on you.
That lasting happiness brings determination. You only visit that restaurant for the second and third times if the previous experiences were worthwhile. Similarly, you will continue genuine worship only if the effort you previously made resulted in happiness. Use this comparison with respect to how religion is often practiced today and see what the results to the test are. If God is such a wonderful person, why worship Him just once a week? Why kill His innocent creatures like cows just to satisfy the taste buds? Why exempt cats and dogs from this violence then? Why kill innocent children in the womb, especially when you were fortunate enough to be protected during the same period of time in your life?
Of course there is more to go by than just the external results when practicing devotion to Krishna. There is the documented evidence of Krishna’s features and pastimes found in the Vedas, the oldest scriptural works in history. They are written in the Sanskrit language, which is the oldest language and also the most difficult one to understand. Then there are the lives of the saints, who practiced the principles espoused by the Vedas. They conducted the experiments for us already, and they shared their results for future generations to consult.
Once we get past the issue of Krishna being God, there is the issue of regular celebration to consider. We get to show off our creativity for holidays like Christmas and Halloween precisely because they occur occasionally. If we did such decorating every day, would that not take something away from the process? For instance, if our birthday were to come three or four times a year instead of just once, wouldn’t that make the day less special? Normally this might be true, but devotion to Krishna is not a dry and stale activity. There is nuance and creativity built into every aspect, ensuring that the activity remains dynamic.
You can change dresses for the deities every day if you like, and you can fill in the gaps throughout the day with spontaneous singing and chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. Bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, also offers something other kinds of service don’t: the ability to meditate for long periods of time. You can actually just sit and stare at the decorated deity for a long while and derive tremendous enjoyment. You can’t really do the same with a Christmas tree or carved pumpkin. There is no reciprocation with these inanimate objects, but since the deity is an authorized representation of the Supreme Lord, it actually speaks back to the living entity internally, through the Supersoul within the heart.
The spark for devotional life gets constantly rejuvenated, like water coming in to feed the plant. Every living being has a creative spark in them that can be ignited on festive occasions. Even the most obstinate and reserved among us can’t help but sing along to our favorite songs and dance when the mood is right. Bhakti is meant to bring out this inner desire for celebration on a regular basis, to arrange for the meeting with the soul’s eternal counterpart, who is never meant to leave its company. Follow that devotion under the principles espoused by the saints like His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and allow your creativity to shine through.
This pumpkin for Halloween I will take,
With knife a jack-o-lantern I will make.
Tinsel and ornaments on the Christmas tree,
Holidays let my creativity run free.
Same tendency to God can be applied,
New preparations and offerings can be tried.
To worship Krishna every day is a chance,
At His beautiful form of the deity to glance.
Though daily, no fear of boredom,
Devotion pathway to spiritual kingdom.