by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur, 1883
In the following passage, Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura provides a brilliant explanation of how it is possible for the true form of divinity to become manifest in devotional art, created on the material plane. The context of this lecture was the Thakur providing an advanced understanding for the truth of God manifest in the vigraha (deity) form, as he debated those who believed all depictions of spiritual form to be idolatry. He proves by logical argument that the eternal form of God is a necessity if the word "theism" is to have any meaning.
Rupavilasa dasa notes in his book, The Seventh Goswami: "In 1883 the Thakura came across a Sanskrit manuscript called 'Nitya-rupa-samsthapanam' ('Establishing God's Eternal Form') by Pandit Mohan Gosvami Nyaya-ratna, a descendant of Lord Nityananada, who had written a very scholarly presentation on the title's subject concerning this essential point of Vaisnava theology. The Thakura wrote a review of the book in English for a European journal, so that Westerners might be attracted to the subject matter."
"Holy men to whom God has been pleased to show His spiritual form have often attempted to picture it to their fellow brethren. The picture, whether it be by pencil, chisel, or pen, is always made through the medium of matter, and hence a degree of grossness has all along attended the representations. This emblematic exhibition of spiritual impressions is far from being open to [the] charge of idolatry. Those who rationally conceive the idea of God, and by the assistance of the imagination create an image, are certainly open to the charge.
There is one absolute truth at the bottom of this important question. It is this: Nature has indeed a relation to the spirit. What is that relation? As far as we have been instructed by the inner Tutor, we may safely say, that spirit is the perfect model and nature is the copy which is full of imperfections. Draw inferences from the side of nature and press them upon the Deity, they will ever remain gross and imperfect. Draw from the spirit inside and push your impressions at first to the mind and then the body, you simply spiritualize them both.
Here is [the] advent of God on the scene of nature. It is then that the model is to be found represented by the corresponding copy in nature. God's transcendental form also finds its corresponding reflection in nature, and when we worship the Deity, in pure love, in the reflected scenes of Vrindavan. Here the imagination has no play. It is the soul which sees and makes a description in the corresponding phenomena in nature. The spiritual form thus conveyed to us is none but the eternal form of God. The grossness is simply apparent, but all the actions and consequences are fully spiritual.
The man who weeps and dances in felicity when he spiritually sees the beauty of God is certainly translated to the region of spirits for the time and the gross action of his body is but a concomitant manifestation caused by a current of spiritual electricity. Here we find the absolute in the relative, the positive in the negative and spirit in matter. The spiritual form of God is therefore an eternal truth and with all its inward variety, it is one Undivided Unity. What appears to be a contradiction to reason is nothing but the rules of spirit. And the greatest surprise arises when we see full harmony in all those contradictions."