The Acquisition of the Absolute
There is an important sloka recorded in the Skanda Purana that is well known to all sincere bhaktas of the Salagram Sila:
salagrama silayam yo mulyam udghatayen narah
vikreta canumanta ca yah pariksam udirayet
sarve te narakam yanti yavad ahuta samplavam
"One who puts a price on a Salagram Sila, sells a Salagram Sila, gives his opinion on it's value, or examines one with a view to estimate its sale value, all such people will live in hell until the time of the universal devastation." (Visnu Dharmottara)
The topic of attaining Salagram Silas by methods other than going directly to the Kali Gandaki river and picking one up is has been on the minds of many devotees recently. With the blessings of the Vaishnavas and my worshipable Silas, I would like to try and address this issue and perhaps shed some light upon it.
In addition to understanding the overt meaning of the aforementioned verse, we should also try to comprehend the purpose behind it. Why are the consequences so severe? What is the great offence in obtaining a sila to worship by such a method? These are important questions that need to be discussed so that we can come to a more complete understanding of this injunction; we should comprehend the spirit of the law and not just be blind followers, robots conditioned by threats of hellfire from brahmanas quoting scripture.
Last year I came across a web-site advertising Salagram Silas for sale. I quickly dispatched an e-mail to the webmaster warning them not to try and "sell" any Silas. The webmaster contacted me immediately and thanked me for making them aware of this offense. They had yet to sell any Salagrams and took them off of the web-site. As you may have noticed, the Sri Salagram Tirtha Pradarshini site now has a bit of a contract with them; if one purchases any puja paraphernalia from them and mentions this web-site, they can be entitled to a Salagram Sila. [Please note that you should contact this web-site for details.]
This appears to be an irony. How is it that one cannot sell a Salagram Sila, but he can present one as a gift? Again, we need to fully appreciate the necessity and purpose behind the prohibition of using Salagrams as a commodity. The basic principle is simple: A Salagrama Sila is directly the body of the Lord and to put a price on His transcendental form automatically means to see Him as material. After all, how can you estimate the value of the Lord? How much is God worth? Is one form of the Lord more valuable than another? Is one inferior to another? Is one "museum quality" and yet another "damaged goods"?
Try to imagine a Catholic priest saving some communion wafers and wine and trying to sell them on the sidewalk. He might try to convince others to buy his wares by describing how good they taste and then make a good profit, utilizing it for his own sense gratification. Would that be a very noble priest with the appropriate respect for "the body of Christ"? Of course not, yet it is part of any priest's duty to distribute communion to as many faithful as possible. Selling is quite therefore understood to be quite distinct from distribution.
So you see, it is a matter of consciousness. It behooves us to always meditate on the perfectly spiritual body of Lord Krishna in His incarnation as a Salagram Sila. It would be a grave error to try and sell a Sila, placing a price on His head like a slave. Imagine a slave trader at the auctioning block, 'this black rock from Nepal is in good shape and is a hard worker "the bidding will start at one hundred dollars"'.
Indeed, one would also never sell a Tulasi tree as she is the Lord's consort and we must respect her as such. However we may purchase or buy items made with her wood after she gives up her body. Of course, such items would be used in the course of one?s worship - not for any nonsense - so if out of necessity money exchanges hands it cannot be seen as being a very grave offense.
It is most unfortunate that some shopkeepers in Nepal (in particular) and India do try and sell Silas as a sabji -walla might peddle potatoes by the pound. An interesting question is "what should a devotee do if he finds a perfectly worship able Sila in such a store?" Compared to leaving Him on some dusty shelf, offering Laxmi in order to worship Him may not be such a bad idea, provided one is very careful of the consciousness with which he conducts the exchange. Many feel that this is extraordinarily offensive and yet others do not see much fault in these transactions. How do we determine which is the correct response?
Going back to the Vishnu Dharmottara, we can see that the warning is really to protect us from a mundane, fault-finding mentality that can spell disaster for our spiritual life. Indeed, there are many such prohibitions found in the scripture: seeing the deity as stone or metal, considering a vaishnava according to caste and nationality, even criticizing Krishna prasad due to its taste. The point is that we should elevate ourselves and rise above such a worldly consciousness.
The last time I ate at a Govinda?s restaurant, I distinctly remember being asked to pay a specified amount for a meal. Maha-prasad is considered non-different from Krishna, so was it an offensive act to pay some money for filing my belly? Is Govinda's really as lowly as the priest selling the communion wafers and wine? Not necessarily, but we do need to be careful. I can't say it enough times: it is simply a matter of consciousness.
To give a Salagram Sila as a is not only sanctioned in the scriptures, but highly encouraged. The Padma Purana states that giving a Sila is the best form of charity, equivalent to donating the entire Earth along with its forests, mountains, and all. The Skanda Purana also mentions that it is especially difficult to find a Salagram Sila in this fallen age of Kali Yuga. Certainly one is most fortunate if he is able to receive a Salagram by having it offered to him as a gift. As most devotees of the Lord are living so far from the Salagram Tirtha, to receive a sila for worship is a great blessing that could hardly be turned down.
If Lord Krishna is receiving loving worship from His devotee, what harm can there possibly be in that? We should not criticize such endeavors. A Salagram Sila is a bit like a "mood-stone" that changes color according to one's mood. He reciprocates with our worship according to Lord Krishna's statement in the Bhagavad-Gita, Ye yatha mam prapadyante. In my experience perhaps more so in the form of a Sila than in any other. If the Lord is unhappy with how He has been treated or how He has been received or exchanged, believe me, He will make it very clear.
Parama Seva dasa