Below we have two opposite teachings by Srila Prabhupada. The topic is whether he is present or not present in his picture.
Now some will think, “How is this possible?” There can be two different understandings – on one topic? Yes, and one explanation is that Prabhupada would preach to different individuals or audiences each according to what they could hear or understand. One may get a lower understanding and another would receive a higher understanding.
Below the very first quote is spoken to most probably a hippie crowd in San Francisco in 1967. In the collected teachings book series, Srila Prabhupada was giving very detailed classes from Chaitanya Charitamrta in San Francisco at this time. So who knows why he said what he did at that time, because just a year earlier in New York he told people there something the opposite. And later on, over a several year period he said basically the same thing repeatedly, that namely, the spiritual master or any highly elevated soul IS PRESENT in his picture or photograph. Now let’s take a look.
That Krishna, I mean to say, Deity is not different from original Krishna because absolute. Everything is Krishna. Why this Deity should not be Krishna? This is quite reasonable. If Krishna is everything, why not this Deity Krishna? This is also Krishna. He can do. He has, His power is just like… If you take my photograph and if you put it in my seat, and I am not here, that photograph cannot act because it is material. But for Krishna, His photograph, His statue, His everything can act because He is spiritual. So we should always know that as soon as we chant Hare Krishna, Krishna is immediately there.
– Lecture – San Francisco, February 22, 1967
Srila Prabhupada is present in picture
Next you ask if I am present in my picture and form? Yes. In form as well as in teachings. To carry out the teachings of guru is more important than to worship the form, but none of them should be neglected. Form is called vapu and teachings is called vani. Both should be worshiped. Vani is more important than vapu.
– Letter to: Tusta Krishna, 14 December, 1972
There is no difference between me and my picture. Therefore we should honor and keep pictures in that spirit. If we throw pictures this way and that way, that is offence. The name and picture are as good as the person in spiritual world. In the material world either picture or person, everything is illusion.
Your ever well-wisher,
A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami
– Letter to: Jadurani, 4 September, 1972
Woman: You say you worship the deity photograph of someone who has gone. But the photograph of a spiritual teacher can be very helpful to teach them to love him because the photograph of a spiritual master is not material value, but it symbolizes the truth from which he has come.
Prabhupada: Yes. Those who are spiritually advanced, their photograph and ordinary photograph is different. Just like here is a statue of Krishna. He's not different from Krishna. The original person Krishna and this statue of Krishna is the same. Similarly, a spiritually perfect person and his photograph is the same. Because it is in the absolute stage.
– Lecture, New York, September 16, 1966