The believer sees God in everything, and so he has no difficulty in seeing God in the idols in temples. The idol helps him focus his thoughts on God, and with this concentration, he is able to worship in peace. That is because he sees the stone as a representation of God, said Sarala Rajagopalan, in a lecture.
A carpenter made an elephant using wood. It was carved beautifully, and those with artistic taste commented on what a beautifully made elephant it was. However, there were others who observed merely that wood had been used to carve the elephant. Observing this, saint Thirumoolar said that for some, the elephant was obscured by the wood, and for others the wood was obscured by the elephant. This is like the believer seeing God in the stone and the non-believer seeing only the stone.
Vivekananda once visited a king, who said he could not think of idols made of stone, or wood or mud as God; he could not understand how anyone could worship these idols. Vivekananda replied that each one worshipped in a different way. Those who had expected Vivekananda to give a strong reply to the king were disappointed.
Vivekananda then walked around the room, having a look at it in detail. He noticed a picture hanging on the wall. He asked the minister whose picture it was. The minister replied that it was a portrait of the King. Vivekananda then said the minister should treat the picture with disrespect. The minister was shocked. How could he treat the king’s picture with disrespect? Vivekananda argued he was only asking him to be disrespectful to a mere picture, not to the king himself. How could a mere picture be important? The minister and his attendants replied that even if it were only a picture, it was the king’s picture, so to insult the picture was like insulting the king himself. Vivekananda then said that if this were so, the idols made of wood or stone were also worthy of worship, for they were the likenesses of God. Those who visited temples believed that they were worshipping God by worshipping His idols. When they stood before an idol, they prayed to the god it represented. Thus Vivekananda made it clear that to believers, idols were not just stones, but the deities they represented.