“The gopis have set the standard of devotion for the whole world. By following in the footsteps of the gopis by constantly thinking of Krishna, one can attain the highest perfectional stage of spiritual life.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 1, Ch 46)
The self-described “God-fearing” citizens have an interesting realization, as they explicitly attempt to distance themselves from those who do not fear God. If I say that I love my country, inherently implied in the declaration is that others don’t love their country or that my patriotism is in doubt in the minds of others. The very existence of God-fearing citizens indicates that some people don’t fear a higher power at all, that they don’t believe there are unseen negative reactions to behavior. Perhaps they don’t believe in God or they think that everything happens automatically as a result of visible cause-and-effect; so what need is there to fear a higher power? Though having a fear of receiving punishment from the highest authority figure, the person from whom everything in this world emanates, indicates an advanced consciousness, an even higher realization is to transcend fear and develop love towards that same person. A God-loving person is one who has truly developed their consciousness and made the most of the valuable human form of body.
Are there people who really don’t fear God? The most visible examples are those people who commit heinous acts such as theft and murder. After all, how could someone who really believes in God condone the acts of violence perpetrated against the innocent, such as the killing of a child in the womb? To justify their viewpoint, the religiously inclined proponents of abortion rights will either say that it is up to the woman to choose how to deal with her body or that life itself doesn’t begin until birth. If life starts at birth, what would cause the fetus in the womb to ever grow? We know that with living entities there is life inside of the body as long as there is autonomous movement seen, functions which no one else can control. The necessary ingredient to life, the essence of individuality, is the spirit soul residing within. As long as the soul is present, no one can validly claim that a particular lump of matter is dull and lifeless.
The fetus within the womb, which started off as a tiny pea in size, can only develop when the presence of life, the indication of a spiritual spark, is inside. In the absence of this vital force, the fetus would never emerge from the womb. Indeed, just the fact that the fetus needs to be killed/aborted is indication enough of its autonomous growth. If the fetus weren’t a life, there would be no reason to kill it, as ending something is only possible when it is in a continuous, active state of existence.
With respect to the other argument of having free will to choose what to do with one’s body, the same can be said of any person and their actions even outside the scope of abortion. Let’s say that the baby finally makes it out of the womb. Now, all of a sudden, it’s not okay to kill the child? Free will is always there, as human beings are more than open to perform the worst kinds of acts, even against their fellow man. The concept of crime is introduced when the natural rights of others are infringed upon by the exercise of freedom. Indeed, a crime cannot be committed unless and until the freedom of at least one individual is exercised.
“They [the demoniac] believe that to gratify the senses unto the end of life is the prime necessity of human civilization. Thus there is no end to their anxiety. Being bound by hundreds and thousands of desires, by lust and anger, they secure money by illegal means for sense gratification.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 16.11-12)
The God-fearing person acknowledges that there are sinful activities. The term “sin” usually connotes religion and the violation of an edict found within a particular scripture. Because of this general definition, the atheists and those who are not God-fearing will discount the concept of sin as being sectarian or a matter of faith. “Well, what if I don’t believe in that book? Then obviously piety and sin don’t apply to me.” But sin is actually just a negative reaction to a particular action. For instance, if we are building a house and we decide to make up our own plans, ignoring those created and handed down through tradition and the input of authority figures, our actions will indeed be sinful. The sin will become obvious once the negative reactions to the incorrect construction techniques manifest. Depending on the degree of deviation from the system of maintenance, i.e. how improperly the house was built, the severity of the sin can be large or small. In spite of our lack of acknowledgement of the sin, the negative reaction will come forward nonetheless.
The same principle applies in spirituality. Books on religion are there for informational purposes, as the laws of nature are governed by higher authorities. In addition to governing human behavior, these same people manage the population of animals and aquatics as well, even though such species have no concept of piety and sin. Reactions will always be present to actions. With the human species, however, there is a higher potential for intelligence, so the results of sin and piety carry over into the next life as well. Indeed, the present circumstances are the result of past activities performed, either in the current life or previous ones. Whether one is ignorant of the laws of karma or wholly aware of them makes no difference as far as the reactions manifesting.
So what is the benefit of being God-fearing then? If the reactions come regardless, is not the person who refuses to acknowledge God in the same boat as the person who regularly attends church? While knowledge of piety and sin have no bearing on the reactions to work, it can alter behavior. If I know the right way to do something, I will have a better chance at avoiding pitfalls and mistakes. If a person understands that there is a higher authority managing the results of action, there will be greater care taken to avoid sinful behavior. This is the entire benefit to being God-fearing. One who fears the powerful hand of the Almighty will try to avoid sinful acts like killing innocent life, stealing from others, telling lies, and refusing to honor one’s parents. In this sense the acknowledgement of God’s existence turns out to be a blessing, as beneficial results can be found, which is reason enough to remain on the righteous path.
“For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.20)
The temporary gains resulting from following pious behavior represent neither the summit of existence nor the height of pleasurable experience. The spirit soul is the essence of individuality in all forms of life, so it has distinct properties that remain unchanged through the passage of time and the workings of nature. Irrespective of the body type assumed and the circumstances endured resulting from actions falling under the jurisdiction of karma, the spirit soul remains eternal, primeval, ever-knowledgeable, blissful and wholly tied to the Supreme Spirit. God is not just a punisher; He is a person who has distinct properties, features which are effused in a smaller proportion on the innumerable spiritual sparks, the living entities residing in the material and spiritual worlds. The real benefit to having a higher level of intelligence is being able to understand the properties of the soul and its relationship to God.
Better than fearing God is loving Him. Who could argue against this? One who loves God actually doesn’t have to fear Him in any way. When there is fear of God or a study performed on His ability to punish others for transgressing the laws put forth in various scriptures, an element of knowledge is present. But with knowledge comes discrimination, as that is the benefit to increasing intelligence. If we didn’t use our knowledge to discriminate, our expanded brain power would be useless. With knowledge we can understand that placing our hand into a fire will cause a severe negative reaction. Hence there is discrimination in the viewing of objects, a surveying which subsequently alters behavior.
“Thus the inhabitants of Vrindavana do not care who is God, and who is not. They love Krishna, that’s all. Those who think of first analyzing Krishna to determine whether He is God are not first-class devotees. The first-class devotees are those who have spontaneous love for Krishna.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Teachings of Queen Kunti, Ch 14)
Discrimination can be used to learn about God in the beginning stages, but on the platform of love there is no need for such assessment. Does the good mother decide whether or not her small child is worthy of her affection? Do we consider whether or not our parents have treated us well before deciding to take care of and love them? On the highest platform of spiritual consciousness, one that is at the constitutional level, there is not even attention paid to God’s status as the Almighty. The mood of pure love is there, and that is all that is required to maintain one’s spiritual existence and thought processes.
Since this sounds like a theoretical analysis about a plane of consciousness not capable of being reached, we can study the example of the gopis of Vrindavana to understand just how real loving God can be. The gopis are cowherd girls, and though they reside eternally in the spiritual land of Goloka Vrindavana, they descended to this earth some five thousand years ago along with the Supreme Personality of Godhead Lord Krishna. While the ignorant may take Krishna to be a sectarian figure, the wise understand that if God is to be the Almighty, He must be all-attractive as well. If He is forever blissful and beautiful, He most certainly must be able to enchant the hearts and minds of everyone He encounters. If He is a “He”, He must also be a personality. If He creates a realm, He can most certainly appear in it whenever He chooses.
When Krishna appeared on earth, He gave every indication of being the Supreme Person. Short of actually declaring it openly to everyone, Krishna showed that as Bhagavan He is the richest, wisest, strongest, most famous, most beautiful, and most renounced person to have ever graced the earth. Evidence of the abundance of these features is documented in many Vedic texts, especially the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-gita. Despite His stature, Krishna doesn’t ask anyone to fear Him, nor does He want simple adherence to rules of propriety. Fearful emotions and fealty to law codes are present in even those who don’t know Krishna, so what need would there be for the Lord to demand something that is already being followed by many around the world?
Krishna’s primary purpose in coming to earth is to grant His association to others and allow future generations to get a glimpse into what eternal spiritual life is like. While Krishna is the object of worship, the gopis are the standard bearers for how that worship should be practiced. They loved Krishna so much that they didn’t even care that He was God. They were not interested in following rules of social morality and virtue, for their motivation was to be in Krishna’s association and gain pleasure from interactions with Him. As mentioned before, piety is meant to bring about a favorable condition in a particular venture, so the gopis viewed mundane piety as being meant to keep them in line with dharma and maintain their good standing in the town of Vrindavana. But piety of this kind would also keep them away from Krishna’s association, so for this reason they sometimes bypassed the standard rules that apply to others.
The gopis, as God-loving residents of Vrindavana, did everything for Krishna and felt tremendous pain when separated from Him. Whether they were punished or not was not important to them, for they just thought of Krishna all day and appreciated His beauty and the wonderful sound that emanated from His flute. The yogis, mental speculators and fruitive workers are never given the same reward of intimate association with Krishna that is granted the gopis. Other systems of piety rooted in reverence for God can ideally lead one to the pure love, or bhakti, platform, but bhakti itself is so powerful that it does not depend on anything else. In the heightened state of consciousness, there is no discrimination made over whether Krishna is God; there is just pure love. Bhakti automatically brings knowledge of the rules necessary for maintaining the transcendental link and also the proper level of renunciation required for keeping away unwanted elements, things like gambling, intoxication and illicit sex, which only keep one further separated from God in consciousness. Sinful behavior not only increases forgetfulness of God, but it also increases the likelihood of invoking discrimination when hearing about Krishna from authorized sources like the Vedas and those who follow Vedic teachings.
One who is self-identified as God-loving proclaims to everyone that their highest object of worship is the Supreme Lord and that this assignment was made not out of fear, but pure love. The love is exclusive and not tainted in any way, as there is no expectation of reciprocation, material benefit, or reward of protection from calamity. Surely such benefits are easily acquired, but the point to the existence, the reason for even being a vital force, is realized and enjoyed through the bhakti mindset. To keep the fire of devotion alive, the devotee regularly chants, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and maintains their “God-loving” title up until the time of death.