“I am never manifest to the foolish and unintelligent. For them I am covered by My eternal creative potency [yoga-maya]; and so the deluded world knows Me not, who am unborn and infallible.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.25)
Comment: “Religion is just something people came up with as a way of dealing with death. It leads them to believe that there is an invisible man in the sky who imposes rules and restrictions on people, and if they don’t follow them, they are either sent to hell or put in the body of a cockroach in the next life.“
Response: People who are unfamiliar with religion, or only know the basic facts espoused by various religious leaders, think that religion is just something concocted by man. They believe that God is a creation of man rather than man being a creation of God. “After all, the Tooth Fairy and Santa Claus ended up being fairy tales, so the same principle must hold true with this invisible man in the sky known as God.“ People may be tempted to agree with this line of thinking, but they would be making a grievous mistake if they did.
“Can you prove there is a God? Have you seen Him?” This is the general retort of the atheists when someone tries to preach to them about spirituality or the existence of God. The devotees, or those who follow religious traditions, will point to scriptural statements which give evidence of the existence of God. Just as how a journalist will witness certain events and then report on them in a newspaper or website, great sages of the past saw God face-to-face and then wrote about their experiences in books. In the Vedic tradition, the descriptions of these experiences actually were first passed down through an oral tradition. The Vedas are the oldest scriptures in the world. Essentially the Vedas and Vedic wisdom are what people today refer to as Hinduism. The Vedas are also known as the shrutis, meaning “that which is heard.” Originally, Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, imparted knowledge of creation, the soul, and matter to the first created living entity, Lord Brahma. Brahma, also known as the creator, is the father of mankind. All species can trace their origin to Him. Since Lord Brahma is the Pita-maha, he passed down this Vedic wisdom to subsequent generations.
Lord Brahma received instruction from God at the beginning of creation and since that time great devotees and sages have added their experiences and knowledge to the collective spiritual doctrine known as the Vedas. As time went on, written word was required due to the diminishing brain capacity of man. Hence the famous Vedic texts that we have today such as the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Vedanta-sutras, and Puranas all contain authorized information noted down by the great historical personalities of the past. One simply has to read these books and believe what is contained within them. We have no reason to believe that the statements are false or made up. We can read an edition of the New York Times newspaper describing the famous Gettysburg Address in 1863 and take the statements to be fact. No one would dispute the accounts of this great speech delivered by Lincoln found in newspapers during that time.
Vedic knowledge should similarly be accepted, for time does nothing to diminish the authority of the great texts of India. Accounts of the activities of Lord Krishna and His various incarnations are found not only in one book, but in many. For example, the life story of Lord Rama, Krishna’s incarnation who appeared during the Treta Yuga, are found in almost every major Purana. Sometimes the story is told in great detail, while other times simply a summary of the historical incidents is given. The different Puranas contain wisdom passed down from different sages, thus each person highlights the events and incidents that they feel are important. We have no reason to believe that these great sages were wasting their time describing mythology.
“The rewards and punishments given out by God seem to be an illusion.” In actuality, we are all living in illusion today. Illusion means taking something to be what it is not. Material life works in this way. We can understand this fact both from our personal experiences and from the authorized statements of Lord Krishna, God Himself. First, let us analyze our life experiences. The greatest illusion in life is that we think we will be happy by performing certain types of work or activities. This fruitive activity is described as karma in the Vedas. It can be summed up with the idea of plan-making. We all make plans to some degree or another. Even if we are unemployed or if we’re on vacation, we’re still making plans. “I will get up at such and such time and hit up the bar, or I will go to the movies today.” On a more advanced level, we make plans for happiness down the road. “I will study hard for this exam so that I can get into a good college. That will relate to a good job later on in life. After I get a steady and good paying job, I will be happy.” Yet we see that many people follow their plans through to their completion and, in the end, still remain unsatisfied.
When we are left unsatisfied, what is our response? We make more plans of course. Again and again this cycle repeats itself. Hence, it is accurate to describe this plan-making mindset as an illusion. The Vedas give a more generalized description of this. They tell us that the material world is governed by maya, which is an illusory energy that makes us think of ourselves as God. Creating, maintaining, and destroying are activities performed by God, but we, as minute particles expanding from the Supreme Lord, also have the ability to perform these activities on a much smaller scale. However, in order to imitate God, we needed a place to act out our desires. Hence the material world was created. It is Krishna’s mercy on us, for He allows us to come here and pretend to be like Him for as long as we wish to. This desire to imitate God represents the highest form of illusion due to the fact that no one can be God. No amount of fruitive activity, meditation, or renunciation can make someone God. God is someone who always is. Never was there a time when He wasn’t God nor will there be a time in the future when He ceases to be God.
“The first thing Krishna is looking for is how eager you are to see Him. Krishna will respond. If you are actually eager to see Krishna—whether you are lusty, or you want to steal His ornaments, or some way or other you have become attracted to Krishna—then it is sure your efforts will be successful.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Journey of Self-Discovery, 2.2)
If we can’t be God, what can we do? What is the point to our existence? This is where religion comes into play. As soon as someone asks these questions and sincerely looks for answers, they will be engaging in the real business of man: that of knowing, understanding, and loving God. The Vedas exist to help us spirit souls return back to Krishna’s spiritual realm. This material world we currently live in is a temporary manifestation of God’s energy. It repeatedly goes through cycles of creation and destruction. God’s spiritual realm is eternal and thus represents real heaven.
“But isn’t this the problem with religion? They tell people to follow certain rules in order to go to some heavenly place that we’ve never seen before. And if we don’t follow God’s rules, we suffer in hell or get put into an inferior species in the next life. How is this believable?” Actually, we don’t have to wait until the next life to suffer through hell or to experience heaven. Talk to any person who has been married and then divorced, and they will describe hell to you. Talk to any parent who has lost a child, and they will tell you what hell is like. Talk to any person who has had their life ruined by drugs and alcohol, and they will tell you what hell is like. Hell is something we experience in our current lifetime due to the fact that we can never become like God. If we work hard for something that isn’t possible, we are assured of suffering through frustration, rage, anger, and lust. These things then lead to extreme pain.
As far as demotion to lower species in the next life, what is actually so bad about being born a cat, dog, or cockroach? “Well, animals and insects are stupid. We human beings have so much variety in enjoyment compared to them.” This is indeed true; however, does variety in the activities of eating, sleeping, mating, and defending bring about increased happiness? There is a common slang expression, “Happy as a pig in s*@t”, which describes the experience of pure material bliss. A pig, due to its unintelligence, is perfectly happy rolling around in stool. It has no conception of plan-making, nor does it even know that stool is disgusting. Human beings have a much higher level of intelligence, which means that we are not meant to simply imitate the animal species.
Just as we can experience hell in this lifetime, we also don’t have to wait until the afterlife to experience the bliss that comes from association with Krishna, or God. We can talk to any bhakta, or pure devotee of Krishna, and they will tell us what heaven is like. Our ability to understand God is the real benefit to human life. The dos and don’ts of the Vedas and other spiritual disciplines are intended to help us focus on God; something which will give us real happiness. The Vedas tell us that, more than just avoiding the don’ts, we should focus on the dos. The most important “do” is the performance of bhakti yoga, or devotional service. Bhakti means love and devotion and yoga means linking the soul with God. Real religion means lovingly serving the Supreme Lord.
So how do we perform devotional service? There are nine distinct processes, each of which can give us perfection. For this particular age, the Kali Yuga, the recommended process is sankirtana-yajna, or the sacrifice of constantly chanting the holy names of God, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. By following a regular chanting routine, and at the same time avoiding the four pillars of sinful life, we can quickly experience heaven on earth. There is no difference between God, His names, His forms, and His pastimes.
The lesson here is that no one should be scared into believing in God. Lord Krishna has given us the highest form of religious knowledge in the Bhagavad-gita. The choice is ours as to whether we accept His statements or not. The rules and regulations of religion are there to help us, not hurt us. Due to the influence of the false ego, we have a hard time accepting the idea of a supreme controller or God. Through the practice of devotional service, we can shed our false ego and begin to develop a real one. As soon as the invisible man in the sky becomes visible to us, we achieve perfection in life.