“O learned Uddhava, those who fix their consciousness on Me, giving up all material desires, share with Me a happiness that cannot possibly be experienced by those engaged in sense gratification.” (Lord Krishna, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 11.14.12)
Comment: I like to think that I have an open mind about things. I take things from many different religions because I believe that each one of them has something to offer.”
Response: This is surely a good attitude to have, especially due to the fact that there are many preachers out there who simply give recommendations for dos and donts but don’t actually explain the meaning behind them. This style of teaching can be very off-putting and make people shy away from religious life. For those who are open-minded, it’s nice to hear different philosophies, taking those things that we like and eventually adding them together to form a religious philosophy that we can agree to and abide by. There is a much easier way, however, to gain a perfect understanding of all the religious principles that have ever existed. The secret is to study the king of all knowledge, raja-vidya, found in the ancient scriptures of India.
“Some say that people will be happy by performing pious religious activities. Others say that happiness is attained through fame, sense gratification, truthfulness, self-control, peace, self-interest, political influence, opulence, renunciation, consumption, sacrifice, penance, charity, vows, regulated duties or strict disciplinary regulation. Each process has its proponents.” (Lord Krishna, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 11.14.10)
The major religions of the world today are Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, and Hinduism. Each of these faiths have traditions that are appealing to us. Christianity is so nice because it is named after the great Lord Jesus Christ, someone who was so kind and compassionate toward his fellow man that he allowed himself to be killed by his enemies. One of the nice things about Islam is that it teaches dedication to worship. Followers of Islam pray at least five times a day and they try to always remain in a spiritual mindset. Buddhism is nice because it preaches non-violence and also deals with the issue of reincarnation. Judaism is great because its most prominent figure, Moses, gave us the Ten Commandments and also helped free the ancient Hebrews from slavery. With Hinduism, we get the worship of many demigods, as well as wonderful pastimes relating to Lord Krishna and His various expansions.
These are just some examples of things that are appealing from the different religions of the world. These little bits and pieces of information are certainly nice, but simply by following the Vedas, one can understand every religious truth ever expounded. The Vedas come from Lord Krishna, who is known as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The Vedas not only tell us that God exists and that He is one, but that He has names, forms, and attributes. One of Krishna’s attributes is that He is purna, or complete. Not only is God complete, but so is anything that directly relates to Him. Since the Vedas represent knowledge of the Absolute Truth, they can also be considered purna. Those who carefully study Vedic literature will find that the essential teachings of every major religion are already accounted for.
“…Due to the great variety of desires and natures among human beings, there are many different theistic philosophies of life, which are handed down through tradition, custom and disciplic succession. There are other teachers who directly support atheistic viewpoints.” (Lord Krishna, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 11.14.8)
The Vedas contain various branches of knowledge. This is because every human being inherently possesses different qualities. There are many movements in existence today that seek to equalize the outcome of events, trying to ensure that everyone has the same wealth and enjoyment. This is a nice thought but something that can never exist in reality. Our bodies are composed of a combination of the three modes of material nature: goodness, passion, and ignorance. Because of our different qualities, we each perform different work. Some person may act in the mode of goodness, while another may act in the mode of ignorance. Since we all associate with different modes, the results of our activities can never be the same.
Since every person is different, the Vedas don’t always recommend the same religious practices to everyone. This seems like a strange practice, but it is done for a reason. A person in the mode of ignorance, i.e. someone who is not very intelligent, is less likely to take to a higher form of religious duty, or dharma. Since God is all-merciful, He makes sure that even the least intelligent among us have a religious system that can provide gradual advancement in spiritual life.
And what exactly are we advancing towards? This is where many of today’s religious leaders come up short as far as their teachings go. A Christian or Hindu preacher may recommend pious behavior such as honesty, non-violence, and benevolence, but they don’t really tell us why these activities are good for us. Moreover, many religious leaders claim that we simply have to abide by various rules and regulations and that this behavior alone will be good enough to reward us with perfection in life.
Pious activity is certainly very nice, but if this doesn’t help us develop love for God, it is meaningless. The Vedas tell us that the aim of human life is to know that God is the owner of everything, the best friend of the living entities, and the supreme object of pleasure. Therefore, in lieu of other dharmas [religious systems], we are all advised to take up bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. More than just a method of self-realization, bhakti-yoga is the activity that the spirit soul is naturally inclined towards. We are all meant to associate with God in a loving way, for that is the real purpose behind religion. One who follows the system of bhakti-yoga will be following the highest form of religion.
Naturally, there will be some objection to this. “Well, that’s what your religion says. Doesn’t every religious leader say that their system is the right one? How is bhakti-yoga different from any other system?” This is a very intelligent question that can be answered fairly easily. It is undoubtedly true that religious leaders around the world claim that their system of religion is the right one. If we do a quick comparison, however, we can see that bhakti-yoga is the topmost religious system. Religion means to worship spirit instead of matter. Matter is ever-changing and inferior in nature. It cannot do anything by itself. Life comes from life. And what is the source of life? Spirit. It is the spirit soul residing within the body that gives it life. At the time of death, the soul exits the body, and the person is thus considered dead. The body still remains present before friends and family, but the person is considered dead because the life force, the spirit soul, has exited.
Since spirit is superior to matter, we should spend our time focusing on worshiping and taking care of spirit. Yet an even higher discipline is to take up the worship of the greatest spirit, the cause of all causes. That spirit is Krishna, or God, who is also known as maha-purusha, or the supreme person. Therefore we can understand that the highest religion is that which seeks to teach us about the supreme spirit. Not only should religion teach us about God, but it should lead us down the path of developing a pure, unalloyed, devotional attachment to Him. By studying the prescriptions given by the religious leaders of the world today, we see that their recommendations fall short in the area of loving God.
Being peaceful, non-violent, honest, and dedicated to performing religious rituals are all certainly noble traits to possess, but if they don’t eventually lead to love of Godhead, we become prone to remaining worshipers of matter. We see that this is the case in the world today. Most people believe in God and also claim to be members of a particular religion. Yet we see that almost everyone is a worshiper of matter, meaning they take material sense gratification to be the ultimate aim of life. Therefore we can conclude that no one is really following their religious beliefs, or that the religious teachings they are following are incomplete.
Bhakti-yoga is purna because it aims to help us achieve the highest goal in life. “Ok, you say the point of human life is to love God, but how do we do that?” To reach this end, devotional service incorporates nine processes, of which chanting is the most effective for this age. There is something magical about transcendental sound vibration. Just as the sound vibrations of our favorite song remain etched in our memories for years and years, the transcendental sound vibrations praising God’s qualities help change our consciousness from the material to the spiritual. If our consciousness at the time of death remains fixed on Krishna, we never have to take birth again.
“All these devotees are undoubtedly magnanimous souls, but he who is situated in knowledge of Me I consider verily to dwell in Me. Being engaged in My transcendental service, he attains Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.18)
Since there is no difference between God and His names, the easiest way to develop a loving attachment for Him is to chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, as often as possible. Krishna and Rama are bona fide names of God, and Hare refers to His energy. We living entities can achieve perfection in life when we realize that we are God’s energy, meant to serve Him and give Him pleasure. Currently we view ourselves as separate from God, and therefore we compete with Him for wealth, fame, and power. We will always lose this competition because, by definition, no one can be stronger, more famous, wealthier, or wiser than Krishna, or God.
The other component to bhakti-yoga is abstention from the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, illicit sex, and intoxication. These activities are considered sinful because they keep us attached to matter. So far we haven’t covered anything that goes against the teaching of any of the major religions. Chanting God’s names? How can that be a bad thing? Abstaining from drinking alcohol, gambling, and unnecessarily killing innocent animals? Surely no saintly person or religious leader would recommend any of these activities to their followers. The overriding principle is that we should become worshipers of the supreme spirit instead of remaining enamored by matter. Our attachment to matter is the reason that life on earth exists in the first place.
The lesson here is that it is certainly okay to take away good things from various religions, but we should understand that there is an easier way to acquire all good qualities. If we take up devotional service, we will become perfect human beings. A commonly used analogy to describe the difference between the Vedas and other religions is that of a full-sized dictionary versus a pocket-sized dictionary. A pocket dictionary contains the most important words and their meanings and can therefore be considered a valid dictionary. But a full-sized dictionary is considered superior because it has many more words, and therefore proves to be more valuable. If we take to studying the full-sized dictionary, the Vedas and more specifically the Shrimad Bhagavatam and Bhagavad-gita, we can acquire all the religious knowledge that we need. Chant God’s names, develop an attachment to Him, and you will be eternally benefitted.