“Of course if one thinks that Bhagavad-gita and the Hare Krishna mantra are part of the Hindu system and doesn’t want to accept them because of this, he can nonetheless attend the Christian church and sing there. There is no difference between this process and that process; the point is whatever process one follows, he must become God conscious. God is neither Moslem nor Hindu nor Christian—He is God.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Raja-Vidya, Ch 2)
Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, has been kind enough to bestow upon us the sweetest discipline of spiritual practice known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, for rekindling our relationship with Him. It is in the makeup of the identifying agent of every life form to be intrinsically tied to the interests of the reservoir of pleasure, the fountainhead of all energy, both spiritual and material. Though bhakti can be multi-faceted, its quintessential activity in the modern age, the method that is easiest to implement and repeat, the one that best attacks the consciousness conditioned by life governed by the dictates of the senses, is the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. This method’s success lies in its ability to tackle the predominant thoughts of the mind through regulative activities, keeping the ears connected to the spiritual world. Seeing God is beneficial, but hearing Him is just as important. The predominant effect of the hearing process is that all the pleasure we are seeking through other engagements is found without any extra endeavor. If there is any defect at all to chanting and hearing about God, it is that once bhakti is taken to as a way of life, other activities previously patronized suddenly turn dull and tasteless.
These assertions seem well-founded enough. After all, based on a person’s consciousness and the level of interaction they have with a particular task, their psyche can be elevated to new heights. The recommendations put forth by societal leaders that encourage complacency and dependency on one’s fellow man for sustenance are fatally flawed precisely because of the deleterious effect they have on consciousness. When one doesn’t work for a living or simply remains idle all day, not only are they not producing anything tangible or beneficial to anyone else, but their consciousness is also being severely hampered, suppressed to the point that the natural blissful feelings resting within the heart are kept dormant. In this unnatural state, the bewildered soul erroneously looks for happiness through illicit sex, intoxication and meat eating, whereas real pleasure actually comes when the mind is actively seeking to serve that one entity who is most deserving of it.
But despite the profundities espoused in the classic Vedic texts like the Bhagavad-gita and the testimony of those who take to bhakti as a way of life, those who preach the glories of the religion of love will always meet opposition. Probably the largest impediment, the argument that gets the most supporters, is the viewpoint that Krishna is simply a sectarian figure and that bhakti is a method applicable only to the Hindus. We see so many religious systems in place anyway, so why would what the Bhagavad-gita has to say be any different from the teachings found in the Bible or Koran?
Based on empirical evidence gathered through personal observation and the teachings passed down by the great acharyas, we learn that there is actually no difference between the different religions. Where the Vedas do stand out, however, is in the level of detail, the comprehensiveness of information provided about material nature, the soul, the Supreme Soul, reincarnation, the workings of karma, and most importantly, the qualities and activities of the Supreme Person, the entity most of us refer to as God. In other spiritual traditions there may be lofty ideals posed, roadmaps and guidelines recommended, and vague descriptions of a higher power given, but the level of detail is far less than what is found in the Vedas. Indeed, the ancient art of vishnu-bhakti, or exclusive devotion to the Supreme Person in a mood of love, which calls for a level of dedication that puts all other interests on a lower level [even those of the heavenly figures], is only found in Vedic literature, and more specifically in the works describing the glories of Vishnu and His various expansions.
“Because I am transcendental, beyond both the fallible and the infallible, and because I am the greatest, I am celebrated both in the world and in the Vedas as that Supreme Person.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.18)
Reading the Bhagavad-gita is as good as connecting with Krishna and so is chanting Hare Krishna or any other Vedic mantra that addresses the Lord, the speaker of the Gita, in a loving way. But even if there is strong opposition to chanting Hare Krishna and reading the Bhagavad-gita, the principles of bhakti can still be applied, regardless of the nature of one’s religious affiliation or belief in God. In reality, every single person, regardless of their acknowledgment or lack thereof, is engaged in serving the Lord. For there to be a supreme controller, only a singular entity can fill the post. If there is only one God, then by default He is God for everyone. One particular group may address Him a certain way and understand Him to be old and an angry man, while another takes Him to be the most blissful person holding a flute and playing with His friends all the time, but the entity addressed and worshiped is still the same. Even those who don’t believe in God at all are still worshipers of one of Krishna’s energies: matter.
Everything is created by God, so whatever behavior is followed, including even inaction, is a form of worship. Vishnu-bhakti, or devotional service, is unique and thus worthy of being preached because it targets the interests of the Supreme Person, whereas other processes only address a specific energy. For instance, the atheist is strongly devoted to gross matter, elements which are accepted, manipulated and then ultimately discarded at the time of death. Matter in this model is superior to the living entity devoid of God consciousness, because the material elements remain in their form for a longer duration than the individual dedicated to them. The atheist isn’t aware of the eternal nature of the soul and the fact that they will have to associate with matter again in the next life due to their deep attachment to it.
Similarly, those who are on the reverse end of the spectrum, the people who understand that attachment to material nature is debilitating towards spiritual enlightenment, also worship God. They may not know what He looks like or they may even take Him to be formless, or lacking a personality, but they are nevertheless worshiping an aspect of the Supreme Spirit. At the time of death, since their desires are not focused on matter, they will ascend to a spiritual realm. Since they don’t know about God’s form nor do they wish to serve Him, they get placed in an area devoid of both matter and the personal presence of spirit.
Vishnu-bhakti, or Krishna consciousness, is aimed at understanding both the Supreme Person’s position as Bhagavan and the need to serve Him. God is described as Bhagavan because He is the most fortunate. He possesses the qualities of beauty, wealth, fame, knowledge, renunciation and strength to the fullest degree and at the same time. Despite His unique position, He doesn’t use His attributes to simply pump His fists and wield His authority over everyone. Indeed, such domination already takes place through the forces of nature, which will diminish everything acquired in every lifetime through the workings of all-devouring time, which envelop everything like a monster whose hunger can never be satisfied.
Krishna is situated in ananda, or pure bliss. Just as our enjoyment is increased when we have others to play with, Krishna enjoys on the highest level with His eternally liberated associates, souls who have no desire to surrender to matter or to any formless spiritual light. Fortunately, Krishna can accept an unlimited number of friends. When He chooses players to participate in His sportive exploits, there is no such thing as a last pick, or a cutoff demarcating the limit to the number of participants. Whoever is sincere enough in their desire to associate with Krishna is immediately granted the Lord’s association.
The living entities dispersed across the different worlds are also situated in ananda, but to a smaller degree. Therefore everyone is naturally inclined towards associating with God’s personal form, a vigraha that is eternal, knowledgeable and blissful. When in the conditioned state, the living entities, who are actually superior to matter, subordinate themselves to the workings of maya, or the illusory energy governing the material world. Therefore religion is put into place to break this attachment, to show everyone that there is a higher taste available, one that doesn’t have to diminish or be the source of any pain.
The science of self-realization is thus not sectarian in any way. The properties of matter and spirit are readily understandable, points of fact that can be accepted and then realized through practice. Even if one isn’t willing to believe in the statements found in the Bhagavad-gita and the need for chanting the holy names, sound vibrations which directly represent His personal form, qualities and attributes, they can still take to legitimate worship in their own right. There is no requirement that a specific process be adopted, as God consciousness is the ultimate aim regardless.
Does this mean that everyone who claims to be part of a specific religious tradition is God conscious? The need for and popularity of chanting Hare Krishna are present primarily because of the acute deficiencies found in halfhearted professions of faith and the widespread practice of sectarianism. Based on public opinion polls we see that the majority of the world’s population is religious. Acknowledging that God exists means that you also recognize the need for serving Him. After all, if the Lord is the Supreme Person, why would we take any other person’s interests to be superior to His? Therefore one who claims to belong to a certain faith must back up their claims by exhibiting a purified consciousness, a mindset revealed through activities.
Judging by all the different movements, special interest groups and popular activities that are in existence, it is quite clear that God consciousness is not very widespread. For instance, if a person claims they are Christian and yet they dedicate their lives to fighting cancer, rooting out poverty, protecting gun rights, lowering tax rates, or addressing any other public policy issue, obviously their allegiance is to objects of matter. When such behavior is followed, there is little to no God consciousness, as the mind is wholly focused on alleviating a certain distress, pain which is guaranteed to occur in any realm governed by gross matter.
“That understanding which considers irreligion to be religion and religion to be irreligion, under the spell of illusion and darkness, and strives always in the wrong direction, O Partha, is in the mode of ignorance.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.32)
By the same token, one who claims to be religious and then knowingly kills innocent animals or blows up innocent women and children can’t be considered spiritually realized in the least. If such followers claim to be practicing a particular religion, it is to be understood that they are being guided by pure ignorance. The demoniac are so fallen that they take the ultimate aim in life to be the gratification of the senses at all costs. Therefore if they need to, they will find some way to claim that their way of life is religious and in line with the standards of their particular faith.
A God conscious person acknowledges the supremacy of the Supreme Lord and His standing as the original creator. Therefore they will not agree to sending cows to the slaughterhouses by the millions each year. They will not regularly indulge in drinking alcohol, playing card tables at casinos or cavorting with women that are not their wives. Surely a God conscious individual is above rules and regulations, but when driven solely by sinful activity, how can anyone claim they are being deferent to their professed faith?
Vishnu-bhakti aims to address all of these discrepancies, as the Vedic texts like the Bhagavad-gita and Shrimad Bhagavatam provide details into the workings of material life and how one can avoid the common pitfalls that help to maintain the thick cloud of nescience enveloping the soul. If the aim is to become truly conscious of the Supreme Lord at the time of death, then the discipline of devotional service is the way to go. And even if one is not able to understand Krishna’s position as God for everyone, they can still apply the same principles to their own professed faith, as there is no difference between a pure soul who attends a church and one who attends a temple. Devotees of God are not the exclusive property of India or followers of the Vedic tradition. Individuals wholly aware of the need for serving Bhagavan can be found in all walks of life through any time period in history. The more important thing is that spirituality be encouraged and adopted as a way of life.
By understanding the principles of bhakti, we can realize that choosing between engaging in material activities and spiritual ones is not necessary. Under the bhakti model, even simple things like getting up in the morning and driving to work become spiritually infused. Worship of a formless God through quiet meditation and intense study of scriptures allows for a deeper understanding of the nature of spirit, and worship in a temple or church encourages glorification of the fountainhead of all spirit, God, in a localized area, but only through chanting the name of the Lord on a regular basis can we understand that He is a personal force that is all pervading. Therefore we can worship Him at all times of the day, wherever we are, and whatever we are doing. In this way the path towards achieving a permanent God consciousness can be laid down and tread without qualms.