“The nondevotee impersonalists imagine the material forms of the Lord, and ultimately they merge in the impersonal brahmajyoti of the Lord, whereas the pure devotees of the Lord are worshipers of the Lord both in the beginning and also in the perfect stage of salvation, eternally. The worship of the pure devotee never stops, whereas the worship of the impersonalist stops after his attainment of salvation, when he merges in the impersonal form of the Lord known as the brahmajyoti.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.10.35 Purport)
“Why would I want my worship to be unending? In everything else that I do, there is a beginning, a middle, and an end. I show up to the office in the morning, begin my work, take a break for lunch, and then continue into the afternoon. The end of the day is so wonderful precisely because the work is completed. Even if it’s not, I know that I have to stop working, that I have the opportunity to go home.
“If I had to work without end, I probably wouldn’t even show up in the first place. It would be like the single man who feels like he’s getting placed in a deathtrap through marriage. He could probably stay with the woman for a long time without a problem, but if you tell him that he’ll be stuck with her for the rest of his life, he feels differently. Who wants to be trapped in anything interminably? Come to think of it, death is a great blessing. If we were told that this is the only life, and that we are stuck with this body for all of eternity, would we like that? That would be terrible.
“In the same way, if my worship has to continue forever, why should I even begin? It seems to me like pouring water into a jar that has a hole in it. It’s all just a wasted effort. I’d rather do something that is worthwhile. Therefore the impersonalist approach seems appealing to me, and it is even described in many places in the Vedas. In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna says that the impersonalist path eventually leads to perfection. He does admit that it is the more difficult path, but the eventual perfection indicates an end to me, where a goal is achieved. Therefore that goal must be the end.”
“But those who fully worship the unmanifested, that which lies beyond the perception of the senses, the all-pervading, inconceivable, fixed, and immovable – the impersonal conception of the Absolute Truth – by controlling the various senses and being equally disposed to everyone, such persons, engaged in the welfare of all, at last achieve Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 12.3-4)
There are many differences between worship of an impersonal Absolute Truth and worship of a Supreme Personality of Godhead. One of them is that the impersonal path has an endpoint, the attainment of a goal if you will, whereas the personal path continues without cessation. There are transformations along the way for sure and maybe some changes in residency, but the worship never stops, as it is the source of the very pleasure that the soul has been seeking since time immemorial.
If the personal path is superior, why does the impersonal path exist?
We can think of it this way: If I refuse to acknowledge the presence of a superior personality, should I be completely shut out from religious life? In addition, as there is ample freedom in a temporary and miserable land, is there not the full possibility of any path being chosen? Not everyone will take to the personal path right away. The impersonalist philosophy also accurately explains the relationship between the innumerable spiritual fragments that are roaming the infinite space in a variety of bodies. The impersonalist philosophy is based in truth, so it is actually not invalid.
The deficiencies arise when one stops at the impersonal understanding. This stoppage allows those on the personal path to make up ground and eventually surpass the impersonalist. If you understand the impersonal energy, which is non-differentiated and thus equal in all respects, you have a way of seeing things properly. If you see everything as it truly is, you will not be flummoxed by the different changes that constantly occur. Your daily despairs and troubles are due to ignorance of the spiritual identity within all of us, and through the impersonal path you can see that spiritual force.
Of course, the impersonal understanding is not easy to come by. I know that my shirt and pants don’t really matter, but if they get damaged, I will be sad. I know that one day my parents will no longer be on this earth, but when their time for passing does arrive, I still get distressed. Knowing something theoretically and applying the principles practically are two different things. Impersonal understanding, without any touch of personal worship, thus requires strict adherence to stringent rules and regulations. Even then there is every possibility of falling back into ignorance.
If all I know is the non-differentiated energy known as Brahman, eventually I will merge into it. The merging can be likened to entering a state where there is nothing to do. When we sleep at night, we take that to be the absence of activity, but actually we just shift the burden to the subtle body. The mind, intelligence and ego do the brunt of the work during periods of rest for the gross body. Merging into Brahman is not like this. It is the complete absence of individuality and its accompanying potential for action.
The devotees, those who follow the personal path, never merge into anything. If there is ever any reference made to merging, it is with respect to entering an ongoing chain of events that brings transcendental ecstasy, sort of like hopping on a train that doesn’t stop anywhere and that is constantly filled with fun activities in every car.
The unending nature of the personal path, which is known as bhakti-yoga, is viewed negatively only when we don’t really know what it is about. If we mistakenly think of all activity as the source of misery, wherein we operate with the understanding that our body is all bad, then surely the absence of activity is the more appealing option. In reality, though, only the nature of the activities need be changed. With this there is no harm done. In fact, the activities then have the opposite effect; they enlighten us.
If we do things that are good for us, why should we stop? Why would we want to stop either? The unending nature of bhakti gives us one way to measure the superiority of something. If we can practice bhakti ad infinitum and we can’t do the same with the impersonal path, doesn’t that automatically make bhakti superior? In the impersonal path there are also activities done by the gross body. There is reading, arguing, hearing, and travelling. These activities are considered above maya, or illusion, since they help to foster jnana, or knowledge.
Activities in bhakti, which hinge on worship of a personal Lord, also lead to knowledge. The difference is that they bring bliss as well. As the personality worshiped is changeless and eternal in His existence, so too the methods used to worship Him can be implemented without end. Try for yourself to see the validity of the claim. Chant the holy names of the original personality, Shri Krishna, and see if you ever get tired of it. Perhaps you may not like it in the beginning, but through good association and constant repetition, the maha-mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” can be your saving grace.
And if you’re worried what will happen to you after death, know that Shri Krishna Himself will provide you a body suitable for the field of bhakti activities. Just as the worship is endless, so too is the body provided for that worship. The same can’t be said of the impersonal path, as for one to achieve their goal they need to renounce their identity, which includes their spiritual form. There is a physical nature to the spiritual world, and it does not cause illusion. It works at the Supreme’s direction. It is eternal, and it grants the devotees the opportunity to continue in transcendental bliss while maintaining their individuality.
“In impersonal path there is an end,
To brahmajyoti light identity send.
This path to me seems appealing,
With goal, so much pressure not feeling.”
Blessing that nature of bhakti is endless,
True potential for activity within harness.
If supreme pleasure to you something gives,
Why without it should you want to live?
Krishna grants eternal body for endless spiritual play,
When His names we never forget to say.