“God is one. He is neither Hindu nor Muslim nor Christian. The Vedic injunction is ekam brahma dvitiyam nasti: ‘God is one; He cannot be two.’ So whether you are Hindu, Muslim, or Christian, God is one. This is to be understood.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Quest for Enlightenment, Ch 2f)
“My team is better than yours, man. They won the title the last three years. When was the last time your team won? Did you see how they choked in the playoffs last year? This year is not going to be any different. My team will wipe the floor with your team. Our players are better; our coach is better; and our fans are better. You should just give up hope right now, because you don’t have a prayer.”
Similar rivalries exist between followers of the various religious traditions around the world. It’s understandable to show support in this way. Others who do not follow the same allegiance as you are automatically grouped into the larger category known as the opposition. As you really believe in the person you worship, you will be vociferous in your support. In this show of support, there are bound to be arguments, and in those arguments you can be helped by pointing out the other side’s weaknesses.
In reality, though, there is no reason for the rivalry. “My God is better than yours” is the sentiment, but this thinking ignores the fact that God is one. He is the same God in all the traditions; though the worshipers might not know it. Without alluding to specific personalities and times and circumstances, we at least know that God’s position is scientifically understood. By science, we refer to basic experiment and observation.
I first know who the president of the company is by what others tell me. Since anyone can say anything, since anyone can make any claim, I can also do some experiments to see if what they say is true. Does the president call the shots? Is he involved in the important decisions? Does he represent the company at important events? Does he control who gets hired and fired or does someone else?
The president is also known by different names to different people. The secretary calls him “boss.” So do the other employees. Friendly associates refer to him as a colleague; a person with whom to do business. The wife calls him “Sweetie,” the children call him “Dad,” and the parents call him “Son.” There are different names, but the personality is always the same. Imagine if the child were to argue with the co-worker and say, “My dad is way better than your boss. My dad is here all the time and takes care of me. What does your boss do?” The argument is silly because the person referred to is the same on both sides.
When we speak of God, we refer to a Supreme Controller. He is the origin of matter and spirit. Just as a giant banyan tree springs from a tiny seed, so this entire creation, which is too vast to comprehend, sprung from the original person. In Him is found the potential for all action. All research, discovery, thought, argument, ability, and production originate in Him. If any of these features were absent, He wouldn’t be God. If He wasn’t God, then the arguments of His supporters would be meaningless.
In the Vedas we are told that the original person expands and expands in so many different ways. He personally expands and also impersonally expands. His personal expansions are Him; they are identical. You can refer to the original as God or one of the expansions and you’re referring to the same person. The impersonal expansions, which are more technically known as separated expansions, also originate in Him but don’t represent Him fully. The piece of wood gotten from a tree comes from God originally, but it is not God.
The same goes for many elevated personalities. They may even be worshiped by genuine followers of a religious tradition. This doesn’t mean that they are automatically God. In the Vedic tradition, so many gods are mentioned. They all originate from the Supreme Lord, but they are not all equal to Him. Some are equal, as in the aforementioned personal expansions. But the majority of them aren’t. The arguments in this area, wherein followers of a non-God expansion go up against a follower of a personal expansion, are indeed flawed.
“Why would God create such confusion? Why appoint elevated personalities to be worshiped? Why not only give the world one God to worship?
There is confusion, for sure, but spiritual life is like any other endeavor. There is an evolution, which in this case relates to consciousness. In the beginning stages, who is actually ready to know the real truth, that the point of human life is to become devoted to God in thought, word and deed so that at the end of life you’ll reach the best destination? Who is ready to accept this style of worship, known as bhakti-yoga, in the beginning, abandoning hopes for fruitive gain, complete knowledge, and mystic perfection?
The animal instincts are prominent in the early stages of life. Therefore the first inclination is to enjoy the senses. In order to find such enjoyment, there has to be some work, which then brings rewards. Better it is if you worship elevated spiritual personalities for these rewards. “Let me worship such and such god. Then I will find the wealth that I am looking for.”
When sense enjoyment fails to provide lasting satisfaction, you turn your focus towards knowledge. “Let me read books of higher knowledge and find enlightenment that way. There is a specific worshipable personality or energy for this, and so I will fix my attention on that.” There may come a time where one wants mystic perfection attained through meditation. Again, there is a style of worship for this.
Only when one realizes that they want to serve God and no one else will they take to bhakti-yoga. To follow this route with firm conviction often requires some type of bad experience in one of the other routes. Maybe that experience took place in a previous life, but its taste is so bitter that one intensely hankers to have a completely different taste. Without such experience, it is difficult to really worship God purely, without any outside motivations.
“Men of small intelligence worship the demigods, and their fruits are limited and temporary. Those who worship the demigods go to the planets of the demigods, but My devotees ultimately reach My supreme planet.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.23)
In the Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna says that those who are less intelligent worship the demigods. The word “demigod” is an English translation to the Sanskrit word “deva”. “Deva” just means god, so the reason for the “demi” prefix is that the Supreme Lord is described with adjectives added on. A “deva” is a lord, while God is the Supreme Lord. Krishna is the chief god, or deva vara. His personal expansions of Vishnu, Rama, Narasimha, and the like are non-different from Him; so they are chief as well.
You can accept this information as is, but you can also look to the rewards themselves to see which god is supreme. If you worship any of the demigods, all you can get is a material reward. Even impersonal liberation, known as mukti, is a kind of material reward, since it grants the negation of material interaction.
If you worship Krishna, you get Krishna. You don’t necessarily get anything else. You may or may not get material opulence. You may or may not get material liberation. In fact, since you get Krishna, you automatically get the real kind of liberation. Any life that is devoid of God consciousness can be considered bondage. And any life that is full of God consciousness is liberation, whether one lives in the earthly realm or in the spiritual sky.
The rewards themselves determine who is superior. Krishna is the Supreme Godhead because worshiping Him brings benefits both in the immediate and long term. He is worshiped in love; not just out of fear over eternal damnation. He is worshiped for His qualities, which are all-attractive. He is worshiped through the pleasing sound of His names recited in a mood of love: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
In all respects my team superior,
Yours not good, perennially inferior.
In religious traditions rivalry also found,
But since God is one argument not sound.
In Vedas mention of gods more than one,
But still an original, need for confusion none.
By looking at rewards make a test,
To see worship of which is the best.
Worship Krishna and Krishna you get,
Then free from all miseries your life set.