“From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains to My abode, O son of Kunti, never takes birth again.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.16)
“I wanted money, and I really wanted it. I couldn’t think of any other way to get it besides praying. I have a particular deity of choice. They are known for providing wealth to their devotees. There is a specific puja, or worship ceremony, that must be completed. You need the proper paraphernalia, the appropriate time and place, and the precise words spoken. If everything is completed properly, you are supposed to get the wealth that you covet.
“I obviously must have done the worship correctly, for I got what I wanted. I was so happy when the wealth came in. It increased my faith in that particular worshipable figure. Since then on, they were known as “my god.” Each person has their god; this I know based on the many faiths practiced around the world. Some person worships this god, while another worships some other god. The practice of having different gods is especially prevalent in India, which has its traditions rooted in the Vedas.
“Since my god gave me what I wanted, I continued to worship them. But a strange thing happened along the way. The wealth that I desperately coveted didn’t give me any lasting satisfaction. The spouse and the children soaked up most of the gift. They had their own desires. I was a kind of god to them, though they didn’t worship me specifically. They just put their hand out and I had to oblige. If I didn’t, they would give me the business. Also, friends and relatives came out from the shadows to ask me for help. They wouldn’t give me the time of day before, but now that I had some money they were my new ‘best friends.’
“In getting what I asked for from my god of choice, my anxieties only increased. Since the person I worshiped is a god, they must have known what was going to happen. Surely they could have predicted the future. If they knew I would only be unhappy going forward, why would they still grant me my wish? What kind of god are they?”
This review need not be limited to the boon of wealth; it can apply to any material benediction awarded to a faithful follower of a divine figure who is not the original Personality of Godhead. In the Vedic tradition especially there are many divine figures appointed to various posts. Part of their duties involves granting material benedictions to their worshipers. There are no questions asked in this exchange. Sort of like when you pay your cable bill and the company doesn’t ask for anything beyond that, these divine figures only look to see whether they are getting worshiped properly. If conditions are satisfactorily met, then the desire is automatically granted.
Yet money, fame, wealth, beauty, strength and renunciation by themselves do not provide lasting happiness. They are opulences of temporary significance; eventually they wither away. Since they are temporary they cannot remain with an entity who is fixed, namely the spirit soul. In my youth I may have begged my parents to buy me a particular video game, but such a gift couldn’t give me lasting happiness. For how long was I going to keep playing? For how long was I going to remain satisfied while newer technology created better and more popular games?
In the same way, beauty, wealth and fame only go so far for bringing satisfaction. One day your favorite hockey team is famous for winning the Stanley Cup, and the next day they are trading your favorite player to make room under the salary cap. One day they are praised for their great play, and the next they are asked how they will continue their dominance. In this sense a temporary achievement brings increased pressure, which is a kind of misery.
These divine figures neglect to mention the effects their rewards will have. They cannot be blamed for this omission, as they are not ordered to go beyond the exchange of goods. They themselves may know very well that things relating to matter are not really worthwhile in the end. To get this information one must go to the origin of matter and spirit. If they can’t approach Him directly, He has many people who represent Him to pass on His message. They are also worshipable in a sense, but the gift they give is bhakti, or devotion. That gift is actually the only one worth seeking.
From approaching a representative one can learn the teachings of the Bhagavad-gita. The Gita is a work spoken directly by the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Since the conversation took place five thousand years ago, within a different societal and cultural context, a bona fide representative is required today for translating and explaining that conversation. The most bona fide representative would have to be someone who is devoted to the speaker of the Gita. No one can better serve the interests of someone else than a devotee of that someone else.
In studying that conversation, one learns that material opulence is not very important. Since matter has a dual function, sometimes it is good and sometimes it is bad. It is never all good or all bad. Therefore when we pray for money, wealth and fame, sometimes the adage, “Careful what you wish for, you just might get it,” applies. The money can ruin us. The fame can make us desperately crave anonymity soon thereafter.
If you worship the speaker of the Gita, Shri Krishna, you get an understanding of what you are asking for. This understanding is provided by Krishna Himself through His teachings. Even if you don’t understand in the beginning, eventually you will. This is because your worship is of the original Personality of Godhead. By definition, He cannot be limited to only providing material benedictions. If you ask Him for a smartphone for your birthday, He may or may not give it to you. Narada Muni, a faithful devotee, in a playful trick played on him by the Supreme Lord once sincerely prayed to be married to a beautiful woman. In Narada’s case this was not beneficial for him, so the Supreme Lord denied the request. Narada didn’t like the outcome at first, but eventually he realized that it was the kindest act on the part of his object of worship.
If all other divine figures don’t tell you the effect their rewards will have, worship of them cannot be the highest worship. The tradition of worshiping them is in place to create a culture of religious life and respect for authority figures, but worship of them should never be mistaken for worship of the original Personality of Godhead. In devotion to Him, all other obligations for worship and respect are immediately met. Best of all, from worship of Krishna, you get Krishna, who is a best friend for life whose company you can forever remain in.
“Worship of my deity set,
Reward then easily to get.
But now in anxiety’s strain,
Gift caused only more pain.
This divine figure surely should have known,
With my misery shouldn’t have left me alone.”
With worship of origin not the case,
His knowledge your illusion to erase.