“By Me, in My unmanifested form, this entire universe is pervaded. All beings are in Me, but I am not in them.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.4)
The impersonal understanding of the Supreme Personality of Godhead acknowledges His presence, but not all the details are known. In the impersonal understanding one realizes, or at least recognizes, that there is a powerful spiritual force in all spheres. At the basic level, there is the acknowledgment of the complete whole. We may not be able to conceptualize everything, but “everything” does exist. Using the “panorama mode” on our smartphone or digital camera, we can create a wider image than we could normally, but no camera is available that can include the entire universe in one image. Yet such an image exists, and so one who realizes it has an impersonal understanding of God. At least they know that He is everything.
This understanding is not very difficult to get, as miniature versions of it are present in everyday life. We can take the Stanley Cup as an example. This is the trophy awarded to the best team each season in the National Hockey League. There is only one Stanley Cup; there is not a separate trophy given each season. The players dream of one day hoisting the Cup, as it represents the pinnacle of the sporting life of a hockey player.
The players on the winning team and the members of the front office staff each get their name on the Cup. As presently constituted, the trophy can hold around fifty to sixty years’ worth of names from winning teams. This means that the trophy is like a museum exhibit as well. One could spend some time reading the different names and remembering their accomplishments.
Since 1995, each member from the winning team gets one official day with the Cup during the offseason to do with as they please. Though they could sit in their room all day and just admire the trophy, most decide to have public celebrations. Some players even have parades going through their hometowns. Much attention is there because the fans appreciate what the trophy means. It is a symbol of achievement. When there is honor paid to the Stanley Cup, there is an acknowledgment of the hard work of that year’s winning team.
Of course that acknowledgment extends out as well. There is appreciation for the players’ families, who helped develop them to the point that they could be champions. There is appreciation for all of the previous winners, the teams that set the bar for excellence. There is also subtle deference paid to the losing teams, for they provided the spirited competition that made winning the Stanley Cup worthwhile. The fact that you have to win difficult playoff games to hoist the Cup makes it something special. Anyone could make a replica of the trophy and hand it over to anyone else, but no one would really be interested in that.
Taking the largest scope, the reverence for the Stanley Cup is appreciation for a very large family, one including the entire National Hockey League and perhaps all of the communities that helped to build the winning players. If you take the same concept and apply it to the entire creation, you get the impersonal understanding. You honor the water, the earth, the sun, the fire, and the air since they came from an original source. You honor every single living creature, because they all have had their time in going through this maze called life. You honor even the enemies, for they make the pious more appreciable.
So by worshiping different trophies and communities, am I worshiping God?
In a sense one is still offering worship when there is no acknowledgment of God, but as with anything there is a specific result tied to a specific kind of worship. Indeed, everyone is a devotee of God to some degree. The staunch atheists are worshipers of His material energy, which is dull and lifeless. They specifically look for personal enjoyment, not caring for others or the issue of morality. The material energy is considered the inferior energy, as we’re told by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita, which summarizes His Vedas, which are the original scriptural tradition of the world. If you worship the inferior energy, you get inferior results. It’s like getting to play in mud all day if that’s what you want. To most, the mud is disgusting and dirty, but to others it is just fine.
If you worship the impersonal spiritual energy, which is all-pervading, you get its association. The impersonal understanding is of an abstract; there is actually no detail to it. It is a formless spiritual light of truth. Therefore one who gets its association must also become formless, devoid of nuance and variety in activity. As Lord Chaitanya so nicely says, the real form, the svarupa, of the living entity is servant of God. The impersonal understanding can help one to regain their real form, but if one doesn’t advance further, they are vulnerable to falling back into the material pool.
In the material understanding, I take one person to be my friend and another to be my enemy. I only appreciate those who do good for me. If they fail to do what I want, despite having done good to me so many times in the past I will get angry. I will then change my outlook on who is good and who is bad.
In the impersonal understanding, one realizes that the material understanding is silly; it is not based in knowledge. In the personal understanding, one sees that the impersonal understanding is not enough. I can appreciate the complete whole for sure, but then what? What will I do with my time? Should I stay in a cave and just contemplate on “everything”? What should be my role in society? Should I be like those who have the material vision? I no longer have this vision, so why should I take a step back just because I can’t find anything worthwhile to do?
The personal understanding gives the complete picture. There is the spiritual energy that pervades everything, and that energy is rooted in a personality. Since He is the most powerful personality, He is a little different. His body and spirit are identical. There is no duality between spiritual and material for Him. All energies are one, because He is one. He is the complete whole. The dichotomies exist for every person except Him.
For those with the personal understanding, the dichotomies are removed. Such people understand that everything is sourced in the Personality of Godhead. From that understanding they know how to act, too. They make the effort to glorify and think of the Personality of Godhead using whatever is around them. They accept the real form of servant through following any of the nine methods of bhakti-yoga, the two foremost of which are hearing and chanting. Those are both accounted for in the recitation of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”
Shri Krishna is one of the names of the origin of matter and spirit, the personal spiritual force. Worship of Him is automatically worship of everything else, whereas all other kinds of worship are incomplete. The pinnacle of worship brings the pinnacle achievement, the lifelong association of the personal spiritual force.
Seeing Stanley Cup parade passing by,
Celebrate players who so hard did try.
Communities also some credit to get,
And opponents whom in competition were set.
Extend out this attitude the same,
And impersonal understanding gain.
Know that from that point there is more,
Real identity as servant of God to adore.