“Although in one sense nothing is bad, liquor is bad because it creates bad effects. In America there are many drunkards. There is no scarcity of them. But I may request even the drunkards, ‘When drinking wine, kindly remember that the taste of this drink is Krishna. Just begin in this way, and one day you will become a saintly, Krishna conscious person.’” (Shrila Prabhupada, Teachings of Queen Kunti, 5 Purport)
“How are the popular religions different? Aren’t they all just the same thing? ‘Surrender to such and such person and be saved. Think of God instead of thinking of other things.’ You know, be spiritual and all that stuff. Each religion says theirs is the superior one, so in that sense they all seem the same to me. How do you make distinctions?”
This is a common area of misconception that can be cleared up rather easily. Indeed, to be genuinely religious is better than to believe that man himself can become God. The most successful person materially must eventually face defeat at the hands of death. They can cheat their friends, their family, their community, their nation, their shareholders, and their adversaries from other parts of the world, but they can never outsmart the forces of nature. That nature’s greatest weapon is time, which is most visibly manifest in the force known as death.
At the outset, religion may seem to be merely a way of coping with death. “I don’t know where I’m going after I die, and I know that eventually I will die. Others have come to this realization as well, so they’ve sought comfort in religion. It gives them the peace of understanding the afterlife, and if others are cool with accepting this information then fine. To me it just seems like a way of dealing with things that are unexplainable. It’s a way of surviving through the madness that we call life.”
One religion says that you’ll go to heaven after death if you accept such and such personality as your savior. Another promises the same heaven if you pray a certain number of times a day and follow strict rules and regulations. Another says something very similar, and another describes the annihilation of everything after many births and deaths; to eliminate everything is the highest achievement, bringing the state of pure enlightenment.
While a religion, or faith, may say this or that about the afterlife, the real distinctions come into play with the understanding of God. How much is revealed about the person behind the mysterious creation, with its many conditions in duality? What is good to me may not be so for another person. The quarterback on the football field praying to God for success at the end of the game may seem to be very pious, but if you break things down a little further you see that they are praying for the defeat of the other team. They are asking God to help make someone else miserable at the expense of their joy. This cannot be God, can it? The person may be praying genuinely and following a bona fide path, but how can a supreme controller give favor to one person over another over something as trivial as a football game?
Such practices follow a scant understanding of God. The acknowledgment of a higher power is indeed a step up from the animalistic attitude of “eat, drink and be merry before this one life is over.” The attitude of “you only get one life, so enjoy it as much as possible” is one the atheist follows. Therefore when the purportedly religious person adopts the same attitude it means that their understanding of God is limited. When the religious person blows up innocent women and children in a public market it means that they have no clue who God is. When the religious person sends millions of innocent mother animals to the slaughterhouses, it means that their understanding of God is lacking.
We can use pizza as an analogy to understand the differences. When I bake a pizza pie for my family, I hope that each member will enjoy it. When I place it on the dinner table, one child takes a slice and then proceeds to eat only the crust portion. They don’t want anything to do with the rest of the pizza. They just don’t know about its taste. Another child scrapes off the cheese and then eats the pizza. One child, however, eats the entire slice and thus relishes the full taste.
In the different religions with the scant understanding of God, we can think of the followers as knowing only about the crust of the pizza. They simply don’t see the rest. The crust is quite enjoyable compared to so many other foods, so the people eating are quite satisfied. However, the full taste is not relished. Pizza is a food in a world full of duality, so not everyone will like it. We can take any food that is preferable to see the same concept.
In one spiritual discipline, as much about God as can be understood is revealed. It said that He is a person, or purusha. He is spirit that dominates matter. He dominates everything actually, so He is the supreme purusha. We are purusha over the material nature, prakriti, but in relation to God we are prakriti, or that which is enjoyed by the purusha.
God has a spiritual body. He has many spiritual bodies in fact, with one being the original. In that original feature, the form is eternal, full of knowledge, and blissful. It is described in Sanskrit as sach-chid-ananda. Since He possesses every wonderful attribute to the highest degree, He is known as Bhagavan. Since everyone is attracted to Him at some level, He is known as Krishna.
The materialists devoid of spiritual culture are attracted to different aspects of His material nature. Shri Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita that among many other things, He is the taste of water. The drunkard can increase their understanding of God by remembering that He is the taste of their beverage of choice. The religious followers who hold religious principles in high regard are attracted to the regulations of spiritual life, which ultimately belong to God as well. The yogis who prefer meditation are attracted to God’s expansion as the Supersoul residing within everyone’s heart.
“O son of Kunti [Arjuna], I am the taste of water, the light of the sun and the moon, the syllable om in the Vedic mantras; I am the sound in ether and ability in man.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.8)
The bhaktas, who have the highest understanding of God, are attracted to the Supreme Lord’s original feature of Bhagavan. Unlike the other features previously mentioned, Bhagavan is all-encompassing. If I am attracted to Bhagavan, I automatically see His influence everywhere. I thus have so many more things to appreciate. The bhakta on the highest level of understanding relishes the transcendental taste wherever they go. They are described as paramahamsas, which translates to “supreme swans.” This type of swan extracts the spiritual nectar out of any place, including those areas where the less intelligent think that God has no influence.
If your understanding of God is scant, your religious practice will be scant as well. Therefore the solution is quite simple: increase your understanding. With the voluminous Vedic literature at our disposal, there is so much information available that the understanding can only increase further and further as more study is applied. Many lifetimes aren’t enough to fully understand the Supreme Lord, but even a little sincere effort will bring transcendental knowledge, which keeps one positively situated going forward.
To relish supreme taste you can’t,
When understanding of God is scant.
Like in pizza the crust only eating,
Full satisfaction not to be meeting.
As drunkard beloved is drink of mine,
Should know God is the taste of wine.
As Bhagavan more features drawn out,
Best end for devotee devoid of doubt.