“Those whose minds are distorted by material desires surrender unto demigods and follow the particular rules and regulations of worship according to their own natures.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.20)
Brad was relieved. It was finally Friday. TGIF, as they say. “Thank the Lord” it was finally the end of the week. It had been rather hectic at work. Tax season was slowly approaching at the accounting firm, so Brad and the other accountants were loaded up with work. Each day featured long hours, to the point that Brad’s wife stopped waiting for him for dinner. “Just pick something up on your way home, dear,” she said to him as he left for work Friday morning.
Though times were a little hectic, the fever that took over the city was too intense to keep out of the firm. The buzz was all about the upcoming football game on Sunday. It was the conference championship game, featuring the Denver Broncos against the New England Patriots. The Broncos were usually the center of attention in the city of Denver, but this year even more so. Brad wasn’t so much into sports, but he still kept track of what was going on. He could hold his own in a conversation with friends and coworkers.
“I think this is Manning’s year to get revenge,” he told one of his colleagues at the water cooler on Friday morning. “Brady is good, but Manning set all sorts of records this year. He is out to exorcise all the demons of past playoff failures.”
As Brad’s firm was in Denver, most of his colleagues were naturally Broncos fans. This particular colleague seemed to have a vested interest in the outcome of the upcoming game.
“Yeah, man, I hear ya. From your lips to God’s ears, know what I’m saying?” responded Brad’s colleague, who showed signs of concern. “This Sunday when I go to church, I’m definitely going to say a prayer or two. I want the Broncos to win so bad. I picked them during the preseason to make the Super Bowl. I’m going to win a lot of money if they win this week.”
As Brad was cordial with all his colleagues, he had similar conversations throughout that Friday at work. Another colleague outside the break room struck up a similar conversation. This person was a Patriots fan, having moved to Denver from Boston just a year earlier.
“The Broncos look scary, dude,” said this colleague to Brad. “Brady hasn’t won a Super Bowl since that whole ‘spygate’ thing. I’m really hoping he can pull it off this week. When I’m sitting in church this Sunday, I won’t be able to think of anything else. I’m sure to slip in a few prayers for the Patriots. I’ve been good this year, so hopefully the Lord will reward me.”
Brad couldn’t help but notice the conflicting requests. He kept them in mind when having lunch later that day with his good friend Gopal.
“Hey G-man, how’s it going?” asked Brad.
“Pretty good, how about you?” responded Gopal.
“Things are alright. Have you been swept up by this football game fever?”
“How could I not be? It’s all anyone’s been talking about.”
“An interesting thing happened to me this morning at work,” said Brad, as he went into the story of the two colleagues he had met that morning who were each praying for their specific team to win.
“So I thought I would bring this up to you, since this sounds like something you once brought up to me, about how the less intelligent look at God as an order supplier,” continued Brad.
“Right,” said Gopal. “So in one sense it’s good that they’re praying. In attitude, that makes them superior to those who foolishly think that God doesn’t exist. At the same time, they should realize that the Supreme Lord Himself is above such petty matters.”
“But then wouldn’t the same conflict apply to other matters too? Like if I’m a thief and I pray to God to help me steal, and someone else prays to have their stuff protected, it’s the same problem, right?”
“Yeah, exactly,” said Gopal, who then began to discuss how material results come from the actions themselves through the laws of karma. “Karma sort of acts automatically,” he explained to Brad. “Sort of like if you clap your hands, you hear a sound, if you act in a certain way, the outcome will arrive automatically, even without prayer. The game this Sunday features clashing karma from so many different people. Each player has their own history. Each player has their family members supporting them as well. In addition, the result is rather trivial. Whether someone wins or loses a football game doesn’t matter in the end. It’s like being happy that the sun is out or being sad that it’s raining. The individuals involved elevate the matter to an importance higher than is warranted.”
“Okay, that makes sense,” replied Brad. “But what should we pray for then? What do you pray for?”
“In the Vedas it is said that the Supreme Lord is originally a personality. He is not an old and vengeful man. Rather, He is ever-youthful, and all-attractive. Hence Krishna is one way to address Him. He is the source of all men, so Narayana is another appropriate name for Him. He is all-pervading, so Vishnu works as well for addressing Him. The distinction in worshiping Vishnu, or one of His non-different forms, is that the requests can sometimes be denied. In simpler terms, God sometimes hears prayers and explicitly denies them.”
“Really? Why would He do that?”
“If someone worships Him directly, He takes it as a sign that they have some attachment to Him. Therefore He takes them under His wing, so to speak. He protects them from things that will harm them. Other divine figures don’t offer the same coverage.”
“Who are these other divine figures? Are they the many other gods we equate with Hinduism?”
“Yes. They are the worshipable figures who can grant temporary rewards, like victory, money, good health, intelligence for an exam, and so forth. They operate on a first-come, first-serve model. They also don’t take into account the future motivations of the worshiper. They give benedictions to whoever worships them properly.”
“I see. So these guys at my job would be better served worshiping these other gods?”
“Actually, it is said that even if one has material desires, he is better served by worshiping Vishnu directly. The other divine figures may deliver on the requests in a sort of business-transaction style, but there is no higher benefit to the worshiper. If my favorite team wins this week after I worship a demigod, I’m not really benefitted in the long run. If I worship Vishnu for the same reward, at least I spend some time in His association. And enough time spent with Him blossoms into the mature fruit of a human existence: devotion. This is really the only thing to ask for from God. ‘O Lord, please allow me to serve You, because I know that devotion is the only way I will be truly happy. Since You are the root of the tree of the material existence, I know that watering that root in worshiping You will also benefit everyone else.’”
His lunch hour drawing to a close, Brad thanked his friend for an enlivening conversation. “I knew you were the right person to come to for this. As usual, thank you for allowing me to bathe in your intellect.” Gopal got a good laugh at this comment and then returned the favor with a witty reply. “Don’t thank me, just allow me to bathe in your wisdom when it comes time to do my taxes.”
Worried about outcome ever so,
With prayers to Supreme Lord to go.
Same by other side is done,
A resolution for God seems none.
Such matters for demigods reserved,
Vishnu only devotional conditions to preserve.
Whatever the issue requests to Him take,
Your best fortune in the end He’ll make.