“People are accustomed to worship different forms of demigods, but in Bhagavad-gita such a mentality is condemned; therefore one should be intelligent enough to worship only the Supreme Personality of Godhead in His different forms such as Lakshmi-Narayana, Sita-Rama and Radha-Krishna. Thus one will never be cheated.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.25.38 Purport)
“There are many gods. Just pick one. It doesn’t matter which one you choose; but you have to worship. To say that one is better than another is silly. Everyone is divine after all. We are all one in that sense.”
Perhaps you’ve come across such sentiments. Perhaps you’ve thought them yourself. There are so many people worshiping, and so how can they be worshiping different people? The objects of worship must be the same, you think. In truth, there is only one Supreme Lord, but this does not stop worship of other entities. One can tell the difference based on the rewards sought.
Can we like different people? Can we make friends with some and not with others? When we call out the name of our friend, are we referring to everyone? Obviously each individual is unique. People may be similar in their constitutional makeup as spirit soul, but they are separate individuals. I cannot call the name of my friend and automatically expect the President of the United States to hear me. I can’t say that since I’m close with my brother that I’m automatically good friends with every person in the world who is a brother.
These connections are in friendship, but a closer resemblance to the worship of the many gods in the Vedic tradition is the offering of tribute in the form of a transaction. If I pay my mortgage this month, does it mean that my mobile telephone bill is satisfied? If I go to the supermarket and pick up produce, does it mean that I have purchased an automobile? Each interaction is specific in scope, and there is something each party seeks. The seller wants my money, and I want the good or service provided by the seller.
The worship of the many gods is like this. The worshiper seeks something at the outset. They want a blessing. The blessing is specific. “Give me a good house. Give me a good job. Let me pass this exam. Help my son or daughter do well in school. Protect my family.” While at the convenience store I pay by swiping my credit card, for worship of a divine figure I perform a specific ritual. Upon completion, I hopefully get what I want.
Worship of the Supreme Lord, the god of the gods, is different than this. We can tell simply by the rewards He offers. His gifts are not temporary. He is not an order supplier, either. There is no shopping cart with Him. We can’t simply do a ritual and then expect to get something. He is the best friend, after all, so He will not always give us what we want. If we desire something that will ultimately do us harm, He will deny our request. If failure in a particular area will be to our benefit in the future, God will make that temporarily unpleasant outcome a reality.
The reward He offers is His association. In worship of the other divine figures, in rare instances the worshiper seeks a similar reward, association. But those divine figures do not remain manifest forever. Their abodes are temporary. This is confirmed in the Bhagavad-gita.
“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)
In this sense, cherishing association with a divine figure is like having an attachment to someone in the earthly realm. It is like having a relationship with a king instead of a commoner. The king is a human being too. They also must suffer death. They may be in an elevated post right now, but that post will mean nothing at the time of death. The divine figures are elevated as well. They can live for thousands of years. Yet they will not stay in their residences forever.
Not the case with God. In His original form, He is a beautiful youth with a blackish complexion. He is always a youth. We only know of youth as a brief stage in the progression towards adulthood and old age. It is a stop on the train of life. It is a stage we don’t appreciate while we are in it, but which we long for once it is gone. With God, youth never leaves Him. He is eternally kishora, and His beloved consort is kishori.
“Krishna with Radharani is worshiped as Kishora-kishori. Krishna does not increase His age that although He is the oldest personality and has innumerable different forms, His original form is always youthful.” (The Nectar of Devotion, 42)
What may cause some confusion is the fact that the original form of Godhead can expand into non-different forms. This appears to be the same polytheism of worship of divine figures, but it actually isn’t. These expansion forms are the same original kishora. They just appear differently to match the variety of devotional mellows, or rasas, available. If I work as a Supreme Court judge, not everyone will treat me the same. In the courtroom I get respect. On the phone I get reprimanded by my wife for working too much. At home my children jump on my back. At the restaurant my friends make fun of me. Thus there are different relationships, even though I am the same person in each situation.
The recommendation is that one develop an attachment for kishora, who is also known as Krishna, or one of His non-different expansions. Such a relationship will bring the association of the desired object. These objects remain forever, and they are more than just a deity form. They are always alive, capable of full reciprocation. Just a little faith is required in the beginning, faith that by going to the one God of all living beings nothing will be lost. If there is faith in the security of the association of the one heavenly father, then that association soon becomes a reality.
From the many forms to see,
How one God there can be?
Are not all the same,
And just differing by name?
By requests the assessment make,
And see what from figures to take.
Sometimes to deny your appeal,
Can only happen from the God real.
Sometimes looking like this and like that,
But personality known by features exact.
His association your way to send,
From His realm never to descend.