“A rich man should offer according to his position, but if the devotee happens to be a very poor man the Lord will accept even the most meager offering. The worship of Lord Vishnu or Krishna is very simple, and it can be executed by anyone in this world.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Vol 2, Ch 33)
Friend1: I have a question for you that I’m not exactly sure how to express.
Friend2: Well, give it a try anyway.
Friend1: Okay. You know how bhakti-yoga philosophy is rich and intricate?
Friend2: There is nuance, for sure. The more you get into it, the more things you find to appreciate.
Friend1: Right. And the more times you read the Bhagavad-gita, the better appreciation you have for it. I’ll never forget the first time I read it.
Friend2: It was after a death in the family, right?
Friend1: Yeah. I had purchased the book earlier, but never opened it. I kept telling myself that I would get around to it.
Friend2: Then the loss finally did it?
Friend1: I was in so much distress. I was definitely in the category of the distressed, one of the four mentioned by Krishna regarding those who approach Him.
catur-vidhā bhajante māṁ
janāḥ sukṛtino ‘rjuna
ārto jijñāsur arthārthī
jñānī ca bharatarṣabha
“O best among the Bharatas [Arjuna], four kinds of pious men render devotional service unto Me – the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.16)
The philosophy was a little out there for me, no doubt. But I’ll never forget how I immediately came upon the truths about spirit. I remember reading how Krishna told Arjuna that the soul lives on, that the wise person doesn’t lament for either the living or the dead.
Friend2: That’s powerful stuff.
Friend1: More than you can realize. It’s such a contrast to the way we typically view religion. Krishna’s words are much more powerful than blind faith, approaching God to help you out with things, or acting out of fear of the afterlife.
Friend2: That’s a good way of putting it. It’s really about life and death and everything in between.
Friend1: Okay, so here is where I’m having trouble. Do you ever see other people who worship only to get stuff?
Friend2: What do you mean?
Friend1: They come to the house of worship, pay their respects for a few minutes, and then leave.
Friend2: There are many people like that. And don’t forget those who arrive right when it’s time to eat. They are shameless in that they come only for the food and don’t care what people think of them.
Friend1: Yes! I see that all the time.
Friend2: It’s proof yet again that we are individuals. No one is exactly the same as me or you.
Friend1: My issue is that I can’t help but look down at these people.
Friend2: You view them with disdain?
Friend1: A little.
Friend2: And it’s because they’re exploiting the system of worship?
Friend1: Not so much that. I think it’s because I know there is a rich philosophy behind the culture, that in bhakti-yoga you get something that goes well beyond the mundane. So when I see people treating it like ordinary religion I get upset. Is it okay to feel that way?
Friend2: I’m not going to tell you how to feel. You have to be honest with yourself.
Friend1: Do you have the same feelings?
Friend2: Maybe sometimes I did in the beginning.
Friend1: Not anymore?
Friend2: Certainly not.
Friend1: What changed?
Friend2: Listen, the easiest thing in the world to do is criticize someone. It takes only looking at them for two seconds to find a fault. To look for the good in a person is more difficult. The highest transcendentalist is known as a paramahamsa for this reason. They extract the spiritual essence out of everything. They essentially see the Divine wherever they turn.
Friend1: Are you saying that you see the good in these people?
Friend2: I can’t help it, really. I’m so happy that other people are worshiping the same person. I’m thankful that at least they show up. We have no idea what they do at home. We don’t know exactly what they feel on the inside.
Friend1: But what about when they don’t know any of the philosophy? What if they can’t quote Bhagavad-gita verses? What if they’re only following out of sentiment?
Friend2: And? Look where that sentiment has taken them. Just see where it brought them. Their sentiment is not for some manmade god. They are not worshiping a fallible human being. They are not spending their weekend nights drinking and trying to forget their troubles. They are worshiping honestly and sincerely.
Friend1: So it doesn’t bother you that at some of these temples the majority of the people coming are of a certain ethnicity?
Friend2: Ideally, you would like people from all backgrounds to come. You would prefer to have everyone in the community participate. But the lack of diversity shouldn’t take anything away from those who are wise enough to attend. It doesn’t matter where they are in the evolution of the consciousness, at least they are on the right path. The Supreme Lord accepts all service, large and small. He actually makes no distinction. Just offering a flower to Him pleases Him so much. This is the potency of bhakti-yoga. The sincerity is what counts most, not the external display. Both the brilliant and dumb can ascend to the spiritual world. Both the eloquent and the introverted are eligible for basking in the transcendental light of love and devotion to God the person.
Taking stock of wise and the dumb,
But Supreme Lord making distinction none.
Any person eligible His name to call,
Ready to accept service from them all.
Even without deep philosophy knowing,
At least with sincerity towards Him going.
Every fault and deficiency to be cured,
Success for devotees by Krishna assured.