“Abandon all varieties of religion and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reaction. Do not fear.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.66)
A blue God. A tradition whose works are preserved in their original form, in the ancient Sanskrit language. Worshiping a depicted image of the Divine. Perhaps shaving the head and living simply. Giving up eating meat, drinking wine, beer and coffee. No gambling and no illicit sex.
This might be a lot for someone to accept, especially if they come from a different spiritual tradition. The conversion is a big step, but actually there is no official conversion required. Delving deeper into the teachings of sanatana-dharma, the eternal occupational duty for man, we see that the only conversion is in consciousness. The shift is from the material to the spiritual. A person does not have to change their religion in order to practice bhakti-yoga, the linking of the individual consciousness with the Supreme Consciousness in a mood of love.
1. Religion is itself a flawed concept
Everyone has their own definition of the term. More significant than the textbook definition is the impression left. Just as on a televised political debate the important factor is how the audience feels about a certain candidate instead of the actual content of the responses, the specifics of a religion may not be as important to someone as what they think of it in general.
In the Vedic tradition the closest equivalent word for religion is dharma. This has several meanings, all derived from the original, which is “an essential characteristic.” As an example, the dharma of water is liquidity. Of fire it is heat and light. These characteristics cannot be removed from the object without losing that object.
Dharma as religion means following a certain set of guidelines and procedures to meet a specific goal. In fact, we know that there is variety in goals. That’s why there are many dharmas. One person wants to take over the world. Another wants to ascend to the heavenly planets after death. One person wants to save the earth. Another wants to be a good husband and provider for their family. There are corresponding dharmas to meet these goals. Bhakti is something entirely different.
2. Bhakti provides the complete picture
A person belonging to another religion may protest the idea of bhakti.
“I already worship God. I don’t need to do any of this fancy stuff. I have my religion and I am already promised salvation. Perhaps you should be the one converting to my side.”
In fact, bhakti simply provides the complete picture. There are many religions, and they each describe a Supreme Being in one form or another. Bhakti-yoga provides detail to the abstract, completing the foggy picture of the Supreme. He is a person who is all-attractive. He has opulences simultaneously and to the fullest extent. There is nothing missing in Him. He is known through names like Bhagavan, Krishna, Rama, Vishnu, and so many others. The names are identical to Him, as they glorify different aspects about Him.
3. It is not a violation to repeat a sound
A person may protest that chanting the holy names is against their religion. “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” This is the maha-mantra, the great deliverer of the mind. The words are rooted in the Hindu tradition, but the more accurate definition is Vedic. The Vedas are the original source of knowledge applicable to all of humanity, for all time periods.
The names in the maha-mantra are merely sounds. The sounds represent the Almighty. They glorify Him. The sounds have tremendous potency. There is no prohibition against repeating a sound that represents the origin of everything, that is created through speaking softly or singing loudly as a means of awakening the consciousness out of its deep slumber. There is no conversion process necessary to create this sound. Any person can hear it and be delivered.
4. Nowhere is a person compelled to eat meat or get intoxicated
For success in bhakti-yoga, it is recommended that a person avoid the four pillars of sinful life. Others may protest, saying that religion shouldn’t deprive a person enjoyment. In fact, the opposite occurs with these behaviors. Intoxication is temporary escape from the senses, followed by a hard crash. Gambling pollutes the mind, and meat eating takes away the compassion that every person has deep inside their heart. Illicit sex can destroy lives.
Avoiding these things does not violate any religion. A person can stay where they are, respecting their inherited faith, and not have a problem following this style of renunciation. Jnana and vairagya, knowledge and renunciation, are two valuable tools for shaping the consciousness for the better.
5. Bhakti is the nature of the soul
The dharma of the individual, who is spirit soul, is service. The eternal dharma can thus only apply to God. Serve the Supreme Lord. Love Him. Give Him top priority instead of temporary objects and relationships.
Because service is the dharma of the soul, in the Bhagavad-gita the Supreme Lord advises the disciple to abandon all varieties of religion. Give up dharmas that bring only temporary benefit. Stop viewing spiritual life as a faith. Convert the consciousness over to eternal life. Follow bhakti as an engagement to continue lifetime after lifetime. You don’t have to change your occupation. You don’t have to change your religion. Just change the consciousness. Surrender unto God the person, and abandon all interest in temporary things. This will do the most good for you.
Inherited religion don’t have to renounce,
No sin in Divine names to pronounce.
Not a must for alcohol or eat meat,
Not violation to take renunciation’s seat.
Bhakti the entire picture to complete,
With descriptions of Almighty replete.
Devotion at soul’s very core,
Change consciousness, to one to endure.
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