“Men of small knowledge are very much attached to the flowery words of the Vedas, which recommend various fruitive activities for elevation to heavenly planets, resultant good birth, power, and so forth. Being desirous of sense gratification and opulent life, they say that there is nothing more than this.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.42-43)
Friend1: Alright, I’ve got two Bhagavad-gita verses for you today.
Friend2: No problem. You want further elaboration?
Friend1: I think they are contradictory. You need to do some verse resolution.
Friend2: As opposed to conflict resolution?
Friend2: Okay, what are the verses?
Friend1: I don’t know the exact numbers to reference, but you’ll know what I’m talking about. The first says that a person who takes the gifts of the devas, the demigods, but doesn’t offer them back is a thief.
Friend2: Yeah, they don’t show the proper respect. The idea is that not everything is attributable to my own efforts. Even if I worked hard at something and achieved success, there are other factors at play. At the very least I was able to sustain life through the food I ate that required the rain from the demigods.
Friend1: Totally makes sense. It’s understandable. You could say this is a verse promoting yajna, or sacrifice.
Friend2: It’s important to know that yajna is another name for Vishnu, which is one name for God. Krishna is the speaker of the Gita and He is also Vishnu.
Friend1: Right. Even when you perform a sacrifice in honor of a demigod, Vishnu must be there to give sanction.
Friend2: Yup. What’s the second verse?
Friend1: It references people who are attracted to the flowery language of the Vedas, and they think that the rewards from karma are everything. Krishna says that such an understanding equates sense gratification with the height of living. For such people the determination required in real yoga, devotional service, doesn’t take place.
Friend2: Okay. So what is the contradiction?
Friend1: You are funny sometimes. The contradiction is obvious, and you know it!
Friend2: Why? Because one verse says to worship the demigods, which leads to elevation to the higher planets, and another verse essentially criticizes thinking that elevation to the higher planets is everything?
Friend1: Yes. Exactly.
Friend2: The second verse isn’t completely nullifying the first.
Friend1: But you know what I mean. Basically, why are yajna and demigod worship even mentioned if they are not the ultimate truth? Why is there flowery language of the Vedas when that language can lead to a misunderstanding?
Friend2: Why are their knives if they can be used as weapons to kill people? Why is there food when eating too much will bring disease? Why is there rain when it can cause flooding? Why is there the sun when people suffer from the heat?
Friend1: I see the point you are trying to make, but it is not that someday we won’t need the sun at all. When you get to the platform of pure devotional service, you’re supposed to give up worshiping the demigods, no? You’re supposed to set aside the desire for elevation to the higher planets, which is the reward for following karma, or prescribed duties.
Friend2: Alright, now I’m beginning to see what you are asking. Let me give you an example. Have you heard of picky eaters? Not just children, but adults too, people who are very fussy and stubborn in what you give them.
Friend2: Sometimes you have to lie in order to get them to eat. For instance, my grandfather is in the hospital for an ailment. They keep bringing him food to eat, and he refuses. He says that he is not hungry. But unless he eats, he won’t be healthy enough to leave.
Friend1: Okay, so what do you do? It’s like you’re in a deadlock condition.
Friend2: Lie or bring up some other reward. I’ll tell him, “If you eat right now, then you’ll be able to leave the hospital and go home.” He wants to leave, obviously. Even though he doesn’t want to eat, he agrees in order to receive the other reward. He does something unpleasant to get something pleasant. Or I can threaten him. I’ll say that if he doesn’t eat then they will put a tube down his throat to get nutrients to the body.
Friend1: So the yajnas and such are recommended to get people to start spiritual life?
Friend2: Absolutely. Better to worship the demigods for rewards than to think you can achieve everything on your own. Better to work for elevation to the higher planets through prescribed duties than to act on a whim and risk demotion to a lower species in the next life. Heck, better to follow any aspect of the Vedas in order to learn that you are eternal spirit soul, separate from the temporary body.
Friend1: I see.
Friend2: As your knowledgebase expands, you will ask more questions. That is the ideal situation. Still, you don’t have to follow this route. You can go for devotional service, right now, today. Goswami Tulsidas makes that recommendation in the Dohavali. He says that the mistakes from the past can be corrected immediately through chanting the holy names of God.
“The many past births you spoiled can be rectified right now, today, if you start chanting Shri Rama’s holy name and renounce bad association, says Tulsi.” (Dohavali, 22)
Friend1: So demigod worship is one path, but it’s not the final destination.
Friend2: It’s on a platform higher than material sense gratification but still below pure devotional service.
Rain and sun by demigods to see,
Offer back or a thief to be.
But also of flowery language in Vedas found,
And how to birth and death keeping bound.
Why two paths for people to confuse?
Different planes, first for sins to excuse.
Eventually to know identity of soul,
And then change to bhakti the goal.