“Because the Lord does not give blessings of material opulence to His devotee, people are afraid of worshiping Lord Vishnu because they see that the Vaishnavas, who are worshipers of Lord Vishnu, are poor in superficial material opulences.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 4.22.36 Purport)
For a person fortunate enough to grow up in Vedic culture, there are many options with respect to spiritual life. It is not a singular path, with no room for trial and error, experimentation, or doubts. For as many desires as the mind can conjure up, that many kinds of religious paths, or dharmas, exist.
Those who are familiar with the material nature and its inhibiting effect on the otherwise spotless spirit soul directly seek the shelter of the origin of everything. In the ultimate feature that origin is personal, i.e. it is an individual, separate and distinct from every other individual. There is equality in terms of the constitutional makeup, but there is still a gulf of difference in ability and potency, with the most striking difference being the need for worship.
God is the worshipable and the living entities are the ones who worship. Knowing things as they are, the akama worshipers tend to gravitate towards Lord Vishnu. This is one manifestation of the Supreme, appearing opulently adorned, having a blue complexion with four hands. With many other established divine figures in a material existence, there are several reasons why a person wouldn’t be so inclined to approach Vishnu in the beginning of their spiritual endeavors.
1. He does not give blessings of material opulence
Who isn’t after money? Even those who aren’t actively working to increase their bank balance wouldn’t mind if wealth suddenly fell in their lap. After all, money means security. Security hopefully means peace of mind, which then paves the way towards happiness.
“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)
Shri Krishna, which is the beautiful, two-handed form of God, essentially identical to Vishnu, explains in the Bhagavad-gita that four kinds of people approach Him initially. Included in the group are those seeking wealth, artharthi.
It is understandable to desire increased material opulence, and though this is one group that approaches God the person, typically other options are tried first. There is personal effort, or paurusham. In spiritual life other divine figures are known to give opulence more quickly. One of Lord Shiva’s names is Ashutosha, which means “easily pleased.” He will even give out opulence to people of the worst character. It is something like the retail outlet selling its products to anyone who provides sufficient payment; character judgments are not made.
Vishnu is not known for giving blessings of material opulence. He assesses the requests made to Him and takes into consideration the future impact. The impact is in terms of attachment to the material nature, which is also known as maya, or illusion. Often the case is that more money means more attachments, which means more birth and death. Vishnu is also known as Mukunda, or the giver of liberation, so He will respond in such a way that the devotee’s spiritual wellbeing increases.
2. His devotees are often poor
Let’s say I am on the fence. I’m not sure which religion to try. I am into Vedic culture, but there are so many sects. On one side I see people worshiping a goddess seated on a lotus flower. The same people also regularly worship an adorable elephant-like deity. I’m told that the goddess gives material opulence and the elephant-person removes obstacles from the path of success.
Another group worships the aforementioned Vishnu. They are not too well off materially. In fact, the priests performing the worship are stick-like; they are so skinny. They are known to be poor, and the worshipers aren’t necessarily the wealthiest people around.
Seeing the two groups, which one will I choose? Why would I voluntarily seek poverty and destitution? This same question came into the mind of a devotee of Lord Shiva a long time back. He sought a touchstone from Sanatana Goswami, a noted spiritual figure who was dedicated to worshiping Krishna. Sanatana Goswami had possession of the touchstone but cast it aside. The Shiva worshiper learned the whereabouts of the touchstone but then stopped in his tracks. He wondered why Sanatana Goswami, who was living as a renounced mendicant, would have given up something so valuable.
The highest wealth is devotion to God the person. Vishnu is the husband of the goddess of fortune, after all. So it is not like Vishnu worshipers are left with nothing. Lakshmi Devi provides to them whatever they need, but only for continuing in the life of devotion. If too much wealth is a hindrance, then objects will be taken away. This is one of the reasons Vishnu is also known as Hari.
Sometimes wealth will come, as in the case of Sudama Vipra, but whatever the judgment the outcome will always be positive for the worshiper. The ten-headed king of Lanka pleased Ashutosha and got tremendous material opulence, but in the end he lost everything in a most undesirable way due to his sinful nature. Protection for the future was not guaranteed, but with Vishnu no effort in worship ever goes to waste.
On one side opulences abound,
The other poverty is found.
So why in that path to waste?
Better now for riches to taste.
But kinder when applying discrimination,
For Ravana-like eventual obliteration.
Vishnu for future welfare considering,
Best outcome for devotees delivering.
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