“Those who are envious and mischievous, who are the lowest among men, are cast by Me into the ocean of material existence, into various demoniac species of life.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 16.19)
It’s a way to distinguish from the sinners, the carefree who don’t worry about right and wrong, future consequences, or tradition. It’s a way to show respect, to give honor to someone who holds ultimate power. That person can make or break an existence, one to last forever.
A “God-fearing” person is just that, afraid of God. Acknowledgment is implied. Belief in a higher power is there. Those who don’t fear God will have to face stiff punishment later on. That is the hope anyway. Who wants to go through life knowing that criminals will skate forever? What sense do laws and rules make if the people that don’t follow them suffer no consequences?
Vedic teachings indeed acknowledge the existence of God. In the generic sense He is described to be a great controller, Ishvara. At the same time, He is a person, and an all-attractive one at that. Therefore known as Krishna, the relationship with Him is intended to go well beyond fear. In fact, this lack of fear is already there in interactions with readily identifiable authority figures.
The analysis is in the general case. There are always exceptions. Some parents can be quite horrible. They put their children through unspeakable torture. They provide little guidance, minimal protection, and sometimes run away completely.
Usually, the parents are the first authority figures we know. The Sanskrit word guru can refer to them, as well. The television sitcom character Frank Barone notes that if a parent is not hated, they are not properly doing their job. Though intended to be humorous, there is an element of truth to the words. The parents have to set guidelines and boundaries. They have to punish transgressions. Otherwise, what purpose are they serving?
At the same time, the children usually aren’t deathly afraid of the parents. If the children do something wrong, it is not like they expect the worst kind of punishment. In the harshest case, they may have to go without television and internet for a while. There isn’t concern over being disowned forever.
Guru also refers to teachers, and especially the spiritual guide. Man separates from the animal through intelligence, but in the beginning only the potential is there. Teachers help to make the higher intelligence a reality. In exchange for the wisdom, the students must be willing to learn. Inquiring submissively and rendering service go a long way.
“Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.34)
In school the teachers will punish bad behavior. In times past they might strike the truculent student on the hand with a ruler. Today the bad kids get sent to detention. Maybe they are suspended from school. Still, there usually isn’t fear that the teacher will inflict real and lasting damage. There isn’t concern that the relationship with all teachers will be severed, for all of time.
3. Benevolent public leaders
In countries run by brutal dictators, questioning of authority is not allowed. Say the wrong thing and you could get killed. There has to be one hundred percent obedience to the will of the rulers.
In the case of benevolent leaders, there is surely punishment for violating the law. Jails exist for punishment, for reforming those who have gone the wrong way in life. The punishment also serves as a deterrent for future bad behavior.
Even so, with such leaders there usually isn’t fear that forgetting about them will lead to punishment. Moreover, there is always a chance to reform. The good leader does not get angry or envious. They do not insist on allegiance, especially if the other side is not willing.
In the same way, the idea of being forever condemned for not believing in God does not hold. Moreover, fear of such condemnation prevents taking full advantage of the relationship to be formed with the Almighty.
As Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita, the envious are cast into lower species. This is a kind of punishment, because the mode of ignorance takes over. There is little chance to serve God in what is known as bhakti. There is little chance to sharpen the intellect.
Though repeatedly cast into such species, the time factor still exists. This means that there is always a chance to turn back. Material existence is itself a condemnation. It is a place where forgetfulness of Krishna is the default mentality. Turning to Him in a loving mood transforms the nature of the existence. Material nature already provides enough cause for fear; with Krishna there is meant to be full bliss, ananda, to last for as long as the relationship is desired.
In demoniac wombs to go,
Where piety not to know.
Punishment for bad status achieving,
From Krishna directly receiving.
Still, always to reform a chance,
Meeting with saint probability to enhance.
So no need for God only with fear,
Through devotion in heart to stay near.
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