“Devotees solely engaged in the devotional service of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Narayana, never fear any condition of life. For them the heavenly planets, liberation and the hellish planets are all the same, for such devotees are interested only in the service of the Lord.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 6.17.28)
न कुतश्चन बिभ्यति
na kutaścana bibhyati
“Are you not worried in the slightest by the threats from members of competing faiths? You know, the ones about eternal damnation. That we are following false gods, that it is satanic-like to make these statues, color them in a certain way, prostrate before, and read out Sanskrit names.
“I know, the more I talk about it, the more ridiculous it sounds, but these are some of the challenges the people out in the field, the itinerant preachers, face. They would rather not get into a ‘my religion against your religion’ type of argument.
“Within society in general, there is a legitimate fear of eternal damnation. We cannot deny the reality; it is the primary reason many people fall in line. They are self-professed, “God-fearing.” Are we not afraid, in the least?”
The initial response, based on intelligence guided by experience, is that we are already in the fearful condition. You do not need to threaten me further. I already witness the horrors of birth, old age, disease and death.
I see friends and family members passing away. Here one moment, gone the next. Healthy today, terminally ill tomorrow. Sound and fit in mind a few minutes ago, and now no longer able to correctly identify the year, what city they live in, or who their relatives are.
I have experience with heavenly delights and hellish torments. I have been called all sorts of names based on how I look. I have been denied equal status in social situations because of the difference in cultural upbringing, in how my name sounds, in what I prefer to eat.
Why would any threat of future punishment change how I would live? If God is indeed God, He would have to remain in that position for eternity. Both backwards and forwards in the infinite timeline of existence.
He could stand before me and make the claim of immortality, but I have no way to validate based on personal experience. I could observe Him for one hundred years, but that does not establish fixed existence. What if I fall asleep for a few hours? How could I prove that the person in front of me did not disappear and then reappear after I awoke?
If He is always God, that means He is always worshipable. Whether I am in heaven or hell. Whether He is favorable to me or not. Whether I have forgotten Him for countless lifetimes or I never stop thinking of Him, for even a moment. Whether He is rich or poor. Whether I am wealthy or struggling to make ends meet.
If I get condemned to hell because of an oversight, one mistake committed amongst countless others, then that should not have any bearing on my relationship with Him. Even in hell I will continue to chant His names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Maharishi Valmiki confirms this in Ramacharitamanasa. He says that devotees don’t mind where they go, because they always see their beloved standing close by, holding bow and arrow. This is in reference to the avatara of Shri Rama, but the same applies to any relationship to the personal God, the one who is always with form and substance, though of the transcendental kind.
If the contentious preacher wants to truly frighten me, he should focus on continued material existence. Mistaking a snake for a rope. Considering sense pleasure to be the pinnacle of achievement. Killing innocent life in order to satisfy the taste buds. Not realizing the countless demerits accumulated through improper behavior, which has no connection with righteousness, dharma.
I would find it scary if I could never worship properly, such as when the government institutes draconian measures in the name of public health. When leaders in society insist on being worshiped, after they have told one lie after another. When friends and family keep me in the dark about the spiritual heritage that I should have inherited, which includes endless volumes of information meant for my consuming pleasure.
Otherwise, the challenges to the bhakti way of life will have no effect on me. They will be more noise merging into the background, to not be taken seriously against the overwhelming blissful message of bhagavata, which is passed down through the generations in the parampara system.
To their faith coming near,
With appeal of fear.
Of future doom to tell,
Condemned forever to hell.
But already in this life seeing,
Pain and pleasure from being.
Whether fallen or high to gain,
My devotion to Bhagavan the same.