“All of them – as they surrender unto Me – I reward accordingly. Everyone follows My path in all respects, O son of Pritha.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.11)
ये यथा मां प्रपद्यन्ते
तांस् तथैव भजाम्य् अहम्
मनुष्याः पार्थ सर्वशः
ye yathā māṁ prapadyante
tāṁs tathaiva bhajāmy aham
manuṣyāḥ pārtha sarvaśaḥ
“I’ve heard it said that every person is following Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. That the concept of an atheist, as we define it, isn’t really valid. That is simply a category of people who are worshiping in a different way. Can you explain further?”
The source authority is Bhagavad-gita, which is a sacred Sanskrit text that essentially carries forward a transcript of a conversation between the Supreme Lord and one of His disciples. God has too many direct followers to count, but Arjuna has a notable distinction of belonging to the warrior class.
Kshatriyas protect others from injury. This is one of the primary purposes of government. Protect innocent life and property. Everything else is secondary. If these two basic principles are not followed, the government is a failure.
Kshatriya is one of four main divisions of occupation to ensure a steady and peaceful progression towards the ultimate goal of liberation from the cycle of birth and death, which is final escape from the land of illusion, governed by the energy known as maya.
In the more common scenario, it is the brahmana who interacts directly with God. It is a member of the priestly order, the top priority within the varnashrama hierarchy, who is worthy of hearing and then safely keeping the information passed down from the original spiritual master, the adi-guru.
As Arjuna is a kshatriya, the interaction, which took place directly on a battlefield, shows the universal appeal and friendship of the Supreme Lord. Shri Krishna is the well-wisher to everyone. Friend or foe. Follower or denier. Priest or thief. Government leader or enemy of the state. God is always with them.
Krishna confirms that everyone follows Him in all respects. He rewards them accordingly, based on the level of surrender. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains further. Each person is proportionately understanding the goal of life to the extent that they are making progress.
For the person who has made no progress, they consider the goal of life to be basic enjoyment, on an ever-increasing scale. More money. Bigger house. More women. Expanding fame. Increase every kind of opulence available.
Another person might understand the spiritual nature of the world, how something within is the animating force for everything that exists. Their goal of life becomes merging into that nature, essentially shedding the temporary identity based on association with matter.
The highest understanding is knowing both the spiritual nature and the distinct individual who is the source of it. The confirmation is there in Krishna. He does not declare to Arjuna that everyone is God. If the Supreme were ultimately formless, then a voice from the sky would have delivered the time-honored instruction of Bhagavad-gita.
The atheists are still worshipers since they are connected to Krishna. They know only His shadow portion, which is the material energy. They are rewarded accordingly in that they remain in ignorance. Their progress is halted, so they stay in the land of birth and death.
It would be something like a student continuously held back in a certain grade in school, since they fail to progress in understanding. The failure is not a disqualification from being a student or a child of parents. But the child who does move forward has something different to experience in the world.
The devotees of Krishna have the complete understanding of matter and spirit, and so they can live joyfully in any situation. Whether heaven or hell, they always see the all-attractive one standing before them, ready to provide ever-increasing bliss through His association: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Always before me standing,
Not through illusion landing.
So that no matter where to go,
His timeless shelter to know.
Others connected in similar way,
But in material world to stay,
Since their interaction capped,
By fault of atheism strapped.