“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
“Everything about the bhakti-yoga presentation, from what I have been exposed to, has been about a person. In fact, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada intentionally translates the Sanskrit word of bhagavan as ‘Supreme Personality of Godhead.’
“That series of words certainly gets your attention, but I never realized the purpose behind the use until I came upon other commentators who have a different translation. They would refer to God as the ‘Supreme Formless Absolute.’ It is laughable, if you think about it, as they would reference the same scriptural texts in their discussions. In those works there are people doing things.
“A formless entity did not speak to Arjuna. It was not a voice from the sky that delivered Bhagavad-gita. There is a distinct person, an individual. Although He can go by various names, there is no mistaking who He is. Similarly, Shri Rama is a person, as is Vishnu, who speak about the eternal standing of God with respect to the three periods of time, as they relate to Brahma, the creator.
अहम् एवासम् एवाग्रे
नान्यद् यत् सद्-असत् परम्
पश्चाद् अहं यद् एतच् च
यो ऽवशिष्येत सो ऽस्म्य् अहम्
aham evāsam evāgre
nānyad yat sad-asat param
paścād ahaṁ yad etac ca
yo ‘vaśiṣyeta so ‘smy aham
“Brahma, it is I, the Personality of Godhead, who was existing before the creation, when there was nothing but Myself. Nor was there the material nature, the cause of this creation. That which you see now is also I, the Personality of Godhead, and after annihilation what remains will also be I, the Personality of Godhead.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.9.33)
“The question I have relates to someone who might accept the entire presentation as sectarian. It is not that they disagree with any of the principles presented, but they are hesitant to surrender to another savior, as they see it. What is the option for them, particularly if they are not necessarily fond of someone named Krishna or Rama?”
The Supreme Lord is so merciful that there are many ways to understand Him. Depending on your degree of inhibition, on the level of realization, you have a certain interaction. For instance, if you are mired in alcoholism, unable to kick the dependency to adult beverages, you can appreciate God through your drink of choice. You can think along the following lines:
“This taste is spectacular. It always manages to hit the spot. If there is a God, He must be responsible for this drink. While other people go to church on Sundays, I appreciate Him on a daily basis.”
If there is an issue with surrendering to a personality, a person can understand God through His all-pervading feature of Brahman. This is the correlating entity referenced by those who view the Almighty as the Supreme Formless Absolute. They are too blinded by the transcendental effulgence emerging from the spiritual world to be able to discern the distinct individual behind the spiritual energy.
There are several instances documented in Vedic literature of impersonalists who later became surrendered souls. They were fully realized in the spiritual energy of Brahman, no longer caring for the ups and downs of a temporary world. They were dedicated to the path of righteousness, dharma, but they had yet to appreciate the sweetness of the direct engagement.
क्लेशो ऽधिकतरस् तेषाम्
अव्यक्ता हि गतिर् दुःखं
kleśo ‘dhikataras teṣām
avyaktā hi gatir duḥkhaṁ
“For those whose minds are attached to the unmanifested, impersonal feature of the Supreme, advancement is very troublesome. To make progress in that discipline is always difficult for those who are embodied.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 12.5)
If steady at the impersonal level, there is still no harm in hearing Krishna-katha. At the very least, the discourses are a constructive use of time. There are Krishna’s direct instructions, vani, and also marks left by the actions of His transcendental body, vapu.
The devotees, who are strongly aligned on the personal side, tend to condemn impersonalism. They see it as a misuse of the wonderful opportunity in the human birth to understand spiritual topics. At the same time, the path is still available. No one is shut out completely. Even the atheists are following Krishna, though they may not know. They are worshiping the material energy, which has its accompanying destination.
The end-goal for impersonalism is merging into the formless Brahman energy, but those on the personal side get to retain their identity, through and through, into however many successive births they get. They see the all-attractive one wherever they are, and they relish the opportunity to serve Him.
“Only as concept want to know,
Not ready yet in bhakti to go.
Is that possible for me,
Or jealous God is He?”
Everyone following already,
From atheist to servant steady.
Difference only in destination set,
From personal highest benefit to get.