“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)
तान् अहं द्विषतः क्रूरान्
क्षिपाम्य् अजस्रम् अशुभान्
आसुरीष्व् एव योनिषु
tān ahaṁ dviṣataḥ krūrān
kṣipāmy ajasram aśubhān
āsurīṣv eva yoniṣu
“I am sure you have come across such people. They are open about their religion. They proclaim allegiance to such and such, who is considered their savior. It seems to be a convenient excuse to justify other improper behavior. Libel, slander, dealings that are not straightforward – everything is okay because of their faith.
“You delve a little further and you find out that the primary justification for their allegiance is a desire to avoid hell. You see, because they believe they are automatically saved. Others are not so fortunate. The non-aligned are at risk of being condemned for eternity. No way out. No chance at redemption.
“Let’s not even address the issue of free will, and how being saved forever means that independence in action would have to be squashed for such a condition to exist. We won’t go over the thousands of human beings who are not fortunate enough to reach maturity in thought and contemplation, wherein they fail to properly make the choice in favor of faith.
“I have a problem with the underlying coercion. You mean you are only worshiping because you are afraid of hell? You are afraid of God? How is that something to be proud of? At the foundation of commerce is choice. You are open to visiting a particular store. You can choose not to. You can opt for that new, experimental medical treatment, giving informed consent, or you can decline. Once force is involved, the nature of the interaction changes.
“Why should we only worship God out of a threat? Why should we be afraid of Him? Something doesn’t sit right with me. There is little appeal in simply avoiding future distress, as we already endure so much.”
We could say this is an example of impure devotion. There is some material desire as the justification for aligning with the godly side. In Vedic teachings, there is something known as karma. This is fruitive activity; action and reaction.
Wanting to avoid a hellish existence falls within the category of karma. I act in a certain way so that I enjoy materially in the future. The span of potential manifestation is not limited. That is to say, karma can involve the current lifetime and also any future ones. The reactions to fruitive activity may not manifest immediately, and they may not remain for a long time, but there is always some action as the root cause.
अदृष्टगुणदोषाणामध्रुवाणां तु कर्मणाम्
नान्तरेण क्रियां तेषां फलमिष्टं प्रवर्तते
adṛṣṭaguṇadoṣāṇāmadhruvāṇāṃ tu karmaṇām
nāntareṇa kriyāṃ teṣāṃ phalamiṣṭaṃ pravartate
“Unseen and indefinite are the good and bad reactions of fruitive work. And without taking action, the desired fruits of such work cannot manifest.” (Lakshmana speaking to Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Aranya Kand, 66.17)
In Bhagavad-gita, Shri Krishna explains that when people initially approach Him, they tend to fall into one of four categories. One person is looking for further knowledge of the Absolute. They already have jnana and seek further progress. Another person is generally inquisitive; they are interested by this thing called dharma.
One person wants wealth; they are not shy about it. The fourth person is in distress. They have no one else to help them. They understand that God is Almighty, that He is the superior force in every space of existence.
There is impurity in each of these approaches. The distressed person wants their miseries removed. This might involve a total cessation of material life. To renounce the world, move to a cave, and barely speak throughout the day. The activity is not necessarily important; it is the consciousness which determines the level of purity.
The height of dharma is to act according to the Divine will, solely for His satisfaction. This is known as pure devotion. Shri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu gives the example of the gopis of Vrindavana, who set the standard.
Though they are not considered official teachers of the bhakti-yoga system, though they are not recognized within their society as particularly learned, they exhibit pure devotion in everything they do. Their only interest is the pleasure of Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. They do not mind going to hell, even, as long as they can continue to remember Him and offer some kind of service.
When a person understands God in full, they will no longer fear Him. They understand that He casts the sinful into lower species. The more grievous the offenses to dharma, the worst kind of future birth. This may continue for many lifetimes, but even the Supreme Lord is willing to forgive and liberate, as indicated by His avatara descents of Rama, Krishna and Narasimha.
Hope is never fully erased. There is always a chance for redemption, and the wise person avoids the risk of waiting after many inauspicious births. They make the most out of the present conditions, understanding God through the teachings of the acharya, and working in the direction of pure devotion to further both self-interest and the pleasure of the all-attractive one: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Reason for coming near,
Never should be fear.
Or that towards hell to strike,
Into demoniac species alike.
Rather enduring troubles already,
For something else devotion steady.
That with Supreme Lord always to stay,
Guided and protected by His way.