“But ignorant and faithless persons who doubt the revealed scriptures do not attain God consciousness. For the doubting soul there is happiness neither in this world nor in the next.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.40)
In order for a way of life to be adopted, something that will be adhered to and followed, there must be an element of faith. Even the greatest of skeptics have a firm faith in their way of life. This faith especially plays a prominent role in spiritual life. Regardless of the logic and evidence that is presented, naysayers will point to the fact that no one can prove that divine personalities like Lord Krishna and Lord Rama exist. They will say that following the traditions of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, is meaningless because no one can prove without a doubt that Krishna is God or that such a person as God actually exists. To find the solution to any problem, one must have a little faith in the beginning stages. As they say, the proof is in the pudding, so anyone who seriously adopts the prescriptions put forth by the exalted Vaishnavas will surely see tangible benefits in the near future.
The Vedic system is quite straightforward, easy to understand, and not much different than the systems presented by other faiths, except in the level of detail presented. The basic outline for a religion is that in the beginning there was nothing except God. He then took to creating the planet and its population. Next, He set forth the principles and guidelines that one should follow in their day to day lives to remain on the pious path. Deviation from this path would be labeled as sin, which is considered a bad thing.
Vedic evidence provides detail into these same truths. The person known as “God” is actually Krishna or Vishnu depending on how high up the chain of non-different forms of Godhead one wishes to ascend. The universe was indeed created by God, but for a purpose. The creatures that populated the earth were actually purified spirit souls who resided in the transcendental realm previously. Earth was created so as to allow these individuals an opportunity to play out their desires to imitate the Supreme Master. In this way, Krishna is one with His creation, but aloof from it at the same time. Similar to how parents will drop their children off at daycare or at a camp for a day, the material world can be considered a temporary place where the wayward spirit souls who want to try their hand at playing God are dropped off.
Piety and sin refer to the activities that bring one closer to or further away from returning to the spiritual realm. Why would someone want to return? For the definition of “God” to be valid, there can only be a singular entity who occupies this post. If there are multiple “Gods”, then the term “God” doesn’t really mean anything. Under Vedic terminology, the supreme divine entity is addressed by thousands of different names which speak to His limitless transcendental features. His original feature or body goes by the appellation of Bhagavan, which means the most fortunate. There can only be one person is more fortunate than any other person. If there were two Bhagavans, the word couldn’t be used to describe the most fortunate person. It must be noted that often times other exalted personalities and devotees are addressed as Bhagavan, but this is only because they are in association with Krishna. This speaks to the oneness and difference between the living entities and the Supreme Lord. There is separation since there can only be one God, but there is also oneness since the purified devotees, who are completely devoted to Krishna and with Him at all times, can be considered on an equal level as God.
The pious path brings one closer to union with the Supreme Lord in the state known as yoga. Sin is anything which brings one further away from achieving this union. In this way, we see that the material creation can only exist for as long as the desire for sin remains in the wayward spirit souls. Working off this information, the ultimate objective in life is to eradicate sin - those activities which cause a temporary separation from the Lord - and to become completely engrossed in thoughts of Krishna. This mindset is known as Krishna consciousness and it can be easily adopted by anyone who regularly chants “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare” with sincere love. All other aspects of piety descend from this devotional practice. Along with chanting, there are the processes of hearing, remembering, worshiping, surrendering, and many others. Consciousness is shaped by past activities and also serves as the driver of future activities. Therefore the changing of consciousness serves as the most important aspect of spiritual life. Changing one’s consciousness is more important than blindly following a particular exalted personality or some mentally concocted system of piety. Our consciousness is exhibited through outward symptoms. One cannot claim to be God conscious and then take to acts of killing innocent women and children in the name of religion. The symptoms of God consciousness are the exhibition of every beneficial and praiseworthy characteristic; traits which automatically come to those who are in complete connection with Bhagavan.
This all seems straightforward enough. Take to Krishna consciousness through acts of devotion and all other things will fall into place. Yet any time logic and reason are presented to further a point, irrespective of the field of interest, there will be skeptics. With relation to bhakti-yoga, the skeptics will question how a person can know that the soul exists and that its original home is in the spiritual world. “If Krishna is the Supreme Enjoyer, why would He let us come to this miserable material world? How do we even know that Krishna really exists and that He’s not just some mythological figure?” Such skeptics will often come to their own conclusions about life. They will postulate about the essence of life by saying things like, “I don’t firmly believe in anything. I can’t be sure that Krishna or anyone else is God; therefore I can’t seriously adopt any religious discipline. Anyone who does so is simply kidding themselves. Life is about keeping an open mind and not being judgmental.”
The irony is that even the atheists, agnostics, and skeptics have their own religion and belief system. For instance, when the skeptic says that they don’t judge or that they don’t firmly believe in anything, their statement explaining this fact is itself a bold assertion. One side asserts that Krishna is God, while the other firmly believes that they can’t be sure of anything. The skeptic wholly takes shelter of his belief in non-belief, essentially turning himself into a God. A person’s religion or their belief in a “God” represents their ultimate conclusion or philosophy in life. When a person takes shelter of a mentally concocted viewpoint such as skepticism, they are essentially worshipping themselves. Their own mind came up with the idea, and since they believe firmly in this idea, they are worshipers of the mind. The same principle can be applied to any person, regardless of their religious affiliation or lack thereof.
If every person believes in someone or something, how do we determine which entity is worthy of such faith and adoration? First off, we can immediately rule out human beings from being worthy of worship. This is because the human being, along with any other living entity, is mortal. How can a living entity who once roamed around in diapers be capable of being the ultimate object of worship? Moreover, if the person who is being praised is loved and adored simply for a theory they concocted in their mind, wouldn’t it stand to reason that any other person could concoct their own theories? Then doesn’t this make every person worthy of the title of “God”?
These facts reinforce the Vedic assertion that this world was created so as to allow the wayward spirit souls a chance to go hog-wild in their pursuit to become the ultimate proprietors and ultimate enjoyers. Devotees are more than happy to put their faith in Krishna over any ordinary living entity. They are willing to take the chance of believing the transcendental words found in the Ramayana, Shrimad Bhagavatam, Bhagavad-gita, and many other great texts.
Devotional service does involve worship of human beings, but these are no ordinary living entities. The Vaishnavas, the lovers of Vishnu [Krishna], exhibit all the qualities that come with bhakti-yoga. Such exalted figures sincerely took up bhakti under the guidance of their own spiritual master, who in turn learned it from his guru, and so on. Traversing the chain of gurus all the way to the top, one will eventually reach Vishnu or Krishna. In this way, an ordinary living entity who is naturally prone to wanting to compete with God becomes the most exalted of figures through establishing a firm link to the transcendental world. Such personalities never claim to be God, for they are merely humble servants of the Supreme. Anyone who follows their prescriptions will surely be benefitted in the end. The same can’t be said of those who follow the mentally concocted theories of the skeptics and atheists.
“We think there is no need for any other book than the Bhagavatam. Only those other books are acceptable that say something in its favor; the deliberations that go against it, are not worth being called spiritual.” (Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, Shrimad Bhagavatam and Vaishnava Cult)
Based on our personal experiences, the happiness and overall positive outlook of a person tends to have a linear relationship with their belief in and love for God. From the teachings of Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, we understand that the best way to judge a person’s philosophy on life, or their ultimate conclusion, is to see how closely it matches to the philosophy found in the Shrimad Bhagavatam, the crown jewel of Vedic literature. The more a person’s religion, or spiritual system, matches up to this wonderful work, the greater their chances will be at spiritual perfection. By following the prescriptions of the Bhagavatam, one’s demeanor and outlook will also be positively affected. We have often found that the atheists, skeptics, and enemies of Krishna are some of the most miserable people you would ever meet. This makes sense after all, for if one ignores the instructions of the Shrimad Bhagavatam, they are left to take shelter of matter and sense gratification. The material senses can never be satisfied, regardless of whether the senses belong to the individual or to some other entity. Simply acquiring material wealth, beauty, and fame never leads to happiness. Even if one is trying to distribute these opulences to those who are deemed “less fortunate”, the same end-result of misery will be present.
Devotional service, on the other hand, when practiced properly and without selfish motive, leads to happiness for the performer, the instructing spiritual master, the Supreme Lord, and anyone in contact with such transcendental activities. Since this powerful effect is not seen in any other discipline, the supremacy of devotional service is firmly established. Whether we are skeptics, theists, atheists, agnostics, or firm believers in God, we should seriously adopt this practice of devotional service. Even if there is no faith in the beginning stages, Lord Chaitanya, the inaugurator of the sankirtana movement, will kindly guide the humble spiritualist in his efforts. The mercy of Shri Gaurahari is that He will increase one’s devotion to whichever form of Godhead they are naturally inclined to serve. In this way, we never have to give up our divine object of worship in lieu of another. The aim is to simply have faith in God and always be thinking of Him in a loving way. Every person believes in something or someone. If we’re going to believe in someone, it might as well be Krishna. No ordinary human being could have spoken the words found in the Bhagavad-gita or performed the wonderful activities of the lifting of Govardhana Hill and the displaying of the universal form. These activities are reserved for Krishna and His non-different expansions. Taking shelter of such a Lord, the devotee will never meet defeat.