“Whenever there is chetana, or knowledge, the personal feature comes in. In the spiritual world everything is full of knowledge, and therefore everything in the transcendental world, the land, the water, the tree, the mountain, the river, the man, the animal, the bird - everything - is of the same quality, namely chetana, and therefore everything there is individual and personal.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.9.38 Purport)
As soon as you speak of the Almighty as being knowledgeable, you admit the presence of a personality. A personality has an accompanying form. You may call that form subtle, invisible, unimaginably gigantic, existing behind a curtain of bright light, or what have you, but there is still a form. The personality is also distinct from other personalities, as this is how we distinguish one person from another right now. So if the Almighty is supreme, knowledgeable, and a personality, why not worship Him as such?
If you have a curiosity to learn more about the philosophy that is commonly referred to as Hinduism, the majority of the reading material you will find will focus on the Supreme Absolute Truth as a formless force known as Brahman. The philosophy can be summarized as such: “We are all Brahman, part of the singular energy. I am Brahman and so are you. The ancient sages of the past have passed on information on how to become Brahman realized, which means merging into this light of truth. There are different paths available, but they are all more or less the same. Some choose to meditate, some choose to study, and some choose to worship. If you want to worship, a process generally reserved for the less intelligent, you can pick any of five different forms: Durga, Shiva, Ganesha, Surya or Narayana. Worship them with full faith and attention and eventually you’ll get the qualities necessary for Brahman realization. Mainly, you’ll become immune to the effects of heat and cold, happiness and sadness, and birth and death. You’ll be happy in spiritual realization. This pleasure is known as Brahmananda or Brahmasukha. Then you will merge into transcendence and be forever blissful.”
Mind you, much of this is correct. Brahman is indeed real. We are all Brahman, a fact very difficult to realize. Those who know Brahman operate in the material mode of nature known as goodness, or sattva-guna. The name implies something good. We wouldn’t want to be bad, would we? Maybe if we’re trying to attract an available female being a “bad boy” would get us somewhere, but in spiritual life, where knowledge is power, it would make sense to try to be good. Indeed, the initial push towards spiritual life probably takes place to get away from bad behavior.
In the mode of passion I see the material nature as a collection of things for my personal enjoyment, which is tied to my temporary body. I still operate under some guidelines, and so I work hard to get the enjoyment that I want. In the mode of ignorance I don’t care about anything except my immediate gratification, even if what I do doesn’t actually benefit me. I sleep the day away, drink myself into oblivion, and steal from people if I have to.
“O sinless one, the mode of goodness, being purer than the others, is illuminating, and it frees one from all sinful reactions. Those situated in that mode develop knowledge, but they become conditioned by the concept of happiness.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 14.6)
In the Bhagavad-gita it is said that while the mode of goodness is better than passion and ignorance, one becomes conditioned by the happiness they receive. Think of it like getting rewards for doing good things. You’re still getting rewards tied to a temporary body, so you haven’t really transcended anything. In the Vedas, the scriptural works that are the origins of that which is commonly referred to as Hinduism, it is said that one in the mode of goodness goes to the heavenly planets after death. They get to enjoy there for a long time, but the enjoyment is similar to what a king experiences. They eat nice food, drink intoxicating beverages, and enjoy nicely with members of the opposite sex.
Yet we see this kind of enjoyment on earth already, and people get sick of it. There has to be more to life. There is a step beyond the Brahman realization in the mode of goodness. One should proceed further, but if their teacher only knows Brahman, they are out of luck. The Vaishnavas are devotees of the personal aspect of the Absolute Truth. The personal is the source of the impersonal. Acknowledgement of the personal’s existence is vital if one wants to tackle the root cause of the descent into the ocean of material suffering. That root cause is envy.
“Really? I was jealous of God? That is so sad. I don’t want to believe it. Why would I be jealous of Him? He’s everything and I’m nothing, so I can’t believe that I ever envied Him.”
While it may be hard to believe, just look at the situation today and assess for yourself whether or not the claim is true. If someone asks you what you’re doing on a Friday night and you tell them that you’re going to a movie or a nightclub, they won’t give you much opposition. They might ask more details about what you’re going to do there. However, if you tell them that you’re going to a religious program, some place where people will gather together to worship the Supreme Lord, the conversation will likely end. Who wants to hear about that? And the latter reaction is not due entirely to cynicism caused by fanaticism or the general negative viewpoint towards organized religion. There is envy that exists, wherein one tries to compete with the Supreme Lord for enjoyment. Think of trying to best your friend in a video game. Expand that out to the largest scale, incorporating the largest number of players, and you get the material world.
God is very kind to us. He will not take us away from the play area if we don’t want release. If our envy remains, He will keep us away from Him. Why would He want to associate with someone who doesn’t love Him? Do we purposefully seek out enemies and combatants? Perhaps a military man does so to practice their skills, but in ordinary dealings we try to be with loved ones, people who have our interests at heart.
To know God’s interests, one must know more about Him. The Vaishnavas seek to educate everyone on what God looks like, what He prefers, what His features are, where He lives, and most importantly, how one can connect with Him right now, today. As soon as there is a sincere desire to make that connection, all past mistakes are eradicated. This is nicely pointed out by the Vaishnava saint named Tulsidas.
“The many past births you spoiled can be rectified right now, today, if you start chanting Shri Rama’s holy name and renounce bad association, says Tulsi.” (Dohavali, 22)
The Vaishnavas in the present age descend from one of four disciplic successions. The word Vaishnava refers to a devotee of Vishnu, who is the Supreme Lord in His beautiful, four-handed form. The Vaishnava sampradayas all worship some form of Vishnu, with one line descending from Brahma worshiping Krishna as the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Some of the lines worship Rama, who is the deity of choice for Goswami Tulsidas. There is the original Lord and then personal expansions, but they are all the same. We living entities are separated expansions, so we are not the same as God. In addition, the demigods, even up to the most elevated personalities, are also different from God. Therefore the previously mentioned worship of the five deities, known as the panchopasana, is not valid. The Narayana mentioned there is also not the same; He is an impersonal version reserved for the seekers of Brahmasukha.
The real Narayana is four-handed and has a body full of bliss and knowledge. Knowledge cannot belong to a stone. The deity of Narayana worshiped with the goal of merging into Brahman does not have knowledge to give to anyone. Yet the same deity worshiped with love and devotion can directly bring God’s association. This is an example of the duality present in this material world. If we are without God consciousness, everything is maya, or illusion. If we are fully immersed in God consciousness, everything can be used to keep our connection to God.
The two best names for God are Krishna and Rama, and when one worships God, they should also worship His energy. Lord Chaitanya has made the process simple for everyone. He also made worship of God accessible to everyone. Simplicity and accessibility are accounted for in His recommendation for chanting the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare,” which is the call to arms for our generation and all ones yet to come. In this chanting, which is part of bhakti-yoga, the foremost occupation for the soul, the personal aspect of the Almighty is revealed, and one soon basks in His association.
If worship of stone you take privilege,
Know that it alone cannot have knowledge.
A personality only has chetana property,
Must know for doing worship properly.
Otherwise impersonal association only to get,
Despite however firm your devotion set.
Vaishnavas give information of God complete,
Chant His names and no longer with Him compete.