“Out of His immensely charitable disposition He can award some temporary powers to the yogis because of the yogis hankering after them, but to His unalloyed devotees, who do not want anything from the Lord save and except His transcendental service, the Lord is so pleased that He gives Himself in exchange for unalloyed service.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.9.17 Purport)
Would we prefer to receive the personal association of our friends and family or checks in the mail from them periodically? Does the young child prefer to receive gifts from the parents in lieu of their presence? Gifts are always nice in the short term, but the quality time spent together stays with you throughout your life. More importantly, a loved one’s presence indicates a sacrifice on their part, as to give oneself is the greatest gift to offer. In the same way, the Supreme Lord reserves His most precious gift for those who love Him the most. All others receive gifts from the same all-powerful, but those rewards are not equal to that which is given to the devotees.
What kinds of gifts are there? And why are they inferior to the greatest gift?
For starters, we should establish that nothing in this world is our own. Sure, we have temporary claim on various objects, but we did not create them. If we build a tree-house in the backyard, someone still had to create the yard. Someone had to make the tree. We could import those items from elsewhere, but nevertheless the objects themselves must exist. The earth was here before we were born and it will be here after we die. Therefore we really don’t own anything; we only have temporary proprietorship based on interactions in the journey through life.
Everything that we do have a temporary hold on is a gift from a higher power, who is the source of the objects in question. In this regard, everyone is a beneficiary. The rich person is apparently a greater beneficiary than the poor person, but in either case there is dependency. In the Vedas, the gifts are categorized based on the type of work put forth by the individual. The material rewards pertaining to opulence come to those who follow karma, or fruitive activity. Knowledge, a subtle reward, is the benefit given to the empiricists, the philosophers who do more thinking than working. And mystic perfections are the gift bestowed upon the meditational yogis.
Whether one is a fruitive worker, a mental speculator, or a meditational yogi, the gifts received are not considered superior. They are akin to the checks sent in the mail by the parents. As established previously, distributing money is not the best way to show love. Money is impersonal, and it doesn’t represent that great a sacrifice from the individual. Sure, one has to work in order to earn money, which means that parting with it is a kind of sacrifice of time. Nevertheless, to sacrifice time to spend with someone else is more significant because that same time could be spent earning money.
For the Supreme Lord, giving gifts that relate to His temporary material creation is like handing out pennies to someone on the street; the rewards are insignificant. With a single exhalation He can create an entire universe, so what is it to grant a few mystic perfections to the yogi? The yogi still can’t create on the same scale, and to reach any of their opulences they have to do so much work. God doesn’t have to do the same work; He is always superior.
The bhaktas earn God’s direct association. When following bhakti-yoga in purity, where there is no motivation to receive any of the insignificant opulences offered to others, the Supreme Lord actually takes the initiative to bring Himself to the devotee all the time. The question of “Can you show me God?” is not asked by the devotee because they see God all the time. They hear Him in the chanting of the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” They see Him in the deity in the temple. They taste Him in the remnants of foodstuff offered to His deity. They smell Him in the fragrant flowers offered to Him, and they feel Him when in the presence of other devotees.
They see God’s influence even in others who are not devoted. The devotees know that the material nature represents God’s external energy, and so the atheists are also connecting with God in some way. The loving relationship is appreciated more than the monetary support because money can be offered by anyone. We only have one mom and one dad, so their association is unique. Similarly, there is only one God, though He may be addressed differently depending on the spiritual tradition followed. His company is available, however, and the saints who follow bhakti-yoga know how to earn it. They don’t even specifically seek His favor, but in serving Him and His devotees, the Lord gives Himself over, like He does with the gopis of Vrindavana and the Vanaras of the Kishkindha forest.
If we have trouble believing this, we can at least acknowledge that the gifts we have in life come from somewhere. Paying homage to the donor is nice, and since those gifts are available to everyone, the donor is the most charitable person. The heat of the sun is available to every single person, as is the water from the rain. If material elements like these are universally distributed, then why shouldn’t the donor’s personal presence have the same reach? Since the Supreme Lord is the all-powerful His personal association received in exchanged for unalloyed service ensures that whatever opulences are needed are readily available, clearing the way for the mind to continue in service without interruption.
Money from parents allows me to live,
But I’d rather their company they give.
Mother and father, loving parents two,
Their sacrifice of time of greater value.
Gifts within material nature are already found,
So why not Supreme Lord can offer same rewards abound?
To His devotees He gives the most special gift,
His personal association, spirits eternally to uplift.