“Devotees of the Supreme Lord are twenty-four hours daily engaged in glorifying the pastimes of the Supreme Lord. Their hearts and souls are constantly submerged in Krishna, and they take pleasure in discussing Him with other devotees.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 10.9 Purport)
“Hey man, how’s it going? I’m calling to let you know that we’re having a special puja at our house this Saturday. It’s an auspicious occasion, something that only comes around once a year. If you do this puja then you’re promised good health, good fortune, and safety for the upcoming year. Such and such is the beneficiary of the worship, and when they are pleased they liberally give out benedictions.
“Why don’t we hold this puja every day, you ask? Well, I mean it’s not required that it be done every day. You only have to do it once on the day prescribed for it. That’s why you should attend. We’re having a lot of people over that day, and we’ll have nice food afterwards. This is a good way to stay in touch with spiritual life, to keep yourself grounded. If we did it every day, it would lose its meaning. I don’t think you’re even allowed to hold this puja every day.”
It’s only common sense to wonder why the worship in this hypothetical scenario doesn’t take place every day. You bathe every day; at least that is the hygienic thing to do. You eat every day. You watch television every day. You go on the internet every day. Why, then, should you only worship on special occasions? Perhaps there are other ceremonies that occur more frequently, but then again, we should ask why they don’t occur all the time.
The day is simply a demarcation of time. It’s like taking a large pizza pie and dividing it up into eight slices. The division does nothing to change the constitution of the pizza. The slices are there to make the pie easier to eat when with others. It’s easier for the establishment to sell the pizza to individuals that way too.
Time is a much larger continuum that is impossible to fully grasp. What to speak of the full existence of the universe, we can’t even get a hold of our own time on earth. That is why we take note of the days, weeks, months and years. We celebrate our birthday as a way to recognize that a certain amount of time has passed. As time really makes no difference on who we are, why should we base our religious activities on it? Why shouldn’t we worship all the time?
The function in the above referenced scenario is known as demigod worship in the Vedas. The puja can also be likened to a yajna, or sacrifice, but in general such kinds of worship are reserved for a particular divine figure who can grant material benedictions. This last point is what automatically prevents the worship from taking place more regularly. The worship of the demigods can be compared to walking up to a vending machine, putting in coins, selecting your item of choice, and then walking away with the dispensed item. Once you have gotten what you want, what is the purpose to going back to the machine to put in more money? You don’t need another item, so the money will go to waste if you offer it to the machine, no?
If I worship a divine figure with the intent of getting good fortune in return, once that fortune arrives, I need to do something with it. I asked for it for a reason. If I want a home gym for my birthday and my parents buy it for me, will I not want to start exercising on it? During that time of exercise, what would be the point in asking the parents for another home gym? Rather, I won’t ask for anything again until I need it.
But should religious life be like this? Should it involve business transactions? I can get stuff without worshiping anyone. Indeed, this is a contributing factor to the widespread lack of God consciousness in the modern day society. With so much material opulence available, what need is there for worshiping God? If I have my tablet computer, high definition television, and fancy automobile, why do I need to waste my time with religion?
The Vedas give us demigod worship and many pujas for acquiring material opulence, so there is a legitimate purpose to them. It is better to worship for things to get them than to think that things appear on their own. If I worship someone to get material opulence, at least I have an understanding that there is a higher power. That is one step closer to the complete realization that I am not the supreme controller. I am a spirit soul, part and parcel of God, but I am not equal to Him. I am always inferior and He is always superior.
“Those whose minds are distorted by material desires surrender unto demigods and follow the particular rules and regulations of worship according to their own natures.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.20)
If I remain stuck on demigod worship, I have not made the most out of my existence. As mentioned before, there is no purpose to going back to the vending machine once you have gotten what you want. Similarly, there is no reason to repeat the puja once you have asked for and received your specific reward. If you do want to continue worshiping, you have to change the beneficiary. Ironically enough, we can look to those who are worshiped for material opulence to understand to where we should turn.
Lord Shiva is one of the famous divine figures of the Vedic tradition. He is known as Ashutosha because he is easily pleased. As Goswami Tulsidas mentions in his Vinai Patrika, just by a simple offering made to Shiva people have turned from paupers into wealthy kings instantly. There is practically no limit to the material opulence that Lord Shiva will give you if he is pleased by your worship.
The wise person takes a step back and reflects for a second. “Wait, I’m getting all of this material opulence, but what about Lord Shiva? I heard that he lives on a cold mountain wearing the garb of an ascetic. He has the most beautiful and chaste wife in Parvati Devi, but he spends all his time muttering the name of Rama. He has the power to destroy the entire creation, and yet he is not interested in any kind of material activity. He gives away opulence, but he obviously doesn’t think that the opulence is very important. He must have something more valuable.”
A devotee of Lord Shiva once had a similar epiphany. It came to him after interacting with a famous Vaishnava saint. Sanatana Gosvami was living in Vrindavana. Previously he was a government minister and very wealthy. He also had a touchstone that could turn iron into gold. Yet he gave all that up in order to live a renounced life in Vrindavana. There he spent all his time worshiping Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Krishna expands into Vishnu and also Rama, who is Lord Shiva’s worshipable figure of choice.
This Shiva devotee heard that Sanatana Gosvami had previously owned the touchstone, so he went to find out where it was. Sanatana Gosvami told the devotee where to find it. He did not hesitate to give away the location. While feverishly pursuing this touchstone, the devotee began to wonder why Sanatana Gosvami didn’t want it. He eventually realized that Sanatana Gosvami had something much more valuable. He had devotion to God, which could be practiced every day. Indeed, this is the same valuable gem that Lord Shiva and other famous Vaishnavas possess.
“There is a nice story about Shrila Sanatana Gosvami. He had a touchstone with him, and this stone was left in a pile of refuse. A needy man took it, but later on wondered why the valuable stone was kept in such a neglected place. He therefore asked Sanatana Gosvami for the most valuable thing, and then he was given the holy name of the Lord.” (Teachings of Queen Kunti, 10 Purport)
When you worship God every day, not desiring any material benedictions, you are practicing bhakti-yoga. In this age Lord Chaitanya, the spiritual master of Sanatana Gosvami, has made the practice of bhakti-yoga available to everyone. One doesn’t have to attend a specific puja held only once a year. They don’t have to pay money to get this most valuable gift. They simply have to have the good fortune of meeting a Krishna devotee and hearing from them the most powerful mantra of “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”
Now, imagine if you were to call up your friend and say, “Hey, man, I’m having a bhakti-yoga program at my home this Saturday. For what reason, you ask? Just because; it’s fun. It’s a way to show our love for God. The worship is itself the reward. We don’t have to hold it this particular Saturday, for we worship every day by chanting the holy names, but we figure the more of a routine we can make, the better off we’ll be. If we’re supposed to love to make our lives truly worthwhile, why not love God, who is superior to the temporary manifestations effected by time and space? Isn’t it common sense to want to be happy all the time through service?”
Demigod worship, ritualistic worship to attain benedictions, cleansing rituals to remove evil spirits, and other such events will always have more patrons than bhakti-yoga programs. This is the reality, as the material world is the home for those who are averse to divine love. Nevertheless, if one just hears the holy name and then gets the itching to repeat it, even with a little discomfort in the beginning stages they can reach the point where they understand that life is meant for worshiping God without motivation and without interruption. And through the holy name that worship can go on and on, carrying forward into the next life as well.
“Come over to my house at end of the week,
For puja, material benedictions to seek.
Why not do the worship daily you inquire?
What is use after coveted gift acquired?
After candy from vending machine you have got,
Why again money into it will you drop?”
Real worship meant to be available to all,
Not only to specific item in hopes to call.
Sanatana Gosvami threw away his touchstone,
Higher taste in worshiping Supreme Lord alone.