“Men in this world desire success in fruitive activities, and therefore they worship the demigods. Quickly, of course, men get results from fruitive work in this world.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.12)Download this episode (right click and save)
kāṅkṣantaḥ karmaṇāṁ siddhiṁ
yajanta iha devatāḥ
kṣipraṁ hi mānuṣe loke
siddhir bhavati karma-jā
Shri Krishna encourages it. He covers all aspects of living in a short discourse delivered a long time ago on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. It has since been famously known to generations as the Bhagavad-gita, and the direct recipient of the instruction asked many important questions. He was always in knowledge, but for the benefit of mankind in general he carried on as if unaware of the essential and timeless truths, pearls of wisdom that constitute Vedic culture.
A fundamental aspect of life is eating. It’s better known to the common man as survival. One living entity survives off another living entity. That is simply how the world works. The human is blessed with discrimination derived from a higher intelligence. It can choose what kinds of food to eat. It doesn’t have to kill animals in order to survive.
Short of eating only fruits that fall off of trees, the easy way to survive is to grow food. For that to happen, there must be rain. In this regard, there are higher beings in charge. They determine when and where rain happens. It makes sense, for even though today we can tell the probability of rain falling perhaps a day in advance, we’re still not entirely sure. The material nature is so complex that one slight alteration and the previously predictable pattern is suddenly no more.
annād bhavanti bhūtāni
yajñād bhavati parjanyo
“All living bodies subsist on food grains, which are produced from rain. Rains are produced by performance of yajna [sacrifice], and yajna is born of prescribed duties.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.14)
Shri Krishna says that to get sufficient rainfall man should worship these higher authorities. In Sanskrit they are known as devas, which translates to “gods.” A more accurate translation is “demigod,” since they are still subordinate to the singular source, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. In a different place in the Gita, Krishna describes the worshipers of the demigods to be less intelligent.
How to reconcile the two? How can a person worshiping to get rainfall necessary for survival be less intelligent? The answer comes through carefully analyzing the situation. Demigod worship is a lot like a business transaction. It can be compared to online shopping, even.
1. There is variety in what you can get
The devas offer much more than just rain. If they are pleased, they can grant anything available in a material existence. What do we mean by material? The land which we at present call home is inhabited by pure spirit souls, part of the marginal energy of God. They are described as marginal because they have a choice in association. They are spiritual at the core, but they have independence as it relates to association.
When choosing the material energy, a sort of uniform is required. That uniform is composed of gross and subtle elements. Just as the clothes do not identify the individual, so the body is merely a temporary covering. The body changes within a single lifetime, and then there is a complete replacement after the event known as death.
For the sake of the body, a person worshiping a demigod can get pretty much anything. In a popular online store, there are so many items from which to choose. You can get computers, smartphones, desk lamps, books, bags, shirts, pants, socks, and even food. Whatever you desire is available through a few clicks. Just pick what you want and place it in your virtual shopping cart.
Approaching the demigods is like shopping in one of these stores. One of the most famous shoppers was named Hiranyakashipu. He first asked for immortality, which the store manager known as Brahma did not carry. The shopper then settled for everything else he could think of that would come as close as possible to giving immortality. It would surprise people to know that Brahma had these items in stock.
2. There are different prices
Hiranyakashipu underwent tremendous austerities to get what he wanted. He was willing to pay the price. That was because the items he sought to purchase were rather expensive. For something simple like rainfall, the price isn’t nearly as much. The people of a farm community known as Vrindavana were accustomed to annually worshiping the king of heaven, Indra. They would take items from their harvest and make a formal offering. The simplest item that pleases the demigods is ghee, which is clarified butter. The cost to procure this, especially in ancient times, was not very much.
There are different stores as well. One demigod may not have everything you want, or maybe approaching them is too costly. You may have a preference for a specific demigod, so you go to them; you have some loyalty;
3. There are deals
Spend over a certain amount of money and get free shipping. Sign up for a credit card today and immediately take twenty percent off your bill. Shop on Cyber Monday, the Monday right after the annual holiday known as Thanksgiving, and get the best deals of the year.
Demigod worship has something similar, in that certain times of the year are considered more auspicious. This means that it is easier to get the reward you seek. Follow a specific vow, known as a vrata, and receive the fruit, or phala, more easily than you would at another time of the year.
4. Make the payment and the item is yours
Shopping online is a business transaction. There is no character judgment made. Perhaps if someone associated with the store shows up in the news making derogatory remarks about a certain ethnic group customers may decide to institute a boycott, but during the actual shopping there is a laser-like focus from both parties. The seller wants to get rid of the items, to clear the inventory, and the buyer looks to purchase what they want.
In a similar manner, the demigods do not make character judgments. Hiranyakashipu was a bad apple. He was the king of the Daityas, which is a race of asuras, or demons, descending from a woman known as Diti. Her sister Aditi started the line of good guys, the suras.
Lord Brahma is also a sura, but he did not deny service to the Daitya customer that was Hiranyakashipu. Lord Shiva has many times given out benedictions to asuras. This is the role played by the demigods. They are not to judge. Personally, they may have a certain opinion of someone, but when running the online store there is no denial of service. First come, first serve.
5. It’s business; nothing personal
Just because I shop at an online store regularly, it doesn’t mean that I am friends with the owner. It doesn’t mean that I know anything about them, even. It’s just business, after all. I desire a particular good or service, and the store provides it. It’s as simple as that.
Demigod worship in one sense can be even worse than this. Neutrality is one thing, but imagine if the store you’ve been loyal to for years suddenly goes into a vengeful fury because you decided to go elsewhere one time. This happened with the aforementioned Indra. The people of Vrindavana skipped the annual puja, or formal worship, in his honor one year in favor of a nearby hill named Govardhana. This was at the insistence of Shri Krishna, who was in the form of a darling child, the son of Nanda Maharaja and mother Yashoda.
You would think that Indra wouldn’t mind, considering how much business he had done previously. To the contrary, he was so angry at the slight that he tried to wipe out the entire community in retaliation. The worship of Govardhana was in the mood of bhakti, or devotion. It was not to get any particular reward. It was to please Krishna, who was loved by everyone in Vrindavana.
Krishna protected the residents from the ensuing rain, which had created something like the flood of devastation. That one incident proves the validity of Krishna’s statement in the Gita relating to demigod worship being for the less intelligent. The online store can only do so much for us. It cannot take care of our spiritual wellbeing. It may lead us in the proper direction through understanding that there are higher powers in charge of the creation, but the interactions themselves are not in the mood of devotion. Bhakti can only be offered to Krishna or one of His non-different forms. Bhakti is for the most intelligent, as they get a reward that no demigod can offer: continued bliss in the surrender of devotion, lifetime after lifetime.
Store sometimes with bargain, a steal,
Customers readily looking for a deal.
Like a store with items fully in stock,
Demigods practically everything they’ve got.
Friendship not made, not relationship in trust,
Nothing personal, business it is just.
Bhakti for those with intelligence more,
Krishna’s pleasure doing everything for.