“Indeed, You alone know Yourself by Your own potencies, O origin of all, Lord of all beings, God of gods, O Supreme Person, Lord of the universe!” (Arjuna, Bhagavad-gita, 10.15)Download this episode (right click and save)
One group recommends worshiping the panchopasana. They believe in spirituality, but the end goal is merging into the formless Absolute Truth. Every living being is the same at the core. There is no Supreme Deity, just certain people who are more realized than others. Once everyone becomes spiritually realized, they merge back together.
The panchopasana is a collection of five deities. They are gods, in a sense, and there is really no difference between them. The appearance is different, that’s all. They are different manifestations of Brahman. Worship any one that you like, but keep in mind that the goal is detachment from the senses. Once you become advanced enough, you will have to abandon your worship.
Another group says that certain deities are just prophets. They are representatives teaching a specific religion suited for the time. Pay no attention to their actual words, since the speculation about all religions being the same sounds better. It is easier to digest. It is a way to steer clear of sectarian designations. I’m okay, and you’re okay.
The truth of the matter, determined by authority coming from the descending process, is a little different. There are grades of living entities, some higher and some lower. Higher meaning closer to ultimate enlightenment and lower meaning further away. There are many heavenly beings and empowered representatives, but also a single supreme. One of His names is Krishna and there are ways to know that He is different from the other gods.
1. He is not running a business
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada translates the Sanskrit word deva as “demigod.” The word just means “god” but the prefix is added to give emphasis to the fact that they are still subordinate to the Supreme. One way to tell is that the interactions with their worshipers is something like running a business.
You go to a store, pick out what you want, make the payment, and then go home. The relationship ends there. The store owner doesn’t come over for dinner. You don’t go back the next day to find out how they are doing. These things may happen in the odd circumstance, but they are unrelated to the purchases. The exchange of goods and services is strictly business.
In the same way, with worship of demigods you do what is required and then take what you want. With Shri Krishna, the same does not apply. He is never bound by any rules of the material world. You can ask Him for stuff, but He is not obliged to agree. You can worship for thousands of years even, but that still won’t change His mind. He uses discretion with His worshipers.
2. He doesn’t get angry at being neglected
The living entities, the bhutas, come to this world due to forgetfulness of God. Through His role as Paramatma, the Supreme Lord witnesses every action - past, present and future. This means that He would have justification for being the most offended. He has literally seen the forgetfulness manifest at the largest scale.
Despite this mass neglect, He is not angry. He is always in pleasure, atmarama. The demigods are a little different. Since they have hints of material desire in them, they can get jealous from time to time. In business transactions, you may get something like a loyalty discount. This is a way of paying back the customer for repeat business. With Indra-deva a long time ago, the opposite occurred.
Instead of rewarding loyalty, he punished a single instance of neglect. The people of Vrindavana used to worship him annually. One year they replaced that worship with honor to the nearby hill known as Govardhana. Indra got so angry that he retaliated with a devastating rainstorm. Shri Krishna, at whose insistence the Indra-yajna was skipped, saved the day by lifting the just worshiped Govardhana Hill and using it as an umbrella.
3. He is not obligated to give anything
As mentioned before, Krishna is not running a business with His worshipers. Just because they ask for something material, it doesn’t mean that they will get it. There are real life examples of how the opposite is true with the demigods.
Hiranyakashipu asked for so many material boons after being denied immortality. His object of worship was Lord Brahma, who is the creator. Ravana, another infamous character from ancient times, similarly worshiped Brahma. This was early on, and then later Ravana worshiped Shiva. Lord Shiva has given so many boons to bad characters. Brahma and Shiva do this as part of their duty, but Shri Krishna is never beholden to anyone’s desires.
4. He doesn’t need anyone’s sanction
Worshipers of other gods will argue that their deity of choice is supreme. They may point to certain texts of authority as proof. Yet even this contradiction is explained by Shri Krishna. In the Bhagavad-gita, He says that when He sees someone worshiping a specific god, He gives them the necessary faith to continue.
“I am in everyone's heart as the Supersoul. As soon as one desires to worship the demigods, I make his faith steady so that he can devote himself to some particular deity.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.21)
The idea is that advancing through material life is difficult. Demigod worship is a sort of enticement to trigger initiation into spiritual life. As material desires are difficult to renounce, make the best use by bringing them to divine figures, people who are empowered to help you fulfill them. The end goal never changes, however. The living entity is spiritual, so they must be free of material desires if rebirth is to stop.
“Endowed with such a faith, he seeks favors of a particular demigod and obtains his desires. But in actuality these benefits are bestowed by Me alone.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.22)
Shri Krishna says that the rewards given by the demigods are actually bestowed by Him alone. He gives sanction. He is the power of the powerful. No other god can say this. It is not mentioned anywhere in shastra, or scripture. Realizing this, the wise approach the original benefactor, as He must have something better to offer.
5. He actually assesses requests
Vrikasura asked for a boon that would allow him to kill anyone by simply placing his hand on their head. This is a pretty ridiculous request. It sounds fishy, too, as why would you want to do this to anybody? Lord Shiva, the person whom Vrikasura approached, did not deny the request. That is the rule with demigod worship, after all. If you do everything properly, the reward must be granted. Of course, the rewards have a limitation. They are within the realm of the material world. This world is vast and complex, yet compared to the spiritual energy everything within it, even combined and judged as a collective, is inferior.
Shri Krishna uses discrimination. It is for this reason that the demoniac tend to avoid Him. They know that Krishna, or one of His non-different forms like Vishnu or Rama, will not always come through. Krishna is under no obligation to give anything to anyone. Moreover, for the devotees He assesses whether a particular reward will benefit them in the future. The assessment is based on the spiritual wellbeing. In this way we see that Krishna’s kindness and compassion separate Him from the rest.
Why to worship Krishna alone,
When other gods there are known?
Like going to store, to pick and choose,
For your own benefit to use.
Supreme Lord not always granting,
Special mercy to those His names chanting.
Spiritual welfare, most important of all,
Only through His grace, supreme clear and tall.