“In the material world the struggle for existence and survival of the fittest are laws because in the material world there is disparity between conditioned souls due to everyone's desire to lord it over the material resources. This very mentality of lording it over the material nature is the root cause of conditioned life. And to give facility to such imitation lords, the illusory energy of the Lord has created a disparity between conditioned living beings by creating the stronger and the weaker in every species of life.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.15.25-26)Download this episode (right click and save)
Reincarnation. More easily understood as “the changing of bodies.” There is the individual, who is spirit soul. There is the body, which is like a set of clothes worn by that soul. The clothes continue to change; they don’t remain the same. Within one lifetime there are so many changes, and at the time of death there is a complete renewal, giving up one body in favor of another.
This truth is the basis of the spiritual science. It is the introduction to a whole new world, one we are actually familiar with but have forgotten for a long time. That world is available for every person, as it corresponds to the very nature of the individual.
The exercise to facilitate the return travel to the highest destination is described by such terms as bhagavata-dharma and bhakti-yoga. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada translates these to mean “Krishna consciousness” or “devotional service.” There are some common objections raised to practicing bhakti-yoga, and studying these helps to better understand the universal nature of the practice.
1. I already have a religion
“I am of such and such religion. How do I know, you ask? Because my parents are from that religion. I know, I know. Some people are from mixed families. The mother is of a certain religion and the father a different one. Still, they are the ones who decide how the children will be raised. I will make the same decision sometime in the future, when I have children of my own. I don’t need to convert to an Eastern religion in order to feel happy.”
As described above, the foundation of the spiritual science is something applicable to all living beings. There is no sectarian designation involved. One of the most famous speakers of this truth, Shri Krishna, did not qualify His remarks by associating them with any particular religion. Bhakti-yoga is for everyone. It is the complete picture to the abstract given by other traditions. There is no conversion required in the traditional sense. Simply the consciousness has to change; from material to spiritual.
2. God put us on this earth to enjoy
“I get that you want to serve God, but your way is too restrictive. What is wrong with eating meat? Who cares what you put in your body? I don’t see a problem with indulging in alcohol every now and then. I believe in God, and I believe that He put us on this earth to enjoy. He derives great pleasure by seeing our happiness. I don’t see the need to suffer so much.”
This objection is in response to the concept of tapasya, which is austerity or penance. Tapasya is a key factor in clearing the consciousness of dirty things. Moreover, the basis for the changing of bodies, the catalyst for the cycle of reincarnation, is the desire to enjoy separate from God, to lord it over the material resources.
He is originally a person. Since He is all-attractive in His transcendental body and activities, one name to address Him is Krishna. As soon as there was a desire to enjoy separate from Him, the descent to the material world took place. In that world there is surely happiness, but it is mixed with sadness. There is both pain and pleasure. Everything is temporary, so nothing good can last forever.
The Supreme Lord does indeed want us to enjoy, but forgetting Him is not the way. That sort of enjoyment is illusion; maya in Sanskrit. I skip a day from school. I enjoy staying in bed and watching television for hours. There is temporary enjoyment. But on this day there is a big exam in one of the classes. By failing to appear, I have now failed the class. I will have to make it up at some point in the future.
“O best of the Bharatas, now please hear from Me about the three kinds of happiness which the conditioned soul enjoys, and by which he sometimes comes to the end of all distress. That which in the beginning may be just like poison but at the end is just like nectar and which awakens one to self-realization is said to be happiness in the mode of goodness.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 18.36-37)
This is a rough analogy to explain how the happiness in illusion, through forgetting the Supreme Lord and His all-attractiveness, only brings misery upon misery. Bhakti-yoga is the way to eternal happiness, and that suffering in the beginning actually leads to nectar in the end.
3. I worship God through being a good person
“I don’t need to specifically practice bhakti-yoga, as you define it. The entire world is God’s creation. I take care of nature. I take care of my fellow man. I help the poor and the downtrodden. It is better to offer food to the homeless than to some statue in the temple. You are misguided in your devotion. You are focusing on some image of God at the expense of the creation of God.”
Indeed, this argument is seductive, as there are so many people suffering in this world. The desire to help others is only natural. It is a part of the overall essence of the soul, its dharma, which is to serve. The problem is that by myself I don’t know how to help others.
I can give them food, clothing, shelter, money, medical care, but does that help them to escape from the cycle of birth and death? By only taking care of the environment, will reincarnation end? Will people’s karma suddenly be cleansed? Or will they simply take advantage of the situation to continue to forget God more and more, to enjoy in the way of the second argument?
Bhakti-yoga is something like watering the root of the tree instead of nourishing some of the branches alone. You can try to take care of the branches, but the proper way is to feed the roots. Similarly, by worshiping God directly everyone else is automatically satisfied. The devotee is a symbol of sacrifice, and their single offering to the deity representation, genuinely made, does so much good for society. The proper eyes are required to see this.
4. I can’t give up eating meat
“Listen, I get your restrictions. I’m not objecting to them. The problem is I don’t think I can ever give up eating meat. It’s just a part of who I am. God bless you guys for what you do, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be on an equal level.”
As bhakti-yoga matches the essence of the soul, no single rule or regulation is required for its exercise. In its purest form, devotional service is unmotivated and uninterrupted. Still, there are certain practices that help to speed up the process of purifying the consciousness. One of them is the restriction on eating meat.
“He quickly becomes righteous and attains lasting peace. O son of Kunti, declare it boldly that My devotee never perishes.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.31)
Actually, the strength of this regulation rests upon the avoidance of violence. Consumption of the flesh of animals who have died naturally is not nearly as harmful. Compassion is one of the pillars of religious life. This regulation helps to build that, but even if a person is not able to follow every rule, they should still take up bhakti-yoga. Only in devotional service does the object of service offer amazing help. He is capable of providing the most help, in fact, so no effort made to please Him is ever wasted. Sincerity is what counts. Even the person who practices and slips up in a big way eventually corrects themselves.
5. I will never become a guru like you
“I get the teachings. Trust me, they are amazing. I have never heard stuff like this before. I wish they would talk this way in my church. So many people would understand religion better. They would be more apt to believe in a higher power, which would automatically make them better people. But I don’t think I will ever become a guru like you. There is just no way. I am too fallen.”
This objection is similar to the one just mentioned. Bhakti-yoga is distributed through bona fide representatives, people who live devotion and want the best for everyone by seeing them take up the same service. The teacher ideally follows the rules and regulations, and due to their connection with the Divine consciousness they are able to speak eloquently and dismiss all doubts a person may have.
As mentioned before, bhakti-yoga is not dependent on anything. Even a child can practice it. Scholarship helps in convincing others and defeating bogus philosophies, but all a person has to know is that God is a person and that people should be devoted to Him. Detailed knowledge, jnana, is not required. Neither is renunciation. Devotional service is there for everyone, and even a little practice brings so much benefit.
Why bhakti practice like you the same?
Already religion from my parents came.
To this world to enjoy God sent,
Why in torture and renunciation spent?
Never to become guru like you,
Too difficult, much knowledge needed too.
Devotion actually dependent on factor none,
From little sincerity so much benefit to come.