Which God Should One follow?
Devotees often wonder why I am so liberal when I belong to the Gaudiya Sampraday, but not all of the lineage’s devotees and acharyas are fanatical. As an acharya, my first priority is to make people spiritual and then make them capable of choosing their own path. I don’t like to put pressure on anyone to choose a particular god, or one that I am fond of. From recent personal experience, I have noticed that everyone is actively engaged in talking about various gods but very few actually focus on devotion. If devotion is the path to meet the Lord, we should place importance on its practice.
I always tell devotees that most relationships are made when we are born but there are two relationships that are made by our intelligence. The first relationship is made in the presence of God, when one chooses one’s spiritual master and becomes a disciple, and the second, when one chooses one’s life partner and in the presence of fire, making a commitment to marriage. Just as there are two types of weddings, a love marriage and an arranged marriage, there are also two types of relationships with God, love and arranged.
Why do we love at all? Most would give the reason that the object of love is attractive. But why does the object appear attractive? There are two things in the world which attract us immensely – the beautiful and the sublime. The full moon is beautiful; a blossomed lotus or rose is beautiful. Similarly, we start to follow the gods or goddesses whose beauty we find charming. When a girl loves a boy it is because she is attracted to certain qualities that he possesses. Even if the girl’s family disapprove, she doesn’t care because she feels he is perfect for her. If her family push her and ask her to divert her love to another, more suitable boy, it will be very hard for her to do so. In fact, she will become unhappy. What will happen if her family push her and make her marry someone who they feel is perfect? When love is not there, the couple’s life will be miserable and there will be a lack of devotion, dedication and respect. She will find it hard to attach herself in his service. The difference is that most families will prioritise a suitable choice based on education, family background, wealth, beauty, career, and so forth, but for those of us who fall in love, we will consider the practical aspects of coming together with the ones we are in love with, whether they match our family’s list or not.
Let us take a situation where the girl is perfect (she can love, has wealth, comes from a good family background, has grounding in spirituality, and is smart) and has a perfect partner. What if she then makes others jealous and taunts their lovers, by degrading them and points out what they don’t have that her lover has? What will happen in this instance? Some girls will get angry, some will try to take revenge and some will try to change their lovers and try to find someone more perfect. Some will become unhappy because there is no use in proving their partner is perfect, when they are already in love with someone who they believe is perfect for them. Just because of one girl the harmony will be disturbed because she has the pride of being with a perfect match. In her bubble, she forgets that people have different minds, and different mentalities and their priorities are different too. People use their intelligence and take their nature and moods into consideration when they search for the “right” one.
Now imagine, if you are a girl who loves many gods or goddesses and someone who loves Krishn, Shiv, Ganesh or any other god, tries to shake your faith. This person tries to manipulate your beliefs by saying his or her god is the Supreme Being and your god is nothing or your god can give this but your god can only give this much. Such an act can disturb the harmony of the spiritual world. No one is allowed to degrade and insult other gods and their devotees just because he or she worships a god, who is Supreme for him or her. Be happy with your Lord and let others be happy also. In the Bhakti Sandarbh, Jeev Goswami says, “Lord Kapil condemned anyone disrespecting ordinary living beings, what to speak of disrespecting Lord Shiv and other gods.”
Anyone who doesn’t have a lover, who is neutral, who believes that parents, family and relatives will take the right decision for their life, opts for arranged marriages. In this marriage, one’s life is fully dependent on the decision of others and those people become the decision takers. The person then accepts all the good and bad aspects of the decision made for them. This marriage can be compared to someone who doesn’t know about love, spirituality or God and will surrender to a spiritual master, who will show the path. The master will teach him or her how to develop love and devotion and focus on a relationship with God. But if I talk about my teachings, they are only based on Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s pure instruction “prema purmurtho mahan” (love is supreme) and Narad Muni’s Bhakti Sutra describes the Supreme Being as, “The Supreme Love.”
I don’t like to offend people and insult their beliefs, especially when it comes to love. And why must we avoid such acts? This can be explained by asking what appears to be a simple question, “Who is a pati-vrata patni (wife)?” You may say, “One who follows her pati (husband).” This is not completely true. A pati-vrata patni means one who follows her husband and his family, and keeps a good relationship with all of them. To follow the husband doesn’t mean to only love him, whilst you fight with his parents and his friends. To follow your husband means, to love his family, his loved ones and to follow him. In the same way, one who worships his God should respect other gods and goddesses. Only in this way can he can make his God happy. God never says, “Love Me, but hate or ignore all other gods and goddesses.”
The Gautamiya Tantra and the Bhakti Sandharb say, “If one worships Krishn but disparages other deities, not only is there no question of attaining transcendent religion but even the effect of one’s previously performed religiosity is destroyed.” Therefore, in the recital of the Narayan Kavach, atonement is provided for such an offence, “May Lord Hayasirsa protect me from treading the path of becoming an offender to the gods.” (Shrimad Bhagwatam, 6.8.17)
According to the Shrimad Bhagwatam, “Element is one but nature is different.” The source of all incarnations is One. When we say, Ram, Rahim, Jesus and Buddha are same, why is there hatred? In the Kalki Puran, we find a very interesting verse: “If one worships Surya Dev (the Sun God) for a thousand years, one gets the mercy to worship Lord Ganesh. If one worships Lord Ganesh for a thousand years, one gets the chance to serve Mother Durga. If one worships Mother Durga for a thousand years, one becomes a Lord Shiv devotee, and if one worships Lord Shiv for a thousand years then one finally gets the chance to serve Lord Vishnu.” It is stated in Adi Varah Puran, “After properly worshipping Lord Shiv for thousands of lifetimes, a wise person whose sins have dissolved becomes a Vaishnav.” In the Kartik Mahatmya section of the Padma Puran, Lord Krishn informed Satyabhama, “Just as rain water reaches the ocean, the worshippers of Surya Dev, Shiv, Ganesh, Vishnu and Shakti attain only Me. Just as one man named Devadatta is referred to by different relationships, like son, brother, and father, similarly I, Krishn, am One, but I Manifest in five ways according to My different activities and Names.”
Fanatical people may think that this proves Krishn is Supreme Being. Liberal people may think that when everything happens by the Lord’s wish and by the fruits of past life actions, why should anyone disturb other people’s faith? Each person chooses their God according to their mood, interest and attitude. I believe in the scriptures and accept this Kalki Puran verse along with its profound meaning, but I re-iterate once again that as an acharya, my first duty is to make people spiritual and then show them the right path to follow, keeping in mind, their love and interest, and using these points as a guide to direct them.
Also from the same Kalki Puran verse, Krishn’s worship can be compared to studying for a PhD and those who are studying for a PhD, should helps instead of chastising their juniors who are studying for a Masters and a Batchelors degree (an analogy for those who worship gods and goddesses other than Krishn). If devotees get any form of pride, it becomes the biggest obstacle in their devotional life because Lord Krishn never accepts pride. There is a very nice quotation in the Mahabharat, where Duryodhan said to Lord Krishn, “O Krishn! I know what is dharm (rightful duty) and I also know what is adharm (wrongful duty) but there is some invisible power which pushes me to do adharm.” That invisible power is Lord Krishn Himself.
All of us have different ideas on the nature of God and His Forms. One person may believe that God has the form and qualities of humans. Another may accept a God that manifests on Earth but has no human form and attributes and someone else may believe in a formless God altogether. Each one of these examples can be found in the Veds. The truth is whatever yog or religion we practice or whichever type of marriage we enter, the Supreme Being, in whom we have complete faith and conviction, can only be ours when we surrender in love.