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Those Who Worship God and the Gods

Part 54 of the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

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Krishna has told us about the four kinds of God-seekers, extolling the man of wisdom, the jnani, and urging us to be the same. But he does not shunt aside those with lesser motivations, for they, too, embody the divine Self and from that perspective are of value, also. So he tells Arjuna:

Those whose knowledge has been stolen away by various desires resort to other gods, following various religious practices, impelled thus by their own natures [prakriti] (7:20).

The sole real purpose of human life is the realization of the Self and God. The path to this realization is the only true religion. In the beginning this was known, and human beings sought for realization and nothing less. But as ages passed, this insight faded away to be replaced by earthly desires. Not being able to get all they wanted materially, humans–who still retained a goodly portion of their original psychic perception–began to resort to external powers to assist them in the desired gain. At first they no doubt simply used their psychic understanding to manipulate the subtle levels of existence to manifest what they wanted, but when their psychic powers declined they had to resort to other intelligent beings that were not human, such as those who control the forces of nature. These beings became “gods” to them. Also, humans formulated thought-forms, constructs of psychic energies that could respond to their wishes and provide them with what they wanted to gain or accomplish.

Both the natural and fantasy gods were fed by the wills of their votaries. In many places sacrifices or offerings were made to them from which they drew power. The more degraded humans even offered blood sacrifice to beings of low evolution. These, too, drew power from such vile offerings. The higher gods drew power from ritual worship, praisings, devotional acts, and such like. Images of the gods were made and sometimes energized as focal points by which the gods were contacted. The images themselves took on a kind of semi-life, even semi-consciousness.

In India, at the time of Krishna at least, the low spirits we may rightly call demons were not worshipped–only higher nature-guardians and thought-created entities that were of a benevolent and pure nature. It is those deities that Krishna is talking about when he says:

Whoever wishes to worship whatever form with faith, on him I bestow immovable faith. He who, endowed with this faith, desires to propitiate that form, receives from it his desires because their fulfillment has been decreed by me (7:21-22).

The Sanskrit is a bit tricky to untangle, but Prabhavananda no doubt has put it best: “But it does not matter what deity a devotee chooses to worship. If he has faith, I make his faith unwavering. Endowed with the faith I give him, he worships that deity, and gets from it everything he prays for. In reality, I alone am the giver.”

This is the expression of the great care and mercy of God. Unlike the false gods created by egoistic mankind, the true God wills only our welfare–even physically–and will foster our reaching out to something beyond ourselves even if that reaching is done ignorantly and short-sightedly. He is willing to do this, for in this chapter he has already told us: “I am the desire in beings that is according to dharma” (7:11). It is these things alone that he will give to those who worship mistakenly. The evil things gained from other worship comes from the corrupt will of man, whether alone or linked with a demonic intelligence or force.

Answered prayers…

We can understand from all this that answered prayers tell us nothing about the validity of a worshipper’s worship. Prayers are answered in many cases by the released will-power of the worshippers–power they have no idea is really theirs. Some prayers are answered by natural spirits (even those of the dead), and some by God (Ishwara) or those he has designated to foster humanity in this way. So the fact that we get what we want is no proof at all that we are praying in either the right way or to the right deity. “The god that answers prayer is the true God,” was a slogan in the propaganda a friend once sent me about her new-found false religion. She was wrong, as these verses from the Gita show.

“And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: but one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41, 42). The validity of a religion is shown only when the “one thing needful” is sought, when the seeker seeks enlightenment through the realization of his Self and God–and does attain it. Miraculous powers in a person are as meaningless as the answered prayers of common religion. The real miracle a Master performs is the awakening of consciousness in those who come in contact with him. And that takes place only in those already evolved to the point where they can be awakened.

It is true that when it furthers the divine plan for humanity masters will work miracles, but they are only secondary, and the masters and their true disciples know that well. In speaking of the miracles of his guru, Swami Kaivalyananda (Kebalananda) told the future Paramhansa Yogananda: “The numerous bodies which were spectacularly healed through Lahiri Mahasaya eventually had to feed the flames of cremation. But the silent spiritual awakenings he effected, the Christlike disciples he fashioned, are his imperishable miracles” (Autobiography of a Yogi, Chapter Four).

An unexpected “payment”

But Krishna is not finished, for being the embodiment of Divinity, of Truth itself, his intention is to make full disclosure on this subject. His next words, then, are these:

But temporary is the fruit for those of small understanding. To the gods go the worshippers of the gods; those who worship me come unto me (7:23).

Swami Prabhavananda: “But these men of small understanding only pray for what is transient and perishable. The worshippers of the devas will go to the devas. So, also, my devotees will come to me.”

There are two flaws in ignorant worship. One is that only the “transient and perishable” can be gained by such worshippers. Moreover, since they desire and identify with the transient and perishable, they themselves seem to become just as transient and perishable as well. The other flaw is even less desirable: After death the votaries go into the subtle worlds inhabited by their gods and serve them just as they had been served by having their prayers answered. In some astral regions they truly do become servants of their gods, trapped and enslaved. That is simply the manifestation of the law of karma. Having incurred debts by being given the objects of their desires, the unfortunates must now serve the gods and do what they will.

There are many worlds where various kinds and levels of “gods” abide. Some are pleasant, some merely boring, and others miserable and filled with pain and malice. According to the kind of god worshipped, so will be the fate of the devotees. But this one thing is common to all: they are imprisoned in those worlds and unable to escape until released through payment of their karmic debt. And then they fall back down to earth, helpless as before.

The fate of those who go into the worlds of even the positive gods is also seen as unfortunate, for of them Krishna says later in the ninth chapter: “These men pray for passage to heaven, thus attaining the realm of Indra, home of the happy; there they delight in celestial pleasures. Pleasures more spacious than any earthly they taste awhile, till the merit that won them is all exhausted: then they return to the world of mortals… hungry still for the food of the senses, drawn by desire to endless returning.… such men must return to life on earth, because they do not recognize me in my true nature. Those who sacrifice to the various deities, will go to those deities. The ancestor-worshippers will go to their ancestors. Those who worship elemental powers and spirits will go to them. So, also, my devotees will come to me” (9:20, 21, 24, 25.–Prabhavananda).

The good part

At the end of this section from chapter seven as well as that of chapter nine we are told a wonderful thing: “those who worship me come unto me.” Those who worship the Absolute Being through striving to live a purified life, engaging in spiritual disciplines leading to liberation and enlightenment (most importantly, meditation), will surely go to God by becoming irrevocably united with Supreme Consciousness, free forever from all bonds, conditionings, and limitations. Ever abiding in the consciousness of I AM, they will have attained the infinite being of Satchidananda, infinite Existence-Consciousness-Bliss itself. When a yogi has that, “nothing further remains remains to be known here in the world” (7:2).

Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: The Veil in the Mind

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Introduction to The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

Preface to The Bhagavad Gita for Awakening

Bhagavad Gita for Awakening links:

  1. The Battlefield of the Mind
  2. On the Field of Dharma
  3. Taking Stock
  4. The Smile of Krishna
  5. Birth and Death–The Great Illusions
  6. Experiencing the Unreal
  7. The Unreal and the Real
  8. The Body and the Spirit
  9. Know the Atman!
  10. Practical Self-Knowledge
  11. Perspective on Birth and Death
  12. The Wonder of the Atman
  13. The Indestructible Self
  14. “Happy the Warrior”
  15. Buddhi Yoga
  16. Religiosity Versus Religion
  17. Perspective on Scriptures
  18. How Not To Act
  19. How To Act
  20. Right Perspective
  21. Wisdom About the Wise
  22. Wisdom About Both the Foolish and the Wise
  23. The Way of Peace
  24. Calming the Storm
  25. First Steps in Karma Yoga
  26. From the Beginning to the End
  27. The Real “Doers”
  28. Our Spiritual Marching Orders
  29. Freedom From Karma
  30. “Nature”
  31. Swadharma
  32. In the Grip of the Monster
  33. Devotee and Friend
  34. The Eternal Being
  35. The Path
  36. Caste and Karma
  37. Action–Divine and Human
  38. The Mystery of Action and Inaction
  39. The Wise in Action
  40. Sacrificial Offerings
  41. The Worship of Brahman
  42. Action–Renounced and Performed
  43. Freedom (Moksha)
  44. The Brahman-Knower
  45. The Goal of Karma Yoga
  46. Getting There
  47. The Yogi’s Retreat
  48. The Yogi’s Inner and Outer Life
  49. Union With Brahman
  50. The Yogi’s Future
  51. Success in Yoga
  52. The Net and Its Weaver
  53. Those Who Seek God
  54. Those Who Worship God and the Gods
  55. The Veil in the Mind
  56. The Big Picture
  57. The Sure Way To Realize God
  58. Day, Night, and the Two Paths
  59. The Supreme Knowledge
  60. Universal Being
  61. Maya–Its Dupes and Its Knowers
  62. Worshipping the One
  63. Going To God
  64. Wisdom and Knowing
  65. Going To The Source
  66. From Hearing To Seeing
  67. The Wisdom of Devotion
  68. Right Conduct
  69. The Field and Its Knower
  70. Interaction of Purusha and Prakriti
  71. Seeing the One Within the All
  72. The Three Gunas
  73. The Cosmic Tree
  74. Freedom
  75. The All-pervading Reality
  76. The Divine and the Demonic
  77. Faith and the Three Gunas
  78. Food and the Three Gunas
  79. Religion and the Three Gunas
  80. Tapasya and the Three Gunas
  81. Charity and the Three Gunas
  82. Sannyasa and Tyaga
  83. Deeper Insights On Action
  84. Knowledge, Action, Doer, and the Three Gunas
  85. The Three Gunas: Intellect and Firmness
  86. The Three Kinds of Happiness
  87. Freedom
  88. The Great Devotee
  89. The Final Words
  90. Glossary

Visit our e-library page for Free Downloads of this and other ebooks in various formats.

Read the Maharshi Gita, an arrangement of verses of the Bhagavad Gita made by Sri Ramana Maharshi that gives an overview of the essential message of the Gita.

Read The Bhagavad Gita (arranged in verses for singing) by Swami Nirmalananda Giri (Abbot George Burke).

Read about the meanings of unfamiliar terms in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary

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