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.
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