Krishna now states quite simply:
Even those who with devotion worship other gods also worship me, though with a mistaken approach (9:23).
The meaning is clear: there are no “other gods”–there is only the One who is being worshipped through all revealed names and forms.
“Even those who worship other gods with faith, also worship me, though they do so in ignorance” (Sargeant’s translation). The word Sargeant translates as “in ignorance” is avidhipurvakam. It literally means “not according to the rules” or even “without/outside the rules.” The idea is that these people do not know or understand how to worship God because they do not know or understand the nature of God. Other possible terms–ignorantly, incorrectly, mistakenly, improperly, inappropriately, inappositely, inaptly, ineptly, haphazardly, irregularly–either express a value judgment or add an extra meaning or attitude the Sanskrit does not include. This is good to keep in mind.
In very truth there is a Science of Religion, and that has been perfected in India. When those of other religions intuitively follow that science, things work exactly right and spiritual awakening and growth occur. However, since that science is just stumbled upon by the questing souls, and is not an integral part of those religions, the science is quickly, even instantly, lost. But since it is the bedrock foundation of Sanatana Dharma it endures through the ages, though often neglected by individuals. But once the eternal rules are followed, all is well.
The fine print
The paramount idea is that all are worshipping God–there is no one else to worship:
Truly I am the Enjoyer and Lord of all sacrifices; but because they do not know me in truth they fall back into rebirth in this world (9:24).
This is not a matter of holding a mistaken intellectual conception of God, but of not directly perceiving God as he truly is. It is necessary for us to see God in his pure Being, for only then will we truly see our own Self and thereby be enabled to unite with God and attain total liberation in Spirit.
God sees all things “in truth” at all times. We do not, but it is necessary for us to do so, as explained in the previous sentence. Seeing God in truth is not an experience but a state of being, a state of identity with God. I am making such a point of this so we will not slip back into the dogmatizing and theologizing outlook of externalized religion.
The import of this verse is thoroughly mystical and thoroughly practical. Krishna is telling us that those who do not know God cannot go to God. No amount of reading sacred texts will help us, nor will all kinds of devotional and emotional effusions or multitudes of good deeds. We must ascend in consciousness to the heights of divine experience and be united forever with God. All the religiosity in the world is irrelevant here. Yoga–perfect union–alone is the means and the goal. Without yoga nothing is possible. It is not a matter of what religion or philosophy we hold, but a matter of evolution of consciousness. As the Gita says, we must become yoga-yukta–united to God through yoga. We must never lose sight of this fact.
Many paths–many goals
There are many paths and just as many goals. That is why Krishna says:
Those who are devoted to the gods go to the gods. Those who are devoted to the ancestors [pitris] go to the ancestors. Those who are devoted to the spirits [bhutas] go to the spirits. Those who are devoted to me surely come to me (9:25).
Three terms are used in this verse: devas, pitris, and bhutas. Devas are the demigods presiding over various powers of material and psychic nature. Pitris are ancestors or other departed human beings. Bhutas are non-human spirits of various sorts, some of them low-level nature spirits such as “elementals.” Others are earthbound human spirits, and quite a few are beings of completely other streams of evolution–of other creations, even–that have somehow wandered into our universe and gotten trapped here. All of these may be either positive, negative, or neutral.
Those who occupy themselves with these beings will go to their astral regions after death and eventually return to earthly life. But those who orient their minds toward the Infinite will go to the Infinite. Even if they do not attain full union with God while here on earth, they will escape rebirth, graduate from the earth plane, and go to a higher world from which they will reach God after completing their evolutionary development. Alternately, they will come back to earth in a family of yogis and be impelled toward seeking union with God. “There he regains the knowledge he acquired in his former incarnation, and strives from thence once more toward perfection” (6:43).
We should step back to the fourth chapter of the Gita. There Krishna says: “In whatever way men resort to me do I thus reward them. It is my path which men follow everywhere” (4:11). Is this a contradiction to what he has now said regarding the worship of relative beings instead of the Absolute? No, because even that worship will eventually lead to something higher–even if only through disillusionment–until the questing soul learns to worship God alone.
Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: Going To God