“Religion” vs. Love of God
from Back To Godhead Magazine #18-08, 1983
by Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami
On a television program in Gainesville, Florida, in 1971, the interviewer asked Srila Prabhupada a controversial question:
“In what way, sir, do you think that the teaching of love of God that you are preaching is different and perhaps better than the teachings of love of God that were being conducted in this country and have been conducted in the rest of the world for centuries?”
Srila Prabhupada replied that he was not opposed to any religion and that anyone in the world could chant the name of God.
But the interviewer was looking for debate:
“There must have been an element of dissatisfaction on your part with the way Godhead was being professed in this part of the world before you came. Otherwise, there would have been no sense in your coming.”
“Not just in this part of the world,” Srila Prabhupada admitted, “but practically everywhere there is very little interest in God. They have more interest in dog.”
But we may well ask, “Why such criticism? Aren’t today’s religions teaching people to love God?”
Not necessarily. People often cultivate a materialistic approach to God. They pray for material possessions and worldly happiness, regarding God more as their order supplier than as their object of love. Some television evangelists, for instance, hint at the instant material benefits God can give to those who simply phone in and pledge a donation. On one show, a young husband admitted that at first he had given to the TV church only because his wife had nagged him. But when he discovered that his financial condition was improving, he too became a believer.
Giving to God for profit is common to religions and denominations the world over; but it constitutes the poorest, lowest class of religion. It affords some spiritual benefit, of course, since the practitioner at least recognizes God’s control, but it is more business than devotion.
A more advanced (though still deficient) approach to God is salvationism. When one realizes that this world is temporary and full of suffering, he doesn’t try to enjoy it anymore; he seeks release. He sees God as the savior—the mitigator of suffering and sorrow, the deliverer from the cycle of birth and death. Thus the Salvationist, like the materialist, also approaches God only for what God will do for him.
The Vedic scriptures teach us that the path of salvation is not only selfish but also unsuccessful. By meditating on the eternal and by subduing material desires, a Salvationist may enter the eternal realm, but he must return to the material world because of his failure in developing a personal, loving relationship with the Supreme Lord.
So why is love of God—love free of ulterior motives—so rarely understood? One reason is that most scriptures give but little information of God as a person. We hear “God is great, “but we don’t hear much detail about His greatness. Therefore, people find little impetus to love God and serve Him. There’s an old atheistic joke that going to hell is better than going to heaven because in hell you’ll be with all your friends. Such ignorance of God as the greatest personality and the most lovable, attractive friend is lamentable.
The Vedic scriptures abound with information of how God is great. In the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna explains how He works in the spiritual world and in the material world. Conditioned souls caught in the material world are described in terms of karma and reincarnation, and the entire material world is described as God’s energy. The spiritual world is also described, as are God’s activities. His name, His form, and His relationships with His eternal loving associates. Anyone who hears these descriptions in a spirit of submissive inquiry will come to know the Supreme Lord within his heart.
Many worshipers, both materialistic and salvationistic, consider God to be ultimately impersonal. Although they may speak of God as “the Father,” if pressed for a description of the Father they say that He is without form, without face, a nonperson, an energy, an all-pervading light. According to the Vedic scriptures, however, these impersonal aspects are subordinate to the eternal, personal form of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Yes, God has His impersonal aspects, but ultimately He is the Supreme Person.
When, through the practice of genuine spiritual life, we come to know God, we become no longer interested in religions that do not propound the highest truth. God then attracts us by His own being, and we simply want to serve Him. Lord Caitanya prays, “I do not want any wealth, women, or followers. I want only Your causeless devotional service, birth afterbirth.”
The special contribution of the Krishna consciousness movement is that it gives us the method for practicing pure love of God, even while we’re engaged in our daily activities in the material world. The chanting of the holy name of God, for example, is not a method for gaining material benefits or for merging with the all-pervading consciousness. But by chanting God’s holy name. God reveals Himself to us—as the all-attractive friend, the eternal well- wisher, the most beloved.
Formerly, such realization of our loving relationship with God was obtained only by great saints and mystics, but through the mercy of Lord Caitanya it is available to anyone. It’s not difficult. All of us can chant the names of God, and if we do so under the guidance of a bona fide spiritual master, we can attain the highest stage of spiritual realization: pure love of God.
Religious denominations abound, but one seriously looking for the essence of spiritual life can easily become disappointed. We invite those who are looking for their pure relationship with God to consider the path of Krishna consciousness as it is presented through the Vedic scriptures like Bhagavad-gita As It Is and the Srimad- Bhagavatam, and through the chanting of Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.