How Sankirtana and Krishna Bhakti Satisfy the Demigods
The idea of demigods or devas is one of the many subjects in the Gita that people find confusing, especially those brought up in Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). If understood incorrectly, it may seem primitive, or be thought of as the worship of many gods. As a result, the average person’s understand of Hinduism is quite skewed, biased, and one-dimensional. Since the worship of the demigods is a traditional and visible part of Vedic culture, and at least provisionally recommended in the Gita, it is important to clearly understand who these beings are. Are they real or mythical—and if they are real, what significance do that have for us? How do demigods relate to the one Supreme Power, or the Lord of the Universe? Though we Gaudiya Vaishnavas worship Krishna as the supreme name of God, He has many names (in the West, Yahweh, Jehovah, Allah, or just God, or in India, Vishnu), as well as different features and aspects.
To begin with, the ultimate Vedic teaching is that there is one Supreme God in the universe, who rules it by one supreme governing principle, or his personal energies (ref. Shri Ishopanishad Invocation and mantra one and eight). True spiritual practice recommends understanding of this fact, with due respect and gratitude offered to God as a regular part of religious and even ordinary life. The demigods are universal managers in the Supreme government of God, who are entrusted with various functions in the universe, such as providing air, light, water, and all other necessities required for the maintenance of the body, mind and soul (ref. Bhagavad Gita 3.10-12). Worshiping the demigods is the beginning of accepting our dependence on a higher spiritual system which sustains us, and the whole universe. Just as everyone understands that use of electricity, water, or any facilities from the government requires payment, worship of the demigods is one step in realizing our total dependence on God, in this case through his deputed agents.
Although the demigods are powerful controllers on behalf of the Supreme Lord, they are always subordinate to the power of God (ref. Shri Isho mantra Four). The modern world’s authorities, or its priests, the secular scientists, discount the idea of even God, what to speak of his personal agents behind the forces of Nature—backward idea, they say. The worldly, mistaken idea that there is no God has grave consequences. Such an ignorant conclusion views the Earth/Universe as only for our immediate enjoyment, and that there is no real higher purpose to life. The current environmental degradation is a direct result of trying to conquer nature and to manipulate her resources for our greed. Conversely, most ancient or indigenous cultures understood our dependence on higher power from their being in tune with the natural forces of Nature, and trying to live in cooperation with her. Cooperation with Nature, and then recognizing how everything comes from God, is the beginning of spiritual awareness.
We may ask that if the true purpose of the Vedas recommends the worship of God, why should there be worship of lessor divinities? There are two basic reasons for this. First, the position of being a demigod is a temporary one, as even our body is impermanent, and is given to certain souls to fulfill a particular desire to be a controller and enjoy heavenly opulences and privileges. Secondly, certain living entities are enticed to be religious by the promise of heavenly happiness. Thus, there is a symbiotic relationship between the devas and human beings, while the Lord is trying to use this system to gradually elevate everyone to spiritual awareness.
The pleasures and pains of the different demigods are dependent on the performance of prescribed Vedic yajnas or sacrifices by human beings. As a result of such sacrifices the necessities of human beings are supplied, though the worship of God, or Vishnu is also a part of these observances. Therefore, the indirect purpose of such sacrifices is to teach that the true cause of everything, and the purpose of life, is to satisfy God, or Vishnu/Krishna. However, those who are less intelligent and impelled by lust for immediate gratification, worship the devas without progressing further to understand that whatever the demigods give their worshipers is really being awarded by the Supreme Lord through their agency (ref. BG 7.20-23, 9.19-21, 9.23)
However, some present follows of Hinduism, who believe that the direct worship of demigods is necessary—even primary— criticize the Krishna consciousness movement for not observing demigod festivals or allowing them to worship demigods in our temples. While those who worship Krishna as supreme don’t disrespect the devas (or anyone), on the authority of Shri Ishopanishad, Bhagavad Gita, Shrimad Bhagavatam and other Vedic scriptures, they understand that by worshiping Krishna, all other divinities are worshiped, and everyone is benefited. Therefore, for those in higher knowledge, there is no need to worship the demigod servants of the Lord.
Shri Ishopanishad, in verse twelve, bluntly says that worship of the demigods keeps one in the darkest ignorance and obliges one to take repeated birth and death. Its following verse gives us the basic principle for this truth: by worshiping what is supreme one gets one result (purification/spiritual elevation), and by worshiping what isn’t supreme (i.e., the devas) one gets a different result (temporary benefit at best). Therefore, the worship of the devas is only provisional. The devas are sustained through yajna performances, and their worshipers are given a way for gradual elevation by realizing the shortcomings of material desires, and temporary boons from the demigods. Yet Krishna bhaktas have a way to worship the Supreme Lord, while also satisfying the demigods and all living beings.
Followers of Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, the incarnation of God for the age of Kali, engage in sankirtana, or the congregational chanting of the holy name of God. This method of group sacrifice is considered the yajna for this age, and is easy and sublime, as well as extremely powerful. Through this process, the Supreme Lord is pleased, as are all his parts and parcels, which include the demigods. Other processes are costly, difficult to perform, and really impossible to properly execute in this age of scarcity. Therefore, Lord Chaitanya, as patita-pavana, the deliverer of the most fallen persons, has given the easiest method of attaining the highest goal of Krishna prema. Ordinarily we would think that the highest benediction should be given to the most qualified persons, yet as an act of superlative mercy, Shri Chaitanya gives the rarest treasure to the most unqualified.