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Ascending from Fear to Love
Although we understand that God is one Supreme, still different religions approach Him at different levels of intimacy and depth of understanding. Understanding these levels will help us to become more focused in our approach to God and will reveal the highest goal that one should aspire for. At the same time one will develop a respectful attitude and appreciation towards the other religions that may take their followers to a certain level of relationship with God.
Consider the example of the Prime Minister of a country. A police constable works under the police department that is one of the energies of the Prime Minister. That is the way he is related to the Prime Minister. A Member of Parliament can see the Prime Minister face to face, but has a relation in the mood of awe and veneration. But a son, or wife, or mother of the Prime Minister has the most intimate relation with the Prime Minister. They are so intimately related to him, that they do not even see him as a Prime Minister but as a very near and dear lovable object. They know his likes and dislikes, interests and concerns, moods and mission, etc. In the same way, different religions take us to different levels of intimacy with God. As long as the relationship is out of fear, desire, or duty it cannot be considered intimate. When love for the Lord awakens in one's heart, one can experience the real sweetness of the Lord's reciprocation.
1) Bhaya (out of fear):
The majority of religions teach worship on the platform of fear. They portray God as the all powerful, grave chastiser of wrongdoers, the one who casts the atheists in the blazing fire of hell for eternal damnation. God sits on a highly elevated chair and on the 'Day of Judgement',often called by people as 'Doomsday', He hears the activities of every living being and sends them to heaven or casts them in eternal hell. In other religions there are very strict rules regarding covering the body of women, and severe punishments for those who act mischievously with women. These rules are certainly to be appreciated as they help people to give up sinful or prohibited behavior. But they are not enough in themselves. In some countries, people who face such restrictions, go to the neighboring country to enjoy whatever they want and come back. Thus fear is not a great motivator for practicing religion. Persons who worship the Lord out of stimulation of fear, 'bhaya', include those who are afraid of hell, poverty, pain, and death. This understanding of God as a frightening person is not a very advanced level of understanding because it focuses on only one small aspect of God; but God is much more than that.
Still, we do not criticize such religions, as there is some kind of subordination to the Supreme God. While respecting every religion that teaches accepting the authority of God, we have to also objectively view the methods of practice, the goal of the practitioner, the depth of relationship and intimacy with God, its practicability, the quality of realizations that it brings to the practitioner, etc. By doing this, we can appreciate the finer aspects of the ultimate religion on one hand, while treating all people as children of God with different levels of understanding and realization of the same Supreme God.
2) Asha (for satisfying material aspirations):
At a higher stage, a person begins to realize that all of his desires can be fulfilled only by pleading from a higher authority. When he understands that the sanction of the Lord is required to achieve his desired end, he begins to follow the injunctions of the scriptures by performing sacrifice, giving charity, taking to strict vows and austerities for the fulfillment of one's desires. One may thus aspire for material benefits like bountiful harvest, abundant wealth, progeny, or elevation to heavenly planets to enjoy for a long duration. For example, Dhruva aspired for a kingdom greater than his great-grandfather, Brahma, and thus performed severe austerities at Madhuvan. After he achieved the darshan of Lord Vishnu all his material desires were vanquished. He lamented about himself, how foolish he had been in going to the Lord with such petty material desires.
3)Kartavya buddhi (out of a sense of duty): There are those who worship the Lord with feelings of gratitude arising from conceiving of Him as God, the creator and supplier of everything. The sense of duty makes them acknowledge the authority of God and be grateful to Him for providing all the necessities of life - food, grains, fruits, air, water, sunlight, minerals, etc., so that we may live happily in this world. This type of worship, out of a sense of duty, is certainly superior to worship out of fear or desire because, on this duty-bound platform, a person understands God to be a loving father who provides him all that he needs for his sustenance and protection.
4)Raga (out of genuine attraction to the Lord): The real platform of religion, however, is love of God where one worships God only out of love for Him. Such a devotee does not consider God to be an order-supplier; rather he offers everything he has to God out of unmotivated and uninterrupted love. It is immaterial whether one is a Hindu, Muslim or a Christian, or belonging to any other religious denomination. The ultimate goal of any true religion is to achieve pure love for God.
This love is characterized by selflessness, for we are not speaking of the love one feels toward someone who has satisfied one's senses or needs. It is actually the opposite; this love is an expansion of oneself, an outward flow marked by selflessness in action, speech and thought. It seeks no reward in return; the devotee only desires to satisfy the senses of the Lord. The more one practices this type of love for God, the more one achieves complete freedom from all bondage and develops an intimate relationship with God.
The spiritual bliss the devotee feels on this platform of love is not because the Lord has satisfied his senses by offering him the objects of enjoyment that he desired, but because the devotee is given the opportunity for service to the Lord. Such a devotee considers opportunity for service to the Lord as a great privilege. A devotee does not care whether he may get his next birth in heaven or hell. He only desires to go on rendering service to the Lord birth after birth. Given a chance to become Brahma, the greatest living entity in the whole universe, a devotee will not accept it if that post will make him forget the Lord. On the other hand, a devotee will gladly accept even the body of a worm if in that body he could live in the house of a devotee. Because in the house of a devotee he can get the dust of the feet of the Lord's devotees and eat the remnants of prasadam, the sanctified food offered to the Lord, A devotee has no ambitions in life that will not be pleasing to his guru and Krishna. He never harbors desires or hankerings that will be detrimental to his Krishna consciousness. Thus, making the satisfaction of guru and Krishna to be the ultimate goal of his life, the devotee can go on serving in this way, and be joyfully situated perpetually.
We see this type of love exhibited by Bhakta Prahlad, Bhakta Hanuman, the Gopis of Vrindavan, Arjuna and the Pandavas. The love of the Lord for the devotees and the devotees eagerness to love and serve the Lord is the ultimate platform of religion. The divine reciprocation of Lord and the devotee in the spiritual world is the ultimate attainment.