The path of religion scribed by Srimad-Bhagavatam is different from all forms of imperfect religiosity. Religion can be considered in the following three divisions: (1) the path of fruitive work, (2) the path of knowledge and mystic powers, and (3) the path of worship and devotional service.
The path of fruitive work (karma-kanda), even when decorated by religious ceremonies meant to elevate one’s material condition, is a cheating process because it can never enable one to gain relief from material existence and achieve the highest goal. A living entity perpetually struggles hard to rid himself of the pangs of material existence, but the path of fruitive work leads him to either temporary happiness or temporary distress in material existence. By pious fruitive work a person is placed in a position where he can temporarily feel material happiness, whereas vicious activities lead him to a distressful position of material want and scarcity. However, even if a person is put into the most perfect situation of material happiness, he cannot in that way become free from the pangs of birth, death, old age and disease. A materially happy person is therefore in need of the eternal relief that mundane religiosity in terms of fruitive work can never award.
The paths of the culture of knowledge (jnana-marga) and of mystic powers (yoga-marga) are equally hazardous, for one does not know where one will go by following these uncertain methods. An empiric philosopher in search of spiritual knowledge may endeavor most laboriously for many, many births in mental speculation, but unless and until he reaches the stage of the purest quality of goodness–in other words, until he transcends the plane of material speculation–it is not possible for him to know that everything emanates from the Personality of Godhead Vasudeva. His attachment to the impersonal feature of the Supreme Lord makes him unfit to rise to that transcendental stage of vasudeva understanding, and therefore because of his unclean state of mind he glides down again into material existence, even after having ascended to the highest stage of liberation. This falldown takes place due to his want of a locus standi in the service of the Supreme Lord.
As far as the mystic powers of the yogis are concerned, they are also material entanglements on the path of spiritual realization. One German scholar who became a devotee of Godhead in India said that material science had already made laudable progress in duplicating the mystic powers of the yogis. He therefore came to India not to learn the methods of the yogis’ mystic powers but to learn the path of transcendental loving service to the Supreme Lord, as mentioned in the great scripture Srimad-Bhagavatam. Mystic powers can make a yogi materially powerful and thus give temporary relief from the miseries of birth, death, old age and disease, as other material sciences can also do, but such mystic powers can never be a permanent source of relief from these miseries. Therefore, according to the Bhagavata school, this path of religiosity is also a method of cheating its followers. In the Bhagavad-gita it is clearly defined that the most elevated and powerful mystic yogis one who can constantly think of the Supreme Lord within his heart and engage in the loving service of the Lord.
The path of worship of the innumerable devas, or administrative demigods, is still more hazardous and uncertain than the above-mentioned processes of karma-kanda and jnana-kanda. This system of worshiping many gods, such as Durga, Siva, Ganesa, Surya and the impersonal Visnu form, is accepted by persons who have been blinded by an intense desire for sense gratification. When properly executed in terms of the rites mentioned in the sastras, which are now very difficult to perform in this age of want and scarcity, such worship can certainly fulfill one’s desires for sense gratification, but the success obtained by such methods is certainly transient, and it is suitable only for a less intelligent person. That is the verdict of the Bhagavad-gita. No sane man should be satisfied by such temporary benefits.
None of the above-mentioned three religious paths can deliver a person from the threefold miseries of material existence, namely, miseries caused by the body and mind, miseries caused by other living entities, and miseries caused by the demigods. The process of religion described in Srimad-Bhagavatam, however, is able to give its followers permanent relief from the threefold miseries. The Bhagavatam describes the highest religious form–reinstatement of the living entity in his original position of transcendental loving service to the Supreme Lord, which is free from the infections of desires for sense gratification, fruitive work, and the culture of knowledge with the aim of merging into the Absolute to become one with the Supreme Lord.
Any process of religiosity based on sense gratification, gross or subtle, must be considered a pretentious religion because it is unable to give perpetual protection to its followers. The word projjhita is significant. Pra means “complete,” and ujjhita indicates rejection. Religiosity in the shape of fruitive work is directly a method of gross sense gratification, whereas the process of culturing spiritual knowledge with a view to becoming one with the Absolute is a method of subtle sense gratification. All such pretentious religiosity based on gross or subtle sense gratification is completely rejected in the process of bhagavata-dharma, or the transcendental religion that is the eternal function of the living being.
Bhagavata-dharma, or the religious principle described in Srimad-Bhagavatam, of which the Bhagavad-gita is a preliminary study, is meant for liberated persons of the highest order who attribute very little value to the sense gratification of pretentious religiosity. The first and foremost concern of fruitive workers, elevationists, empiric philosophers and salvationists is to raise their material position. But devotees of Godhead have no such selfish desires. They serve the Supreme Lord only for His satisfaction. Sri Arjuna, wanting to satisfy his senses by becoming a so-called nonviolent and pious man, at first decided not to fight. But when he was fully situated in the principles of bhagavata-dharma, culminating in complete surrender unto the will of the Supreme Lord, he changed his decision and agreed to fight for the satisfaction of the Lord. He then said:
nasto mohah smrtir labdha
sthito ‘smi gata-sandehah
karisye vacanam tava
“My dear Krsna, O infallible one, my illusion is now gone. I have regained my memory by Your mercy. I am now firm and free from doubt and am prepared to act according to Your instructions.” (Bg. 18.73) It is the constitutional position of a living entity to be situated in this pure consciousness. Any so-called religious process that interferes with this unadulterated spiritual position of the living being must therefore be considered a pretentious process of religiosity.
The real form of religion is spontaneous loving service to Godhead. This relationship of the living being with the Absolute Personality of Godhead in service is eternal. The Personality of Godhead is described as vastu, or the Substance, and the living entities are described as vastavas, or the innumerable samples of the Substance in relative existence. The relationship of these substantive portions with the Supreme Substance can never be annihilated, for it is an eternal quality inherent in the living being.
By contact with material nature the living entities exhibit varied symptoms of the disease of material consciousness. To cure this material disease is the supreme object of human life. The process that treats this disease is called bhagavata-dharma, or sanatana-dharma–real religion. This is described in the pages of Srimad-Bhagavatam. Therefore anyone who, because of his background of pious activities in previous lives, is anxious to hear Srimad-Bhagavatam immediately realizes the presence of the Supreme Lord within his heart and fulfills the mission of his life.
From Caitanya Caritamrta Adì Lila c 1 text 91
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