The gods are facilitators of our devotion, not competitors for our devotion

Some people ask, “Is the Gita polytheistic?”

No, as is seen in the understanding of the Gita’s original student, Arjuna.

After hearing the Gita’s four-verse summary (10.08-11), Arjuna acknowledges Krishna to be the highest reality, the absolute truth, the primeval god (10.12) – the one supreme whom the other gods can’t even know (10.14).

Someone may ask, “Why did Arjuna worship gods such as Shiva and Indra?”

The same Mahabharata that describes Arjuna’s worship of these gods also narrates how he was fixed in his devotion to Krishna. He saw the gods not as competitors for his devotion, but as facilitators of his devotion. He sought their benedictions in the form of celestial weapons to serve Krishna better in the war for establishing dharma.

Within the Gita’s theistic vision, Krishna is the king and the other gods comprise his council of ministers. Significantly, the gods don’t just serve Krishna as assistants in cosmic administration – they also act as his transitional surrogates. People not evolved enough to worship Krishna can worship the gods, thereby gradually rising from material godlessness to spiritual devotion. The power of the gods to bless comes from Krishna (07.22), as does the faith of their worshipers in them (07.21). Clearly, this system is far from polytheism – it can be described as multi-level monotheism.

Unfortunately, this subtle system is often misunderstood. Worshipers of different gods think of their worshipable deity as an independent authority, indeed the supreme authority – a conception that the Gita (09.23) recognizes as unauthorized.

To avoid such misunderstandings, bhakti saints recommend focused Krishna-worship, wherein we don’t disrespect the gods, but don’t go out of our way to worship them either. If we pass by their temples, we can always seek their blessings for serving Krishna better. Such enhanced Krishna-devotion is their best blessing.

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