God is not a means to an end – he is himself the highest end
ārtā devān namasyanti
tapaḥ kurvanti rogiṇaḥ
nirdhanā dānam icchanti
vṛddhā nārī pati-vratā
ārtāh — the distressed; devān — to the gods; namasyanti — pay obeisances; tapaḥ — austerities; kurvanti — perform; rogiṇaḥ — the diseased; nirdhanāh — the poverty-stricken; dānam — donations; icchanti — desire [to give]; vṛddhā — old; nārī — lady; pati-vratā — is devoted to her husband;
“The distressed automatically start paying obeisances to the gods [for they have no other option]. The diseased naturally perform various austerities [for they have no other option]. The poverty-stricken desire to give big donations [for they do not have the option of doing it in real life] and an old lady automatically shows devotion to her husband [for all hope of attracting paramours is lost].”
— (Subhāṣita-ratna-bhāṇḍāgāra, Sāmānya-nītiḥ, page 157, Verse 168)
[Verse and translation provided by Hari Parshad Prabhu]
Life’s temptations frequently deviate us from the right path – they make us give up principle for pleasure. Conversely life’s tribulations, especially tribulations that we have no hope of solving on our own, impel us to the right path; they make us accept the available even if it is not particularly appealing, because the alternative is utterly unpalatable. This Subhashita talks about such forced choosing of the right course of action.
People often have a similar utilitarian attitude towards God. Such motivated devotion is usually interrupted devotion. When things go wrong in our life, we come rushing to God; and when things start looking up, we bid him goodbye.
The mistaken notion that God is a dispensable means is illustrated in an insurance company’s ad: “If you don’t have our insurance, it’s time to say your prayers.” Actually, it is always the time to say our prayers and to connect with God. Why? Because we as souls are his eternal parts, and we can find lasting happiness only in loving and serving him. Moreover, even in dealing with our practical problems while living in this material world, no solution can work without God’s sanction. Srimad-Bhagavatam (7.9.19) illustrates how the apparent solution can’t provide the actual solution, if divine sanction is missing: parents can’t always protect their children; medicines can’t always save the sick; and boats can’t always rescue the drowning. Extending this principle, we can contemplate that the insurance company too can’t guarantee us relief. What if it goes bankrupt at the same time when we are facing a crisis?
Of course, motivated devotion is better than no devotion at all – instead of living godlessly, we at least believe in God and worship him, even if for self-centered purposes. How we can rise from motivated devotion to pure devotion is outlined in the Bhagavad-gita (07.16-19). The first verse (07.16) mentions four kinds of people who approach Krishna and start worshiping him: the distressed, the inquisitive, the wealth-seekers and the knowledgeable. Krishna appreciates all of them for their piety in approaching him – he calls them as large-hearted (07.18). Yet he lauds especially the knowledgeable, for they are unmotivated in approaching him – they are interested only in him, so their devotion is one-pointed (07.17). He concludes the section by declaring (07.19) that after many lifetimes, the motivated become unmotivated when they finally understand that Krishna is everything – he is the embodiment and fulfillment of all our heart’s aspiration for happiness (vasudevah sarvam iti).
When we see Krishna as a means to an end, we focus on him only till we get that end. Not only that, if we feel that we can get that end by some other means, we turn away from him. If we find that we can’t get it by any other means, we return to him. But such return doesn’t last for long – it ends when we start feeling that some other means might work better. Thus, we keep taking U-turns in our journey towards Krishna.
The best way to come end such oscillation is by philosophically understanding and experientially realizing that he is the highest end of everything. And Krishna is the end not in the negative sense of the exhaustion of something desirable – he is the end in the positive sense of the termination of something troublesome. Our long and harrying search for happiness that has extended over many turbulent lifetimes ends when we are united with Krishna in love.