With a particular religion, and perversions of it, grabbing the headlines today, one might wonder, Is one religion better than another?

For clarity on this subject, I look to the Vedic literature and teachers who adhere to its authority. When citing the Vedic scriptures, however, we face a challenge: people generally fail to see a cohesive message in the tradition’s wide array of teachings. Srila Jiva Goswami, one of the most prominent early theologians in the line of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, argues powerfully in his Tattva-sandarbha for the ultimate authority of the Srimad-Bhagavatam. In doing this, he follows the example of Lord Chaitanya, who promoted the Bhagavatam as “the spotless Purana” and quoted it extensively in His teachings. Also, one of the Bhagavatam’s introductory verses characterizes the Bhagavatam as “the ripe fruit of the tree of the Vedic literature.”

The Bhagavatam (1.2.6) addresses the question of religious hierarchy:

sa vai pumsam paro dharmo
yato bhaktir adhokshaje
ahaituky apratihata
yayatma suprasidati

“The supreme occupation [dharma] for all humanity is that by which men can attain to loving devotional service unto the transcendent Lord. Such devotional service must be unmotivated and uninterrupted to completely satisfy the self.” The Bhagavatam doesn’t say that the highest religion (dharma) is Hinduism or Christianity or any other faith tradition. It says that the highest religion is one that leads to pure devotion to God.

Srila Prabhupada often clarified that the word dharma, translated in the Bhagavatam verse above as “occupation” and often translated as “religion,” is not a kind of faith. Different religious traditions profess different beliefs, and a person’s faith may change, but dharma is the eternal occupation of the soul, our true self.

One of the characteristics of para dharma, or “supreme occupation,” is that it is unmotivated. A religion that encourages its followers to ask God to fulfill their desires is not on the highest level. Like other scriptures, the Vedic scriptures contain such encouragement, but it is meant for people in the early stage of their relationship with God. As children, we routinely ask our parents for things, but as we mature, the relationship changes, and we want to serve them out of love.

In considering this point, we find a good example of something Lord Krishna implies to Arjuna in the Bhagavad-gita (13.5). When the Vedic scriptures say something, the statement is backed up by reason. The Bhagavatam says that the highest occupation (or religion) is devotion to God, and that makes sense. If God exists – as most people throughout history have presumed – then we must be in some kind of relationship with Him. Fear or anger or even hatred might characterize our side of the relationship. But if we accept that God is a person filled with infinite love – another conclusion most people arrive at – then relating to Him with love seems the most sensible approach, and the one most likely to please Him.

The other characteristic of para dharma mentioned in the Bhagavatam is “uninterrupted.” The highest religion is to always love and serve God, despite obstacles or a seeming lack of reciprocation from Him. Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who taught and exemplified pure love for God, wrote, “He is completely free to do anything and everything, for He is always my worshipable Lord, unconditionally.” Such a sentiment stands far above that of those whose “religious” acts are driven by selfish motives, even at the cost of violence to God’s other children.

– Nagaraja Dasa