antavat tu phalaḿ teṣāḿ
tad bhavaty alpa-medhasām
devān deva-yajo yānti
mad-bhaktā yānti mām api
Translation of Bhagavad Gita 7.23
Men of small intelligence worship the demigods, and their fruits are limited and temporary.Those who worship the demigods go to the planets of the demigods, but My devotees ultimately reach My supreme planet.
Commentary by Sri A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
Some commentators on the Bhagavad-gita say that one who worships a demigod can reach the Supreme Lord, but here it is clearly stated that the worshipers of demigods go to the different planetary systems where various demigods are situated, just as a worshiper of the sun achieves the sun or a worshiper of the demigod of the moon achieves the moon. Similarly, if anyone wants to worship a demigod like Indra, he can attain that particular god’s planet. It is not that everyone, regardless of whatever demigod is worshiped, will reach the Supreme Personality of Godhead. That is denied here, for it is clearly stated that the worshipers of demigods go to different planets in the material world but the devotee of the Supreme Lord goes directly to the supreme planet of the Personality of Godhead.
Here the point may be raised that if the demigods are different parts of the body of the Supreme Lord, then the same end should be achieved by worshiping them.
However, worshipers of the demigods are less intelligent because they don’t know to what part of the body food must be supplied. Some of them are so foolish that they claim that there are many parts and many ways to supply food. This isn’t very sanguine. Can anyone supply food to the body through the ears or eyes? They do not know that these demigods are different parts of the universal body of the Supreme Lord, and in their ignorance they believe that each and every demigod is a separate God and a competitor of the Supreme Lord.
Not only are demigods parts of the Supreme Lord, but ordinary living entities are also. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam it is stated that the brahmanas are the head of the Supreme Lord, the kshatriyas are His arms, the vaishyas are His waist, the shudras are His legs, and all serve different functions. Regardless of the situation, if one knows that both the demigods and himself are part and parcel of the Supreme Lord, his knowledge is perfect. But if he does not understand this, he achieves different planets where the demigods reside. This is not the same destination the devotee reaches.
The results achieved by the demigods’ benedictions are perishable because within this material world the planets, the demigods and their worshipers are all perishable. Therefore it is clearly stated in this verse that all results achieved by worshiping demigods are perishable, and therefore such worship is performed by the less intelligent living entity. Because the pure devotee engaged in Krishna consciousness in devotional service of the Supreme Lord achieves eternal blissful existence that is full of knowledge, his achievements and those of the common worshiper of the demigods are different. The Supreme Lord is unlimited; His favor is unlimited; His mercy is unlimited. Therefore the mercy of the Supreme Lord upon His pure devotees is unlimited.
Commentary by Sri Vishvanatha Chakravarthi Thakur of Gaudiya Sampradaya:
“But you give the devotees of the devata temporary results, whereas you give your devotees permanent results. It is unjust for you to do that, as the Supreme Lord.”
No, it is not unjust. Those who worship the devatas attain (yanti) the devatas. Those who worship me attain me. The meaning is this. It is very logical that a person attains what he worships. Thus if the devata are temporary, how can their devotees be permanent, and how can the results of worship be permanent? Thus it is said here that the devotees of those devata are not intelligent (alpa medhasam). The Supreme Lord however is eternal, and therefore his devotees are also eternal. Their bhakti and the results of their bhakti are all eternal.
Commentary by Sri Ramanuja of Sri Sampradaya:
7.23 The men of ‘small understanding’ means those whose understanding is poor, who worship only Indra and other divinities. The fruit of their worship is small and finite. Why? The worshippers of divinities like Indra go to the divinities. And Indra and other divinities possess limited joy and live only for a limited time. So if they attain equality of enjoyment with them, they also fall down along with them in due course; but My devotees, knowing that their acts are of the nature of My worship, renouncing attachment for finite, fruits, reach Me, having for their purpose the pleasing of Me alone. That is, they never more return to Samsara. For Sri Krsna teaches later on: ‘But on reaching Me there is no rebirth, O Arjuna’ (8.16). Now Sri Krsna declares: ‘But these others (i.e., who worship Indra etc.) regard as insignificant even My incarnations among men and other beings in order to make Myself easy for all to resort to.’
Commentary by Sri Sridhara Swami of Rudra Sampradaya:
Since all the demigods in their various positions of universal management are actually manifestations of the Supreme Lord, in actuality worshipping them is worshipping Him; especially due to the fact that it is the Supreme Lord who sanctions and grants all results to their supplications; but it should be understood that there is a vast difference in the results between the adorers of the demigods and the devotees who adore and worship the Supreme Lord. It is being clarified by Lord Krishna that the result gained by persons of limited understanding who worship the demigods is perishable and has an end. This is because the demigods themselves are perishable and have a fixed span of life. Those whose propitiation of the demigods is successful go to the planet of that demigod in their next life and enjoy until that life is ended and then they return and take birth again in the material existence. But the devotees of the Supreme Lord Krishna attain association with Him in His abode in the spiritual worlds, which are eternal and everlasting and from where there is no returning back to the material worlds.
Commentary by Sri Madhvacharya of Brahma Sampradaya:
The conceptions of an impersonal unmanifest god is what causes illusion. People who are under the influence of an impersonal conception of god are essentially bewildered by God Himself. Only those who are aware of the Supreme Lord possessing form, qualities, attributes, personality and propitiate Him with loving devotion are able to cross over this ocean of illusion. Gross illusion is the Supreme Lord’s external potency and it manifest as external energy in the form of the demigoddess known as Maya; both are under the control and subservient to the Supreme Lord Krishna. Therefore everyone should surrender without hesitation in ananya bhakti or unadulterated devotion. This ananya bhakti is uncompromising and should be know as that devotion which is dedicated to the Supreme Lord exclusively in all its entirety. This capacity of fullness of devotion has no possibility of arising anywhere else except for the Supreme Lord. Offerings to Brahma, Shiva and all other demigods should be done as a preliminary worship to the Supreme Lord Krishna and nothing more, because all of the demigods are part of Him and subservient to Him. Comprehending this one can attain Him but not by or through any other means.
Vasudeva is a name of Lord Krishna meaning the cause of all causes. He is the only whole. All else are merely parts. The only complete one is Him. The spiritually intelligent who realise this within are very rare in this world while in retrospect we are all actually looking for this internal realisation and until we achieve it are merely aspirants. Yet even after having this internal realisation those who propitiate Brahma, Shiva and other impersonal gods as being something superior; by such worshipping they enter the dark dreary worlds of obscurity, which is full of endless suffering and misery, taking birth in a family without the light of awareness. The irreplaceable awareness that only Lord Krishna is to be propitiated exclusively and no other. Without the awareness that Lord Krishna is to be propitiated first and foremost, any and all other propitiation’s become disparate an have no efficacy. Knowledge then degenerated to be utilised only for the satisfaction and gratification of the temporary physical body. If by reflection and discrimination one becomes aware of the truth and achieves the realisation of Lord Krishna’s supreme position then it should be understood that all other gods and demigods are all subject and subservient to Him. Worship erroneously propitiated unknowingly on false objects and inferior subjects as well as temporary gods; if later renounced causes no demerits if one does not return back to them, But it will still be cause for reincarnation and one will take birth again but in their subsequent life such a person will be blessed by the Supreme Lord to gain rapid recollection of their previous spiritual direction and be graced with proper association to continue their worship where they left off at the end of their previous life.
Thus it is clarified that for one who has realisation by spiritual intelligence, the immortal soul within the etheric heart of all sentient beings is non-different from Lord Krishna. After innumerable lifetimes one begins performing righteous actions. After many lifetimes of performing meritorious activities one achieves spiritual intelligence and from then on one is qualified to attain the mercy of Vasudeva, the cause of all causes, the Supreme Lord. Those who are devoted to lesser gods only get the temporary material rewards which such transitory gods are able to bestow. While those who worship the Supreme Lord Krishna attain the blessed eternal spiritual realms with all its bliss and felicity. Knowing the supremacy of Lord Krishna those beings who would deign to propitiate lesser gods thinking them independent of the Supreme Lord go to the dark worlds of ignorance in all obscurity. Also anyone who considers the demigods or any other gods as similar to, or capable of being equal to, or greater than will also go to the dark worlds of ignorance in obscurity.
Commentary by Sri Keshava Kashmiri of Kumara Sampradaya:
It could be postulated that if the followers of the demigods obtain their desired enjoyments which are sanctioned by the Supreme Lord to be granted by the demigods, then they are not amiss and have dutifully fulfilled the wishes that their votaries prayed for. So what then is the distinction between the followers of the demigods and the devotees of the Supreme Lord? To this Lord Krishna states antavat tu phalam meaning the rewards are perishable, temporary, not lasting for those of meagre intelligence who worship the demigods. This is because lacking association of those who are knowledgeable of the ultimate truth they are dull-witted and earnestly seek temporary rewards for their actions hence they are not graced with the wisdom to worship the Supreme Lord directly. Those who waste time and energy ingratiating themselves to demigods like Indra the celestial chief or Surya the sungod do not realise that these demigods have a span of life that ends after a period of time also. So if the demigod themselves are perishable it is clear that whatever material boons they are able to offer are perishable as well. Whereas the devotees of the Supreme Lord Krishna even if harbouring some desire will gradually come to Him eternally, because He is endowed with an infinite nature full of eternity and bliss. First they will achieve their cherished desire and then becoming free from it they will attain Him. Thus the difference is that Lord Krishna’s devotees although tainted by selfish motives still eventually attain Him because they worshipped Him direct and became exempt from returning to samsara or the endless cycle of birth and death which the followers of the demigods and lesser others gods are forced to return to againa nd again without cessation.
Commentary by Sri Adi Shankaracharya of Advaita Sampradaya:
7.23 Since those non-discriminating men with desires are engaged in disciplines for limited results, therefore, tat phalam, that result; tesam, of theirs; alpamedhasam, who are of poor intellect, of poor wisdom; antavat tu bhavati, is limited, ephemeral, indeed. Deva-yajah, the worshippers of gods; yanti, go; devan, to the gods. Madbhaktah, My devotees; yanti, to; mam api, to Me alone. ‘Thus, though the effort needed is the same, they do not resort to me alone for the unlimited result. Alas! they are surely in a pitiable condition.’ In this manner the Lord expresses his compassion. ‘Why do they not take refuge in Me alone?’ The answer is:
Commentary by Sri Abhinavagupta of Kaula Tantra Sampradaya:
7.20-23 Kamaih etc. upto man api. On the other hand, those persons, whose minds are conditioned by a variety of their own respective desires for the best and so on (or the desires that may be classified as the best and so on) – they have thier thinking faculty carried away by their desires, and worship a particular deity who possesses nothing but My intermediate body that suits only to those devotees’ desires. Hence, they obtain their desired result from Me alone. But, that result has an end of its own, because it is limited by the mental impressions of their own. Therefore those who perform sacrifice etc., with the aim of becming Indra etc., (or of attaining the houses of Indra etc.) gain their desired fruit accordingly. On the other hand, those whose chief aim is to attain Me, they gain Me alone. But, while the Absolute-being is immanent in all, how is it that the fruit achieved by the worshippers of other deities is limited ? The answer is given as :
Sanskrit Shloka Without Transliteration Marks:
antavat tu phalam tesam
tad bhavaty alpa-medhasam
devan deva-yajo yanti
mad-bhakta yanti mam api
Sanskrit to English Word for Word Meanings:
anta-vat — perishable; tu — but; phalam — fruit; teṣām — their; tat — that; bhavati — becomes; alpa-medhasām — of those of small intelligence; devān — to the demigods; deva-yajaḥ — the worshipers of the demigods; yānti — go; mat — My; bhaktāḥ — devotees; yānti — go; mām — to Me; api — also.