Honor and cherish the devas as they honor and cherish you; through this honor and love you will attain the supreme good. All human desires are fulfilled by the devas, who are pleased by selfless service. 3.11-12 (Easwaran Trans.)
Eknath Easwaran has decided to leave untranslated the Sanskrit word, devas, which can be translated as “God,” “gods,” or even “angels.” The word deva (m) or devi (f) is derived from the Sanskrit word div, which means, “to shine” (see further discussion in Swami Bhaskaranda’s Essentials of Hinduism, p. 73 ff.). The devas are the shining ones, manifestations of the powers of nature who assume form in order to serve humanity. In religion, it can be easy to get caught up in disputes over divine reality and such terminology as monotheism, polytheism, henotheism, animism, and other labels invented by scholars of religion. We should keep in mind that number doesn’t really apply to divinity, as divinity ultimately transcends form. Trying to count divinity would be like trying to count the number of drops of water in the ocean, that is, impossible. Even in monotheistic Judaism, the word for God in Genesis, chapter one, “Elohim,” is plural. The strict monotheism of Islam allows for the recitation of ninety-nine names of God. And, of course, Christianity allows for three “persons” of the Trinity.
Whether we speak of one, three, ninety-nine, or three hundred thirty million divine beings makes no real difference. The terminology used to refer to religions also makes no difference. Religious orthodoxy can be a trap, because it seems to suggest that what matters is having the proper opinion or belief. The notion of a “correct” belief can also be used like a weapon to denigrate those who disagree. Nothing could be further from the true purpose of religion, which is to overcome divisions and strife among human beings and between human beings, Earth, and other creatures. Beliefs are basically inert and lifeless unless they are put into action, and that is why Shri Krishna here places the emphasis on service. Whether serving the deities directly through puja or serving other people selflessly, God accepts it all as worship.
We have been falsely led to believe that power comes from asserting oneself over others, and that we have to push our own agendas on the world. The person who acts from the basis of separation and individualism suffers a loss of true power, which comes from a profound sense of respect for the divinity within all things. For reasons that we cannot understand in ordinary terms, God has chosen to take myriad forms, and this divine play pervades all existence. By respecting others, we respect God, who is the hidden life of the universe. Some people will prefer to refer to God as Mother, some as Father, some as Spirit, some as Higher Power, some as Energy, and some as Light. Some will prefer to avoid concepts of divinity, and that, too, is fine: after all, the highest divinity in Sanatana Dharma (the eternal, natural Way) is called “Nirguna,” without qualities (very similar to Buddhist emptiness). Again, terminology does not matter: selfless service does.
Shri Krishna teaches an avoidance of a prideful, egotistical attitude, which assumes that I have the answers and I know what’s right. Bowing in worship curbs this egocentric attitude and restores the proper sense of yielding, of flexibility, of giving, which brings some sanity into the world of “me” and “mine.” When I was a Christian minister, I used to notice how polite worshipers would be as they queued to receive consecrated bread and wine during communion. I thought how nice it would be if we could act that way in a traffic jam! I think that Shri Krishna is saying here that it’s all service, it’s all worship. We cherish God when we worship the devas, and we cherish God when we respect one another.