Friday, September 19, 2008

Windows to the Spiritual World

In different philosophical or religious systems, the conception of a perfect world is present. In ancient Greece, Plato spoke about the ‘world of ideas’, in which everything exists in its original, ideal form. A few centuries later, Jesus Christ preached about the ‘kingdom of God’ . In modern times, materialistic philosophers like Marx tried to discard all the spiritual dimension of the religious schools, but still wanted to propose the creation of a wonderful world in this very same place and lifetime- Rama-rajya without Rama. In any case, this desire for a perfect situation is there. Now, if such a perfect place really exists somewhere, and we want to go there, then we must get, beforehand, all the required information: where it is, how far, how to get there, how much we shall spend, how is the climate, how are the people , what is the government, etc.

Srila Prabhupada often remarked that to admit God’s existence is not enough, for unless we have a clear conception, everything is very vague. Just like the following dialogue in which ‘A’ claims to know someone:

A: “I know a wonderful person, ‘C’.”
B: “What is ‘C’s name?”
A: “I don’t know”.
B: “Where does ‘C’ live?”
A: “I don’t know”.
B: “How does ‘C’ look like?”
A: “I don’t know”.
B: “Is ‘C’ a man, a woman, or something else than a human being?”
A: “I don’t know”.

At last, ‘B’ will start doubting that ‘A’ really knows ‘C’, that ‘C’ really exists, or that ‘C’ is a person. Fortunately, by accepting Lord Brahma’s words, we avoid a lot of useless speculations and get precise information:

ta ekada bhagavato
yayur vaikuntha-nilayam

“After thus traveling all over the universes, they (the four Kumaras) also entered into the spiritual sky, for they were freed from all material contamination. In the spiritual sky there are spiritual planets known as Vaikunthas, which are the residence of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and His pure devotees and are worshiped by the residents of all the material planets.”

>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 3.15.13
If we speak about a ‘world of ideas’, then we need an idealizer, and if we speak about ‘kingdom of God’, then we have to understand that God is a king, and a king must be a person, along with his domains, servants, queens, associates, paraphernalia, etc. Therefore, Lord Brahma uses the word ‘bhagavan’ to describe the perfect ruler of that perfect place. As there is no difference between the Lord and His abode, both are called Vaikuntha. The word ‘kuntha’ means anxiety or ignorance, and vaikuntha means something free from anxiety and ignorance. As stated:

dhamna svena sada nirasta-kuhakam satyam param dhimahi

>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 1.1.1

In the Supreme Absolute Truth and His abode, illusion is conspicuous by its absence, therefore whatever is produced from illusion is also absent, and this is thus corroborated:

yatra cadyah puman aste
bhagavan sabda-gocarah
sattvam vistabhya virajam
svanam no mrdayan vrsah

“In the Vaikuntha planets is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is the original person and who can be understood through the Vedic literature. He is full of the uncontaminated mode of goodness, with no place for passion or ignorance. He contributes religious progress for the devotees.”

>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 3.15.15

As explained in the Bhagavad Gita, 15.1, this material world is compared to an upside-down banyan tree and whatever is seen here is but a perverted reflex of what exists in the spiritual world. So, while here we have the three modes of nature, in Vaikuntha there is only one mode: suddha-sattva. Here everything is composed out of five gross elements and three subtle elements, but in Vaikuntha everything is made of sat, cit and ananda. By the sat element, there is no influence of time, therefore no decay. By the cit element, everything there is conscious and personal (SB 3.15.16), even the stones and trees, and because they have consciousness, they experience ananda- unlimited bliss. The word ‘nanda’ means joy, but when this joys expands to the limits or beyond, then it is called ananda.

The material universe is covered by several layers of matter, each one ten times thicker than the previous one. After the last layer is the Causal Ocean, where the universes are floating, and after it, the brahma effulgence is situated, in the middle of which all Vaikuntha planets are found. Therefore, Lord Brahma says:

panthas tu koti-sata-vatsara-sampragamyo
vayor athapi manaso muni-pungavanam
so 'py asti yat-prapada-simny avicintya-tattve
govindam adi-purusam tam aham bhajami

“I worship Govinda, the primeval Lord, only the tip of the toe of whose lotus feet is approached by the yogis who aspire after the transcendental and betake themselves to pranayama by drilling the respiration; or by the jnanis who try to find out the nondifferentiated Brahman by the process of elimination of the mundane, extending over thousands of millions of years.”

>>> Ref. VedaBase => Bs 5.34

The idea is that if the great sages travel at the speed of the mind for many millions of years, still it would be difficult for them to reach the Supreme Lord in Vaikuntha. So what to speak of sputniks? But what is impossible by improper means can be easily accomplished by following the proper method. Some perfect yogis go to Vaikuntha simpy by transferring their consciousness at the time of death. Other fortunate souls go in a spiritual airplane, while some very rare personalities may go on the back of Garuda. In any case, the ticket cannot be purchased by money, austerities, charity, studying the Vedas, nor by sacrifices. Srila Prabhupada says:

“Actually, one cannot go to Vrndavana by purchasing a ticket. The process of going to Vrndavana is shown by Akrura.”

>>> Ref. VedaBase => KB 38: Akrura's Arrival in Vrndavana

Of course, a special ticket may be acquired and the price-list is given :

krsna-bhakti-rasa-bhavita matih
kriyatam yadi kuto 'pi labhyate
tatra laulyam api mulyam ekalam
janma-koti-sukrtair na labhyate

"‘Pure devotional service in Krsna consciousness cannot be had even by pious activity in hundreds and thousands of lives. It can be attained only by paying one price -- that is, intense greed to obtain it. If it is available somewhere, one must purchase it without delay.'"

>>> Ref. VedaBase => Madhya 8.70

Only by bhakti one can attain to Vaikuntha. For this reason the human body is so important and desired even by the demigods (SB 3.15.24), as it is especially projected to attain bhakti. And in this age, the sankirtana movement of Lord Caitanya is offering everyone the best promotion- just chant Hare Krishna and go back home, back to Godhead:

kaler dosa-nidhe rajann
asti hy eko mahan gunah
kirtanad eva krsnasya
mukta-sangah param vrajet

“My dear King, although Kali-yuga is an ocean of faults, there is still one good quality about this age: Simply by chanting the Hare Krsna maha-mantra, one can become free from material bondage and be promoted to the transcendental kingdom.”

>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 12.3.51

So, how do the people in Vaikuntha look like and what are they doing?

vasanti yatra purusah
sarve vaikuntha-murtayah
ye 'nimitta-nimittena
dharmenaradhayan harim

“In the Vaikuntha planets all the residents are similar in form to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. They all engage in devotional service to the Lord without desires for sense gratification.”

>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 3.15.14

In Vaikuntha every word is a song, every step is a dance, and every day is a festival, “akhanditotsavam” (SB 3.19.31).

Because Krishna is omnipotent, He can bring His own abode to this planet- Vrndavana. And because His pure devotee is empowered by Him, Srila Prabhupada could expand Vrndavana around the world. Just as the Lord appeared in a suitable form, Varahadeva, to save the earth, in a similar way, He sent His confidential servant in a suitable form- a powerful preacher- to save us from the onslaughts of Kali by giving us windows to the spiritual world in the shape of books and temples. Once in Los Angeles, Srila Prabhupada said:

“Just like this temple. This temple is spiritual, Vaikuntha. It is not Los Angeles.”

>>> Ref. VedaBase => Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.3.27 -- Los Angeles, October 2, 1972

He used to say that the Americans look like “Vaikuntha-men” when they shave, dress saffron robes, put tilaka and kanthi-mala. He also often mentioned that once he met a Christian priest who told him that his disciples looked ‘bright-faced’, and also that people in general asked him if they were Americans. In fact, they are not anymore. Just by contacting the atmosphere in the temples they also became vaikuntha. I could experience this at the first occasion I visited the temple. As soon as I stepped inside, I felt as if fluctuating in the aroma of incense. The floor and the walls looked shining, and I wondered: ‘which place is this?!’ Finally, when I had the darsana of Lord Jagannatha, I definitely experienced a change in body and mind- at once and for good, just as it happened to the four Kumaras.

Vaikuntha is not an imagination, but it is proved by the great yogis-

pumsam gatim mrgayatam iha yoga-margair
dhyanaspadam bahu-matam nayanabhiramam
paumsnam vapur darsayanam ananya-siddhair
autpattikaih samagrnan yutam asta-bhogaih

“This is the form of the Lord which is meditated upon by the followers of the yoga process, and it is pleasing to the yogis in meditation. It is not imaginary but factual, as proved by great yogis. The Lord is full in eight kinds of achievement, but for others these achievements are not possible in full perfection.”

>>> Ref. VedaBase => SB 3.15.45

Vaikuntha is not something bogus or vague, but a reality, or even more, the Reality, although it cannot be perceived by mere deliberation (SB 3.16.37). Vaikuntha is a place, Vaikuntha is a consciousness, Vaikuntha is a Person, and He is sabda-gocarah (SB 3.15.15), understood through the Vedic literature, and by hearing about Him one attains ‘ param anandam’ (SB 3.19.33) in this very lifetime- as Vidura did - and at the hour of death, one reaches Vaikuntha (SB 3.19.38). Those who desire to visit some place on this planet may go to the airport or bus stand, but those who want to go to Vaikuntha can do so just by approaching a Hare Krishna temple and looking through the windows of the spiritual world.

This essay was originally submitted for assessment during the second year of the Bhakti-vaibhava course at VIHE, third canto of Bhagavatam, on 06/09/03

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