by Mandaleshwara dasa
“Of course, it is bewildering, O soul of the universe, that You take birth, though You are the vital force and the unborn.”—Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.8.30)
Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, who was born 499 years ago in West Bengal, India, to Jagannatha Mishra and Srimati Sacidevi, and who propagated the chanting of the names of God, is the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
You won’t find that last part stated in the encyclopedias and history books where Lord Chaitanya’s name and biographical sketch are given, but after all, what can encyclopedias and history books teach us about the science of God? Perhaps persons whose interest in God and spiritual life is but superficial might find satisfaction in some academic biographical sketch. But those who want to know the truth about the identity of Lord Chaitanya and the transcendental nature of His birth and activities will have to consult the Vedic literature. Although usually associated with the grand civilization of ancient India, the Vedic literature is for all people and for all times. Provided we study it respectfully and intelligently under the guidance of a bona fide spiritual master, it is fully applicable today. And there’s really no other way of understanding the deep, mystical concepts of the science of God.
Often, when people hear that we accept Lord Chaitanya as God, they immediately pose certain questions about Him, trying, understandably, to get a handle on what to them is a new religious concept. They want to know where and when He was born, what His teachings and activities were, and so on.
You’ve had the experience—you try to fit a new idea into your scheme of things. So you may try to evaluate Lord Chaitanya in terms of, say, what was going on in Europe at the time: Renaissance, Reformation, Columbus, or what have you. The natural tendency will be to see Lord Chaitanya as a social or historical phenomenon, a product of His times and a reaction to them, just as was Luther, Thomas Aquinas, or any other important religious figure. When you hear that Lord Chaitanya was born fifteen centuries after Christ, you conclude that Lord Chaitanya’s is a new religion. And when you remind yourself that you never discussed Lord Chaitanya or read about Him in school and haven’t really heard of Him before, you conclude that He is of minor significance.
But wait a minute. To understand a personality of the stature and magnitude of Lord Chaitanya, you will have to break from your conventional ways of considering new ideas. You will have to broaden your outlook and admit information from new sources (new to you, that is). True, you need at first a few quick answers, some superficial facts. To be sure, someone did the same for me fourteen years ago, when I first began integrating myself into the spiritual movement started by Lord Chaitanya and disseminated by His pure devotee, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder and spiritual master of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. But superficial facts, although handy for a fill-in-the-blank quiz, tell us little of the transcendental nature of Lord Chaitanya’s birth and activities. That’s why, as I was saying, we have to consult the Vedic literature.
Birth of the Unborn
According to the Vedic literature and to the rigorous philosophical and devotional tradition known as Gaudiya- Vaishnavism, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna Himself. The main distinction between Lord Krishna and Lord Chaitanya is that when Krishna appears as Himself, He reveals Himself as God, whereas when He appears as Lord Chaitanya, He plays the part of a pure devotee of God. To understand the transcendental nature of Lord Chaitanya’s birth, therefore, we can do no better than to refer to the fourth chapter of the Bhagavad-gita, wherein Lord Krishna explains the transcendental nature of His own birth. In other words, although in the Gild Lord Krishna is speaking of His own transcendental birth, since He and Lord Chaitanya are one and the same, the philosophy stated there is as applicable to Lord Chaitanya as it is to Lord Krishna.
In the Gita the Lord says that He does not actually take birth; He is unborn (ajah), although He appears in the material world at various times. What to speak of God, even ordinary beings like you and me do not take birth. Just as God is eternal, so we, being part and parcel of Him, are also eternal. Of course, birth is a common, everyday occurrence, but what is that birth, really? You, I, and all other living beings are eternal spirit souls, transmigrating from one body to another, one species to another—birth after birth. And in each birth we forget entirely our previous material identity. Thus, in one life we may be an American, in the next a Russian; in one life we may be a human being, in the next an animal or plant. Yes, unborn and eternal we are, but we take birth again and again in the sense that we assume completely new material identities again and again.
Lord Chaitanya, however, exists beyond this world of birth and death, in His own eternal identity. When He takes birth within this material world, therefore, His birth is not like ours; He appears in His transcendental form of eternity, bliss, and knowledge.
The transcendental body of Lord Chaitanya is described in the Sanskrit language as avyayatma. Avyaya means “eternal, indestructible,” and atma refers to body, mind, and also soul. So, here we have an important distinction between our birth and the birth of Lord Chaitanya. Although we are eternal, we inhabit a temporary material body. For Lord Chaitanya, however, body and soul are one; both are spiritual. Therefore, of the Lord it is said, ajo ‘pi sann avyayatma: He is unborn, and His body is not material,but is transcendental and eternal.
Perhaps we can better understand the Lord’s transcendental birth with an analogy: the sun. The sun is always present in the sky, but it is not always visible to us. At sunset the earth comes between our eyes and the sun. Then twelve or so hours later, at sunrise, we can again see the sun. So although the sun may appear to be coming and going—taking birth and dying, according to some primitive peoples—it is always present. And like the sun, the Supreme Personality of Godhead is also always present. But because of our limited position, sometimes we see Him and sometimes we do not. When we speak of Lord Chaitanya’s appearing some five hundred years ago, we say He took birth. But actually, He had always been existing in His eternal, spiritual form and always will be. Thus the Lord’s birth is transcendental. In the Vedic literature the Lord is addressed as follows: “Of course, it is bewildering, O soul of the universe, that You take birth, though You are the vital force and the unborn” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.8.30).
Now what about the fact that Lord Chaitanya appeared as an infant and then grew to childhood,to youth, and to manhood? Does this mean that His body was ordinary, temporary, and material? No, not at all. The Lord is never afflicted by the material energy and is not subject to material laws. We, however, are under the illusion of matter, so much so that we view the Lord’s birth and activities as material. Again, for a clear understanding let’s refer to our analogy of the sun.
Which is greater, a cloud or the sun? The sun, of course. In fact, the sun creates the cloud. And yet at times a cloud may appear to cover the sun. This does not, however, attest to the sun’s limitation but to ours. We, not the sun, are covered by the cloud. Similarly, matter is a creation of God, and like a cloud, it prevents us from seeing Him. What to speak of God, even our very selves we cannot see, for we too are spirit (although at present, because of the covering of material illusion, maya, we can see only matter). When, for whatever reason, we judge the form or the activities or the birth of God to be material, that is because we, in our finite position, cannot see beyond the cloud of matter. It is our vision, and not the Lord, that is material.
Now what this should all come down to is the humbling realization that we are eminently unqualified to see or to know spirit, to comprehend the eternal form of God, to understand the transcendental birth of Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. This metaphysical handicap plagues all living beings and would prevent us from ever rising out of our suffering repeated birth and death. But compassionately, Lord Chaitanya appeared on earth five centuries ago so that we, despite our limited senses and mind, could perceive His gorgeous form, hear His incomparable teachings, grasp His transcendental meaning, and thus be lifted out of the muck of material illusion. To consider His birth material, therefore, would be imprudent.
Another analogy: The chief of state may enter a government prison, but that does not make him a prisoner. Only a fool would scoff, “Ha! The president is a prisoner, like me.” Not only is the president not a prisoner, but he has the authority to free one who is. Similarly, because of our rebelling against God since time immemorial, this material world has become our prison, and we are incarcerated within these material bodies, serving a life-after-life sentence. When Lord Chaitanya, the supreme ruler of this prison (as well as of the eternally liberated realm beyond) comes here to free us, it behooves us to acknowledge His exalted position and not, like so many coarse prisoners, try to drag Him down to our level. By properly understanding the birth of Lord Chaitanya, we will attain the perfection of life. Therefore Lord Krishna explains in the Bhagavad-gita (4.9), “One who understands the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode.”
Lord Chaitanya’s taking birth seemingly like an ordinary infant is one of the most relishable topics for the Lord’s pure devotees . Of course, most people tend to fixate on a conception of God as the Almighty, the Creator. But hurling worlds into orbit and-parting seas do not constitute the greatest glories of God. A much higher and more intimate understanding of God is revealed in His humanlike birth and activities. Certainly Lord Chaitanya did not need to take birth as an infant; He could have simply manifested Himself, without any so-called mother or father. After all, He is the father of all living beings and of all existence. Ages ago, when the Lord appeared as the half man, half lion, Nrisimhadeva, He burst forth in one explosive moment from a stone pillar; towering and terrifying, He shook the entire universe with His power and rage. But in His appearance as Lord Chaitanya, a golden infant on the lap of His enraptured mother, He was no less God. In fact, experts in the bhakti science have ascertained that the Lord’s appearance as the child of two of His most exalted devotees displays the greatest mercy, both for His parents and for those so fortunate as to hear about His birth and childhood pastimes.
Lord Chaitanya came to this prison of the material world not like you and me, forced by the inexorable law of karma, but of His own free will. This is always the case when God descends. Forty-five centuries before Lord Chaitanya, Lord Krishna had enunciated the essence of spiritual instruction in His Bhagavad-gita: “Give up all religious duties and spiritual paths and simply surrender to Me.” Lord Chaitanya also came to teach surrender to Krishna, but, by perfectly playing the role of a pure devotee of Krishna, He not only taught surrender but also demonstrated it, specifically through chanting the holy names of God. Lord Chaitanya had other reasons for appearing, but these are beyond the scope of our present discussion. His propagation of the chanting of the holy names, however, was central to His mission.
According to the Vedic literature, Lord Chaitanya appeared during this present degraded age called Kali-yuga to establish the specific religious principle for all humanity. As the Sanskrit scriptures say, He came to establish the yuga- dharma, “the religion for the age.” And the yuga-dharma is the chanting of the holy names of God: kalau tad dhari-kirtanat. It is most fitting, therefore, that on the night of Lord Chaitanya’s birth, the holy name also advented.
On that night there occurred a full lunar eclipse, and as was the custom among strict followers of Vedic culture, millions of sincere devotees of God took their sacred bath standing waist-deep in the sea or in a holy river such as the Ganges. Throughout the duration of the eclipse, everyone remained standing in the water and, as was also the custom, chanted the holy names: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Even those who did not understand began mocking the chanting, until practically the whole of India resounded with the holy names.
This, of course, was no coincidence, but was an arrangement by the Lord to indicate the special significance of His birth: “I have come out of My mercy to lead the world back to Godhead. Everyone chant the holy names: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”
by Dravida dasa
Lord Sri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, stands on the bank of the River Yamuna with Srimati Radharani, His eternal consort, in this scene in Goloka Vrindavana, the Lord’s spiritual abode. The prancing peacock’s jubilant calls, the fragrance of the lotus and jasmine spreading on the cool, soughing breezes, the fresh springtime atmosphere-all lend the perfect touch to this most exalted spiritual event: the meeting of Radha and Krishna.
Because the spiritual love epitomized in Their meeting resembles the attraction between a young man and a young woman, it is generally misunderstood by those who try to fathom it without reference to the Vedic shastra, or revealed scriptures. These books draw a sharp distinction between love of God and what passes for love between ordinary human beings. “The desire to gratify one’s own senses is lust [kama],” writes Srila Krishnadasa Kaviraja in his 16th-century devotional classic Caitanya- caritamrita, “but the desire to please the senses of Lord Krishna is love [prema]. … Therefore lust and love are quite different. Lust is like dense darkness, but love is like the bright sun.”
Our original nature is to dwell in the “bright sun” of love of Krishna in the spiritual world. But somehow we become envious of Krishna in His position as supreme enjoyer, and with that envy our love for Him turns to lust and we enter the darkness of the material world. Thus it is lust that brings us to this world of forgetfulness of God, lust that keeps us here, and lust that prevents us from knowing Lord Krishna as our eternal master, guide, friend, and lover. Only when we transmute that lust back into love for Krishna can we realize that we are His eternal servants and that our real happiness lies in serving His senses, not our own.
Bhakti-yoga, the practice of Krishna consciousness, or devotional service, changes lust into love of God. The first step is hearing—hearing the name of Krishna in the Hare Krishna mantra and hearing the teachings about Krishna given through the revealed scriptures by the great devotees of the Lord and the Lord Himself. But all-important in this process is that the sound we hear (or the words we read) come from the right source, a pure devotee of God. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada writes this way about hearing the pastimes of Radha and Krishna: “It is stated in Srimad-Bhagavatam that one who hears the pastimes of Krishna with the gopis [the cowherd girls in the spiritual world, of whom Srimati Radharani is the foremost] will attain the highest platform of devotional service and will be freed from the lust that overwhelms everyone’s heart in the material world. In other words, by hearing the pastimes of Radha and Krishna, one can get rid of all material lust… . Unless one hears from the right source, however, one will misinterpret the pastimes of Radha and Krishna, considering them to be ordinary affairs between a man and a woman. In this way one will be misguided.”
So let us not be misguided. Krishna is God, the all-powerful, all-perfect creator, maintainer, and destroyer of everything, and Srimati Radharani is His most beloved worshiper (Her very name means “one who worships Krishna best”). Since we are all servants of the Lord, each of us has some role to play in His eternal pastimes of love. But we can discover that role, our original spiritual identity, only if we carefully follow the instructions of those exalted souls who have realized God and whose only motivation is compassion for those of us suffering in this material world, far from our spiritual home. If we follow their instructions, we will one day realize the truth of the unlimitedly sweet pastimes of the Lord-and this will be the perfection of our lives.
- Srimati Radharani's Appearance
- Sri Radha—the Feminine Divine
- Radha, Krishna's Female Counterpart
- Srimati Radharani's Artistic Qualities
- The Names of Srimati Radharani
- Radharani—The Feminine Side of God
- Radharani's Mood of Separation
- That Internal Potency is Radharani
- The Qualities of Srimati Radharani
- Radharani Gallery
by Ajitananda dasa
The beauty found in this relative world pales before the beauty of Krishna’s perfect form.
People are very much enamored by the beauty of this world. The Vedic literature, however, offers us penetrating insight into the actual nature of material beauty. If people would take the time to hear from these revered sources, they would be surprised to learn that what is accepted as beauty within this world is but the pale, illusory reflection of the unlimited spiritual beauty of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Of course, some would disagree with the idea that material beauty is false. The smitten young man sees his sweetheart as the epitome of loveliness, the scholar is moved by the rich imagery in a masterpiece of poetry, and the artist views the pastoral scenery as the handiwork of angels. In each case the viewer appreciates what he or she perceives to be true beauty. Why, then, is it said to be false?
The answer to this question is given in the Second Chapter of the Bhagavad-gita,where Lord Krishna tells Arjuna, “Those who are seers of the truth have concluded that of the nonexistent there is no endurance and of the existent there is no cessation. This seers have concluded by studying the nature of both.”
Material beauty is herein deemed false in the sense that its manifestation is very, very brief. It appears momentarily and then disappears like a mirage. The attractive young body becomes old and wrinkled; it dies, decays, and is eaten by worms. And the beauty of the poem. although preserved for some time in book form, must also perish, as must the flowered countryside, lost forever in the dark wells of time.
Material beauty also proves false when we look more closely or shift our perspective. If the young man, for instance, were to peel away the covering layer of skin on the alluring young body—the object of his attraction—he would immediately become repulsed, proving conclusively that material beauty is only skin deep. And the poem or country scene, appreciated at one moment as quintessential beauty, may be seen in the next as utterly devoid of all charm by the same admirer, who, having endured some emotional trauma, now sees everything much differently.
Finally, material beauty is false in that it can never fully satisfy the soul, and in time the young man desires another lover, the scholar purchases a new book of poems, and the artist goes on to view another scene, each searching for an absolute level of fulfillment that continually eludes him, even up to death.
All of these points are mentioned not to invoke a mood of gloom and despair but rather to illustrate that although our love of beauty is a perfectly natural sentiment we are looking for it in all the wrong quarters. As a miner carefully studies his maps before prospecting, we also must determine the whereabouts of true beauty if we wish to unearth this valuable treasure.
The Vedic literature tells us that the reservoir of beauty is Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He is the Absolute Truth, or the source of everything. The relative beauty found in this world has its origin in Him, and ultimately we must turn to Him if we wish to realize our desire to know perfect beauty. In the Brahma- samhita.Lord Brahma eloquently describes the transcendental beauty of Lord Krishna:
I worship Govinda [Krishna], the primeval Lord, who is adept at playing on His flute, whose blooming eyes are like lotus petals, whose head is bedecked with a peacock’s feather, whose figure of beauty is tinged with the hue of blue clouds, and whose unique loveliness is charming millions of Cupids.
This factual description of Krishna’s spiritual beauty is not a whimsical creation of Brahma’s imagination. Rather, it was spoken by Brahma in a trance of self- realization, in which he saw the Lord standing before him face to face. In his next verse. Brahma continues to describe his vision, with notable reference to the eternality of Krishna’s form:
I worship Govinda. the primeval Lord, round whose neck is swinging a garland of jeweled ornaments, who is always reveling in pastimes of love. whose graceful, threefold- bending form of Syamasundara is eternally manifest.
As Krishna’s form is “eternally manifest” so is the beauty of that form, thus fulfilling the Bhagavad-gita’s definition of reality—that which has “no cessation.” Not only is Krishna’s beauty eternal, but it is also ever fresh, like an endlessly blooming springtime. A devotee never tires of viewing that divine form, which is so magnificent that Krishna Himself cannot estimate it for in one moment He measures, and in the next moment it expands unlimitedly, eluding even His vast capacity to understand.
Since Krishna is the Absolute Truth. His beauty is also absolute and is never canceled or diminished by closer examination or change in perspective. His form is the vessel of pure spiritual energy—eternity, knowledge, and bliss—and it is therefore beautiful through and through. Indeed it has been compared to the radiant vaidurya gem, which, although appearing differently according to the play of light upon its numerous colored facets, is extraordinarily beautiful from whichever angle it is viewed. Thus Krishna’s beauty is always appreciated by the countless pure devotees who inhabit the spiritual sky, some of whom regularly descend to this material plane to turn our attention back to Him.
Krishna’s absolute nature is also such that anything connected with Him, be it His name, form, words, pastimes, or paraphernalia. also exhibits His superlative beauty. In Srila Prabhupada’s book Krishna, this remarkable feature of Krishna’s personality is apparent in the following statement by a devotee, in which the beauty of the Lord’s flute-playing is feelingly described:
My dear friends, Krishna is so beautiful that the goddess of fortune always remains on His chest and He is always adorned with a golden necklace. Beautiful Krishna plays His flute in order to enliven the hearts of many devotees. He is the only friend of the suffering living entities. When He plays His flute, all the cows and other animals of Vrindavana, although engaged in eating, simply take a morsel of food in their mouths and stop chewing. Their ears raise up and they become stunned. They do not appear alive but like painted animals. Krishna’s flute-playing is so attractive that even the animals become enchanted, and what to speak of ourselves.
All of these features combine to make Krishna’s beauty fully satisfying. While material beauty offers momentary pleasure to the senses. Krishna’s spiritual beauty touches the very soul of the living being. thrilling him with a pleasure so wonderful that once having relished it he can never give it up. Srila Rupa Gosvami has therefore advised,
My dear friend, if you still have any desire to enjoy the company of your friends within this material world, then don’t look upon the form of Krishna, who is standing on the bank of Keshi-ghata. He is known as Govinda, and His eyes are very enchanting. He is playing upon His flute, and on His head there is a peacock feather. His whole body is illuminated by the moonlight in the sky.
The more a devotee appreciates Krishna’s beauty, the less he falls for the flickering attractions of this material world. Once, Haridasa Thakura, a great devotee of the Lord, was chanting Hare Krishna alone, absorbed in the beauty of the Lord’s holy name. An alluring young prostitute appeared and tried to divert him from his vow of chanting Krishna’s names 300,000 times daily. Haridasa’s attraction to Krishna’s beauty was so deep, however, that he remained unaffected by her advances. Instead, he converted the prostitute into a virtuous devotee greatly attached to the beauty of Krishna.
Although descriptions of Krishna’s beauty are fascinating, we may rightfully wonder how we can overcome our own attraction to the world’s enticements and achieve the coveted vision of Krishna’s spiritual beauty. We can begin by remembering that even the flickering beauty of this world has its origin in Krishna. The sunrise, the fragrant flower, the taste of water, or anything else of value can remind us of Krishna and thus act as an agent for our spiritual enlightenment.
Furthermore, by hearing and chanting about Krishna in the company of devotees and by worshiping His Deity form in the temple, we can accelerate our spiritual advancement. This combination of pleasurable devotional activities will very surely and effectively raise us to the platform of pure love for Krishna, enabling us to view Him face to face and enjoy the nectar of His moonlike beauty.
by Pranada dasi
Krishna, God, exists in three principal forms (rupas)—svayam-rupa, tad-ekatma-rupa, and avesha-rupa.
Svayam means “original.” In this category there is only one person: Krishna. Originally God is one; no one is greater than or equal to Him. Krishna has no origin. He is the source of everything and the sum of everything. He is the original creator of all living entities and of the material and spiritual worlds. He is the source of all expansions of God. He is the shelter of everything and master of everyone. He is the supreme controller, and His spiritual body is eternal, full of bliss and knowledge. There is no difference between Krishna and His body, as there is for living entities in the material world.
Krishna is distinguished from all others because He possesses sixty-four qualities in full. Other manifestations of Krishna possess varying degrees of these qualities. The Nectar of Devotion clarifies: “Krishna has four more [qualities], which are not manifest even in the Narayana form of Godhead, what to speak of the demigods or living entities. They are as follows: (61) He is the performer of wonderful varieties of pastimes (especially His childhood pastimes). (62) He is surrounded by devotees endowed with wonderful love of Godhead. (63) He can attract all living entities all over the universes by playing on His flute. (64) He has a wonderful excellence of beauty which cannot be rivaled anywhere in the creation.”
All Vedic literature directly or indirectly points to Lord Krishna. Krishna is the source of the Vedas, the knower of the Vedas, and the end of all veda (knowledge).
This category consists of expansions and avataras (incarnations) of the Lord. They are extraordinary and unlimited. The chart lists only a few. An expansion is a form of the Lord residing in the spiritual realm; an avatara is a form of the Lord who comes to the material world. (See the side-bar “The Avataras.”) Vedic literature refers to both expansions and avataras as amsha (plenary portions) and kala (portions of plenary portions). Amshas expand directly from the Lord, and kalas expand from amshas.
These expansions and avataras possess some of the qualities Lord Krishna possesses in full. They appear with bodily features and emotions different from Krishna’s, and They carry out specific activities. They are uniquely named according to these qualifying characteristics.
Everything we experience in this world is created, sustained, or destroyed by one of these forms. The purpose of creation is to provide a learning field where we can awaken to our original relationship with Krishna and rejoin Him in His spiritual creation. The activities of the expansions and incarnations, like those of Krishna Himself, give us transcendental topics to hear and talk about, which clears our path out of the material entanglement.
Also known as shaktyavesha-avatara, this category has three divisions: bhagavad-avesha (divine absorption), shaktyavesha (directly empowered), and vibhuti (indirectly empowered).
Servants of the Lord empowered with knowledge and strength make up this category. They can act almost like God in carrying out specific functions. There are unlimited numbers of empowered devotees; the chart lists some of them. Most are jivas, or minute souls, and not God Himself (vishnu-tattva). Exceptions: Sesha Naga, Ananta, Kapila, and Rishabhadeva.
Vibhutis, or opulent things of this world, are also categorized as avesha-rupas of the Lord. They are indirectly empowered by God. Krishna explains that everything beautiful, opulent, and glorious in this world comes from Him. He gives an extensive list of vibhutis in the tenth chapter of Bhagavad-gita. Srila Prabhupada comments: “Any glorious or beautiful existence should be understood to be but a fragmental manifestation of Krishna’s opulence, whether it be in the spiritual or material world. Anything extraordinarily opulent should be considered to represent Krishna’s opulence.” (Bg. 10.41, Purport)
Purusha means “controller.” The purusha-avataras are the three supreme controllers of the material manifestations: Karanodakashayi Vishnu, Garbhodakashayi Vishnu, and Kshirodakashayi Vishnu. Karanodakashayi Vishnu creates unlimited universes. From Him comes a Garbhodakashayi Vishnu for each universe. From Garbhodakashayi Vishnu comes Brahma, the secondary material creator, as well as Kshirodakashayi Vishnu, who enters every atom of each universe and is also known as the Supersoul, or Paramatma (below). Paramatma sits in the hearts of all living entities, giving direction to them in their material sojourn.
Lila-avataras are also known as kalpa- avataras. Lila means “pastimes,” and a kalpa is a day of Brahma. These avataras appear in each day of Brahma (every 4.32 billion years). They respond to the desires of devotees and protect the universe. In Caitanya-caritamrita (Madhya 6.99), Srila Prabhupada elaborates: “A lila-avatara is an incarnation of the Lord who performs a variety of activities without making any special endeavor. He always has one pastime after another, all full of transcendental pleasure, and these pastimes are fully controlled by the Supreme Person. The Supreme Person is totally independent of all others in these pastimes.”
Guna means “material qualities,” of which there are three categories: passion, which generates the creation of the material manifestation; goodness, which maintains the material manifestation; and ignorance, which destroys the creation. Brahma (right) is in charge of creation, Vishnu maintenance, and Siva destruction.
Lord Vishnu is a direct expansion of Krishna and is therefore in the vishnu-tattva category. Brahma is a post for managing the secondary material creation. The post ismost often filled by a highly qualified devotee of Krishna (jiva- tattva), but if no one is available, then Vishnu will perform Brahma’s duties. Siva is also a devotee of Lord Krishna. He possesses more of Krishna’s qualities than ordinary souls, but less than Krishna or His expansions and incarnations. Siva is in a category of his own, called shiva-tattva.
Manvantara means “the life span of Manu.” Manus are rulers in the higher planetary systems, and they give direction to human society through scriptures. They live for seventy-one divya-yugas. A divya- yuga is the four yugas taken together. These manvantara incarnations appear simultaneously with the
Manus and change as the Manus change. In Srimad- Bhagavatam (2.7.20), Srila Prabhupada explains, “The manvantara incarnation chastises all the miscreant rulers of different planets with as much power as that of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who punishes the miscreants with His wheel weapon. The manvantara incarnations disseminate the transcendental glories of the Lord.” The current manvantara-avatara is Lord Vamana (below). (Laghu-bhagavatamrita 4.16).
Yuga means “age,” and sometimes it is translated as “millennium.” The term is used to refer to the calculation of cyclical time of the material creation. Satya-yuga is 1,728,000 years and is characterized by virtue, religion, and wisdom. Treta-yuga is 1,296,000 years, and vice is introduced. Dvapara-yuga is 864,000 years, and virtue and religion further decline. Kali-yuga (the current age) lasts 432,000 years and is full of vice and irreligion.
The yuga-avatara gives the yuga-dharma, or the religion for the specific age. (See the sidebar “The Incarnations for this Age.”)
The Incarnations for this Age
Although Sri Krishna Chaitanya Mahaprabhu is the yuga- avatara, or the incarnation for this age, He is in fact neither an incarnation nor an expansion of Krishna. Rather, He is identical with svayam-rupa Krishna.
Giving special mercy to the people of this age, Krishna Himself has come in two forms: as Lord Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and as His holy name, as in the maha-mantra—Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Lord Chaitanya is known as the most magnanimous incarnation because He freely delivers love of Krishna, the highest goal of life. To understand Krishna is difficult, but it has been made easy by the mercy of Lord Chaitanya. He is also known as magnanimous because His mercy surpasses the bounds of mundane distinction of sex, race, caste, and so on. He made equally available to everyone the sublime process of attaining Krishna.
That process, the religion of this age, is chanting the Hare Krishna maha-mantra.As the yuga-avatara, Lord Chaitanya appeared in this world five hundred years ago to teach us how to develop love of Krishna by chanting His names.
God as the Temple Deity
Krishna is accessible to us at all times through His deity manifestation. The deity, also known as the arca- murti (“form for worship”), comes to the world to bestow mercy on the devotees by allowing them to see Him face to face and serve Him directly. By seeing and serving the deity, devotees fix their minds on the form of the Lord. Vedic literature describes in detail how to worship the Lord in this world in His deity form.
Though the arca-murtis seem to be made of material elements such as clay, wood, metal, or stone, They are identical with the forms of the Lord in the spiritual world. These forms are in the vaibhava-vilasa category.
In Sri Chaitanya-caritamrita (Madhya 20.217) Srila Prabhupada comments: “The deity in the temple, however, is visible to the material eyes of the devotee. It is not possible for one in material, conditioned life to see the spiritual form of the Lord. To bestow causeless mercy upon us, the Lord appears as the arca- murti so that we can see Him… . No one should consider the deity in the temple to be made of stone or wood… . Nor should anyone consider the Hare Krishna maha-mantra to be a material vibration. All these expansions of Krishna in the material world are simply demonstrations of the Lord’s mercy and willingness to give facility to His devotees who are engaged in His devotional service within the material world.”
The Identity Of Narayana
Although Lord Narayana does not appear in the chart, He’s there. Srila Prabhupada uses the name Narayana to refer to any four-handed Vishnu form, but he also uses the name to refer to a specific expansion of Krishna, with His own spiritual planet. Prabhupada calls Narayana the Lord of Vaikuntha. He says that Narayana is at the center of the catur-vyuha (They surround Him). He also explains that Narayana expands from Sankarshana of the catur-vyuha. Finally, Prabhupadarefers to the purusha-avataras (the three Vishnus involved in the creation) as theNarayana purusha-avataras. So the name Narayana can refer to many forms of the Lord.
The first four expansions in the vilasa category (prabhava-vilasa) originate from Lord Balarama (vaibhava-prakasha). Prabhava manifestations are fully potent; vaibhava manifestations are partially potent. The four expansions Vasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna, and Aniruddha are known as the catur- vyuha.Catur means “four,” and vyuha means “guard” or “arms.” These forms have four arms, and They guard the four directions of the material world. They reside in the spiritual world. Srila Prabhupada refers to Them as the aides-de-camp of Lord Krishna.
- Vasudeva, the first expansion, is the presiding deity of consciousness and the cause of the brahmajyoti effulgence.
- Sankarshana comes from Vasudeva and is the presiding deity of false ego. He is the source of Karanodakashayi Vishnu. Sankarshana is known as the integrating and disintegrating power of God. In other words, He maintains the law of gravity and oversees the destruction of the universe.
- Pradyumna comes from Sankarshana and is the presiding deity of intelligence. He is responsible for universal growth and maintenance. From Pradyumna comes Garbhodakashayi Vishnu.
- Aniruddha, who comes from Pradyumna, is the presiding deity of the mind and the source of Kshirodakashayi Vishnu.
Srila Prabhupada explains: “The Lord in His different features (Vasudeva, Aniruddha, Pradyumna, and Sankarshana) maintains both the gross and subtle material elements of this world. As mentioned in Bhagavad-gita, the gross material elements are earth, water, fire, air, and ether, and the subtle material elements are mind, intelligence, and ego. All of them are controlled by the Supreme Personality of Godhead as Vasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna, and Aniruddha… . Lord Krishna, by His quadruple expansion (Vasudeva, Sankarshana, Pradyumna and Aniruddha), is the Lord of psychic action—namely thinking, feeling, willing, and acting.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 4.24.35-36, Purport)
From these first four expansions come other catur- vyuhas, known as vaibhava-vilasa. The months of the year and the markings of tilaka are named for these vaibhava-vilasa manifestations.
by Devamrita Dasa
The Sri Ishopanishad (Mantra 13) declares:
anyad evahuh sambhavad
anyad ahur asambhavat
iti shushruma dhiranam
ye nas tad vicacakshire
“It is said that one result is obtained by worshiping the supreme cause of all causes and that another result is obtained by worshiping what is not supreme. All this is heard from the undisturbed authorities, who clearly explained it.”
This important verse tells us that in matters of worship, one must exercise discrimination. Since we exercise discrimination even in ordinary affairs, how much more careful should we be in spiritual concerns.
The Ishopanishad says that we must first identify the supreme cause of all causes and then worship Him. Worshiping anyone else will yield different results. So it’s not “all one,” as popular belief might hold. Under the misconception that all is one, multitudes throng to all kinds of temples without seeing any fundamental distinction between them.
The task of identifying the Supreme is made difficult by the diverse family traditions coming down through generations and all manner of so-called gurus and sadhus dishing out their own concocted philosophies. Add to this confusion a mindboggling range of deities, and we have a heady mix potent enough to make the bewilderment of the public complete.
Therefore, proper knowledge coming down through a bona fide disciplic succession of saintly, self-realized souls (dhiras) is necessary. Our worship must be set on the firm foundation of genuine gurus, sadhus, and shastra (scripture).
From that standpoint, let’s take a look at the wide variety of temples that abound. Let’s begin with those that, although called temples, are not really temples at all, because the “deities” worshiped in them find no mention in the revealed Vedic scriptures. You might be surprised by how many such “temples” there are. One example: in some places one finds images of persons (often supposedly demigods) who are nonexistent or at best of dubious origin. Another example: in some places a powerful and charismatic human being is worshiped. For instance, in Tamil Nadu one finds “temples” where awe-struck admirers reverentially worship the “deity” of a former state chief minister, who was also a famous film star. Also in this category come temples of various persons who, without authoritative evidence, are considered in popular folklore to be saints, powerful mystics, or even God. Clearly, such worship has no spiritual value. It is just a waste of the worshiper’s valuable human life.
Then there are “temples” devoted to various otherworldly beings such as nagas (snakes), bhutas (ghosts), pretas (spirits), and so on. Their worship, usually based on local customs, traditions, and superstitions, often involves spooky “possession” by a spirit or such abominable practices as the slaughter of animals (sometimes even humans). From the Bhagavad-gita we can understand that this is worship in tamo-guna, the mode of ignorance, and is therefore to be completely avoided by those who wish to rise to the spiritual platform, beyond the three modes of material nature.
Next we have the many temples dedicated to the major gods and goddesses, such as Siva, Ganesha, and Durga, in their multifarious forms. While the worship of demigods (devatas) is within the house of the Vedas, so to speak, Lord Krishna does not recommend such worship. Why? Because the devatas are not the Supreme. Any benefits they grant their worshipers are actually bestowed by the Supreme Lord, Sri Krishna, alone. The demigods are empowered representatives of the Supreme Lord entrusted with the administration of the universe. The power to discharge their functions comes from Sri Krishna. He is the fountainhead of all there is, including the demigods and the great sages, as He declares in Bhagavad-gita.
Apart from being Krishna’s authorized representatives, the demigods are great devotees of the Lord. So one should respect them and never offend them. Yet the devotees of Lord Krishna know that the respect offered the demigods is due to their connection to Him. Devotees of Krishna do not see the demigods as independently worshipable.
The conclusion, therefore, is that since Lord Krishna is the supreme cause of all causes, one should worship Him and become His devotee. The temples of Krishna (or Vishnu, His personal expansion) are nondifferent from the eternal spiritual world, and one can derive the greatest benefit of human life by visiting such temples, seeing the Lord’s beautiful form with devotion, partaking of His prasadam (food offered to Him), and hearing and chanting His holy names and glories in the association of His devotees.
by Satyaraja Dasa
The Vaishnava understanding of the Supreme Truth provides a satisfying answer to the question “Is God male or female?”
Essence of beauty and relationship,
Quintessence of bliss and compassion,
Embodiment of sweetness and brilliance,
Epitome of artfulness, graceful in love:
May my mind take refuge in Radha,
Quintessence of all essences.
My sister Carol has become a radical feminist in recent years. I watched this develop. As she devoured book after book on the failures of patriarchy and male-made societies, she came to see me—her brother, who worships a “male” God—as a victim of sexist philosophers, duped by men with little regard for women. In other words, she knew that I worshiped Krishna, who is clearly male, and this was enough to put me in league with those who belittled women. It confused her, though, to see that I was not full of macho double-talk, that despite my worship of a male God, I was fair and even-minded—I didn’t speak down to women. She decided I was bright enough to confront directly.
“Why do you worship that blue boy Krishna?” she asked. “Why see God as male at all? Why not envision God as female?”
“Well,” I answered quickly and annoyed, as if a two-minute conversation can sum up a person’s theological perspective, “He’s God.” “And besides,” I added, “we don’t ‘envision’ God as we like. We learn about him from authoritative sources, the scriptures, whether the Vedas, from India, or the Western scriptures, like the Bible or the Koran.”
“But how do you know?” she asked. “Maybe those books are leading you on. I would say that God would have to be the ultimate female, with all the sensitivity and nurturing that implies.”
“But isn’t that sexism, coming from the opposite direction?”
I hoped the question would make her think twice.
“If God is ultimately the supreme female, wouldn’t that leave men out of the equation? Wouldn’t that be saying that the female form is better than the male form? You’d be guilty of the very thing you claim patriarchal religion is guilty of.”
After a pause, she replied, “But you still say that God is male …”
“First of all,” I broke in, “according to Krishna consciousness, God is both male and female. Isn’t that a more egalitarian vision of God?”
“Well, maybe—if it’s true,” she said, still skeptical of a tradition (and a brother) she had all but trained herself to see as sexist.
“Look,” I said, “Krishna is described as God in the Vedic literature because He has all the qualifications of God. How do you know the President of the United States is the President? Because he has the qualifications of the President. He has certain credentials. It’s not that you can just ‘envision’ that somebody is the President and then—puff!—he’s the President. No. So if you study Krishna closely, you’ll see that He is full in all opulences: strength, beauty, wealth, fame, knowledge, and renunciation. Anyone who has these qualities in full is God.”
She was getting restless. She had heard this definition of God from me before and felt I was getting off the subject of God as female.
“But Krishna consciousness goes further,” I continued. “Radharani is the female manifestation of God. She is the ultimate female. So we see God as both male and female.”
Carol smiled. She had something up her sleeve.
“If you acknowledge that God is both male and female, why does your central mantra—that prayer you’re chanting all the time—focus on Krishna, the male form of God?”
The “She” in the Maha-mantra
What my dear sister didn’t know was that the maha- mantra is a prayer to Radha first, and Krishna second.
“Do you know the mantra I chant, the one you’re talking about?”
She recited it: “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”
I was pleased to hear she knew it.
“Do you know what Hare means?”
“No,” she admitted.
“It’s a strong request to Radha. By chanting ‘Hare,’ we beseech Mother Hara, another name for Radha. Hare is the vocative form of Hara.Basically, the mantra is asking Mother Hara, Radha, ‘Please engage me in the Lord’s service.’”
“You mean the Hare Krishna chant is a prayer to the female form of God?”
That got her attention.
“Tell me,” she said with growing curiosity, “what does the word Radha mean?”
“It means ‘She who worships Krishna best.’”
“Aha!” my sister quipped. “Then Radha is not God. If She’s His best worshiper, then She is obviously distinct from Him!”
“That’s not true,” I said. “God is the person who does everything best. As Krishna says in the Gita, He’s the first and best in all fields. Of mountains He’s the Himalayas, of bodies of water He’s the ocean, and so on. So, of worshipers of Him, He’s also best. Who could worship Krishna better than He Himself? No one. Therefore, He manifests as Radha, His female form, and shows that He is His own best worshiper. As Radha He is God the worshiper, and as Krishna He is God the worshiped. Both par excellence.”
“Hmm. Tell me more,” she said.
“OK, but this may get a little technical, “ I said. “From the Vaishnava, or Krishna conscious, point of view, the divine feminine energy (shakti) implies a divine energetic source (shaktiman). So the goddess as she manifests in the various Vaishnava traditions always has a male counterpart. Sita relates to Rama; Lakshmi corresponds to Narayana; Radha has Her Krishna. As Krishna is the source of all manifestations of God, Sri Radha, His consort, is the source of all shaktis, or energies. She is thus the original Goddess.
“Vaishnavism can be seen as a type of shaktism,wherein the purna-shakti, the most complete form of the divine feminine energy, is worshiped as the preeminent aspect of divinity, eclipsing even the male Godhead in certain respects. For example, in Srivaishnavism, Lakshmi (a primary expansion of Sri Radha) is considered the divine mediatrix, without whom access to Narayana is not possible. In our Krishna conscious tradition, Radha is acknowledged as the Supreme Goddess, because She controls Krishna with Her love. Perfect spiritual life is unattainable without Her grace.
“In traditional Vaishnava literature, Krishna is compared to the sun and Radha to the sunshine. Both exist simultaneously, but one is coming from the other. Still, to say that the sun exists prior to the sunshine is incorrect—as soon as there is a sun, there is sunshine. More important, the sun has no meaning without sunshine, without heat and light. And heat and light would not exist without the sun. So the sun and the sunshine co-exist, each equally important for the existence of the other. It may be said that they are simultaneously one and different.
“Likewise, the relationship between Radha and Krishna is that of inconceivable identity in difference. They are, in essence, a single entity—God—who manifests as two distinct individuals for the sake of interpersonal exchange.
“Let me read you something about this from the Chaitanya-charitamrita [Adi-lila 4.95-98]: ‘Lord Krishna enchants the world, but Sri Radha enchants even Him. Therefore She is the supreme goddess of all. Sri Radha is the full power, and Lord Krishna is the possessor of full power. The two are not different, as evidenced by the revealed scriptures. They are indeed the same, just as musk and its scent are inseparable, or as fire and its heat are nondifferent. Thus, Radha and Krishna are one, although They have taken two forms to enjoy a relationship.’”
“But Krishna is still the source. He predominates.”
“Only in a sense,” I said. “In terms of tattva, or ‘philosophical truth,’ He predominates. But in terms of lila, or ‘divine loving activity,’ Radha predomi-nates over Him. And lila is considered more important than tattva.”
Carol was enthralled.
“I had no idea,” she said.
“Few people do,” I told her. “That’s why devotees work hard to distribute Prabhupada’s books—we want this knowledge to get out to people.”
Carol promised me she would start experimenting with the maha-mantra and would never prematurely judge a religion again, especially Krishna consciousness. In addition, she asked me for a prayer that focuses on Radharani’s supreme position, something she could chant as a reminder that Krishna consciousness recognizes—even emphasizes—a female form of God. I thought for a moment, and then I shared with her a mantra composed by Bhaktivinoda Thakura, a great spiritual master from the early twentieth century:
atapa-rakita suraja nahi jani
radha-virahita krishna nahi mani
“Just as there is no such thing as sun without heat or light, I do not accept a Krishna who is without Sri Radha!” (Gitavali, Radhashtaka 8)
Carol was thrilled. She confided in me that she had long prayed for a religious tradition that was not sexist, one that recognized a feminine form of the Divine. Of course, she wasn’t fully convinced that this was it, but she was now willing to listen, to give an open ear to Krishna consciousness. She was willing to start with some rudimentary practices, such as chanting and reading Srila Prabhupada’s books. Here was a tradition that definitely seemed to fit the bill, to address her needs as a feminist. Radharani was my sister’s dream come true—an answer to a feminist’s prayer.
Best of the Gopis
Sri Radha is foremost of the gopis, Lord Krishna’s cowherd girlfriends. She is able to please Krishna with little more than a glance. Yet Radha feels that Her love for Krishna can always expand to greater heights, and therefore She manifests as the many gopis of Vrindavana, who fulfill Krishna’s desire for relationship (rasa) in a variety of ways.
The gopis are considered the kaya-vyuha of Sri Radha. There is no English equivalent for this term, but it can be explained as follows: If one person could simultaneously exist in more than one human form, those forms would be known as the kaya (“body”) vyuha (“multitude of”) of that particular individual. In other words, they are the identical person, but occupying different space and time, with different moods and emotions. As Radha and Krishna’s sole purpose is loving exchange, the gopis exist to assist Them in this love.
The gopis are divided into five groups, the most important being the parama-preshtha-sakhis,the eight primary gopis:Lalita, Vishakha, Citra, Indulekha, Campakalata, Tungavidya, Rangadevi, and Sudevi. Many details of their lives and service—including each one’s age, mood, birthday, temperament, instrument, skin color, parents’ names, spouse’s name, favorite melody, closest girlfriends, and so on—are described in Vaishnava scriptures. These elements form the substance of an inner meditation, or sadhana, designed to bring the devotee to the spiritual realm. Through this meditation one gradually develops prema, or love for Krishna. This advanced form of contemplation, however, is only to be performed by accomplished devotees under the guidance of an acknowledged master. This level is rarely achieved. It is therefore recommended that one practice the chanting of the holy name and take to the regulated path of vaidhi- bhakti—or the practice of devotion under strict rules and regulations—as taught in the Krishna consciousness movement. This will naturally lead to the highest level of spiritual attainment.
Clearly, the Vaishnava tradition in the line of Lord Chaitanya sees the love of the gopis as transcendental love of the highest order, countering accusations of mundane sexuality with clearly defined distinctions between lust and love. Like the Bride-of-Christ concept in the Christian tradition and the Kabbalistic conception of the Feminine Divine in Jewish mysticism, the truth behind “gopi-love” is theologically profound and constitutes the zenith of spiritual awareness. Gopi- love represents the purest love a soul may have for its divine source; the only correlation this may have to mundane lust is in appearance, an appearance that falls short once one studies the texts left by the pure, self-realized authorities on these topics.
- Srimati Radharani's Appearance
- Sri Radha—the Feminine Divine
- Radha, Krishna's Female Counterpart
- Srimati Radharani's Artistic Qualities
- The Names of Srimati Radharani
- The Meeting of Radha and Krishna
- Radharani's Mood of Separation
- That Internal Potency is Radharani
- The Qualities of Srimati Radharani
- Radharani Gallery
by Bhayahari Dasa
By tracing the journey of one soul, we can better understand the mercy and justice of God.
We might sometimes wonder whether Krishna is really our well- wisher. If He indeed is, and if He is all-powerful, then why doesn’t He simply take us back to our eternal spiritual home? Why does He force us to pray to Him, render service to Him, and surrender to Him before He lets us back in? Some people might view His actions as those of an egotistical tyrant, not those of the all-merciful benefactor He’s made out to be.
To better understand Krishna’s motives, let’s follow a living entity we’ll call Jivatma, who could be any one of us. As one of the innumerable spiritual beings living in harmony with God in the spiritual world, Jivatma, exercising his God-given free will, desires to enjoy separately from Krishna. He becomes envious of Krishna and other souls. Because envy is not permissible in the spiritual world, Krishna, the most compassionate father, has created a material world, separate from the spiritual world, where the living entity can enjoy independent of Him. So Jivatma leaves the spiritual world for the material world and begins to enjoy there, thinking himself the owner, trying to take all that is there for the taking.
Now, the problem is that everyone else in the material world is trying to own and enjoy the place. In this quest they’re more than willing to deprive others. To protect Jivatma and everyone else, Krishna has created the law of karma to ensure fairness in a completely self-centered world. The law of karma dictates that one will suffer the consequences of evil deeds and enjoy the results of pious ones.
The situation is much like that of a prison. Having been incarcerated for breaking the law, prisoners are subjected to additional rules and regulations in the prison. If they break them, they get more punishment. Similarly, the living entities, having misused their free will, are now in the material world, where they are subject to the additional laws of karma. (On the other hand, just as a freed prisoner is no longer subject to the rules of the prison, a liberated soul transcends the laws of karma.)
Having descended to the material world, Jivatma tries hard to enjoy. Krishna keeps awarding him appropriate bodies according to his desires and activities. In one life, to fulfill his desire to eat flesh, Krishna gives him the body of a carnivore. In another life, Jivatma performs many pious activities, such as giving charity and helping the poor, and Krishna rewards him in the next life with material opulence and fame. In yet another life, he performs many sacrifices and, having pleased the demigods, obtains birth in heavenly planets as a demigod himself. There he enjoys a long and opulent life. But when the credit of his pious activities runs out, he again falls to the lower planetary systems.
Depending on his consciousness, Jivatma works in one of the three modes of material nature: goodness, passion, and ignorance. In all cases, he enjoys or suffers the reactions of past and present activities performed in these modes. As he continues to perform karmic activities, he stays locked to the endless cycle of repeated birth and death. Bound by the infallible rules of karma, and driven by his desires for sense gratification, Jivatma has by now transmigrated through most of the 8.4 million species of life, each specially suited for some form of sense enjoyment under the broad categories of eating, sleeping, mating, and fighting. But Jivatma never finds lasting peace and happiness. His senses burn like fire, and the more he tries to gratify them, the stronger their demands become.
Krishna, allowing Jivatma his free will, watches with much sorrow and compassion. He wants to show Jivatma a path out of material existence. He periodically descends to the material world to show amazing pastimes to inspire Jivatma and others like him. He gives instructions on how to return to the eternal abode, and He sends His trusted associates to inspire by word and example.
In one life, Jivatma has evolved to the human form, unique because it gives him the mind and intelligence to question and reason. Perplexed about the apparently random distribution of fortune and misfortune around him, he gradually begins to realize that the material world is not all that great. In fact, it’s a pretty inhospitable place, where almost everyone is envious and self-serving. But having spent countless lifetimes in the material world, he has completely forgotten his original position in the spiritual world.
In his quest for answers, Jivatma meets a bona fide spiritual master, who, though in the material world, is a fully self-realized soul sent by Krishna to help fallen souls. Jivatma submissively questions his spiritual master and learns about his own original position and his current temporary situation.
But Jivatma is conditioned by many lives of identifying with his material body. So even though he hears about his true, original position, he can’t develop a sincere desire to reclaim it. Understanding this, his spiritual master nurtures him gradually and gently. He first elevates Jivatma out of the mode of ignorance by instructing him to abstain from meat-eating, illicit sex, intoxication, and gambling. To further purify Jivatma’s consciousness, his spiritual master requests him to chant the holy names of Krishna, which are identical with Him.
Jivatma dutifully follows the instructions of his spiritual master. Even though in the beginning he has no taste for the holy name, he chants in a regulated way. He begins to mechanically follow the daily procedures for worshiping Krishna given to him by his spiritual master. In the meantime, he patiently suffers his karmic reactions, accepting them as Krishna’s mercy.
Having surrendered to the instructions of his spiritual master, Jivatma gradually begins to relish the chanting of the holy name. As promised by his spiritual master, the potency of the holy name is slowly and surely cleaning away many lifetimes of material conditioning.
Jivatma begins to realize the impermanence of the material body and the eternality of the spirit soul. He then inquires more from his spiritual master, having pleased him by rendering service to him. His spiritual master reciprocates by teaching more about Krishna and the process for returning to the spiritual world, and he lovingly relates many pastimes of Krishna and His associates.
By sincerely performing his regulated worship, Jivatma shows a sincere desire to return to Godhead. His practices purify his consciousness, and he gradually develops his latent love for God, which has become dormant under the modes of material nature. Krishna eagerly reciprocates with every step that Jivatma takes towards Him by taking ten steps towards Jivatma. Through his spiritual master and directly, Krishna gives Jivatma many realizations about Himself and the eternal loving relationship Jivatma enjoyed with Him.
Blessed in this way, Jivatma is now relishing the nectar of the holy name, understanding the name to be identical with Krishna. His ritualistic worship now becomes truly ecstatic, since he sees no difference between Krishna and His deity form. He understands that his true position is not in the material world, so he becomes detached from material trappings of wealth, power, followers, and glory. The same free will he misused to leave Krishna, Jivatma is now using to return.
Krishna is most pleased to reclaim His lost son, who has suffered much out of his own desire to enjoy separately. Seeing that Jivatma sincerely desires to return home, back to Godhead, Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, welcomes him back. Jivatma returns to the spiritual world, ecstatic about returning to a place where he can eternally serve His Lord without envy, freed from the cycle of birth, old age, disease, and death.
That is the happy ending. Like Jivatma, we were all in the spiritual world but fell to the material world by our free will. Like Jivatma, we have transmigrated through countless life forms, enjoying and suffering our karmic reactions. I hope and pray that like Jivatma we will also be fortunate to surrender to a spiritual master, and by his mercy and our sincere desire, return home, back to Godhead.
by Dwarakakhisa Devi Dasi
The nationalist, the musician, the parent—the depth of their feelings hints at the power of love of God.
I could foresee during my pregnancy that I was approaching a turning point in my life. I went through those days mentally noting. “I won’t be able to do this. I won’t be able to do that.” I observed mothers struggling with hefty babies, strollers, and diaper bags. “That will be me,” I shuddered. But somehow I never expected the cadence of my life to alter dramatically. I supposed that I would remain unchanged, except for the additional baggage.
Well, I was so wrong. From the day my daughter was born I realized how superficial my previous conceptions of motherhood had been. Sure there were the well-publicized endless chores, a lot of ga-ga-ing, and discussions on diaper rash—things that had been totally disdainful before. But how those changes were dwarfed by the revolution in my heart as I became increasingly enamoured of the tiny girl. Those weary first days spent rocking, pacing, and pampering seemed to flow along in one great wave of affection. However tiresome the activities, they seemed so sweet because of my love for my daughter.
Having come to understand, with some chagrin, what little I knew of maternal love before becoming a mother, I can also comprehend that there are many varieties of love of which I have no experience. I can’t tell you. for instance, of the fierce patriotism that inspires someone to die for his country. Nor can I understand why anyone would spend hours a day playing the violin. From my dispassionate vantage point, I can’t penetrate the core of such heartfelt emotion.
These examples of love—for a nation or music or a child—flourish here in this world. But they are not perfect love, because they depend on circumstantial arrangements by which the lover extracts pleasure from the beloved object. I love my daughter because … well, because she’s my daughter. It’s a happenstance of our bodily relationship. In material love, which is dependent on the body, when the intimacy arranged by circumstance is lost, the emotion eventually evaporates.
Someone might protest that one person can love another for an entire lifetime, and that death itself cannot severe the attachment So how can you call it temporary, material love?
When speaking of the eternal spirit soul. we have to consider that there are many, many lifetimes. We may fondly recall our beloved even after his or her body perishes, but what about our loved ones in our previous life? Or hundreds of lives? Who can remember all those distant relationships? The spirit soul is propelled into innumerable bodies, each with its particular passions, yet all is ultimately forgotten. Such is the nature of material love.
Beyond this fundamentally ephemeral love is real, spiritual love, the natural love every spirit soul feels for the transcendent Supreme Lord, Krishna. Although every living entity has the potential to develop deep, eternal exchanges of love with the source of all pleasure Himself, such love is rarely seen in this world. Yet the scriptures offer a glimpse of how intimately the Lord deals with the pure-hearted souls who reserve all love and affection for Him alone.
A famous example is the five Pandava brothers. The story of their pastimes as Lord Krishna’s cousins is magnificently told in the epic Mahabharata. Srila Prabhupada explains their special relationship with the Lord:
Lord Krishna is everything to unalloyed devotees like the Pandavas. The Lord was for them the Supreme Lord, the spiritual master, the worshipable Deity, the guide, the chariot driver, the friend, the servant the messenger, and everything they could conceive of. And thus the Lord also reciprocated the feelings of the Pandavas … . The Pandavas were so malleable to the will of the Lord that they could sacrifice any amount of energy for the service of the Lord, and by such unalloyed determination they could secure the Lord’s mercy in any shape they desired. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.6.16, purport)
Although such sublime love is also our own spiritual legacy, it can be regained in full only when the heart is cleansed of all conflicting lovable objects. How can we join the Lord, unhampered, in His spiritual pastimes, if we are yearning after the lesser pleasures offered in the material arena?
Furthermore, simply to announce one’s love for the Lord is but a hollow declaration unless one is indeed dedicated to His glorification and service above all else. The example of the Pandavas indicates that the Supreme Lord may be served in many ways, but always in accordance with His will.
The scriptures show us the pure devotees’ love so that we might reverently worship them, not so that we can attempt superficial imitation. We might as yet be unable to taste the sweetness of pure love for God, but we can still derive true spiritual benefit by submissively hearing of that pure love. “Simply by appreciating the dealings of the Lord with His pure devotees.” Srila Prabhupada writes, “one can attain salvation.”
Still, what is the fate of those of us deeply entrenched in temporal, illusory relationships? Should those real feelings be denied, repressed, abandoned? Well, that’s hardly a realistic solution, since love is a primary nutrient of the human psyche. And even more than that, it is intrinsic to the soul. We won’t be awarded transcendental love for God simply by denying feelings of affection, or by harboring them secretly. The apparent absence of overt material attachments doesn’t necessarily indicate spiritual consciousness; it may simply be material neurosis. A better choice would be to accept the feelings of love in perspective. As my love for my daughter has so enriched my life, despite the pains of self- sacrifice, how much more would love for God enhance my existence? What unimaginable magnitude of pleasure must there be in that sublime relationship with Him! We can crave that experience and strive for it earnestly. And when we and those with whom we have material relationships embrace devotion to Krishna as a common goal, our union becomes a powerful, transcendental vehicle toward the ultimate realization of love of God.
Today I am entranced by my little girl’s activities, always thinking of her needs and desires. This love of the mother for the child was cited by Srila Prabhupada as the closest thing in the material world to pure love. Compared to other kinds of love in this world, it is selfless, unconditional, fulfilling. Yet even this is not the real love of the spirit soul. not the love that will free me from misery and death. That pure, spiritual love, which is infinite and eternal, is the special benediction of the Supreme Lord upon one who qualifies himself through sinless service. It is for a taste of that love that I pray.
by Drutakarma Dasa
From Lord Chaitanya’s teachings—an anology to illustrate the development of pure love of God.
Seeds are mysterious. When planted, these compact entities grow into complex botanical organisms that produce fruits, vegetables, nuts, flowers, and other things we value. The seed has become a potent metaphor for growth—physical, mental, and spiritual. In the sixteenth century, Lord Caitanya explained to Rupa Gosvami how a spiritual seed planted in the heart can grow into a creeper of devotional service that produces the most valuable fruit—pure love for God.
Lord Caitanya explained how one receives this valuable spiritual seed: “According to their karma, all living entities are wandering throughout the entire universe… . Out of many millions of wandering living entities, one who is very fortunate gets an opportunity to associate with a bona fide spiritual master by the grace of Krishna. By the mercy of both Krishna and the spiritual master, such a person receives the seed of the creeper of devotional service.”
In this explanation, Lord Caitanya states that before the living entity receives the devotional seed, he moves according to karma, the universal law of action and reaction. Huston Smith, a professor of philosophy at MIT, has said, “Science has alerted the Western world to the importance of causal relationships in the physical world. Every physical event, we are inclined to believe, has its cause, and every cause will have its determinate effects. India extends this concept of universal causation to include man’s moral and spiritual life as well.”
The law of karma provides that one receives a particular body on a particular planet, and suffers or enjoys in material existence, according to the quality of one’s previous thoughts and actions.
The Vedic literature explains that there are millions of kinds of bodies the soul can inhabit, ranging from microbes to human beings. Only in the human form do we have the chance to break out of the cycle of birth and death and attain our natural state of God consciousness.
As recounted by Lord Caitanya, the karmic journey involves not only travel through different bodies but also different planets. The Vedas inform us that there are many planets beyond those we can see, all of which are inhabited. Taking birth on earth is considered good karma, because the conditions here are favourable for cultivating God consciousness. On lower planets there is too much suffering, and one must struggle for bare survival. And on the upper planets, there is so much material enjoyment that one may feel no impetus for developing God consciousness. But here we find a favourable balance of comfort and distress—enough comfort to give us the peace of mind to cultivate God consciousness, and just enough suffering to make this desirable.
We are therefore good candidates for receiving the seed of devotional service. Even so, it’s a rare opportunity. Lord Caitanya told Rupa Gosvami that only one who is fortunate meets a bona fide spiritual master, who gives him the seed.
Who is the bona fide spiritual master? He is one who in his words and personal behaviour manifests perfect God consciousness. One important qualification of the bona fide spiritual master is that he appears in an authorised disciplic succession. He carefully repeats what he has heard from his spiritual master, who heard the message from his spiritual master, who heard from his, and so on. If you trace the message back far enough, you find that it originates with Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
For example, Lord Caitanya told the story of the creeper of devotion to Rupa Gosvami five centuries ago. What Lord Caitanya said was described in the sixteenth century by Krishnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami in his biography of Lord Caitanya, Caitanya-caritamrita. This work was passed down through the chain of spiritual masters from Lord Caitanya, and in the seventh decade of the twentieth century Srila Prabhupada translated it into English. I’ve read the story of the creeper of devotion in Srila Prabhupada’s translation of Caitanya-caritamrita, and now I am passing the story on to the readers of Back to Godhead. And perhaps someday you in turn will be repeating it to someone.
How does one meet a bona fide spiritual master? Lord Krishna is in everyone’s heart as the Supersoul, and as such He is intimately aware of our innermost desires. When Krishna detects that a conditioned soul desires, perhaps even unconsciously, to re-establish a loving relationship with Him, He arranges for such a soul to meet His confidential representative, the bona fide spiritual master, who gives the bhakti-lata-bija, the seed of the creeper of devotional service.
Srila Prabhupada has given the following explanation of that seed: “Everything has an original cause, or seed. For any idea, program, plan, or device, there is first of all the contemplation of the plan, and that is called bija, or the seed. The methods, rules, and regulations by which one is perfectly trained in devotional service constitute the bhakti-lata-bija, or seed of devotional service.”
The question is whether or not one will actually cultivate this seed by taking up the “methods, rules, and regulations.” The choice is up to each individual. But one should recognize that if one does not cultivate the seed of devotional service, one will certainly cultivate other seeds—the seeds of material ambition.
In other words, desiring different types of material gratification, one will contemplate the methods for obtaining such gratification. One will perform a certain kind of work, following certain rules and regulations. If one desires to become wealthy as a stock broker, he’ll cultivate that seed of desire by, possibly, obtaining employment in a Wall Street firm and learning to do business according to the formal rules and regulations of the Stock Exchange and the SEC. But although he’ll expend great effort cultivating such a seed of material desire, the fruit he obtains won’t be worth the result of his work won’t carry him out of the cycle of birth and death. Only devotional service can free one from this endless suffering. So it makes sense to cultivate the seed of devotional service.
Lord Caitanya told Rupa Gosvami, “When a person receives the seed of devotional service, he should take care of it by becoming a gardener and sowing the seed in his heart. If he waters the seed gradually by the process of shravana and kirtana (hearing and chanting), the seed will begin to sprout.”
“Hearing and chanting” means hearing and chanting God’s holy names. God is nondifferent form His names, so Krishna is personally present in the Hare Krishna maha-mantra: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna , Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. By reading the mantra you have just put a drop of water on the seed of devotional service in your heart. Right now you could repeat this mantra ten, twenty, or one hundred times. That would be very good for your seed of devotional service. If you don’t water the seed, it won’t grow.
Hearing and chanting are natural. Unfortunately, we all spend quite a bit of time each day hearing and talking about things that really do not help us very much spiritually. We hear the office gossip—the vice-president’s getting transferred, the company’s being reorganised, one of the married women is carrying on with a male co-worker. We hear family talk—Aunt Beth has cancer, Uncle Bob’s retiring, your cousin got arrested for selling cocaine. We talk with our husbands and wives about all kinds of things. We talk about politics, the movies. We listen to the radio and watch television. We are constantly filling our ears with all kinds of repetitious soul-deadening sounds that ultimately will not help us escape the cycle of birth and death and awaken our dormant love of Godhead, which alone can make us permanently happy.
So somehow or other we have to make time to chant the Hare Krishna mantra, to read Bhagavad-gita, and to talk about things connected with Krishna consciousness. Otherwise our creeper of devotional service will wither and die. It must be properly watered with hearing and chanting. This takes some effort and determination, which we’ll get when we become convinced about how extremely important it is to water the creeper of devotion.
Undoubtedly, people tend to feel that their life is already too full, every second allocated. That means if you want to add chanting Hare Krishna to your life, you are going to have to make room for it.
How much room? First you should know that the Hare Krishna mantra is chanted in two ways: quietly, on japa meditation beads; and loudly, to musical accompaniment. Both are recommended. Initiated disciples in the Krishna consciousness movement chant the Hare Krishna mantra at least 1,728 times daily on meditation beads (that’s sixteen times around a string of 108 beads and takes about two hours) and spend at least an hour each day chanting Hare Krishna congregationally, usually with mridangas (drums) and karatalas (hand cymbals). If you are just starting out, however, you might wish to gradually build up to this level. Start with an amount of chanting you are comfortable with and can practice each day without fail. Regularity is important.
Probably an easy way for many people to make time for chanting is to cut back on the amount of television they watch. Is the quality of your life really going to suffer if you miss a couple of shows? Perhaps you don’t watch much television. But if you analyse your daily schedule, you will certainly be able to identify some time that is not being spent very profitably. Eliminate the marginally important activities and substitute hearing and chanting, which can deliver immense transcendental benefit.
If you do make time to chant, and do so regularly, you will definitely notice results. Lord Caitanya said, “As one waters the bhakti-lata-bija, the seed sprouts, and the creeper gradually increases to the point where it penetrates the walls of this universe and goes beyond the Viraja River between the spiritual world and the material world. It attains brahmaloka, the Brahma effulgence, and, penetrating through that stratum, it reaches the spiritual sky and the spiritual planet Goloka Vrindavana.
But let’s be honest—these days it’s difficult to commit oneself to a path of action beyond the material range. We tend to be surrounded by people not at all interested in talking or acting in a purely spiritual way. Commitment is valued, but only to things like getting a degree, attaining political office, making your mark in a material way. To be sure, most people are nominally members of some religion, but their involvement is generally materially motivated, in that their intention is to get something from God or avoid undesirable situations through God’s intercession.
In general, people are extremely reluctant to discuss spiritual subjects. Conversation among friends and family tend to focus on purely mundane activities, and unpleasant matters such as the suffering of disease, old age, and death are politely avoided. Although many people do wonder about philosophical questions, such as nature of the self or the nature of God, who dares to bring them up in the middle of a football game or the evening news? The pressure is always on to keep your mouth shut about such things—what to speak of the pressure against actually doing something like watering your creeper by chanting the Hare Krishna mantra for an hour or two each day.
What a statement that would be! Taking time out from all the routine stereotype activities to clear your mind and meditate on the all-powerful name of God? What on earth for? No doubt it would be difficult to do so in front of unsympathetic persons. So then you have to arrange to do so elsewhere. Perhaps you go to a room where you can be alone and chant. Back out in the television room they’re wondering what you’re up to. But at a certain point you have to be able to rise above the social pressure not to chant and do it, convinced that it is important and beneficial. You know that if you don’t water your creeper, it’s going to shrivel, and your understanding of your spiritual identity will be stunted.
Don’t expect much encouragement. Unless they are also Krishna conscious, your friends and family are not likely to push you to make spiritual progress. They generally want you to be like them—primarily concerned about economic and social and physical well-being. If you were to tell them you’re going out to jog or work out, that’s fine. But tell them you’re going out to do some chanting to elevate your spiritual awareness, well...
So it would be nice to have support, but don’t expect it. Pick up your beads, head out the door, and go to a park and chant for an hour. Do it every day. Others will eventually get used to it. Or maybe won’t get used to it. Some people never do. That is what makes living in a community of people who are practicing Krishna consciousness attractive—there is a lot of support and encouragement for spiritual development, instead of discouragement or begrudging tolerance. The creeper of devotional service naturally flourishes in such a friendly environment.
Lord Caitanya told Rupa Gosvami: “Being situated in one’s heart and being watered by shravana- kirtana, the bhakti creeper grows more and more. In this way it attains shelter of the desire tree of the lotus feet of Krishna, who is eternally situated in the planet known as Goloka Vrindavana in the topmost region of the spiritual sky. The creeper greatly expands in the Goloka Vrindavana planet, and there it produces the fruit of love for Krishna. Although remaining in the material world, the gardener regularly sprinkles the creeper with the water of hearing and chanting.”
Therefore you can be moved through this world, just like everyone else, and simultaneously be experiencing your original, spiritual nature and eternal loving connection with the Supreme Lord Krishna.
Srila Prabhupada writes, “The conditioned soul within the material world can neither understand nor appreciate how a pure devotee in the material world can render confidential service to the Lord out of feelings of ecstatic love and always engage in pleasing the Supreme Lord’s senses. Although seen within this material world, the pure devotee always engages in the confidential service of the Lord.” If you want to experience this, keep watering your creeper with the hearing and chanting of the holy name of the Lord. Those around you may not understand—but you will understand what’s happening to you as you experience increasing transcendental pleasure and satisfaction.
Beyond watering the creeper of devotion, one must protect it from disturbances. Lord Caitanya told Rupa Gosvami, “If the devotee commits an offense at the feet of a Vaishnava while cultivating the creeper of devotional service in the material world, his offense is compared to a mad elephant that uproots the creeper and breaks it. In this way the leaves of the creeper are dried up.”
As we have seen, one obtains the seed of the creeper of devotional service from the bona fide spiritual master, who is a pure Vaishnava, a devotee of Krishna. The spiritual master guides one along the path of spiritual advancement. So the relationship between spiritual master and disciple is very confidential. In any intimate relationship one has to be very careful, for bad feeling may develop and poison the entire relationship. Similarly, if the disciple behaves improperly or disrespectfully toward is Vaishnava guru, he greatly hamper his spiritual progress. One must therefore guard against offenses, which are compared to a mad elephant. One of the chief offenses is to disobey the instructions of the spiritual master, especially the instructions to avoid the unwanted activities of illicit sex, intoxication, meat-eating, and gambling. Lord Caitanya said, “The gardener must defend the creeper by fencing it all around so that the powerful elephant of offenses may not enter.”
Lord Caitanya further told Rupa Gosvami: “Sometimes unwanted creepers, such as the creepers of desires for material enjoyment and liberation from the material world, grow along with the creeper of devotional service. The varieties of such unwanted creepers are unlimited. Some unnecessary creepers growing with the bhakti creeper are the creepers of behavior unacceptable for those trying to attain perfection, diplomatic behavior, animal-killing, mundane profiteering, mundane adoration and mundane importance. All these are unwanted creepers. If one does not distinguish between the bhakti-lata creeper and the other creepers, the sprinkling of water is misused because the other creepers are nourished while the bhakti creeper is curtailed. As soon as an intelligent devotee sees an unwanted creeper growing beside the original creeper, he must cut it down instantly.”
Srila Prabhupada comments: “Sometimes these unwanted creepers look exactly like the bhakti creeper. They appear to be of the same size and the same species.... A pure devotee can distinguish between the bhakti creeper and a mundane creeper, and he is very alert to distinguish them and keep them separate.”
So, progress in spiritual life is not so easy, it requires constant attention and vigilance, and most of all it requires help—the kind of help only a bona fide spiritual master can give. The spiritual master is the expert gardener who can help us properly cultivate the rare plant of the creeper of devotional service.
Lord Caitanya told Rupa Gosvami what happens if proper care is taken: Then the real creeper of bhakti-lata- bija grows nicely, returns home, back to Godhead, and seeks shelter under the lotus feet of Krishna. When the fruit of devotional service becomes ripe and falls down, the gardener tastes the fruit and thus takes advantage of the creeper and reaches the desire tree of the lotus feet of Krishna in Goloka Vrindavana. There the devotee serves the lotus feet of the Lord, which are compared to a wish-fulfilling tree. With great bliss he tastes the juice of the fruit of love and becomes eternally happy.”
by Suhotra Swami
There are many ways to try to find it, but only one will give us the full enjoyment and complete freedom we’re looking for.
If you were to go out onto the streets of a typical Western city and ask the first person you met, How do you think people can achieve the most happiness? chances are you’d get an answer something like this: “Since life is meant to be enjoyed, society should let us explore all kinds of pleasures unrestrictedly, provided we don’t hurt others. This will produce the greatest amount of happiness for the most people.” This is the ideology of liberalism, more flippantly expressed in the common slogan, “I do whatever turns me on, and let others do their own thing.”
But unrestrained pursuit of pleasure doesn’t necessarily bring happiness—in fact, it brings just the opposite. What’s more, my neighbor’s chosen pleasure may very well bring me pain, and vice versa, despite all pretensions of letting the other fellow “do his own thing.” These days, the pursuit of happiness by people we may not even know is threatening our very lives: Do we really feel secure under our nuclear umbrella? Are we really thankful for toxic waste and acid rain? Do we really want cocaine addicts repairing the planes we fly in? Obviously, in an interdependent world of conflicting interests, letting everyone “do his own thing” will bring havoc, not happiness.
So if we want to find a practical prescription for universal happiness, we’ll have to discard the Utopian cliches of liberalism and delve into an analysis of the nature of happiness itself.
All conceptions of happiness, diverse as they may be, have two basic elements in common: enjoyment and freedom. We feel we cannot be happy unless we are enjoying in whatever way we think best. And even while we’re enjoying, we feel we can’t be completely happy unless we can enjoy undisturbed and freely expand our enjoyment without opposition.
So, keeping this common platform of enjoyment and freedom in mind, let’s turn to the three kinds of happiness described in the Vedic literature and see how much enjoyment and freedom are afforded by each.
The first kind of happiness is material happiness. This is the happiness of sense gratification, enjoyed grossly through varieties of eating, sleeping, mating, and defending, and subtly through the pleasures of the mind: accumulation of knowledge, speculation, the arts, and so on.
Those striving for material happiness generally believe they can find the enjoyment they seek in sex and that they can purchase freedom with money. For example, men look upon beautiful women as icons of all that is enjoyable. (For this reason, the Sanskrit word for woman is stri, “that by which pleasure expands.”) Even when marketing other enjoyable sense objects, advertisers almost invariably employ a pretty girl to convince us of the pleasures inherent in their products. And in the arts, sex is an ever-present theme, as shown by some remarks attributed to the late choreographer George Balanchine: “Ballet is woman… . Everything a man does he does for his ideal woman. You live only one life and you believe in something, and I believe in that.”
Thus material enjoyment, gross or subtle, culminates in sex. And for enjoying sex to the fullest, money is indispensable. With money, even an ugly old man can enjoy beautiful young women. Money, therefore, certainly seems the ticket to freedom and well-being in this world.
But do money and sex bring us real freedom and real enjoyment—and thus real happiness? Can we really say Elvis Presley or Marilyn Monroe, for example, led happy lives? “Well,” one might venture, “they enjoyed the adulation of millions of admirers and a level of sense pleasure unavailable to many. Yes, they were happy—at least for some time.” And yet they died before their time, in misery. Their sense enjoyment didn’t bring them happiness, nor did their wealth free them from anxiety, heartbreak, disease, advancing age, and death. How about Howard Hughes, Aristotle Onassis, the Shah of Iran? Unarguably, even great wealth can’t insure happiness, and every materialist, wealthy or not, must suffer a plethora of ever-mounting problems that culminate in unavoidable death.
And because no one in the material world actually obtains lasting happiness, everyone becomes frustrated and is forced by unfulfilled lust to compete for whatever enjoyable things are to be had. Of course, recognizing the futility of a “war of everyone against everyone,” people do make social alliances to further their mutual goals of sense gratification. The most common such alliance is marriage, which then extends outward to family, friends, and society.
But though materialistic alliances may seem solid, they are extremely fragile and never last for long. They are destroyed from without by conflict with other allied materialists (as when nations destroy one another in war), or from within by the conflicting ambitions of members of the same alliance (as when a husband cheats on his wife, or vice versa). Or an alliance may simply disintegrate from the corrosive depravity that accompanies success, as when entire societies collapse from moral decay (witness ancient Rome). Ultimately, then, since the root of material happiness is selfishness, lasting unity among materialists is an unrealizable dream.
Thus the liberal ideal of universal material happiness—the happiness achieved by a “free” society unified on a common platform of sense enjoyment—is nothing but a mirage. Ever shimmering on the horizon, this liberal Utopia is a tempting but illusory oasis in the Sahara of material lust—a chimera ever retreating before the ever-advancing caravan we call human history, the “progress” of which is marked by the bleached skeletons of previous generations of sense enjoyers. Unfortunately, most people are convinced that this Utopia is just over the next sand dune, and they are quite content to march along in lock-step, urged on toward a “better tomorrow” by the scientists, politicians, and Madison Avenue hucksters.
Out of many such determined materialists, however, a few may see the futility of a life of illusory happiness. They break away from the slavish pursuits of materialism and seek happiness in introspection, beyond the veil of physical sense perception. This, the second kind of happiness, is called the happiness of liberation, or (in Sanskrit) brahmananda.
Brahmananda begins when a person understands he is not the material body and mind but an eternal spirit soul. When a person knows that his real self is undying, he’s relieved of the multitude of anxieties that plague the materialist because of his fear of death. But attaining full brahmananda requires much more than just theoretical appreciation of the soul. A person must detach himself from worldly affairs and situate his consciousness firmly on the platform of eternal existence (Brahman). Only then can he free his self, or soul, from the cycle of samsara, repeated birth and death.
One can achieve brahmananda by practicing either jnana-yoga (cultivation of knowledge of the Absolute Truth through exhaustive ontological analysis), or a form of dhyana-yoga (meditation on the Absolute Truth in His impersonal feature), or a combination of these two. These processes entail complete renunciation of sex, minimizing all other kinds of sense gratification almost to nil, and, in the case of dhyana-yoga, retiring from society to the wilderness for severe austerities.
Now, referring to our definition of complete happiness—full enjoyment and complete freedom—we can easily see the dilemma faced by those who pursue brahmananda: to attain freedom, they must renounce enjoyment. The freedom they seek is liberation from repeated birth and death. Mr. Balanchine notwithstanding, everyone (every spirit soul) is being shunted from life to life in higher and lower species by his karma. To stop this transmigration by jnana-yoga and dhyana- yoga, one must repress the senses and absorb the mind in one’s eternal spiritual nature, which is pure, undifferentiated consciousness. If one can quit his body while in the awareness of the Absolute Truth, he attains brahmananda, the joy of complete freedom.
This joy is the joy of relief. As long as one remains totally absorbed in the awareness of his eternal nature, he doesn’t have to take on a physical body and experience the miseries of material life. His joyous sense of release is like the relief a man feels when he at last sets down his heavy burden after a long, painful journey.
Unfortunately, because mere negation of one’s material entanglement affords no positive enjoyment to the soul, it cannot bring lasting satisfaction. Therefore brahmananda is flawed. The desire for active enjoyment eventually wells up in the mind and diverts the attention once again to the realm of sense gratification.
Brahmananda, then, though certainly superior to material happiness, is for most people an impractical goal. Who, especially in the Western world, will undergo the arduous austerities required to transcend body consciousness? Certainly not those who practice the fashionable form of yoga-like gymnastics imported from India by a number of so-called gurus. The “yogis” of the big-city ashramas are more interested in relaxation, weight reduction, and increased sexual power than in liberation from birth and death. This corruption of the principles of yoga only further demonstrates its inapplicability to today’s society. Most people are simply unable to suppress their desires for pleasure long enough to attain brahmananda.
So far, the prospect of satisfying our inner urge for real happiness seems bleak. We are confronted with the choice of either undergoing the hopeless struggle for sense gratification or, if we can muster the great stamina required, dropping out of worldly life altogether and negating our embodied existence through meditation and introspection. Neither choice affords us the optimum of enjoyment and freedom we all yearn for.
But there is a third kind of happiness—devotional happiness. At first glance, the idea of “devotional happiness” seems to contradict our definition of ideal happiness (total enjoyment with complete freedom). “If I must devote my life to God, where is my freedom?” one may ask. “And if I must offer the fruits of my work to God, how will I enjoy?” We can answer these questions by understanding some facts about God and ourselves that are given in the Vedic literatures.
According to the Vedanta-sutra, a book of aphorisms that embody the essence of Vedic spiritual knowledge, God is by nature full of supreme happiness, eternally situated in transcendental bliss. From the Vishnu Purana, another authoritative Vedic literature, we learn that we, the spirit souls, are like countless tiny sparks of consciousness emanating from God, the Supreme Spirit. Just as each spark in a fire possesses the qualities of heat and light, so each spirit soul possesses the ability to enjoy the transcendental bliss Sri Krishna Himself enjoys eternally. But the tiny spirit souls cannot enjoy to their full capacity apart from Krishna, just as a spark cannot glow apart from the fire. For a spark to glow at all, it must dance within the flames; if it should leave the fire, it rapidly loses its brilliance. Similarly, the individual spirit soul realizes his full ability to enjoy only in contact with Krishna, the supreme enjoyer. Thus the secret to happiness lies in reestablishing our relationship with the Lord.
Since enjoyment originates in Krishna’s transcendental personality, and since Krishna Himself is far beyond any of the constraints of the material energy placed upon our enjoyment, one who associates with the Lord through devotional service automatically experiences the happiness of complete enjoyment and freedom. This is devotional happiness, or Krishna consciousness.
On the supreme value of devotional happiness over any other kind, Srila Prabhupada writes, “The standard of comfort and happiness conceived by a common man engaged in material labor is the lowest grade of happiness, for it is in relationship with the body. The highest standard of such bodily comfort is achieved by a fruitive worker who by pious activities reaches the plane of heaven. But the conception of comfortable life in heaven is insignificant in comparison to the happiness enjoyed in the impersonal Brahman, and this brahmananda, the spiritual bliss derived from impersonal Brahman, is like the water in the hoofprint of a calf compared with the ocean of love of God. When one develops pure love for the Lord, he derives an ocean of transcendental happiness from the association of the Personality of Godhead. To qualify oneself to reach this stage of life is the highest perfection.”
Human life is our only chance for attaining the happiness of pure devotion to Krishna and then returning to His eternal spiritual abode after death. We shouldn’t miss the chance. Unlike the struggle for sense pleasure, Krishna consciousness isn’t self-defeating, and unlike the struggle for brahmananda, Krishna consciousness is easily performed and leads to eternal, positive enjoyment. Therefore those who try to find permanent material happiness in this fleeting life, as well as those who try to negate their personhood for brahmananda, are only cheating themselves of the great opportunity for attaining real happiness, devotional happiness, both in this life and the next. So if you’re actually serious about finding lasting happiness, you should inquire deeper into the subject of devotional service to Krishna.