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Vaikuntha, see also Spiritual world

Spiritual World

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The spiritual world is the greater reality beyond the limited material world of our experience. The world we know is made of temporary matter, but the permanent, spiritual world is made of spirit, which is the essence of all life. The spiritual world is also known as Vaikuntha, the place of no anxiety, where there's no death, disease, or enmity. Life is harmonious because everyone has a common purpose—transcendental, loving service to the Supreme Person.

The Supreme Person has unlimited energies, both spiritual and material. The spiritual world is made completely of His spiritual energy, which is characterized by complete happiness, full consciousness, and permanence. He lives on each Vaikuntha planet, either in His original form as Krishna or in a Vishnu form. The innumerable Vaikuntha planets are all self-luminous, and beautiful beyond our imagination.

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Such descriptions of the spiritual world may sound fantastic to us. But it is said that everything there is fully conscious, all speech is song, every step is a dance, and the effect of time is conspicuous by its absence. The trees there provide whatever one may wish for. There is no death, disease, or old age, and everyone enjoys a perpetual festival of loving service to the Supreme Person. All of us are spiritual by nature. We can never feel truly at home anywhere except the spiritual world.

Everyone there is free to stay or go as they like, but most are so satisfied in their relationships with Krishna that they never want to leave. The spiritual world is all-pervading, so it's not actually possible to "leave," but whoever wants to is put into maya, the illusion of separateness from Krishna. This is also known as the material world. We can return to the spiritual world when we decide we've had enough of this material world's troubles, such as repeated birth and death, disease, violence, taxation, and mosquitoes.

We re-enter spiritual reality by reawakening our original, spiritual, Krishna consciousness. When our spiritual consciousness becomes mature, we can see that everything is actually spiritual, and everything is Krishna's energy. Then, our imagined separateness from Krishna is over. Krishna promises that those who develop their natural affection for Him return to the spiritual world. Such persons never come back to this material world, which occupies an insignificant fraction of the unlimited spiritual sky.

(Image is a painting of the Vaikuntha planets in the spiritual world, based on descriptions found in the Srimad-Bhagavatam.)

Krishna's Identity, Energies, Nature, Home, and More . . .

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Krishna is the Supreme Person, the Godhead. Krishna is the speaker of the Bhagavad-gita, which is recognized throughout the world as one of mankind's greatest books of wisdom. In the Gita, as it is also known, Krishna says repeatedly that He is God Himself, the source of everything. Arjuna, to whom Krishna is speaking, accepts Krishna's words as true, adding that the greatest spiritual authorities of that time also confirm that Krishna is God.

Traditions that follow in the line of these authorities have carried Krishna's teachings down to the present day.

"Unintelligent men, who do not know Me perfectly, think that I, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna, was impersonal before and have now assumed this personality. Due to their small knowledge, they do not know My higher nature, which is imperishable and supreme." —Sri Krishna, Bhagavad-gita 7.24

God, A Transcendental Person

The personhood of Krishna is not an idea invented by human beings naively creating a God in their own image. Nor is personhood a limiting concept when applied to God, or the Absolute Truth. As the source of everything, Krishna naturally has His own personal identity, just as each of us does. The Vedas define God as the one supreme conscious being among all other conscious beings. He is infinite, we are finite, and He maintains us all.

Naturally, the best way to understand God is to learn from Him. In the Bhagavad-gita ("The Song of God"), Lord Krishna—a real person—tells us that He is God and reveals many things about Himself.

A Complete Conception of God

Many people have a hard time conceiving that God can be an actual person. But the Vedas tell us that God's unique personal identity is His highest aspect. Here's an analogy to show how God has three main features.

Looking at a mountain from a distance, we can make out only its size and shape. This is compared to comprehending God only as Brahman, His impersonal energy, which emanates from Him just as light shines out from its source.

As we move closer, we'll start to make out more of the mountain's characteristics—the colors of its foliage, for example. This is compared to understanding that God is within our hearts as Paramatma, or the Supersoul.

Finally, when we arrive at the mountain we can explore its soil, vegetation, animals, rivers, and so on. This is compared to understanding God the person, or Bhagavan.

Bhagavan is the source of Brahman and Paramatma and is therefore, in a sense, one with them. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Brahman, Paramatma, and Bhagavan are called the three phases of the Absolute Truth.

What is God Like?

As with anyone in our experience, God is unique and complex. He's the transcendental Supreme Person, so there's infinitely more to know about Him than anyone else. The Vedas, especially Srimad-Bhagavatam, supply detailed information about Him.

Everything about God is fully transcendental, or spiritual. Because God is absolute, there is no difference between Him and His name, form, activities, qualities, and so on. Contact with any of these gives the same spiritual benefit, namely purification of our consciousness.

Krishna's Form

Transcendental Form - The Vedas tell us that spirit is composed of eternity, knowledge (or consciousness), and happiness. Both God and we souls possess spiritual forms, which are free of the limitations of material form. For example, each part of a spiritual body can perform the function of any other part.

Krishna's body never changes; He is an eternal youth.

Unlike we ordinary souls, who may possess a material body, Krishna and His body are always identical.

A Description of Krishna - The Vedas describe Krishna in this way: He is a beautiful youth with a glowing complexion the color of rain clouds. He plays a flute, attracting the hearts of all. His cheeks are brilliant, His smile enchanting. He wears a peacock feather in His curly black hair and a flower garland around His neck. His beautiful garments are the color of lightning. His toenails resemble the light of the moon.

Not only do the Vedas tell us what Krishna looks like, but pure souls have received His audience and written of their encounters. And fifty centuries ago, Krishna revealed His transcendental form to residents of India when He lived there for 120 years, sometimes showing and sometimes hiding His divinity.

"I envy no one, nor am I partial to anyone. I am equal to all. But whoever renders service unto Me in devotion is a friend, is in Me, and I am also a friend to him." —Sri Krishna, Bhagavad-gita 9.29

Krishna's Nature

Krishna is loving by nature. In our original pure state, we love Him fully. In the exchange of complete love, Krishna considers His devotees greater than Himself. In the spiritual world He always stays with His devotees, and in this world He resides in every heart as the Supersoul. He wants His children in the material world to return to Him to enjoy with Him eternally.

Krishna is completely independent, and we cannot comprehend him completely. He cannot be conquered by knowledge. But He can be conquered—and seen directly—through pure love.

God has feelings: He is satisfied when someone offers Him a nice prayer. Even though He is great, He can be moved by our love. He responds to us according to how we approach Him.

"The pure devotee is always within the core of My heart, and I am always in the heart of the pure devotee. My devotees do not know anything else but Me, and I do not know anyone else but them."Srimad-Bhagavatam 9.4.68

"Even if it were possible to count the atoms after smashing the earth into powder, still it would not be possible to estimate the unfathomable transcendental qualities of the Lord." —Srila Prabhupada, Bhagavatam, 1.16.26-30, Purport

Krishna's Qualities

Understanding that God is spiritual, people sometimes conceive of Him as having no qualities. But although Krishna has no material qualities, He is full of unlimited transcendental qualities, and those qualities attract us to Him. Thus great souls who have given up everything cannot give up attraction to Krishna, and they dedicate their lives to finding Him.

The following qualities are considered especially attractive, and Krishna possesses them in full: beauty, wealth, fame, influence, knowledge, and renunciation.

Being God, Krishna has innumerable qualities and seemingly contradictory qualities are resolved in Him.

Hearing of how Krishna shows these qualities can give us a sense of His greatness and of His power to attract all souls.

Krishna's Activities

While Krishna's expansions and incarnations perform duties in the material and spiritual worlds, He Himself simply enjoys with His most intimate devotees in His transcendental home, known as Goloka. By His desire, His associates there don't even consider Him God. They enhance His enjoyment in five loving moods: neutrality, servitude, friendship, parental affection, and conjugal love. In other words, Krishna's life is filled with unending bliss in the company of His associates.

Krishna enjoys Himself with abandon, frolicking as a youth in expansive fields and forests with His friends and cows. He dances, He plays His flute, He relishes whatever activity strikes His fancy at the moment.

To entice souls in the material world to join Him in Goloka, Krishna comes to this world periodically, as He did 5,000 years ago, and shows His confidential, intimate loving exchanges with His ever-liberated devotees.

Krishna's Relationships

Krishna savors diversity from various kinds of pure, transcendental love. As we enjoy a variety of relationships in our families and society, so does Krishna, but all of His relationships are eternal, transcendental, and completely free of material contamination.

Each of Krishna's devotees interacts with Him in one of five primary relationships. In ascending order of intimacy, these five are neutrality, servitude, friendship, parental affection, and conjugal love. Each includes the primary sentiments of the ones before it, and then adds its own flavor. Pure love of God reaches its summit in romantic exchanges with Krishna.

Each devotee eternally feels one of these main moods predominantly:

  • Devotees in the mood of neutrality witness and support Krishna's pastimes by their presence as plants, animals, streams, and so on, as well as normally inanimate objects like houses—all of which are fully conscious in Goloka.
  • Devotees in the service mood run errands for Krishna, pack His lunch, wash His clothes, and perform other demonstrations of love for Him as the moment indicates.
  • Devotees in the fraternal mood serve Krishna by being His friends. They are sometimes boastful, considering themselves equal to Krishna. In His company, they herd cows and enjoy games in the beautiful country setting.
  • Devotees in the parental mood see themselves as Krishna's provider and protector. Krishna behaves with them like a dependent child. His mother cuddles Him, carefully prepares His meals, and thinks only of His protection. His father sees that He has all the comforts of a normal home.
  • Devotees in the conjugal, or romantic, mood, offer service as Krishna's girlfriends, relating with Him in the intimacy of lover and beloved.
"The Supreme Lord has nothing to do, and no one is found to be equal to or greater than Him, for everything is done naturally and systematically by His multifarious energies."Svetashvatara Upanishad 6.8

Krishna's Energies

Although Krishna is invisible to us in our present state, we can perceive His presence through His energies, which are everywhere. Although innumerable, His energies fall into three primary categories.

Internal Energy - Krishna's internal energy expands as the spiritual world in all its variety, including His ever-liberated associates there. The internal energy is eternal and full of knowledge and happiness. Presently beyond our perception, the spiritual world makes up most of reality.

External Energy - Krishna's external energy consists of all that is matter: the material world, the laws of material nature, material bodies, and so on. The external energy is temporary and full of ignorance and suffering. It is inert by nature and must be moved by spirit. The material world is a tiny fraction of God's creation.

Marginal Energy - We finite spirit souls are expansions of Krishna's marginal energy. We can choose to live in the spiritual world or the material world. Or, to put it another way, we can be deluded by matter or illuminated by spirit.

Both the external energy (matter) and the marginal energy (we souls) can become fully spiritualized by contact with the internal energy through acts of devotion to Krishna (Bhakti-yoga).

"That supreme abode of Mine is not illumined by the sun or moon, nor by fire or electricity. Those who reach it never return to this material world." —Sri Krishna, Bhagavad-gita 15.6

Krishna's Home

God owns everything, so in a sense His home is everywhere. But He Himself resides in the spiritual world in a place known as Goloka, the highest spiritual region. Reaching Krishna there is the highest achievement of human life.

Goloka is self-illuminated, and everyone there is liberated, shining with pure love for Krishna. Because Krishna is the center of everyone's heart, there is complete unity and peace. Goloka is built of transcendental gems that yield whatever one wants. The natural surroundings are beautiful, full of diversity and opulence. In Goloka, every word is a song, every step a dance, every moment new, fresh, and exciting.

Krishna's Names

Just as we may have different names according to our various roles—Mommy, Dr. Jones, Sweetheart, Professor, Your Honor—so does God. And since God is unlimited, He has innumerable names.

The names can be generic terms, such as "God" or "the Absolute Truth."

They can be in Sanskrit, such as Govinda, Gopala, or Shyamasundara.

They can be in other languages, such as Yahweh and Allah.

The name Krishna, which means "the all-attractive One," implies that each of us has an eternal relationship with God and we are always drawn either to Him directly or to His energies.

God and His names are identical, so by speaking them we enter His purifying company. Regularly reciting, singing, or chanting His names awakens our innate love for Him and gains us release from bondage to matter.

In contemplating the above, the reader may ask, "Where are you getting this knowledge from?" Apart from Sri Krishna's own words in His Bhagavad-gita, the ancient Vedas (scriptures) of India extensively describe God in detail, His expansions, incarnations and pastimes.

"Completely rejecting all religious activities which are materially motivated, this Srimad-Bhagavatam propounds the highest truth, which is understandable by those devotees who are fully pure in heart. The highest truth is reality distinguished from illusion for the welfare of all. . . . This beautiful Bhagavatam, compiled by the great sage Vyasadeva [in his maturity], is sufficient in itself for God realization."Srimad-Bhagavatam 1.1.2

Bhagavatam, A Major Contribution to the Understanding of God

The Vedas deal with many subjects. They are the books of a highly developed civilization and cover all departments of knowledge. Among them, Srimad-Bhagavatam (also known as the Bhagavata Purana) deals exclusively with subjects about God. Srimad means "beautiful" or "opulent," and Bhagavatam means "related to God." Hence, Srimad-Bhagavatam can be translated as "The Beautiful Story of God."

Srimad-Bhagavatam describes God, our relationship with Him, and the process for realizing that relationship. Its 18,000 verses give detailed accounts of God's names, forms, nature, personality, devotees, activities, residences, and much more.

In one of the opening chapters, the narrator explains that the sage Vyasadeva, who wrote portions of the Vedic literature and compiled the rest, felt dissatisfied despite his accomplishments. Under the order of his guru, he then embarked on writing Srimad-Bhagavatam, considered the ripe fruit of the tree of the Vedas.

Into the Spiritual World

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Krishna assures us in the Bhagavad-gita that if we want to live there He will make the arrangements. But first we must demonstrate that we are ready.

Though the spiritual world is the abode of the highest pleasure, hardly anyone wants to go there. We say we’d like to go, and we may think we are going, but our actions speak differently. Either we don’t fully believe in a spiritual world, or the information we have about it hasn’t inspired us to act in a way that will get us there.

Most of us, having only scanty information of the spiritual world, imagine a place where angels float on clouds and play harps and trumpets all day—a boring existence when compared to our present life, with its friendships, family relations, fancy cars, nightclubs, restaurants, and Sunday afternoon football. Without these things how can heaven be enjoyable? We even joke that hell would be better than heaven, because all our friends would be there. Fortunately, from the Srimad-Bhagavatam and other Vedic literature we get a much clearer, more inviting picture of heaven.
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The spiritual world is not the creation of someone’s imagination. It is God’s eternal abode. Because God is a person, He has His own abode, called Vaikuntha in Sanskrit, meaning “devoid of anxiety.” Being God’s home, Vaikuntha possesses unlimited beauty and opulence. It’s not a boring place. It is the realm of the original, spiritual forms of everything we find in the material world.

In other words, it’s full of variety: birds, animals, forests, lakes, cities, airplanes, skyscrapers—everything. But they’re all spiritual.

For example, in the many forests of Vaikuntha, the trees—being fully conscious living beings like everything else there—supply everything the residents desire. Chintamani, a spiritual wish-fulfilling gem, serves as construction material in Vaikuntha. The residents, unalloyed devotees of God, possess spiritual bodies that never become diseased, grow old, or die. Free from the frustrations and anxieties of material life, these eternally liberated souls enjoy unending happiness.

We conditioned souls, habituated to the dualities of happiness and distress in the material world, cannot conceive of the pleasure available to the inhabitants of Vaikuntha. Material pleasures come only from the interaction of our senses with the sense objects (sound, form, touch, taste, and smell). Since the senses and their objects are limited and temporary, the pleasures derived from their interaction must also be limited and temporary—and therefore not really satisfying to the self, which is eternal.

Further analysis of material pleasures shows that they give only respite from our normally distressful condition. The material world, by its very nature, gives us distress: our own bodies and minds trouble us; business competitors, government officials, foreign governments, insects, dogs, and all sorts of other creatures harass us; and excessive heat, excessive cold, hurricanes, tornadoes, earthquakes, and other unconquerable forces of nature torment us. No one is exempt from these miseries. They constantly attack, and if we can momentarily overcome them—or even forget about them—we think ourselves happy.

Spiritual pleasure is in another category altogether. In the spiritual world everyone derives pure happiness by serving God, Krishna. Such service is the innate function of the soul. Once one tastes the happiness derived from that service, one automatically spurns even the highest material pleasure. A great devotee has explained that even one drop of pleasure obtained from devotional service to Krishna far exceeds an ocean of material pleasure. Thus Vaikuntha, which is permeated by service to Krishna, is the abode of unlimited pleasure.

Because we all want pleasure, when we hear from authorized sources that Vaikuntha offers it unlimitedly, we should naturally want to go there. And we can if we want to. In fact, we were all there originally, but we left. Why? Because we didn’t fit in.

To live in Vaikuntha, we must be like its other inhabitants. Because of their full devotion to God, they never consider their own welfare; selfish desires do not exist there. The devotees serve Krishna and each other in total selflessness. Were we to enter Vaikuntha to fulfill our own desires, we would create a disturbance to the inhabitants, who are absorbed in satisfying Krishna’s desires. So even though we may claim that we want to go to the kingdom of God, how many of us are ready to live as its residents do?

As evidenced by our deeds in this world, most of us would rather live some other way. We’d rather be selfish than selfless. We’d rather go to Las Vegas for the casinos or to the Bahamas for the sun and surf. Travel agents sell plenty of tickets to these places. But few people want to go where everyone selflessly serves the Supreme Personality of Godhead without personal interests. Krishna assures us in the Bhagavad-gita that if we want to live there He will make the arrangements. But first we must demonstrate that we are ready.

We’re in the material world because we’re not ready; we want to enjoy the kingdom of God without God. Krishna created us to enjoy with Him. That’s our eternal service, and it’s blissful—it’s ecstatic! But we don’t want it. We don’t want to serve Krishna, because we covet His position. We want to enjoy here. Our original, pure consciousness—our Krishna consciousness—is infected with the impure desire to enjoy the material world without Krishna.

Without overcoming this disease of material consciousness, we’ll never want to go back to Vaikuntha. But if we sincerely desire eternal happiness, we must go back there. We’ll need to recover our spiritual health.

That means we’ll need a guru, a spiritual doctor who is going to ask us to do things we may not like. Patients usually dislike their medicine, but if they take their medicine and follow the regimen the qualified doctor prescribes, they’ll be cured.

Similarly, the spiritual master, guided by scripture, prescribes the activities—which, like medicine, may sometimes appear distasteful—that will restore our original, healthy condition. If, on the other hand, we try without proper guidance to enter God’s spiritual kingdom, we’ll be in a precarious position because we have not properly qualified ourselves.

For example, many people think they are leading a good life and will go to the kingdom of God after death. They feel no need to accept a spiritual master or the scriptures. They have their own conception of what “good” is. Certainly we may try to be good and hope God will grant us entrance into His abode after death. But what happens if our idea of goodness is inaccurate? What happens if it falls short of the mark? According to Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam, the standard of goodness required of the inhabitants of Vaikuntha far exceeds the characteristic piety of good people in this world.

Philosophers have long debated whether there exists an absolute standard of goodness. Nowadays, people tend to favor the idea that goodness is relative to the individual, as the common expression “Whatever is right for you is all right” indicates. But what I think is right and what you think is right are not necessarily the same thing.

It’s reasonable and practical, therefore, to accept a definition of goodness from an authority. For example, we don’t run society on the premise that everyone is right. Rather, our lawmakers set up standards of acceptable behavior for those who want to enjoy the benefits of living in society. Then, even if a citizen doesn’t like the laws, he must either submit to them or risk punishment; they are not relative.

Similarly, God makes His laws, and we’re liable for punishment if we violate them—knowingly or unknowingly. This may seem unfair, but the same principle applies in the state: ignorance of the law is no excuse. To live in the state we must know its laws; to live in this world, which God created, we must know His laws. As human beings, with higher intelligence than the animals, we must accept that responsibility.

Fortunately, we can easily find out God’s laws, His standards of goodness, because the scriptures reveal them. So we should not reject the scriptures and invent our own religious path. As we read in the Srimad-Bhagavatam, dharmam tu sakshad bhagavat-pranitam: God Himself enunciates religious principles. Religion essentially means God’s method for us to approach Him. Since we are in the subordinate position (He knows us but we don’t know Him), we must accept His direction on how to approach Him. That acceptance is the symptom of true goodness.

So if we really want to be good, if we really want to go to heaven, then we ought to let our actions speak the same as our words. That is the price for going back to the kingdom of God.

The painting shows a devotee of Krishna entering the spiritual world.