The Sky Beyond the Universe
If even the higher planets in this universe are subject to birth and death, why do great yogīs strive for elevation to them? Although they may have many mystic powers, these yogīs still have the tendency to want to enjoy the facilities of material life. On the higher planets, it is possible to live for incredibly long lifetimes. The time calculation on these planets is indicated by Śrī Kṛṣṇa:
ahar yad brahmaṇo viduḥ
te ’ho-rātra-vido janāḥ
“By human calculation, a thousand ages taken together is the duration of Brahmā’s one day. And such also is the duration of his night.” (Gītā 8.17)
One yuga covers 4,300,000 years. This number multiplied by one thousand is calculated to be twelve hours of Brahmā on the planet Brahmaloka. Similarly, another twelve-hour period covers the night. Thirty such days equal a month, twelve months a year, and Brahmā lives for one hundred such years. Life on such a planet is indeed long, yet even after trillions of years, the inhabitants of Brahmaloka have to face death. Unless we go to the spiritual planets, there is no escape from death.
“When Brahmā’s day is manifest, this multitude of living entities comes into being, and at the arrival of Brahmā’s night, they are all annihilated.” (Gītā 8.18)
At the end of the day of Brahmā, all the lower planetary systems are covered with water, and the beings on them are annihilated. After this devastation and after the night of Brahmā passes, in the morning when Brahmā arises there is again creation, and all these beings come forth. Thus subjection to creation and destruction is the nature of the material world.
bhūtvā bhūtvā pralīyate
rātry-āgame ’vaśaḥ pārtha
“Again and again the day comes, and this host of beings is active; and again the night falls, O Pārtha, and they are helplessly dissolved.” (Gītā 8.19)
Although the living entities do not like devastation, that devastation will come and overflood the planets until all living beings on the planets stay merged in water throughout the night of Brahmā. But as day comes, the water gradually disappears.
’vyakto ’vyaktāt sanātanaḥ
yaḥ sa sarveṣu bhūteṣu
naśyatsu na vinaśyati
“Yet there is another nature, which is eternal and is transcendental to this manifested and unmanifested matter. It is supreme and is never annihilated. When all in this world is annihilated, that part remains as it is.” (Gītā 8.20)
We cannot calculate the extent of the material universe, but we have Vedic information that there are millions of universes within the entire creation, and beyond these material universes there is another sky, which is spiritual. There all the planets are eternal, and the lives of all the beings on them are eternal. In this verse the word bhāvaḥ means “nature,” and here another nature is indicated. In this world we have experience also of two natures. The living entity is spirit, and as long as he is within matter, matter is moving, and as soon as the living entity, the spiritual spark, is out of the body, the body is immovable. The spiritual nature is called Kṛṣṇa’s superior nature, and the material is called the inferior. Beyond this material nature there is a superior nature, which is totally spiritual. It is not possible to understand this by experimental knowledge. We can see millions and millions of stars through a telescope, but we cannot approach them. We have to understand our incapabilities. If we cannot understand the material universe by experimental knowledge, what is the possibility of understanding God and His kingdom? It is not possible experimentally. We have to understand by hearing the Bhagavad-gītā. We cannot understand who our father is by experimental knowledge; we have to hear the word of our mother and believe her. If we do not believe her, there is no way of knowing. Similarly, if we just stick to the Kṛṣṇa conscious method, all information about Kṛṣṇa and His kingdom will be revealed.
Paras tu bhāvaḥ means “superior nature,” and vyaktaḥ refers to what we see manifested. We can see that the material universe is manifested through the earth, sun, stars, and planets. And beyond this universe is another nature, an eternal nature. Avyaktāt sanātanaḥ. This material nature has a beginning and an end, but that spiritual nature is sanātanaḥ – eternal. It has neither beginning nor end. How is this possible? A cloud may pass over the sky, and it may appear to cover a great distance, but actually it is only a small speck covering an insignificant part of the whole sky. Because we are so small, if only a few hundred miles is covered by cloud, it appears that the whole sky is covered. Similarly, this whole material universe is like a small, insignificant cloud in the vast spiritual sky. It is encased by the mahat-tattva, matter. As a cloud has a beginning and an end, this material nature also has a beginning and an end. When the clouds disappear and the sky clears, we see everything as it is. Similarly, the body is like a cloud passing over the spirit soul. It stays for some time, gives some by-products, dwindles, and then vanishes. Any kind of material phenomenon that we observe is subject to these six transformations of material nature – it comes into being, grows, stays for a while, produces some by-products, dwindles, and then vanishes. Kṛṣṇa indicates that beyond this changing, cloudlike nature there is a spiritual nature, which is eternal. In addition, when this material nature is annihilated, that avyaktāt sanātanaḥ will remain.
In Vedic literatures there is a good deal of information about the material and spiritual skies. In the Second Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam there are descriptions of the spiritual sky and of its inhabitants. There is even information given that there are spiritual airplanes in the spiritual sky and that the liberated entities there travel about on these planes like lightning. Everything that we find here can also be found there in reality. Here in the material sky everything is an imitation, or shadow, of that which exists in the spiritual sky. As in a cinema we simply see a show or facsimile of the real thing, in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam it is said that this material world is but a combination of matter modeled after the reality, just as a mannequin of a girl in a store window is modeled after a girl. Every sane man knows that the mannequin is an imitation. Śrīdhara Svāmī says that because the spiritual world is real, this material world, which is an imitation, appears to be real. We must understand the meaning of reality – reality means existence which cannot be vanquished; reality means eternity.
nābhāvo vidyate sataḥ
ubhayor api dṛṣṭo ’ntas
tv anayos tattva-darśibhiḥ
“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.” (Gītā 2.16)
Real pleasure is Kṛṣṇa, whereas material pleasure, which is temporary, is not actual. Those who can see things as they are do not take part in shadow pleasure. The real aim of human life is to attain to the spiritual sky, but as Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam points out, most people do not know about it. Human life is meant to understand reality and to be transferred into it. All Vedic literature instructs us not to remain in this darkness. The nature of this material world is darkness, but the spiritual world is full of light and yet is not illumined by fire or electricity. Kṛṣṇa hints of this in the fifteenth chapter of the Bhagavad-gītā (15.6):
na śaśāṅko na pāvakaḥ
yad gatvā na nivartante
tad dhāma paramaṁ mama
“That abode of Mine is not illumined by the sun or moon, nor by electricity. One who reaches it never returns to this material world.”
The spiritual world is called unmanifested because it cannot be perceived by the material senses.
tam āhuḥ paramāṁ gatim
yaṁ prāpya na nivartante
tad dhāma paramaṁ mama
“That supreme abode is called unmanifested and infallible, and it is the supreme destination. When one goes there, he never comes back. That is My supreme abode.” (Gītā 8.21)
A great journey is indicated in this verse. We have to be able to penetrate outer space, traverse the material universe, penetrate its covering, and enter the spiritual sky. Paramāṁ gatim – that journey is supreme. There is no question of going a few thousand miles away from this planet and then returning. This sort of journey is not very heroic. We have to penetrate the whole material universe. This we cannot do by spaceships but by Kṛṣṇa consciousness. One who is absorbed in Kṛṣṇa consciousness and who at the time of death thinks of Kṛṣṇa is at once transferred there. If we at all want to go to that spiritual sky and cultivate eternal, blissful life, full of knowledge, we will have to begin now to cultivate a sac-cid-ānanda body. It is said that Kṛṣṇa has a sac-cid-ānanda body – īśvaraḥ paramaḥ kṛṣṇaḥ sac-cid-ānanda-vigrahaḥ – and we also have a similar body of eternity, knowledge, and bliss, but it is very small and is covered by the dress of matter. If somehow or other we are able to give up this false dress, we can reach that spiritual kingdom. If once we can attain that spiritual world, return is not necessary (yaṁ prāpya na nivartante).
Everyone, then, should try to go to that dhāma paramam – Kṛṣṇa’s supreme abode. Kṛṣṇa Himself comes to call us, and He gives us literatures as guidebooks and sends His bona fide representatives. We should take advantage of this facility given to human life. For one who reaches that supreme abode, penances, austerities, yogic meditations, and so on are no longer required, and for one who does not reach it, all penances and austerities are a useless waste of time. The human form of life is an opportunity to get this boon, and it is the duty of the state, parents, teachers, and guardians to elevate those who have acquired this human form of life to attain this perfection of life. Simply eating, sleeping, mating, and quarreling like cats and dogs is not civilization. We should properly utilize this human form of life and take advantage of this knowledge to prepare ourselves in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, so that twenty-four hours of the day we will be absorbed in Kṛṣṇa and at death at once transfer to that spiritual sky.
bhaktyā labhyas tv ananyayā
yena sarvam idaṁ tatam
“The Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is greater than all, is attainable by unalloyed devotion. Although He is present in His abode, He is all-pervading, and everything is situated within Him.” (Gītā 8.22)
If we are at all interested in reaching that supreme abode, the process, as indicated here, is bhakti. Bhaktyā means devotional service, submission to the Supreme Lord. The root word for bhaktyā is bhaj, which means “service.” The definition of bhakti given in the Nārada Pañcarātra is “freedom from designation.” If one is determined to get out of all the designations that are attached to the pure spirit soul, and which arise due to the body and are always changed when the body is changed, one can attain to bhakti. Bhakti is realizing that one is pure spirit and not matter at all. Our real identity is not this body, which is simply a covering of the spirit, but our real identity is dāsa, servant of Kṛṣṇa. When one is situated in his real identity and is rendering service to Kṛṣṇa, he is a bhakta. Hṛṣīkeṇa hṛṣīkeśa-sevanam: when our senses are free from material designations, we will utilize them in the service of the master of the senses, Hṛṣīkeśa, or Kṛṣṇa.
As Rūpa Gosvāmī points out, we have to serve Kṛṣṇa favorably. Generally we want to serve God for some material purpose or gain. Of course, one who goes to God for material gain is better than one who never goes, but we should be free from desire for material benefit. Our aim should be to understand Kṛṣṇa. Of course Kṛṣṇa is unlimited, and it is not possible to understand Him, but we have to accept what we can understand. The Bhagavad-gītā is specifically presented for our understanding. Through receiving knowledge in this way, we should know that Kṛṣṇa is pleased, and we should serve Him favorably, according to His pleasure. Kṛṣṇa consciousness is a great science with immense literatures, and we should utilize them for the attainment of bhakti.
Puruṣaḥ sa paraḥ: in the spiritual sky, the Supreme Lord is present as the Supreme Person. There are innumerable self-luminous planets there, and in each one an expansion of Kṛṣṇa resides. They are four-armed and have innumerable names. They are all persons – they are not impersonal. These puruṣas, or persons, can be approached by bhakti, not by challenge, philosophical speculation, or mental concoctions, nor by physical exercises, but by devotion without the deviations of fruitive activity.
What is the puruṣaḥ, the Supreme Person, like? Yasyāntaḥ-sthāni bhūtāni yena sarvam idaṁ tatam: every living entity and everything is within Him, and yet He is without, all-pervading. How is that? He is just like the sun, which is situated in one place and yet is present all over by its rays. Although God is situated in His dhāma paramam, His energies are distributed everywhere. Nor is He different from His energies, inasmuch as the sunshine and the sun are nondifferent. Since Kṛṣṇa and His energies are nondifferent, we can see Kṛṣṇa everywhere if we are advanced in devotional service.
santaḥ sadaiva hṛdayeṣu vilokayanti
“I worship the original Personality of Godhead, Govinda, whom the pure devotees whose eyes are smeared with the ointment of love of Godhead always observe within their hearts.” (Bs. 5.38)
Those who are filled with love of God see God constantly before them. It is not that we saw God last night and He is no longer present. No. For one who is Kṛṣṇa conscious, Kṛṣṇa is always present and can be perceived constantly. We simply have to develop the eyes to see Him.
Due to our material bondage, the covering of the material senses, we cannot understand what is spiritual. But this ignorance can be removed by this process of chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa. How is this? A sleeping man may be awakened by sound vibration. Although a man may be for all intents and purposes unconscious – he cannot see, feel, smell, etc. – the sense of hearing is so prominent that a sleeping man may be awakened just by sound vibration. Similarly, the spirit soul, although now overpowered by the sleep of material contact, can be revived by this transcendental sound vibration of Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. Hare Kṛṣṇa is simply an address to the Supreme Lord and His energies. Hare means energy, and Kṛṣṇa is the name of the Supreme Lord, so when we chant Hare Kṛṣṇa we are saying, “O energy of the Lord, O Lord, please accept me.” We have no other prayer for acceptance by the Lord. There is no question of praying for daily bread, for the bread is always there. Hare Kṛṣṇa is but an address to the Supreme Lord, requesting Him to accept us. Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu Himself prayed,
patitaṁ māṁ viṣame bhavāmbudhau
kṛpayā tava pāda-paṅkaja-
“O son of Mahārāja Nanda, I am Your eternal servitor, and although I am so, somehow or other I have fallen in the ocean of birth and death. Please, therefore, pick me up from this ocean of death and fix me as one of the atoms at Your lotus feet.” (Śikṣāṣṭaka 5)
The only hope for a man fallen in the middle of the ocean is that someone will come and pick him up. If someone just comes and hauls him but a few feet out of the water, he is immediately relieved. Similarly, if we are somehow lifted from the ocean of birth and death by the process of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, we are immediately relieved.
Although we cannot perceive the transcendental nature of the Supreme Lord, His name, fame, and activities, if we establish ourselves in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, gradually God will reveal Himself before us. We cannot see God by our own endeavor, but if we qualify ourselves, God will reveal Himself, and then we will see. No one can order God to come before him and dance, but we do have to work in such a way that Kṛṣṇa will be pleased to reveal Himself to us.
Kṛṣṇa gives us information about Himself in the Bhagavad-gītā, and there is no question of doubting it; we just have to feel it, understand it. There is no preliminary qualification necessary for the understanding of the Bhagavad-gītā, because it is spoken from the absolute platform. The simple process of chanting the names of Kṛṣṇa will reveal what one is, what God is, what the material and spiritual universes are, why we are conditioned, how we can get out of that conditioning – and everything else, step by step. Actually, the process of belief and revelation is not foreign to us. Every day we place faith in something that we have confidence will be revealed later. We may purchase a ticket to go to India, and on the basis of the ticket we have faith that we will be transported there. Why should we pay money for a ticket? We do not just give the money to anyone. The company is authorized and the airline is authorized, so faith is created. Without faith we cannot take one step forward in the ordinary course of our life. Faith we must have, but it must be faith in that which is authorized. It is not that we have blind faith, but that we accept something that is recognized. The Bhagavad-gītā is recognized and accepted as scripture by all classes of men in India, and as far as outside India is concerned, many scholars, theologians, and philosophers accept the Bhagavad-gītā as a great, authoritative work. There is no question that the Bhagavad-gītā is authority. Even Professor Albert Einstein, such a scientist, read the Bhagavad-gītā regularly.
From the Bhagavad-gītā we have to accept that there is a spiritual universe which is the kingdom of God. If somehow we are transported to a country where we are informed that we will no longer have to undergo birth, old age, disease, and death, will we not be happy? If we heard of such a place, surely we would try as hard as possible to go there. No one wants to grow old; no one wants to die. Indeed, a place free of such sufferings would be our heart’s desire. Why do we want this? Because we have the right, the prerogative, to want it. We are eternal, blissful, and full of knowledge, but having been covered by this material entanglement, we have forgotten ourselves. Therefore the Bhagavad-gītā gives us the advantage of being able to revive our original status.
The Śaṅkarites and Buddhists claim that the world beyond is void, but the Bhagavad-gītā does not disappoint us like this. The philosophy of voidness has simply created atheists. We are spiritual beings, and we want enjoyment, but as soon as our future is void, we will become inclined to enjoy this material life. In this way, the impersonalists discuss the philosophy of voidism while trying as much as possible to enjoy this material life. One may enjoy speculation in this way, but there is no spiritual benefit.
na śocati na kāṅkṣati
samaḥ sarveṣu bhūteṣu
mad-bhaktiṁ labhate parām
“One who is thus transcendentally situated at once realizes the Supreme Brahman. He never laments or desires to have anything; he is equally disposed to every living entity. In that state he attains pure devotional service unto Me.” (Gītā 18.54)
He who has progressed in devotional life and who is relishing service to Kṛṣṇa will automatically become detached from material enjoyment. The symptom of one absorbed in bhakti is that he is fully satisfied with Kṛṣṇa.