The Realm of the Senses
The Yamadūtas continued: “Above the five senses of perception, the five working senses, and the five objects of the senses is the mind, which is the sixteenth element. Above the mind is the seventeenth element, the soul, the living being himself, who, in cooperation with the other sixteen, enjoys the material world alone. The living being experiences three kinds of situations, namely happy, distressful, and mixed.
”The subtle body is endowed with sixteen parts – the five knowledge-acquiring senses, the five working senses, the five objects of sense gratification, and the mind. This subtle body is an effect of the three modes of material nature. It is composed of insurmountably strong desires, and therefore it causes the living entity to transmigrate from one body to another in human life, animal life, and life as a demigod. When the living entity gets the body of a demigod, he is certainly very jubilant, when he gets a human body he is always in lamentation, and when he gets the body of an animal he is always afraid. In all conditions, however, he is actually miserable. His miserable condition is called saṁsṛti, or transmigration in material life.
“The foolish embodied living entity, inept at controlling his senses and mind, is forced to act according to the influence of the modes of material nature, even against his desires. He is like a silkworm that uses its own saliva to create a cocoon and then becomes trapped in it, with no possibility of getting out. The living entity traps himself in a network of his own fruitive activities and then can find no way to release himself. Thus he is always bewildered, and repeatedly he dies.
”No living entity can remain unengaged, even for a moment. One must act by his natural tendency according to the three modes of material nature because this tendency forcibly makes him work in a particular way. The fruitive acts a living being performs, whether pious or impious, are the unseen cause for the fulfillment of his desires. This unseen cause is the root of the living entity’s different bodies. Because of his intense desire, the living entity takes birth in a particular family and receives a body like his mother’s or father’s body. Thus the gross and subtle bodies are created according to his desire.
“Since the living entity is associated with material nature, he is in an awkward position, but if in the human form of life he is taught how to associate with the Supreme Personality of Godhead or His devotee, this position can be overcome.” (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 6.1.50–55)
The Demands of the Senses
These verses describe how the living entity becomes entangled in the material body due to the interaction of the material modes of nature. Everyone engages in work with his hands, legs, and other senses just to achieve a certain goal according to his concocted ideas. In this way one tries to enjoy the five sense objects, namely form, sound, taste, aroma, and touch, not knowing that the actual goal of life is to satisfy the Supreme Lord. Because of disobeying the Lord, the living entity is put into material conditions, and he then tries to improve his situation according to his whims, not caring to follow the instructions of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Nevertheless, the Supreme Lord is so kind that He comes Himself to instruct the bewildered living entity how to act obediently and then gradually return home, back to Godhead, where he can attain an eternal, peaceful life of bliss and knowledge.
In the material world the living entity has a body that is a very complicated combination of the material elements, and with this body he struggles alone, as indicated in verse 50 by the words ekas tu. For example, if one is struggling in the ocean, he must swim through it alone. Although many other men and aquatics are swimming in the ocean, he must take care of himself, because no one else will help him. Therefore this verse indicates that the seventeenth item, the soul, must work alone. Although he tries to create society, friendship, and love, ultimately no one can help him but Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Lord. Therefore his only concern should be how to satisfy Kṛṣṇa – how to surrender to Him and evoke His mercy. That is also what Kṛṣṇa wants. As He says in the Bhagavad-gītā (18.66), sarva-dharmān parityajya mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja: “Just give up all kinds of concocted religion and surrender to Me.”
People bewildered by material conditions try to be united, but although they strive for unity among men and nations, all their attempts are futile. Everyone must struggle alone for existence with the many elements of nature. Therefore one’s only hope, as Kṛṣṇa advises, is to surrender to Him, for He can help one become free from the ocean of nescience. Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu therefore prayed:
patitaṁ māṁ viṣame bhavāmbudhau
kṛpayā tava pāda-paṅkaja-
“O Kṛṣṇa, beloved son of Nanda Mahārāja, I am Your eternal servant, but somehow or other I have fallen into this ocean of nescience, and although I am struggling very hard, there is no way I can save myself. If You kindly pick me up and fix me as one of the particles of dust at Your lotus feet, that will save me.”
Similarly, Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura sings, anādi karama-phale, paḍi’ bhavārṇava-jale, taribāre nā dekhi upāya: “My dear Lord, I cannot remember when I somehow or other fell into this ocean of nescience, and now I can find no way to rescue myself.” We should remember that everyone is responsible for his own life. If an individual becomes a pure devotee of Kṛṣṇa, he is then delivered from the ocean of nescience. Thus his life becomes successful.
Pain and Pleasure
Actually, there is no pleasure in the material world; everything is painful. Everyone is trying to be happy by sensual activity, but the result is unhappiness and frustration. This is called māyā, illusion.
Lord Buddha understood the nature of material pleasure. In his youth he was a prince, enjoying great opulence and sensual pleasures, but he renounced it all. Sitting down in meditation, he stopped all sensual activities, which subject one to the pains and pleasures of this material world. He gave up his kingdom just to teach that sensual activities do not help us attain salvation. Salvation means to get out of the clutches of the pleasure and pain of this world.
Buddhism is concerned largely with the predicament of the body. Due to the interactions of the three modes of material nature, which are acting on our material bodies, we experience various pains and pleasures. Buddhism teaches that one can be relieved of these pains and pleasures as soon as one dismantles the combination of the material elements in the shape of the physical body. Nirvāṇa, the goal of Buddhism, is the state attained when a person has finished with the material combinations. After all, pains and pleasures are due to possessing this material body. However, Buddhist philosophy does not provide information about the soul, the possessor of the body. Thus Buddhism is imperfect.
Buddhist philosophy is incomplete, but that does not mean Lord Buddha did not know the complete truth. A teacher may have received his master’s degree, yet he still teaches the ABC’s to his students. It is not that his knowledge is limited to the ABC’s. Similarly, any especially empowered incarnation (śaktyāveśa avatāra) will preach God consciousness according to time, place, and circumstances. The teacher holds his master’s degree, but the students may not be qualified to receive the high instructions that the teacher is competent to teach.
Therefore there are different schools of religion, like Buddhism and Śaṅkarācārya’s Māyāvāda philosophy. Both the Buddhists and the Māyāvādīs encourage their followers to try to get free of pain and pleasure, which are due to sensual activities. No genuine philosopher urges his followers to pursue sensual activities. Buddha finishes with matter: to achieve nirvāṇa one must first dismantle the material combination of the body. In other words, the body is a combination of five material elements: earth, water, fire, air, and ether, and this combination is the cause of all pain and pleasure; so when the combination is at last dismantled, there will be no more pain and pleasure.
Śaṅkarācārya’s philosophy is to get out of this combination of material elements and become situated in our original, spiritual position. Thus the Māyāvādīs’ motto is brahma satyaṁ jagan mithyā: “Brahman, the Absolute, is true, and this material creation is false.” Śaṅkarācārya rejected Buddha’s philosophy, which gives no information concerning the spirit soul. Buddha’s philosophy deals only with matter and the dissolution of matter; thus the goal of Buddhism is to merge into the voidness.
Both Buddhism and Māyāvāda philosophy reveal only partial truth. Śaṅkarācārya’s Māyāvāda philosophy accepts Brahman, spirit, but does not describe spirit in its fullness. Māyāvāda philosophy teaches that as soon as we become cognizant of our existence as Brahman (ahaṁ brahmāsmi), then all our activities come to a stop. But this is not a fact. The living entity is always active. It may seem that in meditation one can stop all sensual activity, but still one is meditating, and that is also action.
While meditating on Brahman, the Māyāvādī thinks, “I have become God.” In one sense, of course, it is correct to think, “I am one with God,” for as spirit souls we are all one with God in quality. But no one can ever become quantitatively one with God. In the Bhagavad-gītā (15.7) Kṛṣṇa declares that the living entities are “part and parcel of Me.” Kṛṣṇa is completely spiritual (sac-cid-ānanda), so each particle of spirit must also be sac-cid-ānanda, just as a gold earring is qualitatively one with the gold in a gold mine. Still, the gold earring is not the gold mine.
So the Māyāvādīs’ mistake is to think that the part can become equal to the whole. They presume that because they are part and parcel of God, they are God. Therefore the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (10.2.32) describes the impersonalists as aviśuddha-buddhayaḥ: “Their intelligence is impure; they are still in ignorance.” Māyāvādīs believe that by accumulating knowledge they become one with God, and thus they address one another as “Nārāyaṇa.” That is their great mistake. We cannot become Lord Nārāyaṇa. Nārāyaṇa is vibhu, which means “very big” or “infinite,” whereas we are aṇu, infinitesimal. Our spiritual magnitude measures one ten-thousandth of the tip of a hair. Therefore how can any sane man claim that he has become God?
Śaṅkarācārya gave a hint about Brahman, teaching everyone to think, ahaṁ brahmāsmi, “I am the spirit self, not the material body.” The Vedas agree. One who is situated in mukti, or liberation, understands perfectly, “I am not this body; I am pure spirit soul.” But that is not the end of self-realization. Next one has to ask, “If I am an eternal spirit soul, what is my eternal spiritual activity?” That eternal activity is devotional service to Kṛṣṇa.
In the Bhagavad-gītā (18.54) Lord Kṛṣṇa describes how Brahman realization leads to devotional service:
na śocati na kāṅkṣati
samaḥ sarveṣu bhūtesu
mad-bhaktiṁ labhate parām
“One who is transcendentally situated at once realizes the Supreme Brahman and becomes fully joyful. He never laments or desires to have anything. He is equally disposed toward every living entity. In that state he attains pure devotional service unto Me.”
Often big swamis talk about attaining “Brahman realization” but do not remove themselves from worldly pleasures and pains. They involve themselves in humanitarian activities, thinking, “My fellow countrymen are suffering; let me open a hospital” or “They are uneducated; let me open a school.” If someone is really on the platform of brahma-bhūtaḥ, why would he accept any particular place as his country? Actually, as spirit souls we do not belong to any country. We get a body, and as soon as the body is finished, the connection with a particular country is also finished. The symptom of lamentation reveals that the so-called liberated person has not been cured of his attachment to worldly pleasure and pain. That means he has not become joyful, because one who is joyful does not lament. So many learned sannyāsīs have fallen down to material activities because they have not in fact realized Brahman. It is not so easy. As already explained, the influence of the modes of nature is very strong. The living entity entangled in different types of fruitive activity is like a silkworm trapped in a cocoon. Getting free is very difficult unless one is helped by the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Real knowledge is attained by applying the senses in the service of Kṛṣṇa. At present, our mind and senses are absorbed in bodily designations, such as “I am American,” “I am Indian,” or “I am English.” In this consciousness we think that we should apply our senses in the service of our relatives, our society, our nation, etc. But these are temporary circumstances. Our real position is that we are Brahman, pure spirit soul. As long as we think of ourselves as belonging to some temporary designation, we cannot become a devotee of Kṛṣṇa.
As we have pointed out, Brahman realization is not the end of spiritual knowledge. There are three stages of self-realization: Brahman, or the realization that one is not this body but a spirit soul; Paramātmā realization, or understanding the Lord within the heart; and Bhagavān realization, realizing the Lord in His personal form as Śrī Kṛṣṇa.
Beyond Brahman is Paramātmā realization, realizing Kṛṣṇa in the heart as Supersoul. Brahman is like the sunlight, but Paramātmā realization is like seeing the sun globe itself, the source of the sun’s rays. Going still further, one can enter into the spiritual planets of Vaikuṇṭha and see the Supreme Personality of Godhead face to face. This is the ultimate stage of self-realization and is like meeting the sun god himself. The sunlight, the sun globe, and the sun god are one and inseparable, yet they are simultaneously different. The sunlight is the impersonal effulgence of the sun, the sun globe is its localized aspect, and the sun god is the personal source of both the sun globe and the sunlight. In the Bhagavad-gītā (4.27) Kṛṣṇa confirms that He is the source of the Brahman effulgence: brahmaṇo hi pratiṣṭhāham. “I am the basis of the impersonal Brahman.” And in the Īśopaniṣad (15) a devotee prays,
tat tvaṁ pūṣann apāvṛṇu
“O my Lord, sustainer of all that lives, Your real face is covered by Your dazzling effulgence. Please remove that covering and exhibit Yourself to Your pure devotee.”
So Brahman realization is not enough. A sick man’s fever may go down, but he may not yet be cured. He is finally cured when he is not only safe from fever but fully recovered and back to his normal, active life. Otherwise there is danger of relapse. Likewise, understanding “I am a spirit soul, not the body” does not mean one is cured of illusion. Only when a person fully understands that he is the eternal servant of Kṛṣṇa and he acts on that understanding is he truly self-realized.
A Special Concession for All People
In the present age, for all people the best path to achieve self-realization is to chant the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra: Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. The conditioned souls in this Age of Kali are so engrossed in sinful activities that it is impossible for them to follow the Vedic injunctions in a systematic way. The chanting of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra is the special concession of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu – Kṛṣṇa Himself – who appeared five hundred years ago just to deliver the fallen souls by inaugurating the saṅkīrtana movement, the movement of the congregational chanting of the Lord’s holy names. Lord Caitanya would often quote the following verse from the Bṛhan-nāradīya Purāṇa (3.8.126):
harer nāmaiva kevalam
kalau nāsty eva nāsty eva
nāsty eva gatir anyathā
“In this age the only way to attain salvation is to chant the holy name, chant the holy name, chant the holy name of the Lord. There is no other way, no other way, no other way.”
We can see the power of chanting the holy name of Kṛṣṇa by studying the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement. In this movement all kinds of sinful activities are being given up by persons who have been addicted to bad habits ever since they were living in the wombs of their mothers. This is their good fortune. As Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu says in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Madhya-līlā 19.151),
guru-kṛṣṇa-prasāde pāya bhakti-latā-bīja
“The living entity is rotating in different lives and in different bodies, transmigrating from one situation to another throughout the universe, but if he is fortunate and gets the mercy of Kṛṣṇa, he will get a bona fide spiritual master, from whom he will receive the seed of the creeper of bhakti, devotional service.” If he is truly intelligent, he will sow that seed in his heart and water it. If you sow a seed in the earth, you must water it so that it will fructify. Similarly, once the seed of bhakti has been sown in the heart, it has to be watered properly. What is that water? Śravaṇaṁ kīrtanam: hearing and chanting the glories of Kṛṣṇa is the watering process that will make the seed of devotional service grow.
By cultivating devotional service to Kṛṣṇa, we can get out of our unfortunate position in the material world, which Kṛṣṇa has certified in the Bhagavad-gītā as duḥkhālayam, a place full of miseries. In other words, by taking shelter of the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa in the shape of chanting and hearing His holy name, we will not have to undergo repeated birth and death in this miserable material world.
Body of Desire
The Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam describes in detail how a conditioned living entity takes birth. According to his karma, the living entity is put into the semen of a particular father, and the living entity’s gross material body is manifested from the union of father and mother. During sexual intercourse, the mentalities of the father and mother are combined when the father’s semen and mother’s egg mix, and this combination is acquired by the child.
Each of us has a different type of body: no one’s body is identical to anyone else’s. The different types of bodies have a cause, and that cause is karma. According to one’s previous activities, one develops a certain kind of subtle body – made up of mind, intelligence, and false ego – and on the basis of the subtle body one gets a particular gross body. As Lord Kṛṣṇa states in the Bhagavad-gītā (8.6):
tyajaty ante kalevaram
taṁ tam evaiti kaunteya
“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, O son of Kuntī, that state he will attain without fail.” The character of the subtle body at the time of death is determined by the sum total of one’s activities during one’s lifetime. If a human being is taught to change his subtle body by developing Kṛṣṇa consciousness, at the time of death his subtle body will create a gross body in which he will be a devotee of Kṛṣṇa – or if he is still more advanced, he will not take another material body at all but will immediately get a spiritual body and thus return home, back to Godhead. This is the perfection of human life.