Entering the Spiritual World
“Everything in the spiritual world is substantial and original. This material world is only an imitation.... It is just like a cinematographic picture, in which we see only the shadow of the real thing.” In this lecture, delivered in October 1966 in New York City, Srila Prabhupada gives an amazing glimpse into the nature of the spiritual world and some positive instructions on how to arrive there at the end of life’s perilous journey.
“Yet there is another unmanifest 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.” [Bhagavad-gita 8.20]
We cannot calculate the length and breadth of even this universe, yet there are millions and millions of universes like this one within the material sky. And above this material sky there is another sky, which is called the spiritual sky. In that sky all the planets are eternal, and life is eternal, also. We cannot know these things by our material calculations, so we must take this information from the Bhagavad-gita.
This material manifestation is only one fourth of the whole manifestation, both spiritual and material. In other words, three fourths of the total manifestation is beyond the covered, material sky. The material covering is millions and millions of miles thick, and only after penetrating it can one enter the open, spiritual sky. Here Krsna uses the words bhavah anyah, which mean “another nature.” In other words, there is another, spiritual nature besides the material one we ordinarily experience.
But even now we are experiencing the spiritual as well as the material nature. How is that? Because we ourselves are a combination of matter and spirit. We are spirit, and only as long as we are within the material body does it move. As soon as we are out of the body, it is as good as stone. So, since we can all personally perceive that there is spirit as well as matter, we should also know that there is a spiritual world as well.
In the Seventh Chapter of Bhagavad-gita Krsna discusses the spiritual and material natures. The spiritual nature is superior, and the material nature is inferior. In this material world the material and spiritual natures are mixed, but if we go beyond this material nature altogether—if we go to the spiritual world—we will find only the superior, spiritual nature. This is the information we get in the Eighth Chapter.
It is not possible to understand these things by experimental knowledge. The scientists can see millions and millions of stars through their telescopes, but they cannot approach them. Their means are insufficient. What to speak of other planets, they cannot approach even the moon planet, which is the nearest. Therefore, we should try to realize how incapable we are of understanding God and God’s kingdom by experimental knowledge. And since getting understanding this way is not possible, it is foolishness to try. Rather, we have to understand God by hearing Bhagavad-gita. There is no other way. No one can understand who his father is by experimental knowledge. One has to simply believe his mother when she says, “Here is your father.” Similarly, one has to believe Bhagavad-gita; then one can get all the information.
Nonetheless, while there is no possibility of experimental knowledge about God, if one becomes advanced in Krsna consciousness he will realize God directly. For example, through realization I am firmly convinced of whatever I am saying here about Krsna. I am not speaking blindly. Similarly, anyone can realize God. Svayam eva sphuraty adah: Direct knowledge of God will be revealed to anyone who sticks to the process of Krsna consciousness. Such a person will actually understand, “Yes, there is a spiritual kingdom, where God resides, and I have to go there. I must prepare to go there.” Before going to another country, one may hear so much about it, but when he actually goes there he understands everything directly. Similarly, if one takes up the process of Krsna consciousness, one day he’ll understand God and the kingdom of God directly, and the whole problem of his life will be solved.
Here Krsna uses the word sanatanah to describe that spiritual kingdom. The material nature has a beginning and an end, but the spiritual nature has no beginning and no end. How is that? We can understand by a simple example: Sometimes, when there is a snowfall, we see that the whole sky is covered by a cloud. But actually that cloud is covering only an insignificant part of the whole sky. Because we are very minute, however, when a cloud covers a few hundred miles of the sky, to us the sky looks completely covered. Similarly, this entire material manifestation (called the mahat-tattva) is like a cloud covering an insignificant portion of the spiritual sky. And just as when the cloud clears we can see the bright, sunlit sky, so when we get clear of this covering of matter we can see the original, spiritual sky.
Furthermore, just as a cloud has a beginning and an end, the material nature also has a beginning and an end, and our material body also has a beginning and an end. Our body simply exists for some time. It takes birth, grows, stays for some time, gives off some by-products, dwindles, and then vanishes. These are the six transformations of the body. Similarly, every material manifestation undergoes these six transformations. Thus at the end this whole material world will be vanquished.
But Krsna assures us, paras tasmat tu bhavo ’nyo ’vyakto ’vyaktat sanatanah: [Bg. 8.20] “Beyond this destructible, cloudlike material nature, there is another, superior nature, which is eternal. It has no beginning and no end.” Then He says, yah sa sarvesu bhutesu nasyatsu na vinasyati: “When this material manifestation is annihilated, that superior nature will remain.” When a cloud in the sky is annihilated, the sky remains. Similarly, when the cloudlike material manifestation is annihilated, the spiritual sky remains. This is called avyakto ’vyaktat.
There are many volumes of Vedic literature containing information about the material sky and the spiritual sky. In the Second Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam we find a description of the spiritual sky: what its nature is, what kind of people live there, what their features are—everything. We even get information that in the spiritual sky there are spiritual airplanes. The living entities there are all liberated, and when they fly in their airplanes they look as beautiful as lightning.
So, everything in the spiritual world is substantial and original. This material world is only an imitation. Whatever we see in this material world is all imitation, shadow. It is just like a cinematographic picture, in which we see only the shadow of the real thing.
In Srimad-Bhagavatam [1.1.1] it is said, yatra tri-sargo ’mrsa: “This material world is illusory.” We have all seen a pretty mannequin of a girl in a shopkeeper’s showcase. Every sane man knows that it is an imitation. But the so-called beautiful things in this material world are just like the beautiful “girl” in the shopkeeper’s window. Indeed, whatever beautiful thing we see here in this material world is simply an imitation of the real beauty in the spiritual world. As Sridhara Svami says, yat satyataya mithya sargo ’pi satyavat pratiyate: “The spiritual world is real, and the unreal, material manifestation only appears real.” Something is real only if it will exist eternally. Reality cannot be vanquished. Similarly, real pleasure must be eternal. Since material pleasure is temporary, it is not actual, and those who seek real pleasure don’t take part in this shadow pleasure. They strive for the real, eternal pleasure of Krsna consciousness.
Here Krsna says, yah sa sarvesu bhutesu nasyatsu na vinasyati: “When everything in the material world is annihilated, that spiritual nature will remain eternally.” The aim of human life is to reach that spiritual sky. But people do not know the reality of the spiritual sky. The Bhagavatam says, na te viduh svartha-gatim hi visnum: [SB 7.5.31] “People do not know their self-interest. They do not know that human life is meant for understanding spiritual reality and preparing ourselves for being transferred to that reality. It is not meant for remaining here in the material world.” The whole of Vedic literature instructs us like this. Tamasi ma jyotir gamah: “Don’t remain in the darkness; go to the light.” This material world is darkness. We are artificially illuminating it with electric lights and fires and so many other things, but its nature is dark. The spiritual world, however, is not dark; it is full of light. Just as on the sun planet there is no possibility of darkness, so there is no possibility of darkness in the spiritual nature, because every planet there is self-illuminated.
It is clearly stated in Bhagavad-gita that the supreme destination, from which there is no return, is the abode of Krsna, the Supreme Person. The Brahma-samhita describes this supreme abode as ananda-cinmaya-rasa, a place where everything is full of spiritual bliss. Whatever variegatedness is manifest there is all of the quality of spiritual bliss—nothing there is material. That spiritual variegatedness is the spiritual expansion of the Supreme Godhead Himself, for the manifestation there is totally of the spiritual energy.
Although the Lord is always in His supreme abode, He is nonetheless all-pervading by His material energy. So by His spiritual and material energies, He is present everywhere—in both the material and the spiritual universes. In Bhagavad-gita, the words yasyantah-sthani bhutani indicate that everything is sustained by Him, whether it be spiritual or material energy.
It is clearly stated in Bhagavad-gita that only by bhakti, or devotional service, can one enter into the Vaikuntha (spiritual) planetary system. In all the Vaikunthas there is only one Supreme Godhead, Krsna, who has expanded Himself into millions and millions of plenary portions. These plenary expansions are four-armed, and They preside over innumerable spiritual planets. They are known by a variety of names: Purusottama, Trivikrama, Kesava, Madhava, Aniruddha, Hrsikesa, Sankarsana, Pradyumna, Sridhara, Vasudeva, Damodara, Janardana, Narayana, Vamana, Padmanabha, and so on. These plenary expansions are like the leaves of a tree, the main trunk of the tree being like Krsna. Krsna, dwelling in Goloka Vrndavana, His supreme abode, systematically and flawlessly conducts all affairs of both universes (material and spiritual) by the power of His all-pervasiveness.
Now, if we are at all interested in reaching Krsna’s supreme abode, then we must practice bhakti-yoga. The word bhakti means “devotional service,” or, in other words, submission to the Supreme Lord. Krsna clearly says, purusah sa parah partha bhaktya labhyas tv ananyaya. The words tv ananyaya here mean “without any other engagement.” So, to reach the spiritual abode of the Lord, we must engage in pure devotional service to Krsna.
sevanam bhaktir ucyate
[Cc. Madhya 19.170]
“Bhakti, or devotional service, means engaging all our senses in the service of the Lord, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is the master of all the senses. When the spirit soul renders service unto the Supreme, there are two side effects. First, he is freed from all material designations, and second, his senses are purified simply by being employed in the service of the Lord.”
Now we are encumbered by so many bodily designations. “Indian,” “American,” “African,” “European”—these are all bodily designations. Our bodies are not we ourselves, yet we identify with these designations. Suppose one has received a university degree and identifies himself as an M.A. or a B.A. or a Ph.D. He is not that degree, but he has identified with that designation. So, bhakti means to free oneself from these designations (sarvopadhi-vinirmuktam [Cc. Madhya 19.170]). Upadhi means “designation.” If someone gets the title “Sir,” he becomes very happy: “Oh, I have this ‘Sir’ title.” He forgets that this title is only his designation—that it will exist only as long as he has his body. But the body is sure to be vanquished, along with all its designations. When one gets another body, he gets other designations. Suppose in the present lifetime one is an American. The next body he gets may be Chinese. Therefore, since we are always changing our bodily designations, we should stop identifying them as our self. When one is determined to free himself of all these nonsensical designations, then he can attain bhakti.
In the above verse from the Narada-pancaratra, the word nirmalam means “completely pure.” What is that purity? One should be convinced, “I am spirit (aham brahmasmi). I am not this material body, which is simply my covering. I am an eternal servant of Krsna; that is my real identity.” One who is freed from false designations and fixed in his real constitutional position always renders service to Krsna with his senses (hrsikena hrsikesa-sevanam bhaktir ucyate [Cc. Madhya 19.170]). The word hrsika means “the senses.” Now our senses are designated, but when our senses are free from designations, and when with that freedom and in that purity we serve Krsna—that is devotional service.
Srila Rupa Gosvami explains pure devotional service in this verse from Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu [1.1.11]:
“When first-class devotional service develops, one must be devoid of all material desires, of knowledge tainted by monistic philosophy, and of fruitive action. A pure devotee must constantly serve Krsna favorably, as Krsna desires.” We have to serve Krsna favorably, not unfavorably. Also, we should be free from material desires (anyabhilasita-sunyam [Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu 1.1.11]). Usually one wants to serve God for some material purpose. Of course, that is also good. If someone goes to God for some material gain, he’s far greater than the person who never goes to God. That is admitted in Bhagavad-gita [7.16]:
“O best among the Bharatas [Arjuna], four kinds of pious men begin to render devotional service unto Me—the distressed, the desirer of wealth, the inquisitive, and he who is searching for knowledge of the Absolute.” But it is best that we not go to God with some desire for material benefit. We should be free of this impurity (anyabhilasita-sunyam [Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu 1.1.11]).
The next words Rupa Gosvami uses to describe pure bhakti are jnana-karmady-anavrtam [Madhya 19.167]. The word jnana refers to the effort to understand Krsna by mental speculation. Of course, we should try to understand Krsna, but we should always remember that He is unlimited and that we can never fully understand Him. It is not possible for us to do this. Therefore, we have to accept whatever is presented to us in the revealed scriptures. The Bhagavad-gita, for example, is presented by Krsna for our understanding. We should try to understand Him simply by hearing from books like Bhagavad-gita and Srimad-Bhagavatam. The word karma means “work with some fruitive result.” If we want to practice pure bhakti, we should work in Krsna consciousness selflessly—not just to get some profit out of it.
Next Srila Rupa Gosvami says that pure bhakti must be anukulyena, or favorable. We must culture Krsna consciousness favorably. We should find out what will please Krsna, and we should do that. How can we know what will please Krsna? By hearing Bhagavad-gita and taking the right interpretation from the right person. Then we’ll know what Krsna wants, and we can act accordingly. At that time we will be elevated to first-class devotional service.
So, bhakti-yoga is a great science, and there is immense literature to help us understand it. We should utilize our time to understand this science and thus prepare ourselves to receive the supreme benefit at the time of our death—to attain to the spiritual planets, where the Supreme Personality of Godhead resides.
There are millions of planets and stars within this universe, yet this entire universe is only a small particle within the total creation. There are many universes like ours, and, as mentioned before, the spiritual sky is three times as large as the total material creation. In other words, three fourths of the total manifestation is in the spiritual sky.
We get information from Bhagavad-gita that on every spiritual planet in the spiritual sky there is an expansion of Krsna. They are all purusa, or persons; they are not impersonal. In Bhagavad-gita Krsna says, purusah sa parah partha bhaktya labhyas tv ananyaya: One can approach the Supreme Person only by devotional service—not by challenge, not by philosophical speculation, and not by exercising in this yoga or that yoga. No. It is clearly stated that one can approach Krsna only by surrender and devotional service. It is not stated that one can reach Him by philosophical speculation or mental concoction or some physical exercise. One can reach Krsna only by practicing devotion, without deviating to fruitive activities, philosophical speculation, or physical exercise. Only by unalloyed devotional service, without any admixture, can we reach the spiritual world.
Now, Bhagavad-gita further says, yasyantah-sthani bhutani yena sarvam idam tatam. Krsna is such a great person that although situated in His own abode, He is still all-pervading, and everything is within Him. How can this be? The sun is located in one place, but the sun rays are distributed all over the universe. Similarly, although God is situated in His own abode in the spiritual sky, His energy is distributed everywhere. Also, He’s not different from His energy, just as the sun and the sunshine are not different, in the sense that they are composed of the same illuminating substance. So, Krsna distributes Himself everywhere by His energies, and when we become advanced in devotional service we can see Him everywhere, just as one can light a lamp anywhere by plugging it into the electric circuit.
In his Brahma-samhita, Lord Brahma describes the qualifications we require to see God: premanjana-cchurita-bhakti-vilocanena santah sadaiva hrdayesu vilokayanti [Bs. 5.38]. Those who have developed love of God can constantly see God before them, twenty-four hours a day. The word sadaiva means “constantly, twenty-four hours a day.” If one is actually God-realized, he doesn’t say, “Oh, I saw God yesterday night, but now He’s not visible.” No, He’s always visible, because He’s everywhere.
Therefore, the conclusion is that we can see Krsna everywhere, but we have to develop the eyes to see Him. We can do that by the process of Krsna consciousness. When we see Krsna, and when we approach Him in His spiritual abode, our life will be successful, our aims will be fulfilled, and we’ll be happy and prosperous eternally.
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