Entering the Spiritual Worlds

“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, Śrīla Prabhupāda 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.

The Journey of Self-Discovery
By His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

paras tasmāt tu bhāvo ’nyo
’vyakto ’vyaktāt sanātanaḥ
yaḥ sa sarveṣu bhūteṣu
naśyatsu na vinaśyati

“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-gītā 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-gītā.

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 Kṛṣṇa uses the words bhāvaḥ anyaḥ, 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-gītā Kṛṣṇa 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-gītā. 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-gītā; then one can get all the information.

Nonetheless, while there is no possibility of experimental knowledge about God, if one becomes advanced in Kṛṣṇa consciousness he will realize God directly. For example, through realization I am firmly convinced of whatever I am saying here about Kṛṣṇa. I am not speaking blindly. Similarly, anyone can realize God. Svayam eva sphuraty adaḥ: Direct knowledge of God will be revealed to anyone who sticks to the process of Kṛṣṇa 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 Kṛṣṇa consciousness, one day he’ll understand God and the kingdom of God directly, and the whole problem of his life will be solved.

Here Kṛṣṇa uses the word sanātanaḥ 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 Kṛṣṇa assures us, paras tasmāt tu bhāvo ’nyo ’vyakto ’vyaktāt sanātanaḥ: [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, yaḥ sa sarveṣu bhūteṣu naśyatsu na vinaśyati: “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 ’vyaktāt.

There are many volumes of Vedic literature containing information about the material sky and the spiritual sky. In the Second Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 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 Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam [1.1.1] it is said, yatra tri-sargo ’mṛṣā: “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 Śrīdhara Svāmī says, yat satyatayā mithyā sargo ’pi satyavat pratīyate: “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 Kṛṣṇa consciousness.

Here Kṛṣṇa says, yaḥ sa sarveṣu bhūteṣu naśyatsu na vinaśyati: “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 Bhāgavatam says, na te viduḥ svārtha-gatiṁ hi viṣṇum: [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 mā jyotir gamaḥ: “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-gītā that the supreme destination, from which there is no return, is the abode of Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Person. The Brahma-saṁhitā describes this supreme abode as ānanda-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-gītā, the words yasyāntaḥ-sthāni bhūtāni indicate that everything is sustained by Him, whether it be spiritual or material energy.

It is clearly stated in Bhagavad-gītā that only by bhakti, or devotional service, can one enter into the Vaikuṇṭha (spiritual) planetary system. In all the Vaikuṇṭhas there is only one Supreme Godhead, Kṛṣṇa, 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: Puruṣottama, Trivikrama, Keśava, Mādhava, Aniruddha, Hṛṣīkeśa, Saṅkarṣaṇa, Pradyumna, Śrīdhara, Vāsudeva, Dāmodara, Janārdana, Nārāyaṇa, Vāmana, Padmanābha, and so on. These plenary expansions are like the leaves of a tree, the main trunk of the tree being like Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa, dwelling in Goloka Vṛndāvana, 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 Kṛṣṇa’s supreme abode, then we must practice bhakti-yoga. The word bhakti means “devotional service,” or, in other words, submission to the Supreme Lord. Kṛṣṇa clearly says, puruṣaḥ sa paraḥ pārtha bhaktyā labhyas tv ananyayā. The words tv ananyayā here mean “without any other engagement.” So, to reach the spiritual abode of the Lord, we must engage in pure devotional service to Kṛṣṇa.

One definition of bhakti is given in the authoritative book Nārada-pañcarātra:

tat-paratvena nirmalam
hṛṣīkeṇa hṛṣīkeśa-
sevanaṁ 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 (sarvopādhi-vinirmuktam [Cc. Madhya 19.170]). Upādhi 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 Nārada-pañcarātra, the word nirmalam means “completely pure.” What is that purity? One should be convinced, “I am spirit (ahaṁ brahmāsmi). I am not this material body, which is simply my covering. I am an eternal servant of Kṛṣṇa; that is my real identity.” One who is freed from false designations and fixed in his real constitutional position always renders service to Kṛṣṇa with his senses (hṛṣīkeṇa hṛṣīkeśa-sevanaṁ bhaktir ucyate [Cc. Madhya 19.170]). The word hṛṣīka 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 Kṛṣṇa—that is devotional service.

Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī explains pure devotional service in this verse from Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu [1.1.11]:

ānukūlyena kṛṣṇānu-
śīlanaṁ bhaktir uttamā
[Madhya 19.167]

“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 Kṛṣṇa favorably, as Kṛṣṇa desires.” We have to serve Kṛṣṇa favorably, not unfavorably. Also, we should be free from material desires (anyābhilāṣitā-śūnyam [Bhakti-rasāmṛta-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-gītā [7.16]:

catur-vidhā bhajante māṁ
janāḥ sukṛtino ’rjuna
ārto jijñāsur arthārthī
jñānī ca bharatarṣabha

“O best among the Bhāratas [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 (anyābhilāṣitā-śūnyam [Bhakti-rasāmṛta-sindhu 1.1.11]).

The next words Rūpa Gosvāmī uses to describe pure bhakti are jñāna-karmādy-anāvṛtam [Madhya 19.167]. The word jñāna refers to the effort to understand Kṛṣṇa by mental speculation. Of course, we should try to understand Kṛṣṇa, 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-gītā, for example, is presented by Kṛṣṇa for our understanding. We should try to understand Him simply by hearing from books like Bhagavad-gītā and Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam. The word karma means “work with some fruitive result.” If we want to practice pure bhakti, we should work in Kṛṣṇa consciousness selflessly—not just to get some profit out of it.

Next Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī says that pure bhakti must be ānukūlyena, or favorable. We must culture Kṛṣṇa consciousness favorably. We should find out what will please Kṛṣṇa, and we should do that. How can we know what will please Kṛṣṇa? By hearing Bhagavad-gītā and taking the right interpretation from the right person. Then we’ll know what Kṛṣṇa 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-gītā that on every spiritual planet in the spiritual sky there is an expansion of Kṛṣṇa. They are all puruṣa, or persons; they are not impersonal. In Bhagavad-gītā Kṛṣṇa says, puruṣaḥ sa paraḥ pārtha bhaktyā labhyas tv ananyayā: 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 Kṛṣṇa 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 Kṛṣṇa 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-gītā further says, yasyāntaḥ-sthāni bhūtāni yena sarvam idaṁ tatam. Kṛṣṇa 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, Kṛṣṇa 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-saṁhitā, Lord Brahmā describes the qualifications we require to see God: premāñjana-cchurita-bhakti-vilocanena santaḥ sadaiva hṛdayeṣu 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 Kṛṣṇa everywhere, but we have to develop the eyes to see Him. We can do that by the process of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. When we see Kṛṣṇa, 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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