Descriptions of the Spiritual World
By Stephen Knapp
The spiritual world is not a myth, although it may certainly be a mystery to those without sufficient knowledge or experience. Many traditions, religions or cultures from around the world tell of another world, the afterlife or a heavenly or spiritual abode. But many of them do not say much about it, but only give hints as to its real nature, leaving the rest up to one’s imagination. The Vedic texts, however, have many descriptions of what the spiritual world is like, in fact more than you will find anywhere else. So we will take a few of these to get a good idea of the conditions there. In fact, such Puranas as the Bhagavata, Vishnu, Garuda, and others explain many of the Lord=s pastimes and expansions as they are found in the spiritual world as well as the activities that He and His devotees display within this material creation.
The Chaitanya-caritamrita by Krishnadasa Kaviraja Gosvami has some important verses that summarize what many of the Vedic texts describe, and explain the nature of the spiritual world. In the Adi-lila portion of his book, Chapter Five, we find that the spiritual sky is called Vaikuntha, which means where there is no anxiety. It is all-pervading, infinite, and the supreme abode. It is filled with innumerable spiritual planets, each of which is a residence of one of the unlimited expansions of the Supreme Being. The highest planet is called Krishnaloka, which is the residence of Lord Krishna Himself, the source of all other expansions of God. It is divided into the divisions of Dvaraka, Mathura, and Gokula. All of these divisions also appear on earth where the Supreme Being comes to display His pastimes. Gokula, also called Vraja and Vrindavana, is the highest of all. These abodes that appear on earth are expansions of the supreme spiritual atmosphere and nondifferent in quality to the places in the spiritual world.
Lord Krishna expands into many forms, beginning with His form as Sri Baladeva, also called Balarama, who is considered Lord Krishna=s brother. It is by the energy of Lord Baladeva that the spiritual world exists.
In the Madhya-lila section of the Chaitanya-caritamrita (21.55-57), the spiritual planets are described as larger than we can imagine, larger than any material universe. Each planet is also made of spiritual bliss. All of the inhabitants are associates of the Supreme Lord. And, in Chapter 20 (257-258), the spiritual world is referred to as the abode of the pastimes of the eternal spiritual energy.
There are also many verses in the Brahma-samhita which describe the nature and activities of the spiritual realm. In verse 29, for example, we find that the Lord engages in many playful pastimes. He is not some old man sitting high in the sky in a chair trying to manage everything while overlooking the material creation. Instead, we find that Lord Krishna is engaged in playfully tending the cows with his many friends, or engaged in dancing, having a picnic, teasing His relatives, or sporting with friends in the abodes built with spiritual gems and surrounded by millions of wish-fulfilling trees. He is served with great reverence and affection by thousands of goddesses of fortune. In verse 2, it states that Gokula, the supreme abode and planet, appears like a lotus flower with a thousand petals.
Life there is eternal, as is everything else in the spiritual world, and full of bliss and knowledge. It is full of pure devotees who have unlimited facility for their loving service to the Supreme Being. There are beautiful homes and gardens, with ample vegetables, flowers, and jewels. Each person is full with all beauty, wealth, strength, fame, knowledge, and bliss. They also wear the most beautiful of clothes, and fly in wondrous planes around the spiritual planets. All walking is a dance, and all speech is a song. The water is nectar and the land is touchstone.
In the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Third Canto, Fifteenth Chapter, there is the following description of the kingdom of God: “In the spiritual sky there are spiritual planets known as Vaikunthas, which are the residence of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and His pure devotees and are worshiped by the residents of all the material planets. In the Vaikuntha planets all the residents are similar in form to the Supreme Personality of Godhead. They all engage in devotional service to the Lord without desires for sense gratification.
“In the Vaikuntha planets is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is the original person and who can be understood through the Vedic literature. He is full of the uncontaminated mode of goodness, with no place for passion or ignorance. He contributes religious progress for the devotees.
“In those Vaikuntha planets there are many forests which are very auspicious. In those forests the trees are desire trees [trees that fulfill all desires], and in all seasons they are filled with flowers and fruits because everything in the Vaikuntha planets is spiritual and personal.
“In the Vaikuntha planets the inhabitants fly in their airplanes, accompanied by their wives and consorts, and eternally sing of the character and activities of the Lord, which are always devoid of all inauspicious qualities. While singing the glories of the Lord, they deride even the presence of the blossoming madhavi flowers, which are fragrant and laden with honey. When the king of bees hums in a high pitch, singing the glories of the Lord, there is a temporary lull in the noise of the pigeon, the cuckoo, the crane, the chakravaka, the swan, the parrot, the partridge, and the peacock. Such transcendental birds stop their own singing simply to hear the glories of the Lord. Although the flowering plants like the mandara, kunda, kurabaka, utpala, champaka, arna, punnaga, nagakesara, bakula, lily, and parijata are full of transcendental fragrance, they are still conscious of the austerities performed by tulasi, for tulasi is given special preference by the Lord, who garlands Himself with tulasi leaves.
“The inhabitants of Vaikuntha travel in their airplanes made of lapis lazuli, emerald, and gold. Although crowded by their consorts, who have large hips and beautifully smiling faces, they cannot be stimulated to passion by their mirth and beautiful charms. The ladies in the Vaikuntha planets are as beautiful as the goddess of fortune herself. Such transcendentally beautiful ladies, their hands playing with lotuses and their leg bangles tinkling, are sometimes seen sweeping the marble walls, which are bedecked at intervals with golden borders, in order to receive the grace of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
“The goddesses of fortune worship the Lord in their own gardens by offering tulasi leaves on the coral-paved banks of transcendental reservoirs of water. While offering worship to the Lord, they can see on the water the reflection of their beautiful faces with raised noses, and it appears that they have become more beautiful because of the Lord’s kissing their faces.
“It is very much regrettable that unfortunate people do not discuss the description of the Vaikuntha planets but engage in topics which are unworthy to hear and which bewilder one’s intelligence. Those who give up the topics of Vaikuntha and take to talk of the material world are thrown into the darkest region of ignorance.”
The Vedic texts further describe that in the center of all the spiritual Vaikuntha planets is the planet known as Krishnaloka or Goloka Vrindavana, which is the personal abode of the original Supreme Personality of God, Sri Krishna. Krishna enjoys His transcendental bliss in multiple forms on that planet, and all the opulences of the Vaikuntha planets are found there. This planet is shaped like a lotus flower and many kinds of pastimes are taking place on each leaf of that lotus, as described in Brahma-samhita, verses two and four: “The superexcellent station of Krishna, which is known as "Gokula" Gokula, has thousands of petals and a corolla like that of a lotus sprouted from a part of His infinitary aspect, the whorl of the leaves being the actual abode of Krishna. The whorl of that eternal realm, Gokula, is the hexagonal abode of Krishna. Its petals are the abodes of gopis [friends] who are part and parcel of Krishna to whom they are most lovingly devoted and are similar in essence. The petals shine beautifully like so many walls. The extended leaves of that lotus are the garden-like dhama, or spiritual abode, of Sri Radhika, the most beloved of Krishna.”
In this way we can understand that the spiritual realm is not some form of nothingness, as some people may imagine. It is further described that there are millions of Vaikuntha planets, each with a form or expansion of the Supreme Being who resides on it. Each resident of the spiritual world goes to whichever planet has the form of God to which he or she is most attracted. Each Vaikuntha planet is self-effulgent, and many millions of times brighter than the sun. Material time and the modes of nature have no influence in the spiritual realm. There is no birth, death, old age, or disease, and no past, present, or future. Time is conspicuous by its absence. Everything, including the homes, trees, animals, and plants, are all eternal. It is full of beauty and bliss.
The Lord is like a blazing fire and the spiritual entities are like sparks of that fire who engage in unlimited varieties of service for the Lord=s enjoyment. Since the Lord is also the source of all pleasure and happiness, when the living entities come into contact with the Supreme, they also feel a happiness which far supersedes any pleasure they could feel through contact with the material energy. Because the innumerable spiritual entities are engaged in serving and pleasing the Lord in this way, which is their natural, constitutional, spiritual position, they also feel a bliss that knows no bounds. They feel that there could be nothing better that they could do, or would want to do. Thus, they all feel perfectly situated.
Why does the Lord create the spiritual sparks, or the innumerable living entities? Because He is the source of both the unlimited and limited potencies. The Lord is only complete when He displays all of His energies. The unlimited spiritual potency is exhibited by the spiritual world. The limited energy is exhibited in the material cosmos. And the marginal potency, which are the living beings, can be in either the material or spiritual energy, depending on their consciousness.
To exhibit His omnipotency, the Supreme exhibits all of His energies. In this way, the Lord is the source of all potencies, including all pleasure potencies for which all living entities are hankering. When they come in contact with the Lord through the service attitude for pleasing Him, they are also full of all pleasure and happiness, in the same way that a spark becomes bright again when in contact with the blazing fire. Because the Lord is the reservoir of all pleasure, and He also enjoys spiritual ecstasies, there are the living beings who also give Him happiness and provide the means for many pastimes in which there are varieties of pleasurable exchanges between them. The living beings provide the means for the Lord=s variegated activities. Without the spiritual entities, the Lord would remain inactive, although He is complete in Himself. However, merely by looking at all the activity within the material creation we can see that there are unlimited activities. Thus, we can get a clue as to how much more active is the spiritual realm. We can plainly see that we are not alone. So, it is illogical to think that there are no activities in the spiritual realm, or that it is merely some inactive void or Great White Light.
In this way, we can begin to understand that the spiritual world is simply for the transcendental loving relationships and recreational activities that expand the happiness and love of all, without the limitations found within material existence. Besides, what is the meaning of the word Alord@ if there is no one to overlord? Similarly, a king without subjects has no meaning. Thus, the spirit souls are the complimentary side of the Supreme Being, and are His parts and parcels. So it is natural that there are reciprocal feelings of love between the infinitesimal living beings and the infinite Supreme Being. This form of love between the Supreme and His spiritual parts and parcels is the ultimate loving relationship. Every other form of love is but a dim reflection.
When the living beings display their pure spiritual tendencies to serve the Lord, they become liberated souls in the spiritual world. However, they have independence to act spiritually or materially. When they wish to pursue their limited desires for material enjoyment to satisfy themselves, then they take up existence in the material creation and acquire a physical body so they can chase after the idea of gratifying their minds and senses. The pleasure of the mind and senses is merely an idea because it is based on the mood of the mind and the level of reality that the materially conditioned soul accepts as his life and drama. The senses alone, being lumps of matter, or parts of an animated and temporary material body, cannot in themselves feel happiness. They only feel sensations which the mind then interprets as being either agreeable and wanted, or disagreeable and unwanted. Such sensations are then merely interpreted by the mind, which then accepts such sensations and situations as happiness or unhappiness. In other words, it has the reality of a dream. In a dream one finds himself affected by various levels of his imagination, or memories of past bodily experiences, until he wakes up. Then he remembers his real and present situation. That is why spiritual realization is also called a spiritual awakening when a person awakens to one=s actual position as a spiritual being, beyond the material body and all its limitations. This realization also makes it clear that he or she ultimately belongs to the spiritual realm and needs to follow the process by which one can attain entrance into the spiritual world.
As it is further described, the Vaikuntha planets of the spiritual world float in the Brahman effulgence. Some call this the Great White Light or void. Merging into this Brahman is for those who prefer to exist in a spiritual vacuum, floating in an eternal sky without any form or activities. For this reason, it is considered an incomplete level of spiritual realization and existence.
AWhat the Upanishads describe as the impersonal Brahman is but the effulgence of His body, and the Lord known as the Supersoul is but His localized plenary portion. He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna Himself, full with six opulences. He is the Absolute Truth, and no other truth is greater than or equal to Him.@ (Chaitanya-caritamrita, Adi-Lila, 2.5)
The Brahma-samhita (5.40) similarly describes the Brahman as being emanated from the body of Lord Krishna: AI worship Govinda [Krishna], the primeval Lord, whose effulgence is the source of the nondifferential Brahman mentioned in the Upanishads, being differentiated from the mundane universe, and appears as indivisible, infinite, and limitless truth.@
Herein we can understand that the Brahman effulgence, or the Great White Light in the spiritual sky, is nothing but the bodily rays coming from the Supreme Being, Sri Krishna. It is within those bodily rays that the unlimited Vaikuntha planets float, and into which the innumerable impersonalist philosophers merge who have attained liberation from material existence and who think there is no Supreme Being. However, such liberated souls who merge into the Brahman have no spiritual form or body, but remain only as a spiritual spark without any activity, floating in the Vaikuntha sky.
The Upanishads, focusing on describing the nonmaterial aspects of the Supreme and spiritual truth, especially put emphasis on the great, impersonal Brahman effulgence. The Mundaka Upanishad (2.2.10-12) provides additional insight into the nature of the Brahman: AIn the spiritual realm, beyond the material covering, is the unlimited Brahman effulgence, which is free from material contamination. That effulgent white light is understood by transcendentalists to be the light of all lights. In that realm there is no need of sunshine, moonshine, fire or electricity for illumination. Indeed, whatever illumination appears in the material world is only a reflection of that supreme illumination. That Brahman is in front and in back, in the north, south, east and west, and also overhead and below. In other words, that supreme Brahman effulgence spreads throughout both the material and spiritual skies.@
The above verses mean two things: First, the very word Brahman, being the bodily rays of the Supreme Being, and being an effulgence which must come from a source, means that the Brahman cannot exist without its source. Therefore, by implication, the Brahman means the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Secondly, the rays and spiritual force of the Brahman also pervades the material creation. It is in a corner of this Brahman in which the material creation manifests like a cloud. Within that cloud the necessary transformations take place in order to create the material elements, planets, universes, and innumerable living beings. However, between the material universes and the brilliant effulgence of the Brahman is what is called the Virajanadi or Brahmaloka. It is like a river, also called the Viraja River, which is the separation between the spiritual world and the material world. It is within the confines of the cloudy Viraja River that the material manifestation takes place.
The millions of universes in the material creation float on the waters of the Viraja River. On one side of this river are the material universes, and on the other are the spiritual Vaikuntha planets which float within the Brahman effulgence. The Viraja River is a marginal position between the material and spiritual realms, and is thus not under the control of the material energy. That is why those persons who merge into the Viraja River are considered to have escaped material existence, yet have still not quite entered the real spiritual worlds.
In this way, the Viraja River is also a shelter for those living beings who are disgusted with material life and who become successful in a religious or philosophical discipline that is bereft of true spiritual knowledge. For example, the goal of Buddhists is to reach nirvana in the Great White Light or Clear Void. This void is found in the existence in the Viraja River, which is outside of the material worlds, but still not in the spiritual realm. It is in between. Therein they deny the variegatedness of material existence as well as that of spiritual existence. Thus, if they wish to leave material life yet still have no true understanding of spiritual life, or life on the Vaikuntha planets, it is into this area in which they merge, if they are successful. Without knowledge or the practice of life in the spiritual world, they cannot go beyond this Viraja area. Thus, it is to our advantage to study what is the spiritual realm and how to follow the process best to attain it, as described in the Vedic literature. That is the means of becoming truly free from the limited material existence within this cosmic creation, which was created for the materially conditioned souls who prefer to attempt to satisfy all of their material desires. That is also why it is best to continue to hear about and familiarize ourselves with the deeper and blissful aspects of the spiritual world, such as with additional descriptions as follows:
“Vrindavana-dhama is a place of ever-increasing joy. Flowers and fruits of all seasons grow there, and that transcendental land is full of the sweet sound of various birds. All directions resound with the humming of bumblebees, and it is served with cool breezes and the waters of the Yamuna River. Vrindavana is decorated with wish-fulfilling trees wound with creepers and beautiful flowers. Its divine beauty is ornamented with the pollen of red, blue and white lotuses. The ground is made of jewels whose dazzling glory is equal to a myriad of suns rising in the sky at one time. On that ground is a garden of desire trees, which always shower divine love. In that garden is a jeweled temple whose pinnacle is made of rubies. It is decorated with various jewels, so it remains brilliantly effulgent through all seasons of the year. The temple is beautified with bright-colored canopies, glittering with various gems, and endowed with ruby-decorated coverings and jeweled gateways and arches. Its splendor is equal to millions of suns, and it is eternally free from the six waves of material miseries. In that temple there is a great golden throne inlaid with many jewels. In this way one should meditate on the divine realm of the Supreme Lord, Sri Vrindavana-dhama.” (Gautamiya Tantra 4)
“I worship that transcendental seat, known as Svetadvipa where as loving consorts the Lakshmis, in their unalloyed spiritual essence, practice the amorous service of the Supreme Lord Krishna as their only lover; where every tree is a transcendental purpose-tree; where the soil is the purpose-gem, water is nectar, every word is a song, every gait is a dance, the flute is the favorite attendant, effulgence is full of transcendental bliss and the supreme spiritual entities are all enjoyable and tasty, where numberless milch-cows always emit transcendental oceans of milk; where there is eternal existence of transcendental time, who is ever present and without past or future and hence is not subject to the quality of passing away even for the duration of half a moment. That realm is known as Goloka only to a very few self-realized souls in this world.” (Brahma-samhita, 56)
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