From Back to Godhead
By Nikunja Vilasini Devi Dasi
The Vedic literature reveals a real world beyond our experience and beyond our imagination.
Extra-terrestrial and mythical creatures have invaded our world, along with gods and superheroes, gnomes and fairies, dwarves and elves, hobbits and wizards, hippogriffs and dragons, centaurs and Cyclopes. These are the creations of imaginative geniuses – filmmakers, writers, and artists – who are pouring out more gripping and fascinating blockbusters than ever before. Some of their ideas stem from mythology, legends, and folklore that have intrigued man for thousands of years.
How ironic it is that people are drawn to a world of fantasy and make-believe yet are skeptical about metaphysical phenomena. We doubt the paranormal in the world but seek satisfaction in fables and fairytales, in magic and fantasy, hoping to fulfill the parts of our being attracted to the supernatural. For centuries we have imagined worlds existing outside our domain of sense perception and reality. The idea of a mystical world intrigues us and gives us a sense of wonder. Perhaps it is an intuitive yearning to know what lies beyond this world, a world restricted by nature’s laws.
This yearning comes from the core of our being. As spirit souls, we want to experience a life compatible with our spiritual nature, an eternal life that radiates supreme knowledge and bliss. Yet, because we are confined to the limits of our bodies and minds, we assume there is nothing outside our paradigm of existence.
The analogy of the frog in a well illustrates this misconception. Once a frog who lived in a well enquired about his frog friend’s recent travels. The friend told him he had seen the ocean. The well-bound frog tried to imagine the size of the ocean and asked, “Is it double the size of this well? Triple the size?” His friend simply laughed and told him it was much larger than that. The frog in the well could not begin to fathom the vastness of the ocean, and continued to compare it to his tiny well. Eventually he gave up, having nothing in his experience with which to compare the ocean. Similarly, we are bound by our experience. And our knowledge of the universe and other realms is based on sense perception and inference, which are incomplete and imperfect. It would be better to accept information from a more reliable source.
In the Vedic tradition there are standard pramanas, or means of acquiring knowledge of God and the universe, of which shabda is considered the best and most important. Sabda is revelation from God or the valid testimony of God’s pure devotee, who comes in a line of spiritual teachers and presents the scriptures without interpreting or changing anything. Because human sense perception and intelligence are fallible and imperfect, spiritual seekers acquire knowledge through the shabdaprocess, which is flawless when followed in the proper way. The scriptures reveal the truth and reality of God, His creation, and His spiritual kingdom through His pure devotees, who directly perceive the revelations of the scriptures. Only someone who has traveled beyond the boundaries of our well-like world will be able to disclose the nature of the world beyond our vision.
In his book Vedic Cosmography and Astronomy, Richard L. Thompson (Sadaputa Dasa) elaborates on this concept. He describes some of the intricacies of the universe and explains that with our limited three-dimensional vision we can only understand the universe relative to these limitations. Higher-dimensional perception, which includes observation of higher planetary systems and beings, requires superior vision not available to ordinary human beings. Some rare persons have acquired higher-dimensional perception through yoga or other spiritual means. Their elevated consciousness has allowed them to enter normally invisible realms on earth and beyond.
In previous ages this was common practice. People whose lives centered on godly principles dominated the Vedic age. It was not unusual for them to travel to other realms in our universe. But gradually the earth saw a decline in spiritual consciousness. People became slaves to their senses and chose an inferior quality of life. Weakened by mundane desires and polluted habits, they lost the higher sensory perception and mystic powers available to people of previous ages.
Srimad-Bhagavatam, the paramount Vedic treatise on God and His creation, describes the eight primary mystic perfections in detail: transforming one’s body to become smaller than the smallest, or greater than the greatest, or lighter than the lightest; acquiring whatever one desires; experiencing any enjoyable object, either in this world or another; manipulating the material energy; controlling others and being unimpeded by material nature; and obtaining anything from anywhere.
Although the earth is becoming devoid of people with these powers, the residents of higher planetary systems, including beings named Siddhas, Charanas, Vidyadharas, and Gandharvas, possess these eight mystic perfections as well as secondary ones: being free from hunger and thirst and other bodily disturbances, hearing and seeing things far away, moving the body at the speed of the mind, assuming any form one desires, entering the bodies of others, dying when one desires, and many others. (Bhagavatam 11.15.4–8)
The powers of our modern-day stereotype superheroes pale in comparison to these extraordinary beings. The opulence and powers in their realms far exceed anything we have seen, heard of, or experienced in our earthly paradigm. Life there seems to last forever; time seems to stand still when life spans reach millions of years. But although there is no disease and old age, life there is still temporary. Death still prevails. The danger of seeking residence in these realms or wanting to enjoy these powers is the urge to covet prestige, status, and control – in other words, to be God. These material allurements can also leave one with little sense of dependence on the Supreme Lord and thus bind one to an endless cycle of birth and death.
Beyond the Material Sphere
So is there some place that supersedes all others and truly satisfies the soul? Yes. The spiritual world – beyond the material spheres of existence. That is where we belong. Although spiritual realms far exceed the grandeur of even the best material planets, souls who go there focus only on their pure loving relationship with Lord Krishna and His devotees. By hearing about the Lord in His spiritual abode – our eternal home – we can ignite our desire to reconnect to that transcendental plane.
The Vedas describe invisible material realms that exist on earth. Might spiritual realms also exist on earth? The scriptures reveal that they do, but like other higher-dimensional planes, they are invisible to most of us. Only to someone whose consciousness has evolved to pure devotion to Krishna are the spiritual realms on earth and beyond revealed.
Vrindavan, the birthplace of Lord Krishna, is one such realm. Although it is a geographical location visible to our mundane eyes, the unmanifested eternal Vrindavana can be observed and experienced only with eyes smeared with divine love. Some of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s followers, who possessed this supreme love, revealed many of Krishna’s pastime places in Vrindavan. In 1514 CE, during the holy month of Karttika, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu Himself, who is a merciful incarnation of Radha and Krishna combined, discovered two unique ponds that had been lost for centuries. Immersed in the loving mood of Radharani, He looked for Krishna everywhere as He wandered on the pathways near Govardhana Hill. When He came to the town of Arishtagrama, He asked its residents, “Where is Radha-kunda?” Then He saw something that made Him run towards it. Passersby could not understand why two puddles of muddy water in the middle of a paddy field could excite Him so much. They were even more surprised when He bathed in the puddles and then marked His body with their mud. He had found Radha-kunda and Syama-kunda. Only His followers with a similar vision could understand why these kundas(ponds) were so close to His heart.
Raghunatha Dasa Goswami, one of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s devout followers, later excavated and enlarged the kundas because he knew that many pilgrims would eventually come there to bathe in the holy waters. During the excavation, Yudhishthira Mahajaja, one of the five Pandava brothers of the Mahabharata, appeared to Raghunatha in a dream and told him not to cut down the trees around Syama-kunda because he and his four brothers were residing there as trees and performing worship on its banks. What were they seeing, and why were they worshiping thesekundas, which can be perceived only by those with divine vision? Why did the name Arishtagrama remind Lord Chaitanya of Radha-kunda and Syama-kunda?
The Origins of the Kundas
More than four thousand years before, Krishna killed a ferocious bull demon named Arishta, who had terrorized Vrindavan. Pleased with His own heroic deed, Krishna met Srimati Radharani and the gopis for the moonlit rasa dance. But the gopis bluntly refused to be with Krishna because He had committed the sin of killing a bull.
When Radha told Him He would have to bathe in all the sacred waters of the universe to become purified, He replied in disbelief, “O Radhe! That will take a long time, which means being away from You. Even one moment away from You distresses Me.”
Then His face lit up with an idea.
“I know what to do. I’ll call all the sacred waters of the universe to come here instead.”
The gopis sneered.
“Kanha, don’t trick us with your words. We’re not going to be fooled by Your magic.”
Ignoring their remarks, Krishna struck the ground with His right foot, making a depression. Placing His flute to His lips, He played a melody that sparkled as if turning sound to gold, and immediately all the sacred rivers personified appeared before Him, bowing their heads in reverence.
The holy rivers introduced themselves one by one: Ganga, Yamuna, Sarasvati, Narmada, Kaveri, Godavari . . . Then as Krishna summoned each of them, they poured their water into the hole, forming a dazzling pond. Krishna jumped into the cool water, bathed, and then invited thegopis to enter His kunda.
“How can we enter your kunda?” they replied. “Its water is contaminated with Your sin!”
Krishna tried to convince the gopis that His kunda was pure, but they disagreed and decided to make their own kunda. Digging with their golden bangles, they deepened a hole made by Arishtasura’s hoof. After the gopishad finished, Krishna suggested they take some water from His kunda to fill the hole they had dug. They stubbornly refused. Radharani sent countless gopis to nearby Manasi Ganga to collect water to fill the newkunda, but eventually their efforts were in vain. Because Krishna cannot bear to see even a bead of perspiration on Radharani’s forehead, He signaled the rivers personified to appear again.
They bowed before Srimati Radhika and prayed, “We thought the perfection of our lives was to be associated with Krishna. But now we see that Krishna is worshiping and serving You. We realize that to be associated with You is the perfection of life. Please allow us to enter Yourkunda.”
The rivers’ sweet words melted Radha’s heart. She also knew that there was no question of Krishna ever being contaminated. Her behavior was simply meant to increase His pleasure.
The holy water from Syama-kunda then broke through its wall and entered Radha’s kunda.
Krishna exclaimed, “Your kunda is exceedingly more beautiful than Mine. It will be My favorite kunda. And because it is identical to You and is filled with Your love for Me, its glories will exceed the glories of My kunda.”
The Vedic scriptures reveal countless fascinating stories like this one, and in Vrindavan we find historical monuments to many of Krishna’s pastimes. Vrindavan on earth is a replica of Vrindavana in the spiritual world. We may not yet qualify to perceive Radha-kunda with its banks laden with billions of conscious, blissful wish-fulfilling stones, its exquisite gardens and groves, or its desire trees and creepers made of coral and rubies. But we can appreciate and experience the special sanctity of this holy place by seeing through the eyes of those who possess transcendental eyesight.
We learn from these seers of truth that magic exists in Vrindavana but there it is meant to enhance Krishna’s pleasure. In the Bhagavad-gita(15.6), Lord Krishna describes His world: “That supreme abode of Mine is not illumined by the sun or moon, nor by fire or electricity. . . .” Self-illumined Vrindavana opens and closes like the whorl of a lotus flower, allowing far distances to become close for Krishna and the gopis to meet. The cows are kamadhenus, or wish-fulfilling, and give unlimited supplies of milk. The trees (kalpa-vriksa) and the silver dust that decorates the footpaths are also wish-fulfilling. Animals, birds, and even inanimate objects are fully conscious beings with a special connection to Krishna. Krishna and His devotees can expand themselves to be at different places simultaneously. Paurnamasi and Vrindadevi, the chief coordinators of Krishna’s affairs in Vrindavana, arrange for flowers and fruits of different seasons to appear at the same time and enhance the forest scenes with a kaleidoscope of color and beauty.
Reading or hearing about Krishna’s astounding pastimes in Vrindavana will satisfy our innate spiritual need to be connected with the supreme spiritual person, Sri Krishna. Mundane tales bind us to the material sphere, whereas spiritual tales uplift us. They are ever fresh and purify our hearts. When we are in contact with Krishna’s name, form, abode, and pastimes, we are in direct contact with Him. Our spiritual nature becomes uncovered, and we begin to see things as they are. Free from illusion, we see beyond the purview of the material mind and senses. When we’re steeped in pure devotion, neither supernatural powers nor anything else can distract us from serving and pleasing Krishna.
So if you want to ride on aerial chariots (vimanas), visit a land of magical creatures, or meet the best of superheroes, you do not need to have extrasensory perception or mystic powers. Simply by reading the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Ramayana, Mahabharata, and other timeless classics of the Vedic literature, you can enter the wondrous world of the Lord and His pure devotees. Their true stories of wonder and magic will satisfy your taste for fantasy and adventure, and their profound lessons of spiritual wisdom will satisfy the soul. Do not dive into the realm of mythical science fiction or even that of the mystic yogi where your journey will end. Become a topmost mystic, and experience the real thing.
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