by Swami Krishnananda
These descriptions in the beginning of the eighth chapter of the Bhagavadgita point out that we belong to all levels of existence. It is, therefore, not to be considered as something unwarranted that a time comes when we have to shed this body, because every day we are shedding the earlier components of our body in the process of rising into a more healthy condition. Cells of the body decompose every moment of time, and it is believed that every seven years all the cells are changed; we become new persons altogether. But we do not know that this is happening because of the identification of consciousness with every process that is taking place. Otherwise, if this linkage of development is not filled in by consciousness, we would feel jerks every time we jump or move from one level to another level. Such jerks are not experienced on account of a rapid action of consciousness, just as the rapid flashing of many still pictures on a screen makes us feel that it is a continuous movement although they are all small pictures, one independent of the other. The rapidity of the action of consciousness makes us feel that we are continuously one whole human being.
But, at death, the consciousness withdraws itself. That is why we feel such a fear; some tremendous upheaval takes place when we leave this body. The fear of death that was hovering on the mind of Parikshit had to be removed by this kind of great admonition by Sukadeva Maharishi, which is the highlighting feature of the beginning of the second chapter of Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana.
It is believed that this great scripture, the Srimad Bhagavata, is like a delicious nectar. It is as sweet as kheer because, as Sri Ramakrishna Paramahamsa Deva used to say, it is a combination of the sugar of devotion, the energy of the ghee of vairagya, and the milk of knowledge. Jnana, vairagya, and bhakti – all the three are combined in a wonderful manner in the narration of the Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana. Sri Krishna Himself is supposed to be indwelling this wonderful scripture. We do not physically see the personality of Bhagavan Sri Krishna now, but we see Him as the Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana. Whoever studies the Bhagavata is supposed to be reading the life of Bhagavan Sri Krishna Himself in all its cosmic manifested forms. Whoever gives dana or a charity of one copy of the Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana is actually giving Lord Krishna Himself to the devotees.
It is an incomparable scripture. Its eighteen skandhas represent the eighteen processes of the evolution of the cosmos. In Indian culture, the word ‘eighteen’ has been regarded as very sacred. The Bhagavata contains eighteen skandhas, the Mahabharata contains eighteen parvas, the war took place for eighteen days, the Bhagavadgita has eighteen chapters; it is a great mystery. According to the traditional belief in the computational meaning of numbers, eighteen represents victory. According to a traditional calculation in India especially, the word ‘eight’ is represented by the word ‘ja’, and the word ‘ya’ is represented by the number ‘one’. In the the old system, letters are read from right to left, not from left to right as we do in the modern system. So ‘ja’ and ‘ya’ mean ‘jaya’ or victory. The Mahabharata book also is called Jaya by Krishna Dvaipayana Vyasa.
The same question that was raised by Parikshit was also raised by Narada Maharishi to Brahma, the supreme Creator – to which, in the form of a reply, Brahma, the Creator, narrates the whole process of creation. The Bhagavata’s description is that Narayana sleeps on the cosmic waters at the end of creation. And these cosmic waters are actually, philosophically speaking, the potential prakriti known in the philosophical circles of Vedanta and Sankhya, and the consciousness that is immanently present in this potential condition is Narayana, even as our Atman is alive even in the state of deep sleep. The evolution from sleep to waking is like creation that is taking place. The whole system of creation described in the Bhagavata Mahapurana is comparable to the precise description of the involvement in creation as we have it in the beginning of the eighth chapter of the Bhagavadgita.
Thus, as we are ready to bestow thought on what is really good for us, that alone can be considered as ‘good’ which will be valid when we enter the different levels of creation. That which is good is a single visa that is given to us for entry into all the levels of creation. Since what is good in this world may not be good in other worlds, if we regard whatever goodness we manifest in our life in this world as the total reality, it may not carry us further to the other worlds, as they may require another qualification from us. Unless we belong to the other world in some way or the other, we cannot be received in that world. If we are citizens located only in one world, how would we enter into other worlds? That is why there is a visa system, which is the permission given by one country to an individual from another country to enter. That is to say, when we enter from one world to another, one country to another, we have to acclimatise ourselves to the laws prevailing in the new country. So is the case with the permission that is required to go to another world. We cannot go freely like that. We have been sticking only to this world, and had no idea that we belong to another world also.
Though the rise from one level to another level is usually gradual, as is described to us in the Srimad Bhagavata and the Puranas, it is also said that a sudden rise is possible. It is something like this. Suppose one thousand rose petals are kept one over the other and a needle is passed through them, we may say that the needle pierced all these petals at one stroke; whereas, in fact, the needle passed gradually through one petal to the other in spite of the impression that it was an instantaneous action. Similarly, by the force of the power of yoga and meditation, we may compress the total process of the ascent through all the levels of creation into a so-called instantaneous action, though we cannot escape the law of any level of creation.
We may travel quickly by airplane, trudge by foot, or sit in a bullock cart. If we travel by airplane it takes no time at all to reach our destination, but we have covered the same distance. Hence, we may accede that both answers to this question are valid. Instantaneous evolution is possible, as reaching a place quickly is possible by airplane; yet, we have to remember that we have passed through all the stages abruptly due to the speed with which we have moved. Progressing quickly is possible only if our yoga is intense. Tīvrasaṁvegānām āsannaḥ (Yoga Sutras 1.21): Nearness to Reality is provided by one’s intensity of feeling for it. The feeling is the touchstone of our ability to reach the levels of creation. If we can feel all things at the same time, all things will come to us at the same time.
But the individual, mortal as he is, is unable to deepen the feeling to such an extent, and he is unable to pass through these levels of creation as a needle passes through the thousand rose petals, because the intensity of his feeling is not sufficient. That is to say, our longing for freedom is not adequately accentuated. There is a temptation in this world which tells us that there is something here which is good enough, and we need not seek another good in some other realm of creation. This interpretation of there being something permanently good in this world is provided to us by the wrong activity of the sense organs. We are caught in the web of sensory activity, which tells us that this world is all.
But the senses also tell us that this world is not all by the dissatisfaction that follows from every kind of so-called satisfaction provided to us by the sense organs. That the contact of the senses with objects gives satisfaction may bring us to the conclusion that this world is wonderful and it is good in itself, but the bitter consequence that follows from this so-called ‘goodness’ of the satisfaction gained through these sense organs, is also indicative of the fact that this is not really good. So the senses are our teachers in a way, apart from their being what people generally call deceivers. They are pointers to two levels of reality at the same time. If we want to dub them as evil because they do not give us permanent satisfaction, well, we are free to do that. But they also tell us through their subtle dual action that this world is not a total satisfaction, though when the senses contact the objects there seems to be a temporary sensation which looks like joy. That no joy in the world can be complete, that everything has an ending – one day we will die, with all our joys – is also an indication by the senses that this world is not all.
So, what is good for us is a question that arose in the beginning itself. The good is not merely the good of this world, which is only a relative good because that which appears to be good now may not be good tomorrow. Also, even now, the idea that something is good is not complete, because the relativity of the character of the apparent goodness of a thing is due to the cause that is behind the appearance of this goodness, and that cause is completely out of our reasoning. The reason why we feel satisfaction through contact of the senses with objects is not known to us. We know only the result, but the cause of it is not known. Some mysterious action takes place, like the operation of a person controlling puppets in a puppet show. We see only puppets moving and enjoy the play, not knowing that somebody is manipulating strings to control their activity. Likewise, we are not aware of what takes place when we contact things in the world that give us joy, because these are puppet shows. Maybe they look beautiful and we can go on enjoying them every day, but we do not know why they are moving. They are moving due to the action of somebody else. In a similar manner, the apparent goodness and joy of the contact of the senses with objects is due to the operation of a cause of which we are totally oblivious.
So, ignorance is at the back of the so-called joys of life. If we know the cause, we will be disappointed in one second. There is a thief behind this joy that we appear to have in this world. That thief is trying to rob us of whatever energy we have. Sankaracharya, in one of his verses, tells us that there are many thieves in this world, and they are ready to rob us of all the treasures that we have in the form of energy. Our energy becomes depleted through every form of sense contact, and we become old and weak, and then perish due to a total exhaustion of the energy quantum of our personality.
We may say in this sense that the senses are deceivers, but philosophically there is another aspect which makes us give them some credit also when they tell us that all things are not well. That all things that glitter are not gold is seen by the dissatisfaction that follows. Whatever be the position that we hold in this world, whatever be our wealth and property, we will feel the sting of the fear of losing it one day or the other, so even when we possess it we are aggrieved by the possibility of being robbed of it by the time process. Therefore, sorrow is the beginning, sorrow is the middle, and sorrow is the end, say the sense organs, together with the so-called poisoned nectar that they feed us in the form of sense contacts.
So goes the great lecture of Suka Maharishi to the varied questions of Raja Parikshit, which is the introduction to the Srimad Bhagavata Mahapurana, a wondrous scripture which every one of us should read.