by Swami Krishnananda
What is birth? All the elements joining together to produce a form. But suppose a person has done immense charitable deeds – the good exceeds the bad – seventy-five percent are immensely good and twenty-five percent are not good, such people will go to the moon after passing and enjoy the nectar of the gods, pitris (forefathers). When the momentum of the good deeds gets exhausted, there will be a coming back from the moon, to rebirth into this world.
There is another interesting feature mentioned in the Chhandogya Upanishad. What happens to the bad deeds which are twenty-five percent? The seventy-five percent has taken the soul to the Chandraloka and it enjoyed blissful experience there and after the exhaustion of the blissful experience there, subsequent to the exhaustion of the momentum of those deeds, there is a reversal, a coming back. Is it that the person is exempted completely from the results of the twenty-five percent bad deeds? No, there is no exemption. The next birth will be determined by the twenty-five percent balance of the karmas.
But suppose you are a devotee of God primarily and not merely a rich person doing charity and building houses and temples, and planting trees on the roadside and digging wells, building choultries etc. – not merely that – but you have been an ardent worshipper of God – such a soul after departing does not go to the moon. Highly purified souls bright in their behaviour, shining in their character, travel through the rays of the sun to the orb of the sun. The rays of the sun are the paths through which the soul travels higher and reaches the Sun. In order to go to the sun, the soul has to be as bright, as powerful, as pure as the Sun. The soul gets purified in Surya Loka (Solar Region).
Surya Upanasa (Sun-worship) is a very important means of sadhana because one day or the other you have to go to the sun, provided you are fit for attaining Moksha. Otherwise, you will go somewhere else and come back; any number of births can take place. The Upanishad goes on describing several stages of ascent. There is no sudden jump into the Supreme Being. The soul crosses through the worlds above, the five elements, the physical embodiment of the fourteen lokas – Bhu-loka, Bhuvar-loka, Suvar-loka, Mahar-loka, Jana-loka, Tapo-loka, up to Satya-loka. It moves direct towards the borderland of the Universal Being – Brahma-loka. The consciousness of individuality is maintained for sometime. The soul knows that it is moving in some direction. But at one point, it loses that consciousness.
The nearer you go to the border of the Universal Being, the less you become conscious of your individuality. You feel at that time that you are withering away and vanishing like a burnt camphor. Yet the individuality in a very rarefied form persists. Only the individuality which is rajasika (distracted) and tamasika (dark) will have a consciousness of itself. Pure sattva-dominated jivatva (individuality) will not be conscious of itself because it will be so transparent then. It is like a clean glass. The glass, if we imagine that glass has consciousness, may not know that it is existing because of the transparency of the glass. The glass attains a transparency of the highest sattva-guna, and loses self-awareness, individual consciousness. At that time, says the Upanishad, the Great Creator sends a messenger. A being who is not human comes and leads the soul along the path of the Supreme Creator. This is the stage of cosmic consciousness but it is not liberation fully, because to have cosmic consciousness there must be some object of which one must be conscious. Thus, it is still a lower stage.
Saguna Brahma Upasana and Nirguna Brahma Upasana are two types of meditation. In the third chapter of the Brahma Sutra, the various types of Upanishadic meditations are described. It is a subject by itself.
The worship of God can take various shapes. It may be an individualised, particularised god located in one place or it may be a devotion to multiple gods like Vishva-Devas or it may be devotion to One, Creative Power, whatever be the name that we give to It. We cannot imagine what the Creator could be. Saguna Upasana also is not an easy thing, because it is concentration on the Creator Himself. Who can think of the Creator? You cannot think even the world in its entirety; it is so big and so diverse. But by the purity of your purpose and intention, if it is possible to expand your love to the dimension of the Supreme Creative Principle, you will be the highest, most blessed person.
The upasaka remains distinct from the upasya devata, and therefore it is called saguna. What is the meaning of saguna? Saguna means 'with attributes'; we conceive God with attributes. We, as human beings, can think only as human beings even in respect of God. We think of a vast dimension of the comprehension of God's Existence.
'All-knowingness', All-power', 'All-freedom', 'All-bliss' – these are the characteristics that we are able to conceive and attribute to God Almighty. Mighty God! Some religions consider God as mighty; that is why he is called as Almighty. Every religion considers God as a Mighty Being, supremely powerful; Indian religions or Western religions, whatever they are, maintain the concept of God as the supremely powerful Being. This feeling is common to all.
But there are other ways of conceiving God, also. God can be the most beautiful Being. The aspect of sadhana which conceives God as the most powerful Bliss is called 'aishvarya-pradhana' bhakti - bhakti which takes into consideration the Glory and the Might and Power of God for meditation. 'Oh Almighty! Oh Great One! Oh Almighty!' – you feel stupefied even by the word 'Almighty'. The emphasis is laid here on the Power and Glory of God.
But there is also beauty in God. Generally we cannot imagine that God is a beautiful person. It never enters into our heart; we think He is an old man with beard, etc. The beauty of God is surpassing; it can melt your heart. Are there beautiful things in this world? You might have seen some beautiful things. These are like distorted drops of the beauty of God; they are not even real drops, they are distorted ones, shadows, mutilated drops; and they look so beautiful; 'Oh, how beautiful!', you say sometimes. There are many things in this world which make you feel, 'Oh, how beautiful!' Then what will be the beauty of the Supreme Being!
The Power is stunning, the Beauty also is stunning! We cannot tolerate excessive power, we cannot tolerate excessive beauty also. Mortal is our mind; stupid it is; it cannot enjoy even Beauty; only broken beauty it can enjoy because the mind is a broken substance! So it reflects only broken beauty.
God can be meditated upon as the Greatest of Powers and the Greatest of Beauties. Truth, beauty and goodness are considered as the highest characteristics of God. Truth means not truth-speaking merely; It is an eternally existing Principle. A thing that passes away sometimes cannot be regarded as Truth; that is relative truth. The Goodness of God, the Power of God and the Beauty of God – it is difficult to conceive these together!
How could you imagine the extremely powerful God being compassionate, good and loving also? This is why we cannot conceive God fully. But when we try to conceive God in our meditations, we segregate these qualities. All of these things do not come to the mind simultaneously.
Madhurya-pradhana bhakti is the type of devotion where the Beauty of God and the Bliss of God is the object of meditation. 'Beautiful! Beautiful! Beautiful! Oh! Tasty, tasty, tasty! Honey, honey, honey!' There were some saints who used to call God as honey; 'Oh Honey! Oh Honey! Oh Honey!' What can you say? In what way do you call God? Because in this world, the most delicious thing is supposed to be honey; – so you consider God as most delicious. 'Honey, honey! Mighty honey! Come, come, come, come!' 'Oh! My dear', people cry – as a mother cries for her little child – 'Oh! My dear! Oh, my Beloved!' There are no words to describe God!
You can consider God as your Supreme Father. Most religions consider God as Father; 'Father in Heaven! Hallowed be Thy Name; Thy Kingdom come.' Some people consider God as their Mother; – 'Devi, Bhagavati, Virgin Mary'. God is Father and Mother also. Protectively He is Father and lovingly He is Mother.
He is also your Friend, and Arjuna and Krishna were of that relationship. You can ask Him to do something for you, and He will do it for you. 'My dear friend! Will you kindly do this service for me?' The friend will do it for you. You will be amused: can I tell God like that? He will sweep your floor; He will do that also. You should not be amused to hear all these things.
In Maharashtra there was a saint, whom Sri Krishna served as a little boy, washing his clothes and sweeping the floor and cleaning the vessels and the like. Another saint went to Pandharpur to have Darshan. A voice told 'Vitthala is not here! He is serving the other saint there and washing his vessels; His name is Srikhandiya.' The saint ran to find out where Srikhandiya was; by that time the boy vanished from that place. You can consider God as your friend, as your beloved, as your father, as your mother or as your master.
In the 'Song of Songs' that we have in the Bible and 'Gita Govinda' of Jayadeva and in the 'Rasapanchadhyaya' of the Srimad Bhagavata, we have another type of devotion described. It is the lover and the beloved relation – impossible to describe. They are not meant to be described at all because when you start describing things, they become mathematical like an engineering expert describing a house and a project. It has no meaning. Beauty cannot be described mathematically. So this kind of madhura, rasa – the beauty and tasty aspect of God's Love – is incomparable.
All these come under what you call saguna bhakti. There is an 'otherness' of God to some extent here. Whether He is a father or a mother or a beloved or whatever He is, He is 'other' than you. A distinction is maintained for the time being. You attain to Brahma Loka with this kind of devotion – you are not the Creator, Brahma, yourself.
At the end of the universe, when the universe is dissolved; everything gets absorbed and the purified soul which was living in Brahma Loka as a scintillating part of the Cosmic Being merges in the Absolute.