Our subject matter is most sublime: the glorification of the holy name of God. This subject was discussed by Mahārāja Parīkṣit and Śukadeva Gosvāmī, who noted that a brāhmaṇa, who was very fallen and addicted to all kinds of sinful activities, was saved simply by chanting the holy names of Kṛṣṇa. This is found in the Sixth Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, an epic work by Vyāsadeva describing the pastimes of Lord Kṛṣṇa and elaborating on the philosophy of Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
In the Fifth Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, the universal planetary systems are very fully explained. Within the universe there are lower, middle and higher planetary systems. Actually, not only the Bhāgavatam but all religious scriptures contain descriptions of hellish or lower planetary systems and heavenly or higher systems. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam gives evidence of where these planets are and indicates how far they are from this planet, just as astronomers have calculated how far the moon and other heavenly bodies are from earth. Similarly, the Bhāgavatam contains descriptions of the various planets.
Even on this planet we experience different climatic conditions. In temperate countries such as the United States, the climate is different from that of a tropical country like India. Just as there are environmental differences on this planet, there are other planets which have far different atmospheres and environments. After hearing a description of such planets from Śukadeva Gosvāmī, Parīkṣit Mahārāja said:
- adhuneha mahā-bhāga
- yathaiva narakān naraḥ
- nānogra-yātanān neyāt
- tan me vyākhyātum arhasi
"Sir, I have heard from you about the hellish planets. Men who are very sinful are sent to those planets." (SB 6.1.6)
Parīkṣit Mahārāja was a Vaiṣṇava (devotee), and a Vaiṣṇava always feels compassion for others' distress. For instance, when Lord Jesus Christ appeared, he was greatly aggrieved by the miserable conditions of the people. Regardless of the country or sect to which they belong, all Vaiṣṇavas or devotees - any people who are God conscious or Kṛṣṇa conscious - are thus compassionate. Therefore to blaspheme a Vaiṣṇava, a preacher of God's glories, is a great offense.
Kṛṣṇa never tolerates offenses committed at the lotus feet of a pure Vaiṣṇava. A Vaiṣṇava, however, is always ready to forgive such offenses. Kṛpāmbudhi: A Vaiṣṇava is an ocean of mercy. Vāñcā-kalpa-taru: Everyone has desires, but a Vaiṣṇava can fulfill all desires. Kalpa-taru refers to a tree in the spiritual world which is called a wish-fulfilling tree. In this material world a particular type of fruit can only be gotten from a particular type of tree, but in Kṛṣṇaloka, as well as in all the other planets in the spiritual sky, all the trees are spiritual and will yield whatever one desires. That is described in the Brahma-saṁhitā (cintāmaṇi prakara-sadmasu kalpa-vṛkṣa (Bs. 5.29)). A pure Vaiṣṇava is compared to such a wish-fulfilling tree, for he can bestow a matchless gift upon a sincere disciple - Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
A Vaiṣṇava is addressed as mahā-bhāga, which means "fortunate." One who becomes a Vaiṣṇava and is God conscious is understood to be greatly fortunate. Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu, the chief exponent of Kṛṣṇa consciousness in this age, has explained that the living entities in various planetary systems all over the universe are rotating in different species of life. A living entity can go wherever he likes - to heaven or to hell - simply by preparing himself for either place. There are many heavenly planets, many hellish planets, and many species of life. Padma Purāṇa estimates the species of life to be 8,400,000, and the living entity is rotating or wandering through these species and creating bodies according to his mentality in his present life. "As you sow, so shall you reap," is the law that governs here. Caitanya Mahāprabhu says that out of these numberless living entities who are transmigrating in the material world, one may be fortunate enough to take to Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Kṛṣṇa consciousness is being distributed freely everywhere, yet not everyone takes to it, especially in this age of Kali. Because of this, Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam characterizes people in the age of Kali as unfortunate. Therefore Caitanya Mahāprabhu says that only those who are fortunate take to this Kṛṣṇa consciousness and thus attain a pleasant and blissful life of knowledge.
It is the duty of a Vaiṣṇava to go from door to door to try to get unfortunate people to accept good fortune. A Vaiṣṇava thinks, "How can these people be delivered from their hellish life?" That was also Mahārāja Parīkṣit's inquiry. "Sir," he said, "you have described that because of one's sinful activities he is put into a hellish condition of life or in a hellish planetary system. Now, what are the methods by which such a person can be saved?" This is a very important question. When a Vaiṣṇava comes, when God Himself comes, or when God's sons or His very confidential devotees come, their only mission is to save sinful men who are suffering. They have knowledge of how to do this. When Prahlāda Mahārāja met Lord Nṛsiṁha-deva, he said:
- naivodvije para duratyaya-vaitaraṇyās
- śoce tato vimukha-cetasa indriyārtha-
- māyā-sukhāya bharam udvahato vimūḍhān
- (SB 7.9.43)
"My dear Lord," Prahlāda began, "I am not very anxious for my own deliverance." At this point we may contrast this attitude with that of the Māyāvādī philosophers who are very careful that their personal salvation is never interrupted. They often think, "If I go to preach in association with others, I may fall down, and my realization will be finished." Therefore they do not come forward to preach. Only the Vaiṣṇavas come, even at the risk of falldown - but they do not fall down. A Vaiṣṇava is even willing to go to hell to deliver conditioned souls. This is also Prahlāda Mahārāja's mission. He went on to say: "I am not very anxious about living in this material world. I have no anxiety for myself because somehow or other I have been trained to be Kṛṣṇa conscious always." Because Prahlāda was Kṛṣṇa conscious, he was confident that in his next life he was going to Kṛṣṇa. It is stated in Bhagavad-gītā that if one executes the regulated principles of Kṛṣṇa consciousness carefully, it is certain that he will reach the supreme destination in his next life. Prahlāda Mahārāja continues: "There is only one source of anxiety for me. I am anxious for those who are not Kṛṣṇa conscious. For myself I have no anxiety, but I am thinking of them." And why aren't people Kṛṣṇa conscious? Māyā-sukhāya bharam udvahato vimūḍhān (SB 7.9.43). The rascals have created a humbug civilization for temporary happiness.
Māyā-sukhāya. Actually this is a fact. We have succeeded in creating a humbug civilization. Every year so many cars are being manufactured, and for that purpose so many roads have to be excavated, prepared and repaired. This creates problems after problems, and therefore it is māyā-sukhāya, illusory happiness. We are trying to manufacture some way to be happy, but we only succeed in creating other problems. The United States has the world's largest number of cars, but that does not solve any problems. We have manufactured cars to help solve the problems of life, but we often experience that this also creates other problems. Once we create cars, we must travel thirty or forty miles just to meet our friends or go to a doctor. We can even go from New York to Boston in less than an hour by plane, but it takes even longer than that just to get to the airport. This situation is called māyā-sukhāya. Māyā means false, illusory. We try to create a very comfortable situation, but we only succeed in creating another uncomfortable situation. This is the way of the material world; if we are not satisfied by the natural comforts offered by God and nature, and we want to create artificial comforts, then we have to create discomfort also. Most people, ignorant of this fact, think that they are creating a very comfortable situation, but in actuality they end up traveling fifty miles to go to the office to earn a livelihood and fifty miles to come back.
Due to such conditions, Prahlāda Mahārāja says that these vimūḍhas, materialistic persons, have unnecessarily burdened themselves simply for temporary happiness. Vimūḍhān, māyā-sukhāya bharam udvahato. Therefore in Vedic civilization it is recommended that one free himself from material life, take sannyāsa, the renounced order, and execute devotional service with no anxiety.
The taking of the renounced order, however, is not always necessary. If one can execute Kṛṣṇa consciousness in family life, that is also recommended. Although Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura was a family man and magistrate, he still executed devotional service most excellently. Dhruva Mahārāja and Prahlāda Mahārāja were also gṛhasthas, householders, but they trained themselves in such a way that even as householders they were not faced with interruptions in their service. Therefore Prahlāda Mahārāja said, "I have learned the art of always remaining in Kṛṣṇa consciousness." What is that art? Tvad-vīrya-gāyana-mahāmṛta-magna-cittaḥ: (SB 7.9.43) simply glorifying the victorious activities and pastimes of the Lord. The word vīrya means "very heroic." By reading Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, we can come to understand that Kṛṣṇa's activities, His fame, His associates and everything else about Him are all heroic. In this connection, Prahlāda Mahārāja said: "I am certain that wherever I go, I can glorify Your heroic activities and be saved. There is no question of my falling down, but I am simply anxious for those who have created a type of civilization in which they are always busy working hard. I am thinking of them." Prahlāda further says:
- prāyeṇa deva munayaḥ sva-vimukti-kāmā
- maunaṁ caranti vijane na parārtha-niṣṭhāḥ
- naitān vihāya kṛpaṇān vimumukṣa eko
- nānyaṁ tvad asya śaraṇaṁ bhramato 'nupaśye
"My dear Lord, there are many saintly persons and sages who are very interested in their own liberation. They live in solitary places like the Himalayan mountains, they do not talk to anyone, and they are always afraid of mixing with ordinary people in the cities and becoming disturbed or maybe even falling down. They think, "Better let me save myself." I regret that these great saintly persons do not come to the cities where people have manufactured a civilization based on constant hard work. Such saints are not very compassionate, but I am anxious for these fallen people who are unnecessarily working so hard simply for the gratification of the senses." (SB 7.9.44)
Even if there were some point in working that hard, such people do not know what it is. All they know is the sex urge and the brothels that gratify this urge. However, Prahlāda Mahārāja has compassion for such people: naitān vihāya kṛpaṇān vimumukṣa eko. "My Lord, I do not need salvation alone. Unless I take all these fools with me, I shall not go." Thus he refused to go into the kingdom of God without taking all the fallen souls with him. This is a Vaiṣṇava. Nānyaṁ tvad asya śaraṇaṁ bhramato 'nupaśye: "I simply want to teach them how to surrender unto You. That's all. That is my goal."
Surrender is thus emphasized because a Vaiṣṇava knows that as soon as he surrenders, the path is clear.
- naivodvije para duratyaya-vaitaraṇyās
- tvad-vīrya-gāya na-mahāmṛta-magna-cittaḥ
"Somehow or other, let them all bow down before Kṛṣṇa." This is a very simple method. All one has to do is bow down before Kṛṣṇa with faith and say, "My Lord Kṛṣṇa, I was forgetful of You for so long, for so many lives. Now I have come to consciousness of You. please accept me." That is all. If one simply learns this technique and sincerely surrenders himself to the Lord, his path is immediately opened. This is the aim of a real Vaiṣṇava.
A Vaiṣṇava is always thinking about how the fallen conditioned souls can be delivered and is always involved in making plans to do so. The Gosvāmīs, the chief disciples of Lord Caitanya Mahāprabhu, were such Vaiṣṇavas, and were thus described by Śrīnivāsa Ācārya:
- nānā-śāstra-vicāraṇaika-nipuṇau sad-dharma-saṁsthāpakau
- lokānāṁ hita-kāriṇau tri-bhuvane mānyau śaraṇyākarau
- rādhā-kṛṣṇa-padāravinda-bhajanānandena mattālikau
- vande rūpa-sanātanau raghu-yugau śrī-jīva-gopālakau
"The Six Gosvāmīs - Śrī Sanātana Gosvāmī, Śrī Rūpa Gosvāmī, Śrī Raghunātha Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī, Śrī Raghunātha Dāsa Gosvāmī, Śrī Jīva Gosvāmī and Śrī Gopāla Bhaṭṭa Gosvāmī - are very expert in scrutinizingly studying all the revealed scriptures with the purpose of establishing eternal religious principles for the benefit of all human beings. They are always absorbed in the mood of the gopīs and are engaged in the transcendental loving service of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa."
With similar Vaiṣṇava compassion, Parīkṣit Mahārāja told Śukadeva Gosvāmī: "You have just described the different types of hellish life. Now, tell me how those who are suffering can be delivered. Kindly explain this to me." Adhuneha mahā-bhāga yathaiva narakān naraḥ nānogra-yātanān neyāt tan me. The word naraḥ refers to human beings, or those who are fallen. Narakān naraḥ nānogra-yātanān neyāt tan me: "How can they be delivered from their fierce miseries and horrible pains?" That is typical of a Vaiṣṇava heart. Mahārāja Parīkṣit also said, "Somehow or other they have fallen down to a hellish life, but that does not mean that they should remain in that condition. There must be some means by which they can be delivered, so kindly explain those means."
Śukadeva Gosvāmī replied:
- na ced ihaivāpacitiṁ yathāṁhasaḥ
- kṛtasya kuryān mana-ukta-pāṇibhiḥ
- dhruvaṁ sa vai pretya narakān upaiti
- ye kīrtitā me bhavatas tigma-yātanāḥ
"Yes, I have already described various hellish conditions typical of a severe and painful life. The point is that one has to counteract such a life." (SB 6.1.7)
How can this be done? There are various ways in which sinful activities can be committed. One is by the mind. If a person thinks of committing some sinful activity and thus makes a plan - "I shall kill that man" - that is also considered to be sinful. When the mind is thinking, feeling and willing, then there is action. In certain areas of the United States, a dog owner is responsible according to law if his dog barks at someone passing on the road. Although the dog simply barks, the owner is held responsible. The dog is not responsible because it is an animal, but because the owner of the animal has made the dog his best friend, he is responsible by law. Similarly, just as the barking of a dog may be considered unlawful, offensive speech may also be considered sinful, for it is just like barking. The point is that sinful activities can be committed in so many ways - one may think of them, or one may speak sinfully, or one may actually commit a sin. In any case, they are all considered sinful activities. Dhruvaṁ sa vai pretya narakān upaiti: One has to suffer punishment for such activities.
People do not believe in a next life because they want to avoid botheration and punishment, but the next life cannot be avoided. It is a well known fact that we must act according to law, or we will be punished. If one commits criminal activities, the state will punish him. Sometimes, however, a criminal may escape punishment by the state, but this is not the case with God's law. One can cheat others, commit theft and hide, thereby saving himself from the punishment of the state, but one cannot save himself from the superior law, the law of nature. It is very difficult because there are many witnesses: the daylight is witness, the moonlight is witness, and Kṛṣṇa is the supreme witness. Thus one cannot say, "I am committing this sin, but no one can see me." Kṛṣṇa is the supreme witness sitting within the heart, and He not only notes what one is thinking and doing, but He also gives the living entity facility. If one wants to do something in order to satisfy his senses, Kṛṣṇa gives all facility. This is stated in Bhagavad-gītā. Sarvasya cāhaṁ hṛdi sanniviṣṭaḥ: "I am sitting in everyone's heart." Mattaḥ smṛtir jñānam apohanaṁ ca: (BG 15.15) "From Me come remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness."
In this way Kṛṣṇa gives us a chance. If we want Kṛṣṇa, He will give us a chance to have Him, and if we don't want Kṛṣṇa, He will give us a chance to forget Him. If we want to enjoy life forgetting Kṛṣṇa, forgetting God, Kṛṣṇa will give us all facility so that we can forget, but if we want to enjoy life in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, Kṛṣṇa will give us the chance to make progress. That is up to us. If we think that we can be happy without Kṛṣṇa consciousness, Kṛṣṇa does not object to that. Yathecchasi tathā kuru (BG 18.63). After advising Arjuna, He simply said, "Now I have explained everything to you. Whatever you desire, you can do." Arjuna replied immediately, kariṣye vacanaṁ tava: (BG 18.73) "Now I shall execute Your order." That is Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
God does not interfere with our tiny independence. If we want to act according to the order of God, then He will help us. Even if one falls down sometimes, if one becomes sincere, thinking, "From this time I shall remain Kṛṣṇa conscious and execute His orders," then Kṛṣṇa will help him. In all respects, even if one falls down, he will be excused and given more intelligence. This intelligence will say, "Don't do this. Now go on with your duty." But if one wants to forget Kṛṣṇa, if he wants to become happy without Kṛṣṇa, the Lord will give so many chances to enable him to forget Him life after life.
Parīkṣit Mahārāja said: "It is not that if I say there is no God that there will be no God or that I will not be responsible for what I do." The atheists deny God due to their sinful activities. If they thought that there were a God, they would shudder at the thought of punishment; therefore they deny His existence. When rabbits are attacked by larger animals, they close their eyes and think, "I am not going to be killed," but they are killed anyway. Similarly, we may deny the existence of God and His laws, but still God and His laws are there. In the high-court, one may say, "I don't care for the law of the government," but he will be forced to accept the government law. If one denies the state law, he will be put into prison and duly punished. Similarly, one may foolishly decry the existence of God by various means ("There is no God," or "I am God"), but ultimately one is responsible for all his actions, both good and bad.
According to the law of karma, or the law governing activities, if we act properly and perform pious activities, we are awarded by good fortune, and if we act sinfully we have to suffer. Therefore Śukadeva Gosvāmī says:
- tasmāt puraivāśv iha pāpa-niṣkṛtau
- yate ta mṛtyor avipadyatātmanā
- doṣasya dṛṣṭvā guru-lāghavaṁ yathā
- bhiṣak cikitseta rujāṁ nidāna-vit
"You should know that you are responsible, and, according to the gravity of your sins, you should accept some type of atonement as described in the śāstras or scriptures."(SB 6.1.8)
Just as doctors are sought when one is diseased, according to the Vedic way of life there is a class of brāhmaṇas to whom one should go for prescribed atonement for sinful activities. There are different types of atonement. If a person commits a sin and counteracts it by penance, that is atonement. There are examples of this in the Christian Bible. Śukadeva says that one has to execute the prescribed atonement according to the gravity of his sinful activities. A physician may prescribe an expensive medicine or a cheap medicine according to the gravity of the disease. For a headache, he may simply prescribe an aspirin, but if there is some severe illness he may prescribe a surgical operation which will cost thousands of dollars. Similarly, sinful activities are diseases, so one should follow the prescribed cures to become healthy.
By accepting the chain of birth and death, the soul accepts a diseased condition. The soul is not subject to birth, death or disease because it is pure spirit. In Bhagavad-gītā Kṛṣṇa says that a soul has no birth (na jāyate) and that it has no death (mriyate).
- na jāyate mriyate vā kadācin
- nāyaṁ bhūtvā bhavitā vā na bhūyaḥ
- ajo nityaḥ śāśvato 'yaṁ purāṇo
- na hanyate hanyamāne śarīre
"For the soul there is never birth or death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain." (BG 2.20)
Modern civilization is in dire need of an educational system to give people instructions on what happens after death. In actuality the present educational system is most defective because unless one knows what happens after death, one dies like an animal. An animal does not know that he is subject to death or that he is going to have to take another body. Human life, however, should be more elevated. One should not simply be interested in the animalistic functions of eating, sleeping, defending and mating. A living entity may have an abundant supply of food for eating, or many nice buildings for sleeping, or good arrangements for sex life, or a good defense to protect him, but this does not mean that he is a human being. A civilization which is based on these activities should be known to be animalistic. Since animals are also interested in these functions, what is the difference between human life and animal life if a human being does not go beyond them?
The distinction can be made when a human being becomes inquisitive and asks, "Why have I been put into this miserable condition? Is there any remedy for it? is there perpetual eternal life? I do not want to die, nor do I want to suffer. I want to live very happily and peacefully. Is there a chance for this? What is the method or science by which this can be achieved?" When these questions are asked, and steps are taken to answer them, our human civilization is the result. If the questions never arise, then that civilization should be known as animalistic. Animals and animalistic human beings are simply interested in continuing the process of eating, sleeping, mating and defending, but in actuality this process is forced to break down. The fact is that there is no real defense because no one can protect himself from the hands of cruel death. For instance, Hiraṇyakaśipu, who wanted to live forever, underwent severe austerities, but he was foiled in the end by the Lord Himself in the form of a lion-man, Nṛsiṁha-deva, who killed Hiraṇyakaśipu with His claws. So-called scientists are now claiming that some time in the future we shall stop death by scientific methods, but this is simply another crazy utterance. Stopping death is not at all possible. We may make great advancements in scientific knowledge, but there is no scientific solution to the fourfold miseries of birth, death, old age and disease.
One who is intelligent should be eager to solve these four principal problems - birth, death, old age and disease. No one wants to die, but there is no remedy. Everyone has to die. Everyone is very anxious to stop the skyrocketing increase of population by employing contraceptive methods, but still birth is going on. There is no stoppage of death, and there is no stoppage of birth. Nor can diseases be stopped, nor can old age, despite all of the latest inventions in medicine.
One might think that he has solved all the problems of his life, but where is the solution to these four problems of birth, death, old age and disease? That solution is Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Every one of us is giving up his body at every moment, and the last phase of giving up this body is called death. But Kṛṣṇa also says:
- janma karma ca me divyam
- evaṁ yo vetti tattvataḥ
- tyaktvā dehaṁ punar janma
- naiti mām eti so 'rjuna
"One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna." (BG 4.9)
What happens to such a person? Mām eti - He returns to Kṛṣṇa. If we are to go to Kṛṣṇa, we must prepare a spiritual body. That preparation is the process of Kṛṣṇa consciousness. If one keeps himself in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, he gradually prepares his next body, a spiritual body, which will carry him immediately to Kṛṣṇaloka, Kṛṣṇa's abode, and he will become happy living there perpetually and blissfully.