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Vaishnava Philosophy

This section of the FAQ covers questions about the ancient Vaishnava philosophy as found in the Vedic literatures.

Q: Do you believe in the end of the world?

A: There is no end to the world. The material world is eternal as far as we are concerned. The Earth planet is destroyed periodically in cycles which are 71 x 4,320,000 years. So there is nothing to worry about in this life. Afterwards, it will be reestablished as it was before, in a never ending cycle of creation and destruction. There are other forms of destruction due to flood, earthquakes, volcanoes and so on.

Q: What does your philosophy say about the mind?

A: The subject of the mind in Vedic thought is vast and it is not possible to properly cover this matter thoroughly in this forum. My recommendation is that you carefully study our Bhagavad-gita As It Is and they ask more precise questions which will arise as you read through the text. But in answer your question somewhat, I can generally say this: Because we are all eternal parts and parcels of the Supreme Lord, all aspects of the self -- our body, words, senses, mind, intelligence, etc. are meant to be employed for the Lord's pleasure. When we come to the stage of spiritual advancement when we are able to engage all of our senses and our mind entirely in the Lord's service, 24 hours a day, without any selfish, ulterior motive, then and only then will our mind find the peace and satisfaction that it naturally seeks but never finds by any form of engagement in this material world.

Q: Why are we here in this material world?

A: This is a very general question. The answer could be as long as a whole book. But my answer will be very short. You ask why are we here. First you should inquired who we are; the Vedic answer is that we are eternal spiritual souls. We are here, in these human bodies, to perfect ourselves spiritually. Our relationships with others in this embodied state have relevance only if we understand who we really are. Otherwise, these relationships are material, and material relationships will come to an end sooner or later. A material relationship (for instance, the biological-emotional attachment between a man and a woman) may even be prolonged after death, in another form in the next birth. The man may become a woman and the woman may become a man, and again fall in love in the next life. But in the course of time, these two souls will eventually go their separate ways, developing relationships with other embodied souls. After-life can be material (another birth), or it can be spiritual (the liberation of the soul from birth and death -- its return to the transcendental realm). It is for the second kind of after-life that we should aspire.

More information on this topic can be found here.

Q: Why do terrible things happen to good people?

A: Krishna is not directly arranging the material world. The material energy is arranging all the affairs of the material world through the three modes of material nature as is proper due to the law of karma. Therefore, whatever is supposed to happen due to the law of karma, happens. Sometimes, when there is a very good reason for it, Krishna will overrule the law of karma, but He generally only does that for His intimate devotees. Everyone else is guilty of the acts they perform and must get the reactions accordingly. The laws of karma are not subject to error or malfunction.

It is like the judge in the court room. The judge may hear the case of the criminals and may even feel great compassion for the criminals. There may be many reasons why the criminals should not be punished. But the law states that the punishment must be in this way and the duty of the judge is to make sure that the law is followed. Similarly, the agents of the material nature, the demigods, and the controllers of the material energy, all must make sure that the laws of nature are followed by everyone and those who do not follow are punished. Because they are compassionate by nature, the reactions are reduced for those who are acting out of ignorance and foolishness, but as it is stated in modern law, "Ignorance of the law is no excuse." You cannot make such a defense in court since the judge will not accept it.

Sometimes these terrible things happen to us or to our friends or loved ones. It is indeed tragic, and Krishna does not like that we have to suffer in this way. But if these things help you to understand that you should surrender to the lotus feet of the Lord and become Krishna conscious in this lifetime, then these events have real meaning and are valuable.

Q: Do people in troubled places, like where there is war or famine, deserve to suffer?

A: According to the Vedic view of the world, everyone is born into suffering as a result of their past karma. It is illusion to think "I am not suffering (or not suffering so much), but the people of Bosnia are." The so-called comfortable societies of Western Europe and America are under intoxication. That's not just that they're intoxicated by drinking, smoking or drugs. They are intoxicated by wealth, social stability, education, technology, soft living, easy sensual pleasures, etc. Like animals fatted for slaughter. Such creatures look upon the animals in the forest as unfortunate. "Oh, they have to struggle so hard to get something to eat. They face death on a daily basis. But our life is so nice -- everything we want is just given, and we are protected." That's an illusion. Everybody is in the same boat in the material world. "Nobody gets out of here alive." If you are in prison under sentence of death, and the fellow in the next cell is also, what's the difference, really? He may be an unruly person, so the guards mistreat him by starving him. You are well-behaved, so you eat every day. But both of you are going to be executed. That's the difference between life in England and Bosnia. Not much of a difference at all.

Q: What is nirvana?

A: According to the Vedic viewpoint, there is a real ego (atma) and a false ego (ahankara). Spiritual knowledge is experienced by the real ego, the pure soul. Material knowledge is experienced by the false ego.

Nirvana is the threshold between material and spiritual knowledge. Material knowledge is absent there. But spiritual knowledge is only known by its luminescence. That is the Clear Light (brahmajyoti) that is sometimes referred to. The eternal form, qualities and activities of Transcendence are yet unknown in the nirvana stage. In nirvana, the false ego is lost, but the real ego is not yet revealed.

Q: Is it true that meditation is not possible nowadays?

A: We members of ISKCON also meditate. We mainly practice mantra meditation, both loudly, softly, and mentally. The loud meditation is called kirtan, or the congregational chanting of the name of God, hare krishna, hare krishna, krishna krishna, hare hare / hare rama, hare rama, rama rama, hare hare. Loud chanting together with others and accompanied by musical instruments is a type of meditation which is very effective since the mind has little chance to do anything else than hear the kirtan. When we chant softly to ourselves, it is called japa. Then we chant with beads and meditate on the names of Krishna. When one is a little more advanced he also meditates on the form, pastimes and so on, of Krishna. When one is initiated as a brahmana, he also chants mentally the gayatri-mantra, three times a day at sunrise, noon and sunset.

Not only that, but advanced devotees meditate on the name and form and pastimes of the Lord throughout the day. This is technically called, smaranam, or remembrance. This is a very high form of meditation. We do not meditate on something void or impersonal since that is very difficult for souls who are embodied. We meditate on the form and personality of the Supreme Lord Krishna.

Please read the Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Sixth Chapter, for a complete description of the yoga-system and Krishna's conclusions about it. Krishna says in the last verse of that chapter that the yogi who is always meditating on His form with transcendental faith and engaged in His service with devotion is the highest of all yogis. So we do meditate and meditation is possible in this age. However, the more traditional forms of meditation as in astanga-yoga, are very difficult in this age. Hardly anyone can even follow the yama and niyama, or the rules and regulations of what you should do and what you should not do before meditating. Then there are complicated asanas, which most people cannot do. Besides, meditation cannot be done in a city, it has to be done in the forest or mountains far away from civilization or other materialistic persons. Only the smallest number of persons can come to the levels beyond pranayama, such as dharana. Only some dedicated yogis in India, but then they also do not get to dhyana, or meditation on the form of the Lord, and no one gets to actual samadhi, or absorption in the form of the Lord which leads one to His service.

Therefore the yogic process recommended in this age is bhakti-yoga, as Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita, bhaktya mam abhijanati: through bhakti, you will know Me. More information on mantra-meditation can be found here.

Q: Why are some people fallen and some not?

A: Some are pure because they want to be, and some are fallen because they want to be. It all depends on desire. What you desire, you get. Therefore you should desire to surrender to Krishna and He will help you to do that. When you do that, and act as His servant, you will also become pure, and if you act in another manner, against the service of the Lord, you will remain impure.

Q: Why did I leave the spiritual world if everything there is perfect?

A: According to the Vedic teachings each of use is an infinitesimal part of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He is the eternal energetic source and we are the eternal energies emanating from Him. As minute parts, we are each endowed with qualities similar to those possessed by the Supreme Lord, but only to a minute degree.

The example is given in this connection of the sun planet and the sunshine. The sun planet contains heat and light, and because of this the sunshine, being an emanation of the sun planet, also contains heat and light. The energy must always be similar in quality to its energetic source. The difference is quantitative only. Thus the sun contains billions of degrees of heat and light, whereas the sunshine only contains a minute quantity of these qualities.

One of the qualities of the Supreme Lord is that He is supremely and unlimitedly independent, and because we are His parts and parcels we are also endowed with this quality of independence, or freedom of will, but only to a minute degree. The concept of free will necessarily entails the possibility of choice. Without choice there is no freedom. Independence means choice, and choice means the chance of making both wise and unwise decisions. Without that possibility there is no real, voluntary choice, and without that there can be no expression of love, which by definition must be a voluntary act made with complete freedom.

The principle expression of the minute freedom of the minute living being is in his choice as to whether or not he wants to love and serve the Complete Whole Personality of Godhead. It is not just a question of liking or disliking the perfect environment of the spiritual world, it is a question of love. Sometimes by the wrong exercise of independence, due to envy or hatred, a person can leave an apparently favorable environment.

I'll give you an example that Srila Prabhupada would use to help us understand this very subtle point. Sometimes it is seen, in the case of the son of a very rich man, that although he can have all facilities for material enjoyment now and in the future by staying within the orbit of his father and has father's business, by independence he chooses to leave that materially comfortable situation, full of all favorable possibilities, to go off on his own. He does this because he has other interests, other concerns, or, you might say, other loves.

Because the minutely independent living being voluntarily decides that he does not want serve and love the supreme, but rather wants to become one like the supreme, he is placed in this material world by the Supreme Lord and is given the facility to attempt to become happy outside and separate from his relationship with God.

Q: Why am I punished here for actions of previous lives I cannot even remember?

A: The Supreme Lord is perpetually providing various opportunities for the living being to come in contact with information regarding his true position and the reason for his suffering. Those who are interested in such matters will take advantage of such opportunities. Eventually all of us will get an opportunity. We must remember that from our relative vantage point millions of years appears like a long time, but from the vantage point of eternity, such a passage of time is insignificant.

The Lord, who is situated within each of our hearts, provides us with knowledge of the why's and wherefore's of our situation when we actually desire such knowledge. Remember, we have free will. Everything concerning our situation rests upon our desire. It is precisely because we don't want that knowledge, which would spoil all the "fun," that we don't have it. Don't forget, we are here to try to imitate the Supreme. The last thing one wants to hear when he is firmly fixed in his determination to enjoy this world apart from any consideration of a God, is that there is indeed a Supreme Being upon whom he is dependent, in whom he resides, and for whom he is meant to exist. We are kept in ignorance only for so long as we ourselves want to remain in ignorance.

Q: What is life after death?

A: At the time of death every living entity worries about what will happen to his wife and children. Similarly, a politician also worries about what will happen to his country or his political party. Unless one is fully Krishna conscious, he has to accept a body in the next life according to his particular state of consciousness. For instance, a man who is overly engrossed in thoughts of his wife will accept the body of a woman. Similarly, a politician or so-called nationalist who is inordinately attached to the land of his birth will certainly be reborn in the same land after ending his political career. One's next life will also be affected by the acts one performs during this life. Sometimes politicians act most sinfully for their own sense gratification. It is not unusual for a politician to kill the opposing party. Even though a politician may be allowed to take birth in his so- called homeland, he still has to undergo suffering due to his sinful activities in his previous life.

This science of transmigration is completely unknown to modern scientists. So-called scientists do not like to bother with these things because if they would at all consider this subtle subject matter and the problems of life, they would see that their future is very dark. Thus they try to avoid considering the future and continue committing all kinds of sinful activities in the name of social, political and national necessity.

In any case, everyone is afraid of death, and therefore death is called bhaya, or fear. Although a man thinks himself secure surrounded by his wife and children, death does not wait for him. Death does not wait for any man; it will immediately carry out its duty. Since death must take away the living entity without hesitation, it is the ultimate God realization of the atheists, who spoil their lives thinking of country, society and relatives, to the neglect of God consciousness. One should not be overly engaged in welfare activities for one's family members, countrymen, society and community. None of these will help a person to advance spiritually. Unfortunately, in present-day society so-called educated men have no idea what spiritual progress is. Although they have the opportunity in the human form of life to make spiritual progress, they remain misers. They use their lives improperly and simply waste them thinking about the material welfare of their relatives, countrymen, society and so on. One's actual duty is to learn how to conquer death. Lord Krishna states the process of conquering death in the Bhagavad-gita (4.9):

janma karma ca me divyam
evam yo vetti tattvatah
tyaktva deham punar janma
naiti mam 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."

After giving up this body, one who is fully Krishna conscious does not accept another material body but returns home, back to Godhead. Everyone should try to attain this perfection. Unfortunately, instead of doing so, people are absorbed in thoughts of society, friendship, love and relatives. This Krishna consciousness movement, however, is educating people throughout the world and informing them how to conquer death. Harim vina na srtim taranti: "One cannot conquer death without taking shelter of the Supreme Personality of Godhead."

Q: What is the Absolute Truth?

A: According to the Vedic literature, the Absolute Truth is that from which everything is coming. Or, in other words, that which is the original source of all existences.

That Absolute Truth is understood in three feature by all learned transcendentalists: Brahman, Paramatma and Bhagavan. Brahman is the impersonal effulgence or spiritual light, a partial aspect of the Supreme Personality of Godhead which is a subordinate emanation from His eternal transcendental form. Paramatma is that feature of the Supreme Lord by which He pervades and supports the entire creation. In this feature the Supreme Lord exists within each and every atom and within the hearts of all living beings. It is also a partial manifestation of the Absolute Truth and is subordinate to the Lord's personal form.

The word Bhagavan literally means He who is the possessor of unlimited spiritual opulences: unlimited beauty, unlimited knowledge, unlimited wealth, unlimited strength, unlimited fame and unlimited renunciation. The word Bhagavan also means He who is the ultimate abode, shelter, resting place or root of everything else. That Bhagavan is described in all the Vedic Literatures and by all of the great spiritual masters of India as the Supreme Person, who has an eternal, all knowing, blissful form and who expands all other existences by the transformation of His different energies.

He is know as Krishna because He is all-attractive and He is considered to be the last word in the Absolute Truth. The purpose of this human form of life is to come to know and love Him and engage eternally in His transcendental loving service.

Q: What is ekadasi?

A: Ekadasi is the 11th day after the full moon or the 11th day after the new moon. It is a special day for spiritual advancement. If one fasts on ekadasi and chants more and hears more (reads more too!) he will find that it is very enlivening and inspires one spiritually. It is stated that ekadasi is the mother of devotion. Therefore all devotees follow ekadasi by not eating grains or beans on that day and not shaving. Some even fast completely on this day without even drinking water! But that is for the really capable and advanced souls.

So its importance is not so much an astronomical phenomena as a spiritual opportunity. We take it as an opportunity to become more advanced. I personally chant 32 rounds of the Hare Krishna maha-mantra, which means 108 mantras times 32, on ekadasi as I find that very inspiring. Some even chant 64 rounds on ekadasi.

You can find out more about ekadasi by reading the Nectar of Devotion summary study by Srila Prabhupada. It is a regulative principle of bhakti to follow ekadasi.

Q: Isn't sensuality spiritual?

A: When one puts on a glove it takes the shape of the hand. Similarly, according to Vedic teachings, the material body and senses, as well as the subtle mind and intelligence, are both temporary coverings of the eternal soul within, whose primary symptoms is consciousness. The spirit soul in its original pure state has form, senses, mind, intelligence and ego, but when these come in proximity of the material nature, consciousness becomes contaminated and our original identity becomes covered by this material dress. In contaminated consciousness we think that we can become happy by engaging our senses in different forms of material gratification (sensuality), but because our senses are actually spiritual, we cannot become satisfied no matter how we may meddle with the sensual affairs of this material world.

Self-realization means to awaken from this dreaming condition and understand that as parts and parcels of God our sensory activity, or our sensuality is meant to be directed toward His pleasure. Thus Krishna consciousness does not entail a giving up of sensual activity, but only the redirecting of it back to its original condition. We we employ our senses in the service of the master of the sense, or the Supreme Lord and reestablish our personal, loving relationship with him, a relationship that involves the actions of all of our senses, then full sensual satisfaction is achieved.

Q: What is Mayavada-philosophy?

A: Mayavada means "doctrine of illusion." It considers all form to be material and thus temporary or illusory. Therefore a mayavadi believes that personal form cannot exist always. It must pass away with time. All that is real is a static existence without any form, activity or personality whatsoever. But mayavadis have problems with their own philosophy, like: if Brahman is formless, impersonal and One, why did it create the material world, which has form, is personal and is diverse? The thing you have to understand is that Brahman is described in the Vedic scriptures as anandamaya or full of bliss. Because it is full of bliss, Brahman is spiritually dynamic, not static. Full of bliss does not simply mean without misery. Anandamaya Brahman is positively exuberant with happiness. It is not enough to describe the sun as being without darkness. You must say it is full of light! So Brahman, or God (Krishna), is full of energy! Creative energy, which manifests its joyful creativity as the transcendental world and also the material world. Now, the material world is not full of joy for many living beings, that is true. But it can become joyful (visva purna sukhayate) as soon as one takes up the Vedic method of God realization: the chanting of Hare Krishna. Realization that "everything is Brahman" (sarvam khalv idam brahma) really means realization of the all-blissful nature of Krishna.

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