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Vaishnava Philosophy
The material energy

According to Vedic texts like the Upanisads, the Puranas, and the Bhagavad-gita, matter is energy (prakriti). Matter as a basic substance is an eternal energy, but it produces temporary forms. Material objects are transient manifestations of an eternal energy that manifests in different densities, thus building up a hierarchy of dimensions from higher-dimensional realms down to our three-dimensional world.

The Sanskrit term, prakriti, means "that which brings forth." It also means "female." Similarly, the English word matter is derived from the Latin word materia, in which the Latin word mater,"mother", is clearly present. This etymology suggests that matter is not an independent substance. As a woman cannot produce a child without the help of a man, matter cannot produce anything without the assistance of a higher form of consciousness. Matter does not have an impetus to produce anything. Therefore matter cannot independently produce life. Matter is impregnated by the Supreme Lord, known in the Bhagavad-gita as the "seed-giving father."

Seeing matter as an eternal energy that produces temporary forms leads to a deep understanding of reality. The biggest temporary form is the universe. The Puranas explain that the universe emanates from God's (Vishnu's) breath and lasts for the duration of one exhalation and inhalation. With each breath, countless universes emanate from Vishnu in seedlike forms that expand. Then Vishnu multiplies Himself in as many forms as there are universes and enters into each universe.

The Vedic scriptures state that God is eternal, His energies are eternal, reality is eternal, everything is eternal. But this eternality is reflected within the field of matter as an eternal transformation. The material forms are temporary, but their constant transformation is eternal. This transformation manifests as the rhythmic emanation and withdrawal of the universes. To become attached to these temporary forms and take them as reality is called maya (illusion).

This leads to another important step of understanding. The material creation is temporal. It has a beginning and an end. This beginning and ending is the basis of duality. Temporality means duality. Everything in the material world depends on its opposite. Thus the material world is also called the relative world. A beginning suggests an end, and an end suggests a beginning; thus eternity is reflected within matter as the endless rhythm of creation and annihilation. Birth means death will come. Death means birth will come. The dualities are countless: positive-negative, young-old, male-female, hot-cold, divine-demoniac, ad infinitum.

All things in relation with their dual counterpart form unities: cause-effect, past-future, day-night, heat-cold, individual-society, and so on. This is applicable on all levels, up to the level of the entire universe, which forms a unity with the other universes. This unity is called "the material world."

But the logic shouldn't stop here. Krishna states in the Bhagavad-gita, and we also can see, that the material world is a place of duality. The duality exists because the material world is temporary. Therefore unity, or oneness, cannot be present in the material world, since the basic nature of the material world is duality, and duality is opposed to the eternal reality of God. God is the eternal reality, and the material world is the eternally manifesting illusion. Still, the material world is Krishna's energy, but it is His separated energy. It has a different function than the nonmaterial energy. Starting from the universe down to one's body, matter appears in temporary, illusory forms, but its reality as one of God's eternal energies is hidden by the aspect of this illusion.

Why does the material energy exist, and why is there an eternal rhythm of temporary creations?

God's perfection is so perfect that it includes imperfection. God would not be complete with the aspect of imperfection missing. That is where the material world comes in. Still the material world is not imperfect. It is a perfect creation in which imperfection is allowed in the existence of the separated living entities, who identify with the separated energy.

Free will is the key to understand duality and individuality. Individuality is the eternal principle of the spiritual reality, and duality is the eternal principle of the illusory, material reality. This leads us to the most important of all Vedic revelations: The spiritual reality is not void or impersonal. Every temporary form within the material world eternally exists in the spiritual world in its pure, original form. The spiritual world is the realm of God as transcendental reality (Krishna), and God as immanent reality (Vishnu) becomes the creator of the material world.

Why does He create the material world? The only principle of the spiritual world is love. Love includes two aspects: individuality and free will. Love is spontaneous, voluntary affection. Real love in its perfect, original, and natural form is to please one's beloved without consideration of one's own pleasure, for to please the beloved is the lover's greatest pleasure. Our original beloved is God. If we love God, we will want to please Him. In Sanskrit, pleasing the Lord is called bhakti, "devotional service." Since love is spontaneous, every living being has free will and the freedom of choice. God does not force anyone to love Him. We can choose: Do you want to be in the spiritual world and lovingly serve the Lord, or do you want to come to the material world and serve yourself and your senses? The choice is ours. When we choose to serve ourselves and our material relations, we enter the material world and try to imitate the supreme enjoyer and controller, Krishna. Therefore this material world is a prison that cleverly keeps everyone chained by the shackles of material enjoyment.

If you analyze reality and illusion from this point of view, you will realize that the material world is a prison for volunteers. By free will we came here, and by free will we can become free from it.

For more information on why we came to the material world in the first place, please go to the section Why Did I Come to This Material World?

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