Gods, Demigods and Incarnations


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A question someone wrote to us: In Srimad Bhagavatam 5.17.12, Srila Prabhupada explains that people have sex in the spiritual world and there is no possibility of conception there. How is sex possible between different persons in the spiritual world and how can they be Krishna conscious at the same time?

The term sex is in reference to the sanskrit concept of rasa, the original spiritual relationships. In the material world this rasa is best reflected as mundane sex. But even in this there are many gradations according to the degrees of covering by the three modes. The Taittiriya Upanishad describes the degrees of enjoyment among the different human species, from the common man, to the gandharva, apsara, siddha, deva, devadeva, devendra, brahma, etc. Each being one hundred times greater or more complete than the previous.

As you go from lower species to higher species, what we refer to as sex exists in many different ways. It is the same for all the sensory activities. For example, our system of digestion is very gross. After we eat, the food is digested, and the waste is passed out. In the higher species such as gandharvas, the waste products are evaporated into the air automatically. There is no passing of waste. So the entire system of digestion is much more subtle, which is in tune with their own subtle existence. The activity of sex is similar. As you move up through the species it becomes more and more subtle, and less physical. For the gandharvas it involves mostly singing, for apsaras it involves mostly dancing. For higher devatas it involves mainly sight. When you come to the level of Lord Brahma, sex involves mainly the intellectual process. When you compare it to some of the lower species such as insects, they appear as completely different activities. For example after the praying mantis mates, the female eats off the head of the male. This is the same activity the gandharvas are performing by singing. The only difference is that the coverings of the the modes are so thick and heavy that it comes out in such a low aspect. Now if there is such a huge contrast even between material sex, then what to speak of the difference between material and spiritual sex. Ultimately sex is the transmission of a relationship. When we are covered by the modes, this relationship takes a lower physical nature. As you go through to higher species, the relationship becomes less and less physical, and more subtle. When you come to the spiritual platform, it no longer is a physical or mental activity, but a spiritual exchange of a relationship. This exchange of relationship on the spiritual platform is called rasa. Thus when Srila Prabhupada refers to sex between different living entities in the spiritual world, he is referring to an exchange of a spiritual relationship.

Srila Prabhupada mentions this in his purport to Srimad Bhagavatam 5.17.12:

“Another point in this verse is that in all eight of these heavenly varsas, although men and women enjoy sex pleasure, there is no pregnancy. Pregnancy takes place only in lower-grade life. For example, animals like dogs and hogs become pregnant twice a year, and each time they beget at least half a dozen offspring. Even lower species of life such as snakes give birth to hundreds of young at one time. This verse informs us that in grades of life higher than ours, pregnancy occurs once in a lifetime. People still have sex life, but there is no pregnancy. In the spiritual world, people are not very attracted to sex life, due to their exalted devotional attitude. Practically speaking, there is no sex life in the spiritual world, but even if sometimes it does occur, there is no pregnancy at all. On the planet earth, however, human beings do become pregnant, although the tendency is to avoid having children. In this sinful age of Kali, people have even taken to the process of killing the child in the womb. This is the most degraded practice; it can only perpetuate the miserable material conditions of those who perform it.”

In the higher planetary systems conception occurs only once in the life, just prior to death. It is actually a great benefit for the female denizens of heaven, as they know when they are going to die. For the males on the other hand it is quite sudden and shocking. Of course, due to their absorption in sense gratificatory activities, even the females may be taken by surprise. The descriptions of the death of the higher beings is described in detail in the scriptures. The heavenly dwellers will be enjoying with their consort, drinking the soma rasa (a heavenly intoxicant), without any idea what is about to occur. At the point when their punya (accumulated pious results) is finished they will suddenly fall from the heavenly realm (kshine punye martya-lokam vishanti). There will be nothing supporting them below their feet. As they fall through the ethereal space, they can still see the heavenly abode, and they see their consort has immediately taken another partner for enjoyment, as though they had never existed. As he falls through the space, he comes to an area which is frequented by many lower beings. These beings know the area where the celestial beings fall through, thus they wait there to eat them as they fall from their heavenly abodes. These lower beings begin to devour the living entities heavenly body as he falls towards the earthly abode. While being eaten alive, the heavenly being observes his previous realm, and sees his previous consort continuing to enjoy with other men. At this time, due to the intense pain in his heart, he begins to cry, and his soul leaves his body through his eyes within a tear drop. The tear drop falls to earth and mixes with the rain clouds. When the rain falls, the soul of the heavenly being lands on the earth and enters into a seed of grain. The grain grows and is latter eaten by a human. The soul of the heavenly being (along with his subtle covering) thus enters into the semen of a human and is latter born within the earthly abode.

In the Gita Krishna briefly describes this process:

te tam bhuktva svarga lokam vishalam
kshine punye martya-lokam vishanti

“After enjoying in the heavenly abode (svarga-loka), when their pious results are exhausted, they again enter the abode of death .”

Krishna’s use of the word vishalam is significant, they do not just enjoy, as we enjoy. But their enjoyment is extremely vast. Their sense perception is hundreds of times greater than ours. When they smell a flower, or when they taste something, they are experiencing something completely different than what we are experiencing through our senses. It is like someone having a cold and a stuffy nose trying to smell a flower. They will not experience the flower. We are similar when compared to the higher heavenly beings. We are not actually experiencing matter in its true state. We have no idea of how something smells, tastes, or feels. This is what is described in the Taittiriya Upanishad. And as you go up to even higher beings, the case is the same for them, until you finally come to Lord Brahma, the engineer of the material universe. Only Lord Brahma can experience matter in its true fullness. Only he knows what a flower actually smells like, or what taste, touch and sight actually are. What then to speak of sense perception beyond matter. Spiritual sense enjoyment, cannot be understood by anyone within this material world. Even material sense enjoyment cannot be understood, it is practically limitless, yet higher, much higher, is the spiritual sense perception. Thus Krishna describes it as su-sukham kartum avyayam. By using the prefix “su” Krishna is stating that it belongs to an entirely different category from the ordinary happiness of this world.

In the purport Srila Prabhupada mentions the various grades of enjoyment, from the snake up to the demigods. When you compare the enjoyment of the demigod with that of the snake, they have very few similarities, what to speak of the spiritual enjoyment in Vaikuntha. We can not compare it even to the highest activities within this world, even though it may be described in similar words. As far as pregnancy not occurring within the spiritual realm, this is an obvious fact, as there is no birth nor death. Pregnancy is a process of the cycle of birth and death. In the Gita Krishna explains that whatever has a beginning in time will also have an end. Thus whatever is born is sure to die. I would not put too much importance on this statement in trying to understand what is this spiritual sex being referred to, as it is just a general fact, and not a particular description. The “sex” that occurs between two living entities within the spiritual realm is simply an exchange of a direct loving relationship between the two due to each others appreciation for the others service to Krishna. It has no connection with the concept of sex as found within the mundane realm.

Instructions on Happiness (Ananda Valli):

The following is the Ananda Valli from the Taittiriya Upanishad explaining the different levels of happiness among various species of life. My comments are in brackets.

saisa ‘nandasya mimamgumsa bhavati |
yuva syatsadhu yuva ‘dhyayakah |
asistho dridhistho balisthah |
tasyeyam prithivi sarva vittasya purna syat |
sa eko manusa anandah |

“Now this is an assessment of Bliss: Let it be supposed that there is a youth, a noble youth, in the prime of age, most swift and alert, perfectly whole and resolute, most vigorous and of good learning, and that to him belongs the entire earth laden with all riches. Then we have in him one measure of human joy.”

te ye satam manusa anandah |
sa eko manusyagandharvanamanandah |
srotriyasya cakamahatasya |

“One hundred such units of human joy make up a single unit of joy which the manushya gandharva possesses. A sage full of revelation and free from all cravings also possesses the same joy.”

[Gandharva in general refers to a species of heavenly musicians. There are two categories of gandharvas mentioned in these verses. The first is the manushya gandharvas – or human gandharvas, and the second is the deva gandharvas – or heavenly gandharvas. On the earthly planet there are many realms of existence that are inaccessible to the ordinary humans. These realms exist on high dimensions of space. According to the Vedic conception of reality there are 64 dimensions of existence, of which ordinary humans interact with three. The manushya gandharvas live in higher dimensions within the earthly realm of existence. There are many descriptions within the Puranas of lands existing on this planet that are inaccessible to us. For example, there are three different levels of the Himalayas. What we experience as the Himalayas is only the lowest dimensional level. It is described in the Mahabharata that Bhima was able to visit many of these higher dimensional realms when he was collecting wealth for the rajasuya yajna. Also the palace of Yudhishthira Maharaja was created by yakshas, who exist on higher dimensions. The artwork they made for the palace (paintings, carpets, ceiling, etc.) was actually animated and in three dimensions. So much so that it was not possible to distinguish it from reality. For those who are existing in three dimensions, a painting will be done in two dimensions. But for those existing in four dimensions, a painting will be done in three dimensions. This is why Duryodhana was confused when he entered Yudhishthira’s palace, and ended up stepping in a pond, thinking it was the floor.]

te ye satam manusya-gandharvanamanandah |
sa eko devagandharva-namanandah |
srotriyasya cakamahatasya |

“One hundred such units of joy which the manushya gandharva possesses make the joy of the deva gandharva. A sage full of revelation and free from all cravings also possesses the same joy.”

[This verse is describing the heavenly gandharvas. They are a heavenly species. Their leader is Vishvavasu, who guards the soma rasa. This category of gandharva mainly makes up the celestial musicians. They entertain the higher devas and perform in Indra’s court.]

te ye satam devagandarvanamanandah |
sa ekah pitrinam ciralokalokanamanandah |
srotriyasya cakamahatasya |

“One hundred such units of joy which the deva gandharva possess make the joy of the Pitrus who inhabit the long enduring would. A sage full of revelation and free from all cravings also possesses the same joy.”

[The Pitruloka is a heavenly abode which exists beyond the realm of the fourteen planetary systems of the universe. It is a very special abode within this universe. Those who perform great pious activities may be elevated to this planet. The unique feature of this realm is that one’s enjoyment and duration of stay is increased according to the sacrifices of one’s descendants on Earth. This is one of the reasons why the sraddha ceremony (worship of Vishnu) is performed every year to the forefathers.]

te ye satam pitrinam satam ciralokaloka-namanandah |
sa eka ajanajanam devanamanandah |
srotriyasya cakamahatasya |

“One hundred such units of joy which the Pitrus inhabiting the long enduring world possess make the joy of those demigods who are so by birth in the Ajana heaven (ajana devas). A sage full of revelation and free from all cravings also possesses the same joy.”

[The ajanadevas are those who are born during and under the rule of Manu. There are 14 Manus in every day of Brahma (the universal creator). Each Manu rules for a period known as a manvantara. This period is roughly calculated to be 71 divya-yugas (a divya-yuga consists of 4,320,000 earthly years). At the end of the manvantara there is a partial devastation within the universe known as pralaya. There are several categories of devastation that occur cyclically within the universe, leading up the the maha-pralaya, or the dissolution of the entire universe. One such category of dissolution is that which occurs at the end of the rule of Manu. At that time the realms inhabited by these ajanadevas are destroyed along with the inhabitants.]

te ye satamajanajanam devanamanandah |
sa ekah karmadevanam deva namanadnah |
ye karmana devanapiyanti |
srotriyasya cakamahatasya |

“One hundred such units of joy which the Ajana-born demigods (ajana devas) possess make the joy of those who have become demigods (karma devas) by the force of their deeds. A sage full of revelation and free from all cravings also possesses the same joy.”
[The karma devas are those who are elevated to the heavenly abode due to their performing the prescribed ritualistic activities of the Vedas (karma-kanda). These people are described by Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad-gita:

yam imam puspitam vacam
pravadanty avipascitah
veda-vada-ratah partha
nanyad astiti vadinah

kamatmanah svarga-para
janma-karma-phala-pradam
kriya-visesa-bahulam
bhogaisvarya-gatim prati

“Men of small intelligence are very much attached to the flowery words of the Vedas, which recommend various fruitive activities for elevation to heavenly planets, resultant good birth, power, and so forth. Being desirous of sense gratification and opulent life, they say there is nothing more than this.”

These people are completely bewildered by the illusory energy:

bhogaisvarya-prasaktanam
tayapahrita-cetasam

Their mind is bewildered due to their strong attachment to material enjoyment (bhoga) and opulence (aisvarya). The Vedas deal mainly with the three modes of material nature. Those who do not become transcendental to the ritualistic activities of the Vedas become conditioned within the three modes.

The Karma Devas are residents of the heavenly planets. Their stay there depends on the amount of punya (pious results) they have accumulated on the earthly realm. As they enjoy in the heavenly abode they use up their pious results and eventually they again fall down to the earthly planet. This process has been described in detail in another post. Kshine-punye martyalokam vishanti.]

te ye satam karmadevanam devanamanandah |
sa eko devanamanandah |
srotriyasya cakamahatasya devanamanandah |

“One hundred such units of joy which those demigods who have become such by their deeds (karma devas) make the joy of the controlling demigods (devas). A sage full of revelation and free from all cravings also possesses the same joy.”

[The controlling demigods (devas) possess a life span that is equal to one day of Brahma (1,000 divya-yugas, or 4,320,000,000 earthly years). This category includes most of the elemental controllers as well as most of the demigods within the court of Indra. Various demigods such as Ganesha, Karttikeya, etc., are actually posts that are occupied by a particular living entity for one day of Brahma. At the end of the day of Brahma, when the dissolution waters fill the universe, they leave their respective posts and allow other living entities to fill them. For example, it is described in the Puranas that in the present day of Brahma, the post of Karttikeya (Skanda) is being occupied by Sri Sanat-kumara, the great liberated son of Lord Brahma.]

te ye satam devanamananadah |
sa eka indrasyanandah |
srotiyasya cakamahatasya |

“One hundred such units of joy of the highest gods make the joy of Indra. A sage full of revelation and free from all cravings also possesses the same joy.”

[Indra belongs to a different category than the controlling devas. His position is based on his punya (pious results) and when his punya expires he losses his post as controller of the heavens. The enjoyment of Indra may be higher than that of the controlling demigods, but his duration of stay is much shorter. By sitting on the seat of Indra one burns up all of one’s pious results at a very rapid pace. For this reason Shukracharya (the spiritual master of the demons) instructed Bali Maharaja to rule Indraloka after defeating the demigods but not to sit on Indra’s throne. For if he sat on Indra’s throne his punya would finish and he would lose his position very quickly. The controlling demigods hold their posts for a fixed duration of time (one day of Brahma), so they see many hundreds of Indras come and go.]

te ye satamindrasyanandah |
sa eko brihaspateranandah |
srotriyasya cakamahatasya |

“One hundred such units of Indra’s joy make the joy of Brihaspati. A sage full of revelation and free from all cravings also possesses the same joy.”

[Brihaspati is the spiritual master of the demigods (including Indra). Due to Indra’s offence against Brihaspati he was defeated by the demon king Bali. Bali, even though he was a demon, had obeyed and pleased his spiritual master. Thus with the blessings of his guru he was able to defeat the king of heaven. The system of respecting one’s guru is so powerful that even if one is a demon, one will prevail, and even a demigod will fall for offending his spiritual master.]

satam brihaspaterananda sa ekah prajapateranandah |
srotriyasya cakamahatasya |

“One hundred such units of Brihaspati’s joy make the joy of Prajapati. A sage full of revelation and free from all cravings also possesses the same joy.”

[Prajapati here refers to Lord Brahma, the secondary creator of the Universe. Prajapati means the lord of population. Lord Brahma, being the first living entity within the universe has the responsibility to populate the universe with all species of life. There is a secondary category of Prajapatis who are sons of Lord Brahma. This verse is not referring to the secondary Prajapatis. Lord Brahma, being the topmost living entity within the material world has the most developed senses of all. As you progress from the lower human species up to the demigods and finally to Brahma, their bodies become more and more subtle. Brahmas body is the subtlest body within the material universe. The only exception to this is Lord Siva, whose body is the time factor.]

te ye satam prajapateranandah |
sa eko brahmana anandah |
srotriyasya cakamahatasya |

“One hundred such units of Prajapati’s joy make the bliss of Brahman. A sage who is full of revelation and free from all cravings possesses all these various measures of joy.”

[Here the spiritual bliss of realizing Brahman is described as 100 times the enjoyment of Brahma. This is not a literal equation, as the bliss of Brahman is spiritual and the happiness of Brahma is material. They are two completely different experiences, one of external matter, and the other of the spiritual self. This verse is simply trying to give us an idea of what is spiritual happiness by comparing it to something we have or can experience within this world. It is similar to saying Lord Krishna face is as beautiful as a lotus flower. Actually Lord Krishna is the source of all beauty, and the lotus is a minor reflection of that beauty. It is impossible to compare His beauty to that of a lotus. But because we have experienced the beauty of a lotus, the scriptures will hint to us that Krishna’s face is beautiful like that. In reality Krishna’s beauty is unlimited times greater than anything within existence. It is actually even humorous to try to compare Krishna to something material. It is like telling a professional singer that he sings as beautiful as a donkey. Because we do not understand anything beyond our immediate perception the scriptures give descriptions in that
manner.]

sa yascayam puruse | yascasavaditye | sa ekah | sa ya evamvit | asmallokat pretya | etamannamayamatmanamupasankramati | etam manomayamatmanamupasankramati etam vijnanamayamatmanamupasankramati | etamanandamayamatmanamupasankramati | tadapyesa sloko bhavati | iti astamo ‘nuvakah |

“And this bliss which is in the human being and in the yonder Sun are the same. He who comprehends fully as stated above, after departing from this world, transcends the Annamaya, Pranamaya, Manomaya, Vijnanamaya, and Anandamaya selfs. With regard to that there is also this memorial stanza.”

[It is significant that for every comparison the following words are added: shrotriyasya cakamahatasya, “a sage who is full of revelation and free from all cravings possesses this same joy.” A self realized soul is situated in Brahman, which is described by Lord Krishna as follows:

brahmano hi pratisthaham
amritasyavyayasya ca
sasvatasya ca dharmasya
sukhasyaikanthikasya ca

“I am the basis of the Brahman, which is immortal, imperishable and eternal and is the constitutional position of ultimate happiness.”

One who has attained the spiritual happiness of Brahman possesses and surpasses all other levels of happiness.

yavan artha udapane
sarvatah samplutodake

“All purposes served by a small well can at once be served by a great reservoir of water.”]

Questions and Answers:

I am interested to know why Hinduism has more than 1,000 gods. I have been given the answer that different people pray to god in different forms, one as Shiva, another as Vishnu, but this is not convincing.

What you say is correct. Such arguments are not at all convincing. The very minimal definition of God must include “supreme”. In sanskrit God is described as “asamaurdhva” which means “none equal and none above”. There can never be the existence of two supremes, as they would mutually contradict each other’s supremacy.

To understand the actual position of the Absolute Truth we must take guidance from the divine words of the shastras. In the ancient text known as Brahma Samhita we find the following definition of God:

ishvarah paramah krishnah
sac-cid-ananda vigrahah
anadir adir govinda
sarva karana-karanam

“The Supreme Controller is Krishna. He possesses a spiritual body composed of eternality, knowledge and bliss. He has no beginning, yet He is the first. He is the cause of all causes.”

The first line, ishvarah paramah krishnah, establish who is the ultimate controller. At present do not be stuck on the name Krishna, as it will only divert your mind from the answer. First understand the system of control, and then everything will become clear. The Vedic texts describe 330 million devatas, or universal controllers, but we should not confuse these beings with God. God is beyond the purview of the material universe. The devatas are controllers of various aspects of nature within the material realm. For example, the scriptures describe a personality named Agni who is in charge of the element of fire. Likewise, there is the description of the personality named Indra who controls the rain. And finally there is the greatest personality Siva (Maha-deva) who is in charge of material destruction. All of these controllers (ishvaras) belong to God’s natural system of material administration. Within the material realm God has arranged a hierarchy of control for automatic administration of nature. Each of these personalities (numbering 330 million) can be called a controller (ishvara) as they are each in charge of a particular aspect of nature. They are actually secondary controllers. It is exactly like a government that has many levels of control, such as Prime Minister (national controller), Chief Minister (state controller) and District Magistrate (district controller). To an uneducated person, the District Magistrate is supreme. If one gets his blessings, any governmental work one needs to get done will be accomplished. But he is only supreme within his district. Above him there is a higher controller, who controls the entire state. If one surrenders to the state controller and receives his blessings, one need not fear the district controller. Thus one may think the Chief Minister of a state is actually supreme. But above him is the Prime Minister, who controls the entire country. According to one’s level of knowledge, one will identify a particular level of supremacy. But factually there is only one supreme authority situated above all others. Thus this verse begins with the words ishvarah paramah krishnah – “The supreme controller among all controllers is Sri Krishna.” This is confirmed in the Bhagavad Gita as follows:

mattah paratamam nanyat
kincid asti dhananjaya
mayi sarvam idam protam
sutre mani-gana iva

“There is no truth superior to Me. Everything rests upon Me, as pearls are strung on a thread.”

na me viduh sura-ganah
prabhavam na maharshayah
aham adir hi devanam
maharshinam ca sarvasah

“Neither the hosts of devatas nor the great sages know My origin or opulences, for, in every respect, I am the source of the devatas and the great sages.”

We must understand when we use the word Krishna, it refers not only to the personality present before Arjuna, but to the entire category of God known as Vishnu-tattva. God, being absolute, has unlimited names, the chief most of which is Krishna. The name Krishna means “One who attracts everyone.” This is the supreme quality of God. Similarly the name Rama means “the supreme enjoyer”, and the name Vishnu means “One who has entered everywhere.” As the Paramatma, God is present within every atom, within the heart of all living entities, and between. This category of Vishnu-tattva includes all of the incarnations of Narayana, the various Vishnu expansions (Maha Vishnu, Garbhodakashayi Vishnu, and Kshirodakashayi Vishnu), and the Lords eternal forms in the spiritual realm. These various Vishnu forms are one and the same supreme personality.

The second line of this verse, sac-cid-ananda vigrahah, further defines what differentiates Krishna from the other devatas. Krishna has a spiritual body composed of sat (eternality), cit (complete knowledge), and ananda (spiritual bliss). Within this material world everyone takes birth according to one’s karma. When we take birth within matter, we are conditioned and bound within a body composed of material elements (earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence, and false identification). By combination of these elements we have a body of skin, blood, bones, vital organs, etc. Our true identity is as a spirit soul, completely independent from the material body. The nature of this body is actually opposite from the qualities of the soul. The soul’s nature is sat (eternality), cit (complete knowledge) and ananda (bliss), but the qualities of the material body are asat (temporary), acit (full of ignorance), and nirananda (full of suffering). Krishna, or God, possesses a spiritual body, beyond material influence. He is neither born, nor does He die. There is no separate body and self for Krishna, as He is not conditioned by the material coverings. This is what separates Krishna from the 330 million devatas within this material world. The devatas, though very powerful entities, are ultimately embodied beings just as we are. The various devatas are actually posts of control, and not individual eternal entities. According to one’s karma, one is situated within the universe either in higher or lower planetary realms. Those who are highly qualified with goodness (sattva guna) take birth in the higher realms of existence as devatas. They attain a post as controller within the material realm. But that post, being within the purview of the material energy, must ultimately come to an end. Just as we are an eternal spirit soul, covered by a human body due to illusion, in a similar way, even Indra, Ganesha and Brahma are eternal spirit souls covered by a devata body due to illusion. The only difference is the quality of illusion that is conditioning us. We are conditioned more by the lower gunas of rajas (passion) and tamas (ignorance) whereas they are conditioned by the higher quality of sattva guna (goodness). Everyone within this material world (including the devatas), up to the topmost planet of Brahma Loka must ultimately face death. In the Gita this is described as follows:

a-brahma-bhuvanal lokah
punar avartino ‘rjuna
mam upetya tu kaunteya
punar janma na vidyate

“From the highest planet in the material world, Brahma Loka, down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains My abode never takes birth again.”

This is the definition of God. He must be situated beyond time. The higher controlling devatas (Agni, Ganesha, Subrahmanya, etc.) have a life span of one kalpa (4,320,000,000 years). Brahma, the topmost material entity, has a life span equal to the life of the universe. When the universe is destroyed by Lord Shiva, even Brahma must face death and his karma, as all living entities do. Despite their tremendously long lives, still, having taken birth, they must also face death. Lord Krishna is “ajah” or unborn: ajo ‘pi sann avyayatma. Whereas the devatas possess material bodies composed of subtle elements, Krishna’s body is completely spiritual and not different from His self. Thus He is situated beyond birth and death. Lord Krishna’s body is eternality (sat), knowledge (cit) and bliss (ananda).

The final two lines of this verse further describe the qualities of God:

anadir adir govinda
sarva karana-karanam

He is anadih, without beginning. Krishna is situated beyond the limitations of time and space. Yet he is also adih, the source of everything. In the Vedanta-sutras, the absolute truth, Brahman, is defined as janmadyasya yathah – “From whom everything emanates.” In the Gita Krishna also confirms this as follows:

aham sarvasya prabhavo
mattah sarvam pravartate
iti matva bhajante mam
budha bhava-samanvitah

“I am the source of all spiritual and material worlds. Everything emanates from Me. The wise who perfectly know this engage in My devotional service and worship Me with all their hearts.”

Thus Krishna is the cause of all causes, sarva karana-karanam. Within a government each level of administration is providing facilities to the citizens, but ultimately all of the facilities are coming from the central government. The state administrator may be providing roads and other facilities, but the funds have been allocated from the central government. The ultimate cause is the central government, and the immediate cause is the state government. Lord Krishna is the ultimate cause of all causes, and the devatas are the immediate causes. This is described in more detail in the Narayana Upanishad.

Those who have a very limited vision think the immediate cause to be supreme, and thus they create a cult of devotion around a particular deity and proclaim them to be the supreme absolute truth. Krishna describes such people in the Bhagavad Gita as follows:

antavat tu phalam tesam
tad bhavaty alpa-medhasam
devan deva-yajo yanti
mad-bhakta yanti mam api

“Men of small intelligence worship the devatas, for their fruits are limited and temporary. Those who worship the devatas go to the planets of the devatas, but My devotees ultimately reach My supreme abode.”

Why these people are described as alpa-medhasam (of small intelligence) is because the fruits they attain are temporary. The devatas whom they are worshiping are themselves temporary, what to speak of their benedictions and blessings.

Why they take to this worship is also explained by Lord Krishna:

kamais tais tair hrita-jnanah
prapadyante ‘nya-devatah

“Because their intelligence has been stolen by material desires they surrender unto various devatas.”

One can test this statement of Lord Krishna’s. Go to a temple, any temple, and ask the visitors why they have come to worship. You will receive an assortment of answers, but they will all revolve around one principle – expectation. Someone wants a seat in a college, someone has taken an IAS exam, someone wants a nice wife, someone wants money, someone else wants his difficulties removed. Everyone is approaching “God” simply to gratify their senses. We are so foolish that we offer 5 paisa worth of incense to Ganesha and expect him to make us win the lottery! Such blind ritual benefits no one. We are enjoying and suffering according to our karma built up over many lives, yet we believe by offering a stick of incense, all of the reactions we have built up will simply be brushed aside and we will be given a special area within the material nature for unlimited enjoyment. The fact is Ganesha has no interest whether we become an IAS officer or not. And the “devotees” actually do not believe there is a personality named Ganesha. They will say it is only an image imagined to focus our concentration. Then why ask it for blessings? Will an imagined entity who does not factually exist be able to help us?

The truth is these personalities are as real as you and I. Ganesha is living in his abode of Kailasha just as I am living in this ashram in Mysore. The Vedas describe 64 dimensional planes of existence, of which we can experience only three. On the higher realms of existence, higher entities live, less limited by the matter – but still limited. The scriptures describe 400,000 species of human life, both higher and lower than our own. Species such as the vanara, gandharva, apsara, kimpurusha, kinnara, yaksha, rakshasa, etc., up to the topmost material species of Brahma – whose species contains only one entity.

On the higher planes of existence these entities live. Sometimes species from the fourth or fifth dimension will interact with our third dimension. Thus all of the cultures of the world have stories of unknown beings such as ghosts, goblins, and alien life. These are nothing more than yakshas, pishachas, bhutas, and even lower entities. Just as they exist, so too do the higher devatas. But such powerful exalted personalities have little interest to interact with the degraded people of this age.

Through meditation one can perceive these higher entities – the gandharvas, apsaras, yakshas, and devatas. By purifying our consciousness we can enter these higher dimensional planes through our sukshma-sarira (subtle body composed of mind, intelligence, and identification) and see these beings
face to face, just as I can see you if you are standing before me. Ultimately such experiences serve no spiritual purpose. We have simply raised our consciousness to a higher material plane. Krishna says in the Bhagavad Gita: yanti deva-vratan deva. “Those who worship the devatas attain to the abode of their object of worship.” This worship is not the common worship we see in temples, where a person simply tells, “Give me this, give me that.” Deva-vrata must be with full surrender to the particular devata. If one surrenders unto Lord Shiva or Ganesha, one will attain to the abode of Kailasha in the next life. In that abode the enjoyment and opulences are thousands of times greater than on this earthly plane. But from there one will again return to this earthly planet by the destructive influence of eternal time. Thus one would have simply succeeded in wasting his valuable time, while neglecting the actual goal of human life – self realization.

True religion or spirituality must be selfless and without material motive. We must actually dedicate ourself to God, and not to external rituals. In the Gita Krishna says:

manushyanam sahasreshu
kascid yatati siddhaye

“Out of many thousands of men, hardly one will endeavour for perfection.”

We must become like Arjuna, who became the topmost yogi and bhakta while fighting a war on the battlefield of Kurukshetra. How can one engaged in killing his enemies be absorbed in complete meditation on God? If such a feat is possible, then it is certainly possible for us to elevate ourselves while working within this world. Only we must cultivate the spiritual knowledge of Bhagavad Gita and be fixed in the understanding of the tattvas.

Just as you have brought forth this question about the devatas, your mind should be trained to think and churn forth thousands of questions about reality. Through internal meditation and self study the Paramatma will reveal answers within your heart and you will advance on the spiritual path.

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