“No material planet, even Satyaloka, is comparable in quality to the spiritual planets, where the five inherent qualities of the material world-namely, ignorance, misery, egoism, anger and envy-are completely absent.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 5.22 Purport)
The spiritual planets are different from the material ones we currently inhabit. The Vedas, the authoritative scriptures of India, give us detailed information regarding the various planets of the three worlds. Each planet has a distinct climate and other important characteristics, thus requiring a certain type of body for one to live there. Though the actual living conditions vary, these planets share a commonality in that they are all part of the material world, meaning they are ultimately places of misery. On the other hand, the spiritual planets of Vaikunthaloka and Krishnaloka are free of all miseries.
Vaikuntha means a place free of anxiety or doubt. It is God’s home. There are many different names for God depending on a person’s faith, but the Vedas give us a list of some of His primary names based on His characteristics. Lord Krishna is the original form of God, with His name meaning one who is all attractive. As the Supreme Personality of Godhead, the Lord is also known as Bhagavan, meaning one who possesses all fortunes. He possesses the qualities of wealth, fame, beauty, renunciation, knowledge, and strength to the fullest degree. Naturally He is free of all anxieties and distresses. That is the true definition of God. Since He is the Creator, the ultimate source of everything, He cannot be subject to pain and misery.
“Of all that is material and all that is spiritual in this world, know for certain that I am both its origin and dissolution.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.6)
A question that may arise is that if God is the source of everything and is also a person free of miseries, why are there distinctions between the spiritual and material worlds? On the lowest level, the basic characteristic of anything material is that it is temporary. Sometimes impersonalist philosophers and mental speculators conclude that everything in this world is false. They take Brahman, the Lord’s impersonal effulgence, to be the Absolute Truth and everything in this creation to be part of maya, the Lord’s illusory energy. Maya certainly exists, but the happiness and pain we experience is real. The spiritual world exists eternally, but the material world goes through constant cycles of creation and destruction.
“O son of Kunti, at the end of the millennium every material manifestation enters into My nature, and at the beginning of another millennium, by My potency I again create.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 9.7)
The spirit souls, who are part of parcel of Lord Krishna, have a desire to imitate God. Since God is the king of the spiritual world, that desire cannot be facilitated on any of the spiritual planets. In order to fulfill the hankering to lord over nature, God created a temporary replica of the spiritual world.
Hence the material world was born with all of its various planets. As the seed giving father, Krishna put us spirit souls into the bodies of various living entities. How was it decided what type of body we would get? Guna and karma, or qualities and desires, determined our fate. There are three gunas: goodness, passion, and ignorance. Since these qualities can be combined in various proportions, we see up to 8,400,000 different types of species in the world. Karma is fruitive activity performed for a desired result. Every person has desires, for that is the guiding force in our life. Our wants and needs dictate our actions. Any activity performed that has a material reaction can be classified as karma.
Since every person has different desires, there are bound to be collisions. There’s a common saying that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. This principle holds true with everything that we do. All actions have consequences. Sometimes these reactions are visible to us, other times they are not. Regardless, the end result is always misery. Since everybody’s karma is colliding, we inevitably see problems such as famine, war, pestilence, and other horrific tragedies. These events are guaranteed to occur since karma is the ultimate system of fairness. A person may be able to cheat the government by getting away with law-breaking, but no one can cheat God or His energies. The demigods, the chief deputies of Lord Krishna, handle all issues of fairness in this material world. They note our every action, keeping a ledger of our good and bad deeds. By law, the reactions to these actions must bear fruit.
There are temporary moments of happiness. People have desires to taste different mellows. Some people like to listen to music, others enjoy intoxication, while there are those who prefer to watch movies or other things on television. The desire to enjoy in this manner isn’t necessarily bad. Though some of these activities may or may not have sinful reactions to them, the biggest problem that remains is that the enjoyment derived is only temporary. Whether we engage in the mode of goodness, passion, or ignorance, all such activity is considered material, meaning it is temporary. Aside from only providing fleeting happiness, those remaining on the material platform must repeat the cycle of birth and death over and over again.
Herein lies the central problem with the material world. The biggest anxieties or distresses are those relating to death. The giving up the material body and all its possessions is not an event eagerly anticipated by most people. According to the Vedas, for anyone who comes to the material world, the four events of birth, death, old age, and disease are guaranteed. These are all considered miserable events. One may find it puzzling that birth appears on this list. After all, the birth of a new child is usually a joyous occasion in most families. Yet in the Vedic tradition, the event is initially treated similarly to a death. Most major religions follow a grieving process after a death in the family, and the Vedas are no different in this regard. There is a period of impurity in the family immediately following the death of a relative. In a similar manner, there is also the same period of impurity following the birth of a child. The reason for this is that birth means that a soul has again come to the material world. The spiritual world is the real home for the spirit soul, so by taking birth again, it means that the living entity must again suffer the miseries of life.
This may all seem very bleak, but there is a light at the end of the tunnel. The spiritual world is free of all these problems. There, guna and karma don’t exist. Even if one acts completely in the mode of goodness in this world, they are still not elevated to the spiritual planets. This is because even the mode of goodness is contaminated in the sense that there are still karmic reactions. One may open a nice hospital or school, give generously in charity, or even work as a teacher, but this altruism is considered material. The reason is that simply helping the gross material body of another living entity is not enough to promote one to the spiritual world.
“Shrimad Bhagavatam (Second Canto) states that in Vaikunthaloka, the material modes of nature, represented by the qualities of goodness, passion and ignorance, have no influence. In the material world the highest qualitative manifestation is goodness, which is characterized by truthfulness, mental equilibrium, cleanliness, control of the senses, simplicity, essential knowledge, faith in God, scientific knowledge and so on. Nevertheless, all these qualities are mixed with passion and imperfection. But the qualities in Vaikunthaloka are a manifestation of God’s internal potency, and therefore they are purely spiritual and transcendental, with no trace of material infection.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Charitamrita, Adi 5.22 Purport)
Getting back to the spiritual world actually isn’t that difficult. Just as one’s desire to lord over material nature keeps them perpetually bound to the cycle of birth and death, if one desires to have association with God, the Lord gladly takes them back to His home.
“Anyone who quits his body, at the end of life, remembering Me, attains immediately to My nature; and there is no doubt of this.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.5)
In Vaikunthaloka and Krishnaloka, everyone desires to serve and love Krishna either in His original form or in one of His primary expansions, such as Narayana, Narasimha, Rama, etc. Since it is the soul’s natural inclination to act this way, the problems of hankering and lamenting vanish. Service to God is also free of any of the reactions of karma.
So this seems simple enough. Just desire to go back to Krishna’s world and the Lord will gladly take us. The problem is that material nature has her clutches deep into us, making it very difficult to break free. Aside from just understanding the theoretical knowledge of the Vedas, one has to put the principles into practice. The discipline of reconnecting with God is known as bhakti yoga, or devotional service. One can practice this by constantly chanting “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”. One who adjusts their consciousness in such a way that they are always thinking about God, they are already transferred to Vaikuntha in spirit and mind. Along with adhering to the four regulative principles, chanting, reading, hearing, and serving the spiritual master are all activities that will guarantee us of returning back home, back to Godhead.