“If we give a swan milk mixed with water, the swan will take the milk and leave aside the water. Similarly, this material world is made of two natures—the inferior nature and the superior nature. The superior nature means spiritual life, and the inferior nature is material life. Thus a person who gives up the material part of this world and takes only the spiritual part is called paramahamsa.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Teachings of Queen Kunti, Ch 3)
There are generally three different grades of transcendentalists. They can be thought of as spiritualists who are playing at different levels in the most important game of life. Just as one can choose ascending levels of difficulty when playing a particular video game, a transcendentalist adopts different mindsets based on their knowledge and feelings towards others. The topmost transcendentalist is known as a paramahamsa. This term wasn’t accidentally conjured up; it has deep meaning. “Parama” refers to the topmost or supreme, and “hamsa” refers to a swan. A swan is unique in its ability to take a mixture of milk and water and separate the milk portion. The paramahamsa spiritualist is similarly able to see God in everything and everyone. Therefore their viewpoint is considered supreme and at a level that anyone would benefit from ascending to. Nevertheless, to help the fallen conditioned living entities, i.e. those who are not paramahamsas, the topmost transcendentalists step down from their perch. This voluntary descension from the highest platform of understanding, done for the purposes of preaching, only solidifies the paramahamsa’s supreme stature.
“By Me, in My unmanifested form, this entire universe is pervaded. All beings are in Me, but I am not in them.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.4)
God is everything; there is no denying this fact. Indeed, God is in everyone, but everyone is not God. This may seem like circular logic, but if we apply a little intelligence, we’ll understand its validity. According to the information passed down in the Vedic tradition, there are two distinct entities which exist simultaneously and eternally: the Supreme Soul and the individual souls. Though the individual souls aren’t singular, they are taken as one entity in this discussion due to their similar natures. The individual souls are eternal, full of knowledge, and always blissful. The Supreme Soul, who is known most famously by the name of God, also possesses these qualities but to a greater degree. Not only do these two entities exist, but there is an inherent relationship that binds them. The individual souls, being inferior, are meant to be the loving servitors of the Supreme. This natural condition is described by the term “dharma”. Dharma is an essential characteristic, and when applied to the individual soul, the basic functional unit of life, it relates to the natural love that individuals feel towards God. This affection is completely pure and uncontaminated; a love that is exercised through the free-will characteristic of the purified soul. Thus we see that pure love for God is neither forced nor expected, but rather, it is voluntarily adopted by the soul due to its dharma.
So this seems pretty simple enough; we are all lovers of God. But then how did we end up in our present condition? Surely not everyone is acting out their affection for the Supreme Lord, for there are so many calamities that take place on a daily basis. How can murderers, rapists, and enemies of religion be considered lovers of God? The Vedas, the original set of law codes passed down by the Supreme Spirit, inform us that the present condition the individual souls, the jivas, find themselves in is due to the misuse of free will. When the loving propensity of spirit is aimed at any target other than God, the result is an unpalatable condition. Yet the Supreme Lord doesn’t deny desire. He never compels anyone to love Him; otherwise the definition of free will has no meaning. The Supreme Lord always respects the game.
In order for love to be directed at someone or something other than God, a realm is required, a playing field if you will. This is where the material world fits into the equation. In order to play on this field, the purified soul requires an outside covering, a uniform if you will. Just as players on various sports teams get traded every now and then based on their desires and the wishes of management, the individual souls change uniforms, or material bodies, from life to life based on the work they perform and their desires measured at the time of death. As long as the loving propensity remains contaminated or misdirected, the playing field continues to serve as the soul’s home. When the individual sheds their false ego and attachment to matter, they can begin to take the steps necessary towards rekindling their natural spiritual relationship. At that time, the material elements lose their effect, and the liberated soul eventually returns to the purified realm where they can act out their supreme dharma.
Though the aforementioned knowledge is freely available for anyone to absorb, even the spiritually inclined individuals will adopt differing viewpoints during their time on earth. On the most basic level, there are those who may be completely unaware of the differences between matter and spirit and the existence of dharma; yet they may still be interested in spiritual life, so they take to acquiring knowledge and studying under a bona fide teacher, one who knows the Vedas inside and out. The next level of transcendentalist firmly believes in the tenets of the Vedas and the true nature of dharma. When they see others misusing their independence and redirecting their natural love towards objects of family, sex life, pets, nation, community, or the downtrodden, the intermediate transcendentalist will take to preaching the message of the Vedas in a kind way. They will inform everyone of the existence of God, whose original form is that of Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. They will educate others about how different religions exist due simply to the different inherent desires of society over the course of time. The preacher will ask everyone to unite under one mantra, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, and refrain from the four pillars of sinful life: meat eating, gambling, illicit sex, and intoxication.
The highest level of transcendentalist, however, doesn’t see any distinctions between people. He is completely aware of the existence of God and the aim of human life, i.e. that of maintaining a steady God consciousness up until the time of death, but this knowledge doesn’t prohibit him from seeing God in the activities of those who aren’t declared devotees. What does this mean exactly? We can study the gopis of Vrindavana as an example. Though the gopis were young cowherd girls who were never formally educated in Vedic wisdom, they were the greatest paramahamsas. They achieved this status through pure loving service to Lord Krishna, who had personally appeared on earth some five thousand years ago. The gopis even retain their loving propensity and transcendental forms in the spiritual world. They are eternal servitors of the Lord. They never give up loving Krishna, even when they appear in this world or another. Another paramahamsa was Queen Kunti, Krishna’s maternal aunt during the Lord’s time on this earth. Queen Kunti always saw Krishna in everything and thus always kept her mind fixed on His lotus feet.
“My dear gopis, what auspicious activities must the flute have performed to enjoy the nectar of Krishna’s lips independently and leave only a taste for the gopis for whom that nectar is actually meant. The forefathers of the flute, the bamboo trees, shed tears of pleasure. His mother, the river, on whose bank the bamboo was born, feels jubilation, and therefore her blooming lotus flowers are standing like hair on her body.” (Gopis glorifying the song of Krishna’s flute, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 10.21.9)
The gopis’ viewpoint is quite interesting and illuminating at the same time. They don’t see Krishna as being absent from anywhere. If they were to study a person who took material sense gratification as the ultimate aim of life, the gopis’ opinion might be something like this: “Oh such and such person is so attached to the material energy of Krishna. They are lovers of God at heart, but due to Krishna’s influence they are taking to the worship of another of the Lord’s energies. Such a person is surely a devotee because they are allowing Krishna’s servitor known as maya to work her magic.” The gopis will look at a meditational yogi in this way: “Oh such and such yogi is such a devotee of Krishna’s expansion as the Supersoul residing within everyone’s heart. They may not understand Krishna’s original transcendental form of Bhagavan, but they are nevertheless drawn to His unmanifested form of the Supersoul like a magnet. They must be making Krishna so happy by allowing His Supersoul expansion to be worshiped and adored.”
“Those situated in the mode of goodness gradually go upward to the higher planets; those in the mode of passion live on the earthly planets; and those in the mode of ignorance go down to the hellish worlds.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 14.18)
A paramahamsa will even look at the miscreants and the lowest among mankind as devotees of Krishna. After all, a “bad” person is simply one who is struggling with the mode of ignorance. Material activities can be classified as being either in goodness, passion, or ignorance. Activities in goodness lead to a higher life form in the next life, passion in a neutral state, and ignorance in a lower life form. The animal species is considered to be in the mode of ignorance because they have no knowledge of God, spirit, or matter. A fish doesn’t even know that it is wet or that it will die if it eats too much food. The benefit to ascending to a higher species is that the individual spirit soul will hopefully have a better opportunity for liberation through the acquisition of spiritual knowledge. A person mired in the mode of ignorance takes to activities which lead neither to knowledge nor to a beneficial fruit, or result. For instance, excessive intoxication, stealing, unnecessary killing, and oversleeping are simply wastes of time that drag a person further and further into hellish life. Hell is simply a state of being where one is unhappy for an extended period of time. This condition can be achieved both on earth and on other planets in the material universe.
The paramahamsa even views those in the mode of ignorance as devotees due to their association with one of Krishna’s energies. After all, God is everything, including the mode of ignorance. Though the material modes represent His external, or separated, energy, they are still nonetheless something He created. Therefore the topmost transcendentalist sees that even the ignorant are lovers of God due to their attachment to something that Krishna creates.
Since the paramahamsa viewpoint represents the most esteemed and scholarly mindset, it must mean we should all try to view every person as a devotee. Following this logic, there would be no reason to preach to anyone, since everyone is associating with Krishna regardless. Yet the paramahamsas, the great devotees of Krishna, kindly descend from their topmost platform down to the middle tier to take to preaching. This is done for the benefit of the conditioned entities as well as for the pleasure of the Supreme Lord. One may ask the question, “If everyone is a devotee, why is there a need for paramahamsas to step down and preach?” The answer is that while everyone is certainly a lover of God, since their love is misdirected in the conditioned state, the resulting fruits, or rewards, are subpar. The preacher takes to instructing others because everyone is naturally looking for happiness, or a better situation. This is an outgrowth of the loving propensity. Love is a natural instinct of the soul, and the ideal result of this love is happiness, or pleasure.
Since everyone is looking for some type of pleasure, the middle-tier devotee takes it upon himself to help others find the highest form of pleasure, an enjoyment which has no side effects. The greatest enjoyment comes from direct association with Krishna; a link which can be secured through bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. Devotional service can be thought of as the appellation which describes the activities that result from the natural loving propensity of the soul in its purified form. In simpler terms, devotional service is the religion of love. When all efforts are geared towards pleasing Krishna, the resultant activities are in pure bhakti. This behavior may appear similar to conditioned activity, but the difference is that both the wanted and unwanted side effects of such actions are discarded. A person in the devotional stage remains unconcerned with the uniform they are wearing and even the nature of the playing field they are associating with. The gopis, through their pure love for Krishna, always remain in the purified state, performing bhakti. They may be separated from Krishna or directly in His company, but their consciousness is always fixed on His sweet, transcendental form. Since Krishna brings the greatest sweetness to the pleasure seekers, devotees take it upon themselves to kindly inform others about the names, forms, attributes, appearances, likes, and dislikes of the Supreme Lord.
It should be noted that even after being subjected to the greatest and most sincere preaching efforts, most conditioned entities will likely not purify their loving propensity immediately. It is similar to how friends, family, and well-wishers will try to sway a young girl from her attachment to a boy who is completely wrong for her, someone who will cause her great harm in the future. Even through all this counsel, the girl’s love for her paramour remains strong. In the same way, even with all the cogent and insightful words of the middle-tier preachers, non-devotees will likely remain strongly attached to material nature, gross sense enjoyment, sinful life, and dry renunciation. Nevertheless, the paramahamsas take to preaching simply to satisfy the Lord. Since the paramahamsas remain Krishna conscious even while preaching, their sincere effort is reward enough.