“All the worlds – which consist of asuras, Gandharvas, Nagas, human beings, devatas, oceans, earth, and mountains – are known to you.” (Sugriva speaking to Hanuman, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 44.4)
With regards to the visible bodies and other external objects that constitute the nature of this world, the discipline of science tends to focus on the different species, their constitutional makeup, and their tendencies. Neglecting the existence of the soul and its importance, scientists lacking any tangible information on spirituality, and additionally any interest in it, devote their efforts towards studying the functions of atoms, subatomic particles, the effects these elements have on nature, and the growth and decay of various bodies. The Vedas, the ancient scriptures of India, enlighten us as to the cause for these varieties and their subsequent functions: the soul. It is the soul, an individual spiritual spark, that serves as the driving force for not only the activities of the various species, but also for material nature in general. Every effect has a cause, and the movements of the supremely powerful unit of energy known as Mother Nature all take place through the workings of the cause of all causes, the Supreme Divine Entity. The original Divine Being is known by different names to different people around the world, but His nature, power, and position in the larger picture remain forever unchanged. Those who acknowledge this entity’s existence and learn from Him – He who is the cause of all manifestations, tendencies, and movements – will automatically understand the inner-workings of material nature. Moreover, such sophisticated students will not only be well versed in the material and spiritual sciences alike, but they will also know how to utilize their acquired information for the highest purpose, that of pleasing the Supreme Entity.
While the acknowledged total number of species in existence today and the number that have ever existed are always increasing with new discoveries by modern science, the Vedas, which represent the original version of all knowledge that matters, both spiritual and non, to be passed down to mankind, have had the number fixed since the beginning of time. The singular piece of information boldly declared by the Vedas that stands above all others is that the living entities, anything that we would consider to be a life form, are not body, but rather, spirit. This spirit has a name: Brahman. Aham brahmasmi is the first instruction given to new students of the Vedic tradition. This aphorism means “I am Brahman.” What is Brahman? We can think of it as the sum and substance of all things spirit. As mentioned before, spirit is the driving force behind any activity. Dull matter is just that: dull. It is inanimate and incapable of creating life on its own. The essence of the vital force is the soul, the quintessential functional unit of any machine which acts on its own. Even though computers and heavy machinery can be programmed to function autonomously, there is still human effort required in the beginning stages. In Sanskrit this human ability is known as paurusham, which is a word derived from purusha, which means spirit or an enjoyer.
“When a sensible man ceases to see different identities, which are due to different material bodies, he attains to the Brahman conception. Thus he sees that beings are expanded everywhere.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 13.31)
Every form of life is purusha, or an enjoyer, in the sense that it has dominion over matter. Yet the exact level of strength of a particular entity is not determined by purusha, but rather, prakriti, or matter. Since all forms of life are spirit at the core, they are all equal. Since they are all equal, they represent a portion of the giant spiritual energy known as Brahman. Why is it important to realize Brahman, or at least understand that the living entity is not the body? Brahman speaks to the inherent quality and constitutional position of the spirit soul. Just as every effect has a cause, the placing of the various sparks of Brahman into different body types was also sparked by initial action. The Supreme Divine Entity, that person most of us refer to as God, is known by the name of Krishna amongst followers of the traditions espoused in sacred texts like the Bhagavad-gita, Shrimad Bhagavatam, and other transcendental masterpieces that follow in the Vedic line. Krishna is the fountainhead of all forms of purusha. He is the cause of all causes, sarva-karana-karanam. Brahman, which consists of all things spirit, is merely an emanation of the powerhouse of energy known as Krishna. Since the sparks that exist in Brahman come from Krishna, they retain the same qualities of purity, bliss, and knowledge possessed by the original entity. However, since Brahman is not the original source, it is not as powerful as Krishna, who is thus known as Parabrahman.
Since the sparks emanating from the Supreme Energetic are independent entities, they have a choice as to where to take up residence. Naturally, since they are part and parcel of Krishna, their ideal home is wherever Krishna Himself resides. Yet for some souls, the free will aspect of their constitutional makeup supersedes the inherent inclination for divine love, which subsequently causes them to desire to separate from Krishna. This divergence in interest stems from the penchant for imitating Krishna. Since God is the most powerful entity, someone who creates, maintains, and destroys on the grandest scale, some will have a desire to imitate His behavior. Since there can only be one God, the Supreme Lord kindly creates a separated universe, a realm that exists outside the spiritual world. In this temporary land, the wayward spirit souls are allowed to roam free and pursue their personal interests. Essentially any soul that sees itself as the enjoyer is allowed to come to this temporary realm. Even during intermediate periods, when the temporary playing field remains unmanifest, the same souls intent on exercising their free-will remain within the light of Brahman until the time for the next creation arises.
When appearing in the temporary realm, the place we currently reside, the pure and spotless spirit souls assume bodies composed of varying combinations of material elements. In this way, purusha meets up with prakriti; the micro-enjoyer associating with the enjoyed. Obviously this union of soul with matter cannot last permanently, for originally the soul was together with Krishna. Understanding their identity as Brahman allows an individual to take the necessary steps towards reassuming their original consciousness. One who understands that they are Brahman can also realize that association with matter is not their highest engagement. There is a higher taste, a more purified state of existence that one can rise to.
Exactly what is the nature of the temporary enjoyment that the spirit souls experience in the material world? If it’s temporary and substandard, why would they continue to seek after it, while turning their backs on Krishna at the same time? When entering the material world, the soul is placed into different body types depending on karma and guna. Karma refers to fruitive work, or the desire to act. Guna refers to material qualities, or modes. The three modes of material nature are goodness, passion, and ignorance. When mixed up in varying proportions, the combinations of modes result in 8,400,000 different species of life. A mode can be thought of as a nature, something which speaks to an entity’s personality and natural inclinations in the area of fruitive activity. Karma can be thought of as cause and effect. One takes to a particular activity for the purpose of acquiring some type of fruit. Yet regardless of the motive, every action taken has a reaction. Thus karma has so many different consequences, both good and bad, unintended and intended.
Each of the different body types allows for a specific kind of enjoyment. Though there are millions of different species, the Vedic scriptures highlight some of the more common ones, especially as it pertains to the different modes of nature. For instance, those in the mode of goodness are known as devas, or demigods. Just as the chief government officers who work for the king or president can be considered privileged citizens, the demigods are Krishna’s deputies in charge of managing material affairs. Since the illusory nature was created to allow the wayward spirit souls a chance at pretending to be Supreme, the transcendent Lord has no personal interest in any of the affairs pertaining to this realm. Yet the material world still requires managers, empowered entities to ensure that the results of action are distributed in a fair, equal, and timely manner. The demigods take charge in this area. They live, not surprisingly, on the heavenly planets, where they enjoy on a heightened scale. Earth is considered part of the middle planetary system, while the heavenly planets are considered the upper system and the hellish planets the lower system.
“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)
On the lower planetary systems are found those creatures living in the mode of ignorance. These entities usually have ghoulish figures and take part in activities that human beings would consider quite deplorable. The mode of ignorance involves any activity which lacks both intelligence and fruitive intentions. Excessive drinking, unnecessary killing, and deep sleep are behaviors indicative of the mode of ignorance.
Earth is where human beings are found. Other species certainly do exist in this realm, but it is man who has dominion over all the land; he is a species which is mostly in the mode of passion but also has combinations of other qualitative modes. Humans are actually considered the most auspicious species for a conditioned soul to take birth in because of the potential for acquiring the highest intelligence. Though the material world is a place where the soul is allowed to falsely enjoy prakriti, this enjoyment doesn’t have to continue perpetually. As soon as an individual wants to return to Krishna’s spiritual realm, they are allowed to do so. Yet one can’t make this decision unless and until they know about Krishna and why returning to His realm is beneficial. Obviously the animal kingdom isn’t able to acquire this knowledge due to the defects of their body types. Even the demigods have trouble realizing this truth of life. As Goswami Tulsidas so accurately points out, the residents of the celestial planets are so engrossed in their opulence that they forget about their impending death. This forgetfulness may seem surprising considering the fact that the demigods are Krishna’s direct servants. Yet devas often get puffed up with material power and enjoyment, thus making it more difficult for their desires to shift to spiritual matters. Human beings have the greatest opportunity to acquire spiritual knowledge and use that information to achieve liberation, which is the end to the repeated cycle of birth and death.
“There is no being existing, either here or among the demigods in the higher planetary systems, which is freed from the three modes of material nature.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 18.40)
Learning about Brahman and all the different species in existence helps a conditioned soul in adjusting their consciousness. One’s consciousness, or mindset, measured at the time of death determines their future destination. If the predominant desire is to associate with Krishna, or one of His non-different expansions, at the time of death, the pure soul will immediately be rewarded with a spiritual body and ascension to the imperishable spiritual land. Learning about the different species and their compositions and tendencies helps us realize that no level of enjoyment in the material world can compare to the spiritual bliss that comes from association with Krishna.
Taking up service to please the Supreme Lord, who is the ultimate enjoyer, represents the highest occupation of man. Regardless of the type of activity we take to, either piety or sin, the end result is simply the changing of bodies. No matter the body type, if there is no God consciousness, the activities performed can be considered a waste of time. One who knows about the different species and their varying levels of enjoyment and misery is more likely to understand that the ultimate aim in life is to take to bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, in lieu of personal sense gratification. This supreme level of understanding and knowledge is visible in every thought, word, and deed of one of the greatest devotees of all time, Shri Hanuman.
The material world goes through cycles of creation and destruction repeatedly, with the duration of each creation being divided into four time periods known as Yugas. We are currently living in the last time period, the Kali Yuga, but in the second age, the Treta Yuga, one of Krishna’s most celebrated incarnations appeared on earth: Lord Rama. While the Supreme Being in the spiritual sky is aloof from the day-to-day affairs pertaining to His separated energy, the material creation, He periodically decides to make personal appearances so as to captivate the minds of the pure souls, giving them the boost they need to remain steady on the path of genuine virtue and piety. As Lord Rama, Krishna appeared in the guise of a warrior prince, a man dedicated to protecting the innocent and the practice of Vedic principles.
On one occasion, Rama’s wife Sita Devi was kidnapped and taken to an island kingdom called Lanka. Not knowing her whereabouts, Rama enlisted the help of an army of Vanaras. The Vanaras are one of the 8,400,000 species in existence, and their qualities closely resemble those of monkeys. Since these Vanaras were forest dwellers roaming the earth in a very pure age, their intelligence levels were higher than those of ordinary monkeys. The Vanaras were somewhat civilized, as they organized their affairs according to many of the Vedic tenets. The leader of the Vanaras in Kishkindha was Sugriva, and he agreed to help Rama. The first order of business was to find where Sita was. This was certainly a daunting task since the surface area of the globe is so large. Yet Sugriva had millions of monkeys at his disposal, so he divided them into groups and sent them to scour the world.
In the above referenced quote, Sugriva is addressing his chief assistant, Hanuman. He is praising Hanuman by stating the fact that all the creatures of the world are already known to the great Vanara. This was indeed true as Hanuman possessed the greatest knowledge. His intelligence wasn’t limited to scientific matters though. He knew the ultimate purpose in life, that of loving God and serving Him. Immediately upon meeting Rama, Hanuman decided to surrender everything unto the Lord and take Rama’s interest to be his own.
Hanuman knew all about the different species, including those that existed in different worlds, and their tendencies. The heavenly planets are reserved for those entities who behaved piously in a material sense during their previous lives. For example, if we abide by all the rules and regulations of spiritual life, but fail to achieve Krishna consciousness at the time of death, we get to enjoy on the heavenly planets after this life is over. Enjoying in heaven means assuming a heavenly body, like those possessed by the devas [demigods] and Gandharvas [celestial singers]. If we are sinful, we get demoted to the hellish realm where bodies of Nagas [snakes] and asuras [demons] are assumed. These body types are also often seen on earth as well, as the transmigration of the soul begins with the lower species and ideally culminates with the benediction of a human body.
Hanuman would encounter many of these species during his search for Sita, but due to his intricate knowledge, he wasn’t surprised by the obstructive efforts of any of them. Whatever obstacle came in his way, Hanuman brushed it aside. He would eventually find Sita’s whereabouts and return the information of her location to Sugriva and Rama. Hanuman knew of all the different species and the flawed nature of material enjoyment. Therefore he took bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, to be his topmost engagement. While Lord Rama would eventually rescue His wife and triumphantly return home to His kingdom and then to the spiritual world, Hanuman would remain on earth. He lives to this day, travelling to wherever Rama’s glories are praised and talked about. In this way, Hanuman is an object of worship, someone we can learn from and kindly approach for blessings. The greatest benediction he offers is courage, determination, and strength in loving and remaining attached to God. Through his grace, we can develop the purified level of consciousness that’s required for returning to the spiritual realm. Studying the activities of the creatures of this world can certainly help us understand issues pertaining to matter, spirit, and enjoyment, but always remembering the activities of exalted personalities like Hanuman will enable us to make the best use of any and all information that we acquire during our time on earth.
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