The Gita, or Bhagavad-gita ("The Song of God"), was spoken five thousand years ago by Lord Krsna to the prince Arjuna. It contains the essence of Vedic knowledge.
The compiler has applied a question / answer format to the Introduction to Bhagavad-gita As It Is, by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.
Can we travel to higher planets?
As we, the living entity, repeatedly transmigrate from one body to another, we also travel from one planet to another. But we cannot go to any planet we like merely by a mechanical arrangement. If we desire to go to other planets, there is a process for going there, and no mechanical arrangement is necessary. The Gita instructs yanti deva-vrata devan pitin yanti pitr-vratah. There are three planetary systems: higher, middle, and lower. The moon, the sun, and higher planets are called Svargaloka. The earth belongs to the middle planetary system. Bhagavad-gita informs us how to travel to the higher planetary systems (Devaloka) with a very simple formula: yanti deva-vrata devan. One need only worship the particular demigod of that planet.
Yet Bhagavad-gita does not advise us to go to any of the planets in the material world, because even if we go to Brahmaloka, the highest planet, through some sort of mechanical contrivance by maybe traveling for forty thousand years (and who would live that long?), we will still find the material inconveniences of birth, death, disease, and old age. But one who wants to approach the supreme planet, Krsnaloka, or any of the other planets within the spiritual sky will not meet with these material inconveniences.
Is the material world a reflection of the spiritual world?
In the Fifteenth Chapter of the Bhagavad-gita, the real picture of the material world is given. It is said there:
asvattham prahur avyayam
chandamsi yasya parnani
yas tam veda sa veda-vit
Here the material world is described as a tree whose roots are upwards and branches are below. We have experience of a tree whose roots are upward: A person standing on the bank of a river or any reservoir of water can see that the trees reflected in the water are upside down. The branches go downward and the roots upward.
Similarly, the material world is a reflection of the spiritual world. The material world is but a shadow of reality. In the shadow there is no reality or substantiality, but from the shadow we can understand that there are substance and reality. In the desert there is no water, but the mirage suggests that there is such a thing as water. In the material world there is no water there is no happiness but the real water of actual happiness is there in the spiritual world. All of this information is given in the Bhagavad-gita, and we are given information how to leave the material world and begin a truly blissful life in the spiritual sky.
How can we attain the spiritual world?
The Lord suggests that we attain the spiritual world in the following manner (Bg. 15.5):
dvandvair vimuktah sukha-duhkha-samjnair
gacchanty amudhah padam avyayam tat
The padam avyayam, or eternal kingdom, can be reached by one who is nirmana-moha. What does this mean? We are after designations. Someone wants to become "sir," someone wants to become "lord," someone wants to become the president or a rich man or a king or something else. As long as we are attached to these designations, we are attached to the body, because designations belong to the body. But we are not these bodies, and realizing this is the first stage in spiritual realization. We are associated with the three modes of material nature, but we must become detached through devotional service to the Lord.
If we are not attached to devotional service to the Lord, then we cannot become detached from the modes of material nature. Designations and attachments are due to our lust and desire, our wanting to lord it over the material nature. The eternal kingdom, which is never destroyed, can be approached by one who is not bewildered by the attractions of false material enjoyments, who is situated in the service of the Supreme Lord.
Why can't we see the spiritual world?
The Gita (8.21) states:
avyakto 'ksara ity uktas
tam ahuh paramam gatim
yam prapya na nivartante
tad dhama paramam mama
Avyakta means "unmanifested." The spiritual world is unmanifested. Not even all of the material world is manifested before us. Our senses are so imperfect that we cannot even see all of the stars within the material universe, so what to speak of the spiritual planets.
What are the relative sizes of the material and spiritual worlds?
The material world has been approximated as only one quarter of the creation (ekamsena sthito jagat). In the material segment there are millions and billions of universes with trillions of planets and suns, stars, and moons. But this whole material creation is only a fragment of the total creation. Most of the creation is in the spiritual sky.
How does reincarnation take place?
The living entity decides to act in a certain way and is then entangled in the reactions of his work. If he forgets Krsna at death, after giving up the body he enters another, as we put on and take off clothes. As the soul thus migrates, he suffers the reactions of his past activities. A person dies after higher authorities have decided what form of body he will have in the next life.
According to our activities in this life, we either rise or sink.
yam yam vapi smaran bhavam
tyajaty ante kalevaram
tam tam evaiti kaunteya
"Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, O son of Kunti, that state he will attain without fail." (Bg. 8.6). At the time of death either we remain in the inferior energy of this material world, or we transfer to the energy of the spiritual world. This life is a preparation for the next life. If we prepare, therefore, in this life to get promotion to the kingdom of God, then surely, after quitting this material body, we will attain a spiritual body just like the Lord's.
What is the result of remembering Krsna at the time of death?
In Bhagavad-gita (8.5) it is said:
anta-kale ca mam eva
smaran muktva kalevaram
yah prayati sa mad-bhavam
yati nasty atra samsayah
"And whoever at the end of his life quits his body remembering Me alone at once attains My nature. Of this there is not doubt." One who thinks of Krsna at the time of death goes to Krsna. One must remember the form of Krsna; if he quits his body thinking of this form, he surely approaches the spiritual kingdom.
What is the difference between spiritual form and our present body?
The Supreme Being is sac-cid-ananda-vigraha that is, His form is eternal, full of knowledge and bliss. Our present body is not sac-cid-ananda. It is asat, not sat. It is not eternal; it is perishable. It is not cit, full of knowledge, but it is full of ignorance. We have no knowledge of the spiritual kingdom, nor do we even have perfect knowledge of the material world. The body is also nirananda; instead of being full of bliss it is full of misery. All of the miseries we experience in this world arise from the body, but one who leaves the body thinking of Lord Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, at once attains a sac-cid-ananda body.
Does thinking of Krsna require giving up our occupational duties?
In the eighth chapter of Bhagavad-gita, Krsna does not advise Arjuna to remember Him and give up his occupation.
tasmat sarvesu kalesu
mam anusmara yudhya ca
mam evaisyasy asamsayah
"Therefore, Arjuna, you should always think of Me in the form of Krsna and at the same time continue your prescribed duty of fighting. With your activities dedicated to Me and your mind and intelligence fixed on Me, you will attain Me without doubt." (Bg. 8.7) Arjuna was always thinking of Krsna; he was the constant companion of Krsna, and at the same time he was a warrior. Krsna did not advise him to give up fighting and go to the forest to meditate.
What is required to remember Krsna at death?
If we don't practice remembering Krsna while struggling for existence, it will not be possible to remember Him at death. Lord Caitanya also advises this. He says, kirtaniyah sada harih: one should practice chanting the names of the Lord always. The names of the Lord and the Lord are identical. So Lord Krsna's instructions to Arjuna to "remember Me" and Lord Caitanya's injunction to "always chant the names of Lord Krsna" are the same instruction. There is no difference, because Krsna and Krsna's name are identical. In the absolute status there is no difference between reference and referent. Therefore we have to practice remembering the Lord always, twenty-four hours a day, by chanting His names and molding our life's activities in such a way that we can remember Him always.
How is it possible to always remember Krsna while working?
Spiritual teachers give the following example: If a married woman is attached to another man, or if a man has an attachment for a woman other than his wife, then the attachment is very strong. One with such an attachment is always thinking of the loved one. The wife who is thinking of her lover is always thinking of meeting him, even while she is carrying out her household chores. In fact, she carries out her household work even more carefully so her husband will not suspect her attachment.
Similarly, we should always remember the supreme lover, Sri Krsna, and at the same time perform our material duties very nicely. A strong sense of love is required here. If we have a strong sense of love for the Supreme Lord, then we can discharge our duty and at the same time remember Him. But we have to develop that sense of love.
Who is the best yogi?
When Lord Krsna delineates the yoga system, Arjuna says that the practice of this system is not possible for him.
yo 'yam yogas tvaya proktah
etasyaham na pasyami
cancalatvat sthitim sthiram
"Arjuna said: O Madhusudana, the system of yoga which You have summarized appears impractical and unendurable to me, for the mind is restless and unsteady." (Bg. 6.33)
But the Lord says:
yoginam api sarvesam
sraddhavan bhajate yo mam
sa me yuktatamo matah
"Of all yogis, the one with great faith who always abides in Me, thinks of Me within himself, and renders transcendental loving service to Me is the most intimately united with Me in yoga and is the highest of all. That is My opinion." (Bg. 6.47) So one who thinks of the Supreme Lord always is the greatest yogi, the great-est jnani, and the greatest devotee at the same time. The Lord further tells Arjuna that as a ksatriya he cannot give up his fighting, but if he fights remembering Krsna, he will be able to remember Krsna at the time of death. One must be completely surrendered in the transcendental loving service of the Lord.
What are the destinations of the different kinds of transcendentalists?
There are different kinds of transcendentalists: the brahma-vadi, who realizes the Lord's spiritual effulgence (brahmajyoti); the paramatma-vadi, who realizes the Supersoul, or the Lord in the heart; and the devotee, who realizes Bhagavan, the Personality of Godhead. One who desires to merge into the existence of the Supreme Brahman is transferred to the brahmajyoti of the Supreme Lord and thus attains the spiritual sky. The devotee, who wants to enjoy the association of the Lord, enters into the Vaikuntha planets, which are innumerable, and the Supreme Lord by His plenary expansions as Narayana with four hands associates with him there.
At the end of life the transcendentalists think either of the brahmajyoti, the Paramatma, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead Sri Krsna. In all cases they enter into the spiritual sky, but only the devotee, or he who is in personal touch with the Supreme Lord, enters into the Vaikuntha planets or the Goloka Vrndavana planet. The Lord says, "Of this there is not doubt." There is no question of disbelieving it. We should not reject what does not tally with our imagination. Our attitude should be that of Arjuna: "I believe everything that You have said."
Krishnan B. Lal, an ISKCON Life Member, is retired and lives in Huntington Beach, California.