Stages of Consciousness

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Human life provides living beings with the opportunity to progress from the lowest to the highest levels of awareness and love.

In place of our usual "Founder's Lecture," in this issue we present an excerpt from the book Krishna: The Supreme Personality of Godhead, Srila Prabhupada's summary study of the Tenth Canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam. This excerpt comes from Chapter Eighty-seven, entitled "The Prayers of the Personified Vedas." Just before the creation, the personified Vedas appeared as the first emanations from the breathing of Lord Vishnu and recited prayers for His glorification.

The personified Vedas continued: "Dear Lord, it is imperative that the living entities be engaged in Krishna consciousness, always rendering devotional service by such prescribed methods as hearing and chanting and executing Your orders. If a person is not engaged in Krishna consciousness and devotional service, it is useless for him to exhibit the symptoms of life. Generally if a person is breathing he is accepted to be alive. But a person without Krishna consciousness may be compared to a bellows in a blacksmith's shop. The big bellows is a bag of skin which exhales and inhales air, and a human being who simply lives within the bag of skin and bones without taking to Krishna consciousness and loving devotional service is no better than the bellows. Similarly, a nondevotee's long duration of life is compared to the long existence of a tree, his voracious eating capacity is compared to the eating of dogs and hogs, and his enjoyment in sex life is compared to that of hogs and goats."

The cosmic manifestation has been made possible because of the entrance of the Supreme Personality of Godhead as Maha-Vishnu within this material world. The total material energy is agitated by the glance of Maha-Vishnu, and only then does the interaction of the three material qualities begin. Therefore it should be concluded that whatever material facilities we are trying to enjoy are available only due to the mercy of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Within the body there are five different departments of existence, known as anna-maya, prana-maya, mano-maya, vijnana-maya, and at last, ananda-maya. In the beginning of life, every living entity is food conscious. A child or an animal is satisfied only by getting nice food. This stage of consciousness, in which the goal is to eat sumptuously, is called anna-maya. Anna means "food." After this one lives in theconsciousness of being alive. If one can continue his life without being attacked or destroyed, one thinks himself happy. This stage is calledprana-maya, or consciousness of one's existence. After this stage, when one is situated on the mental platform, his consciousness is calledmano-maya. The materialistic civilization is primarily situated in these three stages, anna-maya, prana-maya, and mano-maya. The first concern of civilized persons is economic development, the next concern is defense against being annihilated, and the next consciousness is mental speculation, the philosophical approach to the values of life.

If by the evolutionary process of philosophical life one happens to reach the platform of intellectual life and understands that he is not this material body but a spiritual soul, he is situated in the vijnana-maya stage. Then, by evolution in spiritual life, he comes to the understanding of the Supreme Lord, or the Supreme Soul. When one develops his relationship with Him and executes devotional service, that stage of life is called Krishna consciousness, the ananda-maya stage.

Ananda-maya is the blissful life of knowledge and eternity. As it is said in the Vedanta-sutra, ananda-mayo ’bhyasat. The Supreme Brahman and the subordinate Brahman, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead and the living entities, are both joyful by nature. As long as the living entities are situated in the lower four stages of life—anna-maya, prana-maya, mano-maya, and vijnana-maya—they are considered to be in the material condition of life, but as soon as one reaches the stage of ananda-maya, he is a liberated soul.

This ananda-maya stage is explained in the Bhagavad-gita as the brahma-bhuta stage. There it is said that in the brahma-bhuta stage of life there is no anxiety and no hankering. This stage begins when one is equally disposed toward all living entities, and it then expands to the stage of Krishna consciousness, in which one always hankers to render service unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead. This hankering for advancement in devotional service is not the same as hankering for sense gratification in material existence. In other words, hankeringremains in spiritual life, but it becomes purified. Similarly, when our senses are purified, they are freed from all material stages, namely anna-maya, prana-maya, mano-maya, and vijnana-maya, and they become situated in the highest stage—ananda-maya, or blissful life in Krishna consciousness.

Oneness Does Not Mean Merging

The Mayavadi [impersonalist] philosophers consider ananda-maya to be the state of being merged in the Supreme. To them, ananda-maya means that the Supersoul and the individual soul become one. But the real fact is that oneness does not mean merging into the Supreme and losing one's own individual existence. Merging into the spiritual existence is the living entity's realization of qualitative oneness with the Supreme Lord in His aspects of eternity and knowledge. But the actual ananda-maya (blissful) stage is attained when one is engaged in devotional service. That is confirmed in the Bhagavad-gita: mad-bhaktim labhate param. Here Lord Krishna states that the brahma-bhuta ananda-maya stage is complete only when there is an exchange of love between the Supreme and the subordinate living entities.

Unless one comes to this ananda-maya stage, his breathing is like the breathing of a bellows in a blacksmith's shop, his duration of life is like that of a tree, and he is no better than the lower animals like the camels, hogs and dogs.

Undoubtedly the eternal living entity cannot be annihilated at any point. But the lower species of life exist in a miserable condition, whereas one who is engaged in the devotional service of the Supreme Lord is situated in the pleasurable, or ananda-maya, status of life. The different stages described above are all in relationship with the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Although in all circumstances there exist both the Supreme Personality of Godhead and the living entities, the difference is that the Supreme Personality of Godhead always exists in the ananda-maya stage, whereas the subordinate living entities, because of their minute position as fragmental portions of the Supreme Lord, are prone to fall to the other stages of life. Although in all the stages both the Supreme Lord and the living entities exist, the Supreme Personality of Godhead is always transcendental to our concept of life, whether we are in bondage or in liberation. The whole cosmic manifestation becomes possible by the grace of the Supreme Lord, it exists by the grace of the Supreme Lord, and when annihilated it merges into the existence of the Supreme Lord. As such, the Supreme Lord is the supreme existence, the cause of all causes. Therefore the conclusion is that without development of Krishna consciousness one's life is simply a waste of time.

Meditation for the Materialistic

For those who are very materialistic and cannot understand the situation of the spiritual world, the abode of Krishna, great sages have recommended theyogic process whereby one gradually rises from meditation on the abdomen, which is called muladhara or manipuraka meditation. Muladhara and manipuraka are technical terms which refer to the intestines within the abdomen. Grossly materialistic persons think that economic development is of foremost importance because they are under the impression that a living entity exists only by eating. Such grossly materialistic persons forget that although we may eat as much as we like, if the food is not digested it produces the troubles of indigestion and acidity. Therefore, eating is not in itself the cause of the vital energy of life. For digestion of eatables we have to take shelter of another, superior energy, which is mentioned in the Bhagavad-gita as vaishvanara. Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita that He helpsthe digestion in the form of vaishvanara. The Supreme Personality of Godhead is all-pervasive; therefore, His presence in the stomach as vaishvanara is not extraordinary.

Krishna is actually present everywhere. The Vaishnava, therefore, marks his body with temples of Vishnu: he first marks a tilaka temple on theabdomen, then on the chest, then between the collarbones, then on the forehead, and gradually he marks the top of the head, the brahma-randhra.

The thirteen temples of tilaka marked on the body of a Vaishnava are known as follows: On the forehead is the temple of Lord Keshava, on the belly is the temple of Lord Narayana, on the chest is the temple of Lord Madhava, and on the throat, between the two collarbones, is the temple of Lord Govinda. On the right side of the waist is the temple of Lord Vishnu, on the right arm the temple of Lord Madhusudana, and on the right side of the collarbone the temple of Lord Trivikrama. Similarly, on the left side of the waist is the temple of Lord Vamanadeva, on the left arm the temple of Sridhara, on the left side of the collarbone the temple of Hrishikesha, on the upper back the temple called Padmanabha, and on the lower back the temple called Damodara. On the top of the head is the temple called Vasudeva.

This is the process of meditation on the Lord's situation in the different parts of the body, but for those who are not Vaishnavas, great sages recommend meditation on the bodily concept of life—meditation on the intestines, on the heart, on the throat, on the eyebrows, on the forehead, and then on the top of the head. Some of the sages in the disciplic succession from the great saint Aruna meditate on the heart, because the Supersoul stays within the heart along with the living entity. This is confirmed in the Bhagavad-gita, Fifteenth Chapter, wherein the Lord states, "I am situated in everyone's heart."

As part of devotional service, Vaishnavas protect the body for the service of the Lord, but those who are gross materialists accept the body as theself. They worship the body by the yogic process of meditation on the different bodily parts, such as manipuraka, dahara, and hridaya, gradually rising to the brahma-randhra, on the top of the head. The first-class yogi who has attained perfection in the practice of the yoga system ultimately passes through the brahma-randhra to any one of the planets in either the material or spiritual worlds. How a yogi can transfer himself to another planet is vividly described in the Second Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam.

Meditation on the Universal Form

In this regard, Sukadeva Goswami has recommended that the beginners worship the virat-purusha, the gigantic universal form of the Lord. One who cannot believe that the Lord can be worshiped with equal success in the deity, or archa form, or who cannot concentrate on this form is advised to worship the universal form of the Lord. The lower part of the universe is considered the feet and legs of the Lord's universal form, the middle part of the universe is considered the navel or abdomen of the Lord, the upper planetary systems such as Janaloka and Maharloka are the heart of the Lord, and the topmost planetary system, Brahmaloka, is considered the top of the Lord's head.

There are different processes recommended by great sages according to the position of the worshiper, but the ultimate aim of all meditational yogic processes is to go back home, back to Godhead. As stated in the Bhagavad-gita, anyone who reaches the highest planet, the abode of Krishna, or even the Vaikuntha planets, never has to come down again to this miserable material condition of life.

The Vedic recommendation, therefore, is that one make the lotus feet of Vishnu the target of all one's efforts. Tad vishnoh paramam padam: the Vishnu planets, or Vishnuloka, are situated above all the material planets. These Vaikuntha planets are known as sanatana-dhama, and they are eternal. They are never annihilated, not even by the annihilation of this material world. The conclusion is that if a human being does not fulfill the mission of his life by worshiping the Supreme Lord and does not go back home, back to Godhead, it is to be understood that he is breathing just like a blacksmith's bellows, living just like a tree, eating just like a camel, and having sex just like the dogs and hogs. Thus he has been frustrated in fulfilling the specific purpose of human life.