When Srila Prabhupada titled this magazine “Back to Godhead,” he took inspiration from a phrase spoken by the Archbishop of Canterbury. In Prabhupada’s opening essay in the first issue, published during World War II, he quoted the Archbishop saying that people “want the kingdom of God without God” and “Our resolve must be back to God.”
In that article and others, Prabhupada, like the dictionary, used the term “Godhead” to mean God. But in the phrase “back to Godhead,” which appears thousands of times in his writings, the context suggests that by “Godhead” Prabhupada often means “the kingdom of God,” and I think it’s fair to say that most of his followers think of it that way, as they have even from the beginning of his movement in the West. So when we use the phrase “back to Godhead,” we generally mean “back to Krishna’s abode,” and we take Prabhupada’s beloved phrase “back home, back to Godhead” as evidence of this (even though “Godhead” here could mean “God”).
All of this is to lead into a discussion of the desire of people in various religious traditions to go to the kingdom of God after death. We Hare Krishna people want to go back to Godhead, and people in other traditions want to go to the kingdom of God according to their conception of that place. But the aspirations are not quite the same. While others want to be citizens in God’s kingdom, we want to be among God’s family and friends.
Because we know God’s identity – He’s Krishna – we want to be in His company, not just in His world. Unlike the general citizens of a state, we know intimate details of God’s personality as expressed in His home life and in His leisure life with His friends. Our highest aspiration is to directly serve Krishna outside His official capacity.
As revealed in the Vedic literature, the kingdom of God is unlimited and includes two major divisions: Vaikuntha and Goloka. Though both regions are populated exclusively by devotees of the Lord, the devotees in Vaikuntha experience Krishna in His majestic form as Narayana, or Vishnu. Most Vaikuntha residents serve and worship Narayana from a distance, while, as with any king, a relative few engage as His personal attendants. Whatever their status, everyone in Vaikuntha is fully satisfied to be there.
An important understanding in the philosophy of Krishna consciousness is that Krishna responds to our desire. We’re in the material world because our desire to be with Krishna is not fully developed. When our desire to go back to Godhead and serve Krishna there is strong enough – when it is exclusive – then Krishna will grant us entrance.
Everyone and everything in Vaikuntha and Goloka is focused solely on the service of the Lord. (In the spiritual world, even the “things” are fully conscious devotees.) If we’re not ready to live in such an atmosphere, then we wouldn’t be comfortable in the kingdom of God.
The spiritual practices of the Hare Krishna movement, prescribed by Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and the spiritual authorities in His line, are meant to nurture within us the pure desire for intimate service to Krishna in Goloka. When the Lord and His pure devotees recognize our spiritual longing, we’ll gain entrance to the kingdom where God reigns as an irresistible cowherd boy.
– Nagaraja Dasa