Chapter 2 from the book, Going Beyond Vaikuṇṭha, 4th edition by Śrīla Bhaktivedānta Nārāyaṇa Mahārāja
Gopa-kumāra’s guru had disappeared, but his firm faith (niṣṭhā) never left him. He never thought of going in a different direction. Whatever the guru tells us is the supreme truth of the Vedas, and we should always keep it with us. A sādhaka may desire to understand everything by relying solely upon his own experience and then moving forward. Rather than accepting what anyone else may tell him, he may feel that he must directly experience everything himself. But the guru can see that trying to understand everything step by step may take millions of lives. What is heaven? What is Siddhaloka? What are Bhūr, Bhuvar, Svar, Mahar, Jano and Tapolokas? What kind of things can be seen there, and what kinds of enjoyment are available? What happiness is there within the eight material coverings? What is in Śivaloka? What is in Vaikuṇṭhaloka? What is in Rāmaloka? We may desire to see and understand all of this by our own endeavour and then consider and accept the highest thing. But one does not progress this way.
For instance, there may be some worldly man who doesn’t practise any sādhana. We will say to him, “My friend, performing bhajana of Bhagavān is the most beneficial thing for you. Leave everything else behind and simply engage in bhajana.”
So the man may think, “But what about the love of my parents? And I have not yet married – I want to have a little experience of family life.”
If he has sufficient merit (sukṛti) from previous lifetimes, then he might leave his home; but for those who don’t have this previous merit, it will be very difficult. Therefore we can understand that those who have left their families to engage in bhajana with great determination have sukṛti from their previous births. There is no necessity for them to become involved in family life. Great devotees like Śukadeva Gosvāmī and Nārada Ṛṣi had this previous merit. Generally, by observing someone’s activities, we can discern whether they have this sukṛti or not.
Many people want to experience all of the many worlds themselves, but not everyone will have the previous merit to do so. Therefore, being merciful, Sanātana Gosvāmī has explained the happiness to be attained in those worlds, the situation there, and the reason for ultimately becoming indifferent to one world and going to another. He revealed all of this through the medium of the story of Gopa-kumāra, taking us through all of those worlds until we finally arrive in Goloka Vṛndāvana.
But we mustn’t think that Sanātana Gosvāmī has merely composed a fictitious novel describing Gopa-kumāra’s extensive journey; this book contains a wide variety of siddhānta with very deep meaning. For example, some people think that the main reason Kṛṣṇa comes to this world is to relieve the Earth’s burden. But really He comes to give pleasure to His devotees, and especially to broadcast to the world the prema of the gopīs and to taste it Himself. Caitanya Mahāprabhu would accomplish many purposes by one activity. He would perform one activity, but from that, five people would be instructed, and five separate objectives would be achieved. In the same spirit Sanātana Gosvāmī has presented the Bṛhad-bhāgavatāmṛta.
Gopa-kumāra continued his story: “I was very upset at the loss of my guru. By the influence of chanting my mantra I felt deep spiritual longing and therefore left my home and family. At Prayaga, I saw a brāhmaṇa engaged in worshipping his śālagrāma-śilā on the banks of the Gaṅgā. I thought that I would also like to do this, but when I saw him place his śilā in a box, I thought, ‘If Ṭhākurajī is placed in a box, He will have to go to sleep hungry, and He won’t be able to move either!’ It gave me some pain and unhappiness to see this.
“On the advice of that brāhmaṇa, I went to the king of Kerala in South India, who was engaged there in worshipping the deity of four-armed Padmanābha with great opulence. He was also feeding, serving and providing all conveniences to the Vaiṣṇavas. Witnessing the opulence of that worship, I stayed there for some time with great love. I was thinking that I also would like to serve the deity as the king was doing. Then the king died with no heir, and the court astrologers found the signs of a king on my hand, so I was made the king and carried on the worship. But whenever the deity’s prasāda was touched by a person from a lower caste, no one would eat it. People would also accept or reject the prasāda on the basis of whether it was cooked or uncooked, and I was very unhappy to see all of this. The prasāda of the deity is spiritual, and there should be no such considerations. Therefore I began to feel indifferent towards that place.
“From some Vaiṣṇavas I heard the glories of Śrī Jagannātha. They said, ‘In Nīlācala there are no such considerations about prasāda. Even if the prasāda has been touched by the mouth of a dog, it will still be taken. Regardless of whether it is dry, stale or rotten, it is still considered to be non-different from Bhagavān Himself.’
“So I went there, and upon seeing this I was very pleased. After taking darśana of Jagannātha for some time, I began to desire to serve Him in the same manner as the king there. I thought that I would like to become the king myself so I could serve the deity with my own hands. Then the king died, and there was no qualified person to succeed him. His oldest son had left home to engage in bhajana, and the younger son didn’t possess the necessary signs of a king. The people were in anxiety about who would inherit the throne, so they prayed to Jagannātha. He revealed to them in a dream, ‘The throne should be entrusted to whoever has the signs of a king on his hands and feet. The proper signs must be there, and they cannot be cut in any way. Someone may have the proper signs, but they may be cut. He who has the unbroken signs of a flower, waterpot, star and conch shell should be made the king.’
“Seeing these signs on my hands alone, they installed me on the throne. I carried on the deity’s service for some time and was very happy. But ultimately I began to feel detached from that place. I saw that the pujārīs were always fighting amongst themselves, and sometimes I could not see the deity because the mandira was closed, and this caused me to feel great separation. Also Lord Jagannātha never spoke to me. I was chanting my gopāla-mantra, and I desired to have the darśana of that Gopāla who plays freely and independently with the gopas. I was unable to embrace Jagannātha and have such free dealings with Him as I desired.
“Then one day I saw my spiritual master receiving darśana in the temple, but he was so overwhelmed with emotion that I could not approach him. He was just gazing at Jagannātha. Thinking that I would speak with him later, I looked away, but when I looked again Gurujī had vanished. I was again upset at losing him. The following day, while wandering on the shores of the ocean, I saw him seated there. There was foam on his mouth and tears in his eyes as he was saying ‘Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa.’ After bringing him to external consciousness, I fell at his feet, and then he told me the purport of the mantra and some regulations for chanting it. He said, ‘This mantra will bestow whatever one desires. If you desire to see Bhagavān Himself or anything else, this mantra will fulfil your desire.’ After saying a little more he again became absorbed in emotion, and where he went after that, I don’t know.”
Which mantra is this? The gopāla-mantra. Although at present our faith may not be fully developed, just see how much power is contained within the gopāla-mantra!
Gopa-kumāra continued, “My faith increased by hearing just these few words from him, and with great love I chanted my mantra. At that time I was feeling indifferent to Nīlācala, and then I heard from some sages that in the heavenly planets Indra is serving Bhagavān directly.”
Chanting his mantra-japa, intense hankering for going there arose within him, and he immediately arrived in Indra Loka. There Indra was directly serving Upendra (Vāmanadeva) delectable foods and drinks like a loving brother. By the influence of his mantra-japa, Gopa-kumāra’s desire to attain the position of Indra was fulfilled. When Indra fled out of fear of the demons, the sages and demigods appointed him to the position of Indra. For some time he enjoyed the facilities that came with that position and served Upendra in various ways. But during the night he was unable to have Upendra’s darśana, and for this reason he began to feel indifferent towards that place as well. Next Gopa-kumāra travelled throughout the Bhūr, Bhuvar and Svar planetary systems, having conversations with Pippalāyana and other sages. After that he went to Brahmaloka, where, after some time, he attained the position of Brahmā.
There the personified Vedas, Upaniṣads, Purāṇas and other scriptures were debating amongst themselves. Some were propounding merging into Brahman while others were advocating bhagavad-bhakti. They were trying to decide which of the two is superior and whom should be worshipped. At first Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam remained neutral and merely listened as they all debated. But in the end the words of the Bhāgavatam were established as the best, and the glories of Śrī Viṣṇu and Vaikuṇṭha were delineated.
Again feeling indifferent to his surroundings, Gopa-kumāra chanted his mantra-japa and returned to the Vṛndāvana of this world, where he again met his guru, Jayanta. Jayanta blessed him, saying, “What you have seen until now is due to the influence of your mantra, and by continuing to chant you will also be able to cross the eight material coverings. You will be able to cross the Virajā river and go to Siddhaloka. I am giving you my blessings that you will receive a body that will be suitable for travelling to all of those higher worlds, because no one can go there in a material body. The desires of your heart will surely be fulfilled, but in the course of your journey you mustn’t ever stop. Ultimately you will reach your desired goal by going in sequence, step by step.”
There is a related story about a sage of Dandakaranya who was performing austerities. He was chanting the gopāla-mantra for thousands of years, yet he remained in this world. Eventually Śrī Rāmacandra and Sītā-devī arrived in Dandakaranya. Seeing the beauty of Rāma, the sage’s mind became attracted. He prayed to Rāma, “I beg that just as Sītā is serving You, I may serve You in Your form as Gopāla. Please grant me this benediction.”
Rāma said, “All right, so it shall be, but you cannot go to Goloka directly. When the pastimes of Kṛṣṇa appear in this universe, you will enter the womb of a gopī of Vraja and develop your identity there. You will marry and have a husband, mother-in-law, father-in-law and sister-in-law, but in a hidden way your first love will always be for Gopāla. By the influence of the gopīs’ association you will attain perfection, and any doubts or ignorance that you may have will vanish. You will appear in the womb of a gopī, you will develop an identity within the līlā, your sentiment will become perfected, and when Kṛṣṇa and His associates disappear from this world, you will accompany them to Goloka Vṛndāvana and become an eternal companion of Kṛṣṇa. This is the path.”
As long as our sentiment is not perfected, we will remain in the Vraja of this world. After attaining perfection we will leave this world; Bhagavān Himself has said this thousands of times. Now we are proceeding along the path step by step and, by the mercy of guru, when the appropriate time comes we will obtain a body suitable for travel to higher worlds; but the material body is not able to go there.
Gopa-kumāra appeared the same as before, but at this time he shed his material form and assumed a purely spiritual form. Now like electricity he crossed in one minute the eight material coverings that before had taken him millions of years to cross step by step. The denizens of the heavenly planets showered flowers on him as he passed by at great speed, and Lord Brahmā and others offered obeisances to him. Crossing those eight coverings he saw whatever happiness was available inside them, and then crossing the Virajā he arrived in Śivaloka.
Brahmaloka consists of two sections: the upper part is called Sadāśivaloka, and the lower part is Siddhaloka, which is the destination given to the demons who are personally killed by Bhagavān. The impersonalists also attain this destination after meditating on the formless light for millions of years. That is called sāyujya-mukti. This lower part is also called Mahākālapuram or Sāyujyaloka by the sages. This Mahākālapuram is where Kṛṣṇa took Arjuna to retrieve the son of the brāhmaṇa.*
When Gopa-kumāra was at this Siddhaloka, he saw that it was like a very deep river where one remains submerged in Brahman for some time and then rises up again. By chanting his gopāla-mantra he would come up, but then by the influence of the lower world he would again be submerged. Looking upon this formless void with abhorrence, he proceeded up from Siddhaloka to Sadāśivaloka. There Śaṅkara and Pārvatī were performing kīrtana and dancing with their associates. Pārvatī is also known as Gaurī, she who possesses a bright bodily complexion. Her limbs were shining like pure camphor and making her appear very beautiful. She was playing some musical instruments and Śaṅkara was dancing. Gaṇeśa was singing, and Kārttikeya, Nandī, Bhṛṅgī and all of their associates were present there, glorifying Bhagavān and dancing. At that time Gaṇeśa told Gopa-kumāra that Śaṅkara and Bhagavān are one and the same, non-different. After some time, Gopa-kumāra looked up into the sky and saw four people there performing kīrtana. They were eternal residents of Vaikuṇṭha. Seeing Śiva and Pārvatī, they offered obeisances and said, “O Mahādeva, you and Hari are the same Soul.”
Hearing this, Śiva put his hands over his ears and said, “What are you saying? You don’t know any tattva. Me – the īśvara? No, I am not Íśvara, I am the servant of Íśvara, the servant of Nārāyaṇa.”
After those four residents of Vaikuṇṭha elucidated some tattva, Śiva began speaking to Gopa-kumāra: “Who can go to Vaikuṇṭha? After one hundred births of giving charity, performing pious activities, and following varṇāśrama-dharma perfectly, one attains the position of Brahmā. Then, by performing the function of Brahmā well for one hundred births, one becomes Śiva. After assuming the post of Śiva for thousands of years, one becomes a Vaiṣṇava. I also desire to become a Vaiṣṇava. Then, by practising sādhana-bhakti as a Vaiṣṇava, one attains Vaikuṇṭha. Therefore attaining Vaikuṇṭha is not easy; it is very rare. It appears that you are ready to enter Vaikuṇṭha, but you cannot go straight there from here; there is no direct path. From here go to Vraja, engage in some bhajana and sādhana, and then you can go there.”
Chanting his gopāla-mantra, Gopa-kumāra saw that he had arrived at Vṛndāvana in the very same kuñja near Keśī-ghāṭa where he had previously met his guru. There he immersed himself in sādhana-bhajana, and one day he was reunited with his guru Jayanta. With great prema in his heart Jayanta began to tell him some deep secrets, and Gopa-kumāra was very pleased. What kind of secrets? Related to progress in sādhana-bhajana: “Your favourite deity is Gopāla, and you are worshipping Him in the mood of fraternity (sakhya-bhāva). Until now you have been chanting the gopāla-mantra, but in Vaikuṇṭha that mantra will no longer be effective. There is no sādhana there; it is a place of sādhya, final attainment. Therefore, all of the branches of sādhana that you have practised up until now will not be effective there. Now your internal identity (svarupa) as a sakhā has arisen. You are related to Kṛṣṇa as His beloved friend.”
The mantra had cleansed all kinds of anartha and aparādha from Gopa-kumāra’s heart and established his eternal relationship with Bhagavān. This is such an exalted achievement. The eternal relationship with Kṛṣṇa that we achieve in our hearts will be in whichever rasa we find tasteful. As long we do not possess pure attachment to Kṛṣṇa, our bhajana will not be pure. Especially for coming to the stage of rāgānuga-bhakti this sentiment is so necessary: “Kṛṣṇa is mine, and I am His.” At this stage none of the troubles of the material world can disturb us. In the stage of bhāva these troubles may come, but in the stage of prema we will not be aware of these troubles and they cannot touch us, just as in the cases of Śukadeva Gosvāmī, Nārada Ṛṣi and Prahlāda. But some difficulty came to Bhārata Mahārāja**, who was only in the stage of bhāva, and he was overwhelmed. So in the stage of bhāva some troubles may still come, but after that, like the wind they will all fly away and we will not even be aware of them. Then no anartha, result of karma, or anything unpalatable will come, and in our eternal form we will relish our eternal relationship with Kṛṣṇa.
Then Jayanta secretly told Gopa-kumāra this mantra:
śrī-kṛṣṇa gopāla hare mukunda govinda he nanda-kiśora kṛṣṇa
hā śrī-yaśodā-tanaya prasīda śrī-ballavī-jīvana rādhikeśa
In this mantra, for Gopa-kumāra the emphasis was on hā śrī-yaśodā-tanaya prasīda (O son of Yaśodā), which for him is the primary name of Kṛṣṇa, the others being secondary. For his particular internal sentiment, Yaśodā-tanaya is primary because He is Gopa-kumāra’s dear friend, while the remaining names are descriptions: Śrī Kṛṣṇa, Gopāla, Hari, Mukunda, Govinda, Nandakiśora, Śrī Ballavī-jīvana and Rādhikeśa. If someone’s sentiment is in mādhurya-rasa, then Rādhikeśa (the Lord of Rādhā) may be the primary name, and the rest will be secondary.
According to the sentiment in one’s heart, one of these names will be selected as the primary name. Śrī Yaśodā-tanaya can be the primary name for both sakhya-rasa and vātsalya-rasa, the parental mellow. In mādhurya-rasa, two names are primary: Śrī Ballavī-jīvana (He who is the very life of the gopīs) and Rādhikeśa. Within the name Śrī Ballavī-jīvana a bhāva is hidden – a very important, deep bhāva. To some devotees, the name Rādhikeśa will not be given; to them the name Śrī Ballavī-jīvana will be given. If a devotee has no desire to become a sakhī, but wants instead to become a mañjarī and render service that assists the amorous pastimes of Śrī Rādhā-Kṛṣṇa from that position, then the name Śrī Ballavī-jīvana is given to them. But those who chant Rādhikeśa will become sakhīs. As we progress in sādhana we will be able to better understand these subtle points.
Jayanta didn’t tell these secret things to just anyone, only to Gopa-kumāra. Then, while Gopa-kumāra was looking the other way, Jayanta vanished again. With dazzling effulgence and the speed of electricity he would appear, tell Gopa-kumāra one or two things, and then disappear. But we are so fortunate that we have been given the opportunity to spend so much time in the personal company of our guru. Every day we speak with him and he gives us personal instruction and everything. Therefore we are not really such qualified recipients. If we were, then shining like electricity the spiritual master would appear and give us one or two relevant thoughts, which we would keep with us for all time; then he would vanish. Like feeding us milk – have you seen a dog with her puppies? She comes and feeds them milk, and when she again leaves from there, the puppies race after her. But she nudges them away and proceeds, leaving them standing at a distance just watching, and then finally they return home. Like this, the guru will come, nurture the sentiment of a disciple by giving some relevant instruction, and then vanish.
After residing in Vṛndāvana and performing bhajana for some time, Gopa-kumāra became absorbed in prema. Then one day he beheld the most wondrous vision: wearing yellow cloth, playing the flute, smiling and speaking to him with His eyes, Śrī Kṛṣṇa was suddenly present before him. Gopa-kumāra cried out, “Oh! My very life!” and raced after Him. Coming near to Kṛṣṇa he tried to embrace Him, but just then Kṛṣṇa disappeared. Crying and crying in deep separation, Gopa-kumāra fell to the ground unconscious. While in his unconscious state, he saw a beautiful golden airplane appear before him at the speed of mind. Inside it were those same four residents of Vaikuṇṭha whom he had met in Śivaloka and who had spoken some tattva to him. They said, “Please come; now we are proceeding to Vaikuṇṭha.”
Mostly still in an unconscious state, Gopa-kumāra stood up and sat inside the airplane. When he opened his eyes he thought, “Where am I? What is this place?” He found himself in a waiting room at the gates of Vaikuṇṭha. His guardians told him, “Please wait here. We are going inside to obtain the order from the Lord, and then we will take you inside.”
Saying this they went inside, and took quite some time to return. During this time Gopa-kumāra saw, one after another, many eternal associates of Bhagavān entering through the gates. They were carrying presents and paraphernalia for the pūjā of Nārāyaṇa. Seeing their shining effulgence, he mistook one of them to be Nārāyaṇa Himself, and offering his praṇāma said,
“O Nārāyaṇa, O Lord, please be merciful to me!”
That devotee replied, “Oh! Don’t call me Nārāyaṇa! I am not Nārāyaṇa; I am only the servant of the servant of Nārāyaṇa.” Everyone that came was greeted by Gopa-kumāra in the same manner. He was wonderstruck at the opulence of Vaikuṇṭha. He saw monkeys, bears, peacocks and other kinds of birds arriving there, and they all appeared divinely beautiful. Then the four Vaiṣṇavas who had brought him returned and said, “Come, the Lord has given His order.”
Upon entering through the gates and seeing the opulence of the doorman, Gopa-kumāra mistook him to be Nārāyaṇa as well and began to offer him obeisances and prayers. The doorman put his hands over his ears and the party proceeded further until they reached an interior chamber. There, accompanied by Lakṣmī-devī herself and with Nārada and other sages at His side, was Śrī Nārāyaṇa, reclining to one side on His elbow. He was chewing betel nuts and appeared very splendid. Gopa-kumāra offered praṇāma, and Nārāyaṇa raised His hand in bestowal of blessings and said, “You have given Me so much suffering. For millions of years I have been waiting for you, thinking, ‘When will he come to Me?’ Millions of years have passed, and until now I could not find any pretext to bring you here to Vaikuṇṭha. I was very upset about this, but I saw that you didn’t have even a little desire to meet Me. If you had only chanted even one of My names just once, kept association with My devotees or offered some service to a saint – but you did nothing at all. Even if you had circumambulated a temple just once! One particular pigeon did, and I awarded him entrance into My abode. I could have done the same for you. A hunter with a bow and arrow shot this pigeon who was seated on the branch of a tree, and the bird fell to the ground. In its wounded condition, unintentionally, the pigeon circumambulated the temple one time before dying. From that it attained enough merit to take a human birth and begin voluntarily associating with My devotees. Then in its next birth it came to Me.
“There was also one mouse who entered a mandira to drink ghee. The ghee lamp was flickering, almost extinguished, and just then this mouse began drinking some ghee from it. By this movement the lamp became lit again, and the mouse ran off, frightened. From this he attained the result of offering a lamp to the deity. In his next life he took a human birth and then gradually, by the mercy of the Vaiṣṇavas, he attained Vaikuṇṭha. But you didn’t even do anything like this. All of the time you were opposed to Me. You remained in bad company, always spoke about mundane topics and you were always absorbed in sense enjoyment. You never did anything to bring yourself in My direction. I thought, ‘By any means I must save him.’ So I arranged for you to take birth at Govardhana and then I Myself came as your guru: that was none other – that was Me. I gave you the gopāla-mantra, and then I kept coming in the midst of your progress to nourish your mantra and strengthen your sādhana.
“One will not meet such a guru in one or two lives, but only after thousands of births will one receive a guru who can lead him to Me. I came to you in many forms and gave you inspiration, instilled spiritual strength within you and told you all of the deep secrets of bhajana. Now, it is very good that we have finally met, and I am very happy! You will stay here now and not go anywhere else.”
Gopa-kumāra began staying there. One day Lakṣmī-devī saw that evening was approaching and everyone had left the presence of Nārāyaṇa except Gopa-kumāra. Since Lakṣmī-devī alone serves Nārāyaṇa food and drink and massages His feet, she told Viśvaksena and others to employ some cleverness to draw Gopa-kumāra away. They said to him, “Come and take rest, it is late. Everyone is going, and you also need rest; you appear very tired. Therefore please come with us and take some rest.” They tried this trickery to draw Gopa-kumāra away, but he didn’t desire to go. Finally they affectionately took his hand and led him away, but this made him very unhappy.
Another day Nārāyaṇa called Gopa-kumāra and said, “Come and do the service of fanning Me.” Gopa-kumāra became very pleased upon obtaining this service, but what did he really want? “I desire to play the flute with Him, embrace Him and take prasāda directly from His plate. I want to take the cows out to graze with Him and accompany Him to His house, where His mother will feed us and give us nice things to drink. I want this type of free and independent relationship with Nārāyaṇa, but He will not reciprocate with me in the same way. Instead, here I am bound up: with my hands together I must offer praṇāma.” Thinking like this, Gopa-kumāra became even more unhappy.
One day Nārada approached him and said, “Your face appears withered in unhappiness. I can see that you are not satisfied.” Even before Gopa-kumāra could reply, Nārada had understood everything. Beginning to speak, Nārada felt a little shy because Lakṣmī-devī and others were nearby and he could not speak openly before them. So he took Gopa-kumāra to a solitary place, and said, “Aho! Inside you there is some very deep yearning? Here you don’t have the relationship with Bhagavān that you long for. You desire sakhya-bhāva. Here Bhagavān will not kiss and embrace you; you cannot eat from the same plate with Him and sleep on the same bed. All these loving exchanges of sakhya-bhāva are what you really desire. This has been your strong desire for a very long time.
“In this place your desire will not be fulfilled, but don’t be discouraged, because there is one thing you must understand: Nārāyaṇa is your worshipful Lord. He and the Gopāla that you desire in sakhya-bhāva are one and the same, non-different. Silently you are longing to play with Him in sakhya-bhāva, but here that longing will not be fulfilled. I will tell you how to proceed upwards to your next destination.”
* This pastime is narrated in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Tenth Canto, Chapter 89.
** The story of Bhārata Mahārāja is narrated in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Fifth Canto, Chapters 7–8.
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