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10. Liberation in Krishna Consciousness
"Back home, Back to Godhead" -- what does it mean? It means the return of our consciousness to Krishna. Consciousness is the symptom of the soul and the reservoir of our desires. As conscious souls, each one of us is a tiny aspect of Krishna's personal spiritual potency (see Bhagavad-gita 15.7). Just as Krishna is eternally a person, so are we. But now our original personal nature is covered by Maya (illusion). Maya diverts consciousness away from Krishna. The temporary forms of the material world then become the objects of our consciousness and all its desires. Thus prema (the soul's love for God) is perverted into kama (lust for material sense gratification). As long we confuse lust for love, we must take birth in this world again and again. For a devotee of Krishna, the method of liberation from birth and death is the method of purifying consciousness and desires until the ecstasy of pure Krishna consciousness is achieved. As the word ecstasy indicates (Greek ekstasis, "outside the body"), Krishna consciousness transports the soul beyond identification with the material body.
All the great religions of mankind teach that this present life is meant to cultivate the afterlife of the soul. Among the various sects within Judaeo-Christianity, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism, two paths of cultivation can be discerned: 1) the path of elevation, and 2) the path of salvation.
1) The elevationists aim for an elevated state of material happiness in the afterlife. Their hope is to join their family and friends in the celestial realm known as heaven in the Bible and svarga in the Vedas. The Bhagavad-gita warns that although life in heaven is much longer than on earth, it is not eternal: "When they have thus enjoyed vast heavenly sense pleasure and the results of their pious activities are exhausted, they return to this mortal planet again. Thus those who seek sense enjoyment by adhering to the principles of elevation achieve only repeated birth and death." (Bhagavad-gita 9.21)
2) Salvationists, on the other hand, aim to be saved from their mortality. Buddhists, Mayavadi Hindu Vedantists, as well as Judaeo-Christian and Islamic Sufi mystics, often speak of salvation as the surrender of the mortal self to the eternal light that is Nirvana, Brahman or God. Some speak of salvation as a state of unbroken prayerful contemplation upon a personal deity. These are descriptions of impersonal Brahman and Paramatma realization. Impersonal Brahman, as explained in previous articles, is the formless effulgence of Lord Krishna's personal form. Mystics and yogis who are able to negate their minds' attachments to the world of material form may lose themselves within this formless light. Paramatma is Krishna's form as the Supersoul, who dwells within the hearts of all living beings as the overseer and permitter (see Bhagavad-gita 13.23). Paramatma realization is semi-personal, because the salvationist's relationship to the Supersoul in the heart remains passive. More than wanting to serve God, the salvationist wants to be saved from death and rebirth. Thus impersonal Brahman and semi-personal Paramatma realization are incomplete.
A famous vers in Srimad-Bhagavatam explains how complete realization of the Personality of Godhead is to be cultivated.
sravanam kirtanam visnoh
arcanam vandanam dasyam
"Hearing and chanting about the transcendental holy name, form, qualities, paraphernalia and pastimes of Lord Krishna, remembering them, serving the lotus feet of the Lord, offering the Lord respectful worship with sixteen types of paraphernalia, offering prayers to the Lord, becoming His servant, considering the Lord one's best friend, and surrendering everything unto Him (in other words, serving Him with the body, mind and words) -- these nine processes are accepted as pure devotional service." (Srimad-Bhagavatam 7.5.23)
After the steady practice of these nine processes awakens the ecstasy of love of Krishna in the devotee's heart, Krishna appears before the devotee. At that time all the senses of the devotee (the eyes, nose, ears, tongue, sense of touch) become the receptacles of the auspicious qualities of Krishna: His supreme beauty, fragrance, melody, youthfulness, tastefulness, munificence and mercy. The Lord reveals first His beauty to the eyes of the devotee. Due to the sweetness of that beauty, all the senses and the mind take on the quality of eyes. From this the devotee swoons. To console the devotee, the Lord next reveals His fragrance to the nostrils of the devotee, and by this, the devotee's senses take on the quality of the nose in order to smell. Again the devotee swoons in bliss. The Lord then reveals His sonorous voice to the devotee's ears. All the senses become like ears to hear, and for the third time the devotee faints. The Lord then mercifully gives the touch of His lotus feet, His hands and His chest to the devotee, and the devotee experiences the Lord's fresh youthfulness. To those who love the Lord in the mood of servitude, He places His lotus feet on their heads. To those in the mood of friendship, He grasps their hands with His. To those in the mood of parental affection, with His hand He wipes away their tears. Those in the conjugal mood He embraces, touching them with His hands and chest. Then the devotee's senses all take on the sense of touch and the devotee faints again. In this way, the devotee attains his rasa (spiritual relationship) with Krishna. There are five rasas: santa (passive awe and reverence); dasya (servitude); sakhya (friendship); vatsalya (parenthood); and madhurya (conjugal love). The most fortunate salvationists can attain only the santa-rasa. The four higher rasas are reserved for Krishna's pure devotees.
By flooding the senses with eternal nectar from the original, pure source of pleasure -- God Himself -- love of Krishna completely liberates the devotee from attraction to temporary material sense pleasures. Thus the consciousness of the soul completely takes shelter of its original position as an eternal associate of the Lord in the spiritual world. As long as he or she still possesses a physical body, the fully Krishna conscious devotee is called jivan-mukta, liberated while still within the material world. When he or she gives up the physical body, the fully Krishna conscious devotee remains forever with Krishna in the spiritual world. This is videha-mukti, liberation that transcends the material world altogether. According to the kind of rasa achieved, the soul in liberation displays a spiritual form as Krishna's eternal servant, friend, parent or conjugal lover. Just as our present material body permits us to engage in karma (physical activities), so the spiritual rasa-body permits us to engage in lila (Krishna's endlessly expanding spiritual activities).