When we strive to identify with our real nature, that is Vaikuntham – Chinmaya
A very common question asked by the seekers is:
“In the Upanishads, the description of the highest state is Sat-Chit-Ananda which is the essential nature of our own Self. But in the Puranas, it is mentioned that Vaikuntha is the highest state to be reached. How can we reconcile the two contradicting statements?”
To answer this question, we have to understand the helpless state of Veda Vyasa who had written these Puranas.
Vyasacharya had a very difficult task at hand. His aim was to attract everyone to spirituality in some way or the other. Hence he had to write a scripture that would be appealing to all cross-sections of people in the society – the evolved and the unevolved… the beginners and the advanced in spirituality… the tamasic, rajasic and the sattvic… the cultured and the uncultured… children, youth and the old… men and women… the uneducated and the scholarly… the emotional and the intellectual… the aarta, arthaarthee bhaktas and the jijnaasu and jnani bhaktas… the high caste and the low caste… the orthodox and the modern…
It is just impossible to satisfy all classes of people of all generations at the same time.
But Veda Vyasa achieved the impossible. How? Through the Puranas.
Vyasacharya, the master psychologist knew that the one way to grab the attention of everyone – the young or the old, the educated or the illiterate, the ignorant or the wise, the materialist or the spiritualist – is to tell soul-captivating stories. Hence, Vyasacharya used this technique in the Puranas to explain the highest philosophies of life.
The unevolved and the immature ones rejoiced in the mind-blowing divine stories of the Lord, while the advanced seekers who were in search of answers to serious questions of life, who were the seekers of Reality, found the Vedantic message hidden in it. Everyone found their needs fulfilled in Puranas, thus making these Puranas popular among all sections of people at all times.
Here is a sample of the storytelling of Vyasacharya. This story comes in the second canto of Srimad Bhagavatham.
Brahma, the first of all beings, found himself all alone, seated in a lotus, in the infinite Cosmic Waters. Utterly confused, not knowing who he is, where he is, and what his purpose in life is, he tried to solve the riddle of his life. He tried to find the source of the lotus but in vain. At last, totally dejected and depressed, he sat not knowing what to do. He then heard a thundering divine voice, “Tapa, tapa” – which meant “Perform austerity.”
Brahma sat for meditation for 1000 divine years and attained great purity and concentration of mind following this advice. In such a prepared mind, he gained the vision of the Lord. The Lord came in the shankha-chakra-gadaa-padma form and took him to Vaikuntha.
Vaikuntha is described in the Puranas as the abode of Lord Mahavishnu. In this abode, the three gunas – rajas, tamas, and sattva – do not operate. This abode is untouched by Maya. All the denizens of that realm are blue in colour, radiant, endowed with eyes like lotus petals, dressed in yellow robes, extremely attractive and handsome, having four arms, bedecked with brilliant gem-studded necklaces, ear-rings, diadems and wreaths.
There, Mahalakshmi, possessed of unimaginable beauty, adores the feet of the Lord with rare and invaluable ingredients. The abode is described as a place abundant in all luxuries, riches, and comforts. There the Lord is seated and served by His attendants. He is ever ready to bless the devotees.
The Lord took Brahma to Vaikuntha and made clear to him his purpose in life. The Lord said, “My dear son, you are going to be the Brahma of the next creation. So, therefore, now that you have to engage yourself in this activity, you will need the most important knowledge, the Self-knowledge. Without this knowledge, if you enter into this activity of creation, you will bind yourself with ahankara and mamakara.”
“When you create, you will get attached to the creation and you will say ‘it is my creation.’ This is mamakara. After creation, you will have the arrogance and pride that ‘I did the creation.’ This is called ahankara. The sense of doership and the sense of possessiveness – these are the two major dangers of this world. These two will lead you to repeated births and deaths, not allowing you to get liberated. Hence Self-knowledge is a must.”
The Lord’s teaching to Brahma is for all of us also, because our condition is also not different from Brahma. Just like Brahma, we also don’t know who we are, where we have come from, and what our purpose in life is. Like Brahma, we are also given certain responsibilities in life. Action being a double-edged weapon, it can bind us or liberate us. Hence like Brahma, we are also faced with the threat of ahankara, mamakara, and transmigration. Hence the knowledge of the Self is equally useful to all of us.
The Lord gave this knowledge of the Self in just 4 verses. These verses are famously known as Chatushloki Bhagavatham.
The blessed Lord said:
अहमेवासमेवाग्रे नान्यत् यत् सदसत् परम् । पश्चादहं यदेतच्च योऽवशिष्येत सोऽस्म्यहम् ||2.9.32||
“I am that which is beyond cause and effect. In the beginning, before creation, I alone was. During the existence of creation also I alone am. After the dissolution of creation also I alone will be.
In short, there is nothing other than Me.”
Brahma: “Lord, if You alone exists, then why am I seeing this creation?”
The Lord answers:
ऋतेऽर्थं यत् प्रतीयेत न प्रतीयेत चात्मनि । तद्विद्यात् आत्मनो मायां यथाऽऽभासो यथा तम:||2.9.33||
“You see this world due to My Maya. This Maya has two powers:
1. Maya projects that which is not there (vikshepa). For example, like the reflection in the mirror. We see things and beings in the mirror, but they don’t really exist.
2. Maya covers that which exists (aavarana). For example, like darkness. In the darkness, though the things exist, they are not seen.
Maya firstly projects the illusory world and the ego as real. Secondly, it hides Me, the Self of all beings, and makes Me appear non-existent.”
Brahma: “O Lord, how to come out of this Maya, the source of all miseries, the cause of transmigration?”
The Lord answers:
यथा महान्ति भूतानि भूतेषूच्चावचेष्वनु । प्रविष्टान्यप्रविष्टानि तथा तेषु न तेष्वहम् ||2.9.34||
“When we ignore the reality and get attached to the illusion, we get caught up in Maya. An example will make it clear.
Consider the physical body. What is this body? It is nothing but the 5 elements. These 5 elements alone are the reality. Why? It is so because these 5 elements exist before the formation of the body, after the formation of the body, and after the death and destruction of the body. Hence the reality of the body is that they are 5 elements only. But instead of paying attention to reality, we get attached to the form of the body. This identification with the illusory body causes all problems in life.”
“The body exists in the 5 elements. But the 5 elements are not affected by the body’s presence or absence. So too, the whole creation exists in Me, the Supreme Self, but I am not affected by the creation.
Hence all suffering is because of Maya. Under the influence of Maya, one attaches to the illusory world and ignores Me, his real Self.”
“Hence the solution to all problems is this: pay attention to the reality. Never ignore the Self. The root cause of all suffering is Self-ignorance – ignoring the Self.”
The Lord concluded His teachings and said:
एतावद् एव जिज्ञास्यं तत्त्वजिज्ञासुनाऽऽत्मन: । अन्वयव्यतिरेकाभ्यां यत्स्यात् सर्वत्र सर्वदा ||2.9.35||
“The Supreme Self is the support and substratum of everything in this world. In its presence, everything is present. In its absence, everything is absent. The illusions come and go, but the reality always exists everywhere, at all times. Hence for a sincere seeker of truth, the only thing to be done is to enquire into the nature of the Self.”
एतन्मतं समातिष्ठ परमेण समाधिना । भवान् कल्पविकल्पेषु न विमुह्यति कर्हिचित् ||2.9.36||
“This is the one thing to be practised with supreme care and concentration – abidance in the Self. Remember Me, your own Self, the ultimate Reality, the only existing thing in this world. If you do this then you will never get deluded.”
From the above discussion, it is clear what Vaikuntha is. It is not some outer place to travel and reach. Vaikuntha is our own true Self. We reach there by knowing the Self, by abiding in the Self.
Q= If this is true, then why did Vyasacharya describe Vaikuntha as a beautiful world?
A= It is only for the uninvolved and the immature ones who don’t have the mental purity and intellectual subtlety to understand the Self.
Q= Why can’t we consider Vaikuntha as a divine world?
A=If we consider Vaikuntha as a world to reach in outer space, we will have many logical fallacies. Some of them are mentioned here.
1. If karma takes us to Vaikuntha, then return from Vaikuntha is guaranteed because every action can give only a limited result, says Bhagavan Shankaracharya. Hence liberation can never become permanent. We will have to come back from Vaikuntha once the Punya is exhausted. If liberation is impermanent, then that is no liberation at all.
2. If we assume that Vishnu is different from us, then we can never love Vishnu infinitely and unconditionally because infinite conditional love is possible only towards the Self.
The Brhadaranyaka Upanishad says:
आत्मनस्तु कामाय सर्वं प्रियं भवति | Everything is dear to us only because of the love for the Self.
Since we love the Self infinitely and unconditionally, the love for the Lord can become infinite and unconditional only if the Lord is our own Self.
3. If we exist as individual entities in Vaikuntha, then we remain eternally limited and conditioned by our subtle and causal bodies.
4. Spatial existence of Vaikuntha cannot be accepted because time and space are illusions projected by Maya, experienced in the illusory mind.
Hence due to all these reasons, Vaikuntha cannot be an external world. It has to be the Self alone, as rightly pointed out in the quote, as unambiguously experienced by the seekers of all times.
O M T A T S A T