Vedic cosmology - planetarium
Within and beyond time and space: Tour the transcendental world, the material world and find the way back
This is a simplified way to understand the wanderings of a spirit soul within samsara, the cycle of birth and death. It shows the basic facts needed to understand this world and the life in it and helps to learn about the different ways of life leading to elevation or degradation. With this information you can be more in control of your life, in harmony with the universe and its laws:
"We cannot break the laws - we can only break ourselves against the laws."
This 'tour' is based on Vedic scriptures like Bhagavad-gita (BG),
Bhagavata Purana (SB), Brahma-samhita (B-s), as well as other Vaisnava
sources. Gaudiya Vaisnava siddhanta is most elaborately presented in
Sad-sandarbhas of Sri Jiva Gosvami.
I am jiva, spirit soul, part and parcel and eternal servant of the Lord. My svarupa, spiritual body, is similar in form to any of the material bodies in the material world but it is of the same quality as myself and the whole spiritual world (sac-cid-ananda). Although I could stay here eternally in Lord's loving company and participate in His lila (pastime), I decided to explore the material world thus beginning my journey...
The Lord does not interfere with my free will by preventing me from leaving Him but is unlimitedly happy when
I return to Him again:
This is my home, the transcendental world of sac-cid-ananda nature (eternal, full of knowledge and full of bliss), abode of the Supreme Lord in His unlimited eternal forms. Its six divisions are called Goloka Vrindavana, Navadvipa, Mathura, Dvaraka, Ayodhya, Vaikuntha (also used as the general name of Hari-dhama).
Goloka Vrindavana - "I worship Govinda, the primeval Lord, who resides in His own realm, Goloka, with Radha, who resembles His own spiritual figure and who embodies the ecstatic potency [hladini]. Their companions are Her confidantes, who embody extensions of Her bodily form and who are imbued and permeated with ever-blissful spiritual rasa." (Brahma-samhita 5.37, as quoted in CC Adi 4.72 and CC Madhya 8.163)
Navadvipa - "In that place [where Sri Caitanya appears] is a wonderful city like an eight-petal lotus flower. In the middle of that lotus-city is a place called Mayapura, and in the middle of Mayapura is a place called Antardvipa. That place is the home of Lord Caitanya, the Supreme Personality of Godhead." (commentary of Bhaktivinoda Thakura on Chandogya Upanisad 8.1.1-2)
"That original Lord Krsna appeared in Navadvipa as Lord Caitanya, and Balarama appeared with Him as Lord Nityananda." (Caitanya-caritamrta, Adi-lila 5.6)
"In this Age of Kali, people who are endowed with sufficient intelligence will worship the Lord, who is accompanied by His associates, by performance of sankirtana-yajna [congregational chanting of the holy names of the Lord]." (SB 11.5.32)
Mathura - "Sri Uddhava said: Thereafter Lord Krsna went to Mathura City with Sri Baladeva, and to please Their parents They dragged Kamsa, the leader of public enemies, down from his throne and killed him, pulling him along the ground with great strength." (SB 3.3.1) More on Mathura in Laghu-Bhagavatamrta 1.5.
"Since that time, the city of Mathura had been the capital of all the
kings of the Yadu dynasty. The city and district of Mathura are very intimately
connected with Krsna, for Lord Krsna lives there eternally." (SB 10.1.28)
Dvaraka - "Undoubtedly it is wonderful that Dvaraka has defeated the glories of the heavenly planets and has enhanced the celebrity of the earth. The inhabitants of Dvaraka are always seeing the soul of all living beings [Krsna] in His loving feature. He glances at them and favors them with sweet smiles." (SB 1.10.27)
Ayodhya - "Lord Ramacandra returned to His abode, to which bhakti-yogis are promoted. This is the place to which all the inhabitants of Ayodhya went after they served the Lord in His manifest pastimes by offering Him obeisances, touching His lotus feet, fully observing Him as a fatherlike King, sitting or lying down with Him like equals, or even just accompanying Him." (SB 9.11.22)
Vaikuntha - "Therefore, O Lord, feeling weary of material life and tormented by its distresses, I now surrender unto You because You are the perfect master. You are the unlimited, all-knowing Supreme Personality of Godhead, whose spiritual abode in Vaikuntha is free from all disturbances. In fact, You are known as Narayana, the true friend of all living beings." (SB 11.7.18)
Creation of the material world: In a corner of the spiritual sky of brahmajyoti a spiritual cloud sometimes appears, and the covered portion is called the mahat-tattva. The Lord then, by His plenary portion as Maha-Visnu, lies down within the water of the mahat-tattva, and the water is called the Causal Ocean (Karana-jala). While Maha-Visnu sleeps within the Causal Ocean, innumerable universes are generated along with His breathing. These universes are floating, and they are scattered all over the Causal Ocean. They stay only during the breathing period of Maha-Visnu. In each and every universal globe, the same Maha-Visnu enters again as Garbhodakasayi Visnu and lies there on the serpentlike Sesa incarnation. From His navel sprouts a lotus stem, and on the lotus, Brahma, the lord of the universe, is born. Brahma creates all forms of living beings of different shapes in terms of different desires within the universe. He also creates the sun, moon and other demigods. (SB 2.5.33 p.)
Lord Mahavisnu rests in the River Viraja, Causal Ocean (Karanodaka) which is the border between transcendental and material realms.
"The Supreme Living Being in His feature as the transcendental purusa incarnation, who is the Lord's plenary expansion, impregnates the material nature of three modes, and thus by the influence of eternal time the living entities appear. Thereafter, influenced by the interactions of eternal time, the supreme sum total of matter called the mahat-tattva became manifested, and in this mahat-tattva the unalloyed goodness, the Supreme Lord, sowed the seeds of universal manifestation out of His own body." (SB 3.5.26-27)
The destination of sunyavadis (buddhists) is pradhana, the primordial matter, which has a sunya (void) nature. When Mahavisnu breathes out, it is manifested and transforms gradually into the prakriti, matter, the building block of the material world. When He breathes in, it is withdrawn into His body together with the jivas absorbed in it. By the look of Mahavisnu I am then transferred into the womb of Durga, the material world.
Pradhana - "In the unmanifest stage of material nature, called pradhana, there is no expression of words, no mind and no manifestation of the subtle elements beginning from the mahat, nor are there the modes of goodness, passion and ignorance. There is no life air or intelligence, nor any senses or demigods. There is no definite arrangement of planetary systems, nor are there present the different stages of consciousness - sleep, wakefulness and deep sleep. There is no ether, water, earth, air, fire or sun. The situation is just like that of complete sleep, or of voidness. Indeed, it is indescribable. Authorities in spiritual science explain, however, that since pradhana is the original substance, it is the actual basis of material creation." (SB 12.4.20-21)
of Lord Siva is full of Brahman effulgence.
It is situated between Hari-dhama and Devi-dhama.
"The demigods observed Lord Siva sitting on the summit of Kailasa Hill
with his wife, Bhavani, for the auspicious development of the three worlds.
He was being worshiped by great saintly persons desiring liberation. The
demigods offered him their obeisances and prayers with great respect."
This material world is the realm of Durga who is the material energy in her personal form.
"The goddess Durga was decorated with flower garlands, smeared with sandalwood pulp and dressed with excellent garments and ornaments made of valuable jewels. Holding in her hands a bow, a trident, arrows, a shield, a sword, a conchshell, a disc and a club, and being praised by celestial beings like Apsaras, Kinnaras, Uragas, Siddhas, Caranas and Gandharvas, who worshiped her with all kinds of presentations, she spoke as follows." (SB 10.4.10-11)
I, jiva, am now just a transcendental sparkle of an atomic size and according to my desire and karma I take birth in various material bodies one after another (the cycle of birth and death, or samsara) within this world characterized by all-pervading presence of birth, death, old age and disease (janma-mrtyu-jara-vyadhi). These are symptoms of my conditioned life based on my identification with matter. During my whole stay here I am accompanied by the Lord in His invisible form of Paramatma (Supersoul) in my heart. He lets me act according to my desires and witnesses and approves my actions.
Paramatma - "I am seated in everyone's heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness. By all the Vedas, I am to be known. Indeed, I am the compiler of Vedanta, and I am the knower of the Vedas." (BG 15.15)
"Sri Krsna, the Personality of Godhead, who is the Paramatma [Supersoul] in everyone's heart and the benefactor of the truthful devotee, cleanses desire for material enjoyment from the heart of the devotee who has developed the urge to hear His messages, which are in themselves virtuous when properly heard and chanted." (SB 1.2.17)
"One who worships the Deity of Godhead in the temples but does not know that the Supreme Lord, as Paramatma, is situated in every living entity's heart, must be in ignorance and is compared to one who offers oblations into ashes." (SB 3.29.22)
1 yojan = 8 miles = 12,8 km
Dhruvaloka, the polestar, is 3,800,000 yojanas above the sun. Above Dhruvaloka
by 10,000,000 yojanas is Maharloka, above Maharloka by 20,000,000 yojanas
is Janaloka, above Janaloka by 80,000,000 yojanas is Tapoloka, and above
Tapoloka by 120,000,000 yojanas is Satyaloka. Thus the distance from the
sun to Satyaloka is 233,800,000 yojanas, or 1,870,400,000 miles. The Vaikuntha
planets begin 26,200,000 yojanas (209,600,000 miles) above Satyaloka.
Thus the Visnu Purana describes that the covering of the universe is 260,000,000
yojanas (2,080,000,000 miles) away from the sun. (SB 5.23.9 p.)
My first body is that of Brahma, the secondary creator of this world. I live on Satyaloka, the topmost dimensional level in this world. If I am a pure devotee of the Lord, at the end of my long life I will return to Hari-dhama together with my associates, great sages. Otherwise I will be born as a great sage on Muniloka.
"Both the Lord and the living entity, being qualitatively spirit soul, have the tendency for peaceful enjoyment, but when the part of the Supreme Personality of Godhead unfortunately wants to enjoy independently, without Krsna, he is put into the material world, where he begins his life as Brahma and is gradually degraded to the status of an ant or a worm in stool." (SB 9.24.58 p.)
tathA ca brahma-vaivarte –
3 This is also described in the Brahma-vaivarta Purana: "They who attain the universally desired and very rare human birth, but do not take shelter of Lord Krsna, cheat themselves again and again.
"The soul travels through many lifetimes in different bodies and at last gets a chance at the rare human birth, which is auspicious in every respect. The soul has rotated through 8,400,000 different species. It is by ajnatasukriti or unintentional pious activities that the soul finally attains a human body. A birth in the human form is most uncommon, because only in that body are spiritual activities possible to perform, unlike any other species." (Harinama Cintamani 6)
Muniloka is the general name of the abodes of great sages: Tapoloka, Janaloka, Maharloka. These sages constantly meditate on the Lord. Here I'm one of the sages and by my meditation I can go either higher, up to Satyaloka, to become Brahma's associate, or down, to the level of devas (demigods).
"By mystic yoga, great austerities and the renounced order of life, the pure destinations of Maharloka, Janoloka, Tapoloka and Satyaloka are attained. But by devotional yoga, one achieves My transcendental abode." (SB 11.24.14)
Svargaloka is the abode of demigods. I'm now Indra (the chief demigod) or one of the other demigods in a cosmic hierarchy (agnir vai devAnAm avamo viSNuH paramas, tadantareNa sarvA anyA devatA - "Agni is the lowest and Vishnu is the highest among devas. All other gods occupy positions that are in between." Aitareya Brahmana 1.1.1) and my duty is to manage the affairs of the universe, protecting its inhabitants against the asuras (demons) as an empowered servant of the Lord. If I become advanced in my devotional service, I will be born as a sage in Muniloka. If I become attached to material enjoyment, I will degrade into a lower position becoming a semi-demigod or a human being.
"Men of small knowledge are very much attached to the flowery words of the Vedas, which recommend various fruitive activities for elevation to heavenly planets, resultant good birth, power, and so forth. Being desirous of sense gratification and opulent life, they say that there is nothing more than this." (BG 2.42-43)
Neither the demigods controlling fire, the sun, the moon and the stars nor those in charge of earth, water, ether, air, speech and mind actually remove the sins of their worshipers, who continue to see in terms of dualities. But wise sages destroy one's sins when respectfully served for even a few moments. (SB 10.84.12)
Indra: "We are now living in the heavenly planets, undoubtedly as a result of our having performed ritualistic ceremonies, pious activities and yajnas and having studied the Vedas. However, our lives here will one day be finished. We pray that at that time, if any merit remains from our pious activities, we may again take birth in Bharata-varsa as human beings able to remember the lotus feet of the Lord. The Lord is so kind that He personally comes to the land of Bharata-varsa and expands the good fortune of its people." (SB 5.19.28)
Bhuvarloka - the level of semi-demigods (Carana, Vidyadhara, Kinnara, Kimpurusa etc.). As one of the lesser demigods I am assisting the demigods in various ways and sometimes interacting with the humans. By advancement in my service I can become a demigod or to subdue to the enjoying nature and be born as a human on the earthly level, Bhurloka.
Semi-demigods - "Below Rahu by 10,000 yojanas [80,000 miles] are the planets known as Siddhaloka, Caranaloka and Vidyadhara-loka." (SB 5.24.4)
"While He was passing in the northern direction, all the celestial denizens
known as Caranas and Gandharvas, as well as the munis and the damsels
of the heavenly planets, prayed and offered Him all respects. The ocean
offered Him oblations and a place of residence." (SB 3.33.34)
Rahu is situated 10,000 yojanas below the sun. Below Rahu by another 10,000 yojanas are the planets of the Siddhas, Caranas and Vidyadharas, and below these are planets such as Yaksaloka and Raksaloka. Below these planets is the earth, and 70,000 yojanas below the earth are the lower planetary systems Bila-svarga: Atala, Vitala, Sutala, Talatala, Mahatala, Rasatala and Patala. Demons and Raksasas live in these lower planetary systems with their wives and children, always engaged in sense gratification and not fearing their next births. The sunshine does not reach these planets, but they are illuminated by jewels fixed upon the hoods of snakes. Because of these shining gems there is practically no darkness. Those living in these planets do not become old or diseased, and they are not afraid of death from any cause but the time factor, the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
In the planet Atala, the yawning of a demon has produced three kinds of women, called svairini (independent), kamini (lusty) and pumscali (very easily subdued by men). Below Atala is the planet Vitala, wherein Lord Siva and his wife Gauri reside. Because of their presence, a kind of gold is produced called hataka. Below Vitala is the planet Sutala, the abode of Bali Maharaja, the most fortunate king. Bali Maharaja was favored by the Supreme personality of Godhead, Vamanadeva, because of his intense devotional service. Below Sutala is the planet Talatala, the abode of the demon Maya. This demon is always materially happy because he is favored by Lord Siva, but he cannot achieve spiritual happiness at any time. Below Talatala is the planet Mahatala, where there are many snakes with hundreds and thousands of hoods. Below Mahatala is Rasatala, and below that is Patala (Nagaloka), where the serpent Vasuki lives with his associates. (SB 5.24)
The hellish planets are situated in the intermediate space between the three worlds and the Garbhodaka Ocean. They lie on the southern side of the universe, beneath Bhu-mandala, and slightly above the water of the Garbhodaka Ocean. Pitrloka is also located in this region between the Garbhodaka Ocean and the lower planetary systems. All the residents of Pitrloka, headed by Agnisvatta, meditate in great samadhi on the Supreme Personality of Godhead and always wish their families well. (SB 5.26.5)
Approximately 240,000 miles beneath the planet Patala lives Lord Ananta. This great universe, situated on one of Lord Anantadeva's thousands of hoods, appears just like a white mustard seed. It is infinitesimal compared to the hood of Lord Ananta. (SB 5.25.1-2)
The distance from the sun to the earth is lower planetary systems called
Atala, Vitala, Sutala, Talatala, Mahatala, Rasatala and Patala. Below
these lower planets by 30,000 yojanas, Sesa Naga is lying on the Garbhodaka
Ocean. That ocean is 249,800,000 yojanas deep. Thus the total diameter
of the universe is approximately 500,000,000 yojanas, or 4,000,000,000
miles. (SB 5.23.9 p.)
Between Bhuvarloka and Bhurloka is antariksa, an interplanetary space where the Sun is situated. Here live beings like Raksasas, Yaksas, Pisacas and ghosts. They often descend on earth and are generally inimical to humans. Usuallly they will be born later as humans.
Ghosts - "Living entities who are associates of Rudra develop in the third mode of material nature, or ignorance. They are situated in the sky between the earthly planets and the heavenly planets." (SB 3.6.29)
"Beneath Vidyadhara-loka, Caranaloka and Siddhaloka, in the sky called antariksa, are the places of enjoyment for the Yaksas, Raksasas, Pisacas, ghosts and so on. Antariksa extends as far as the wind blows and the clouds float in the sky. Above this there is no more air." (SB 5.24.5)
Related: Garuda Purana excerpts
Bhurloka, or Bhu-mandala is the earthly level consisting of seven spheres (dvipas) - Jambudvipa, Plaksadvipa, Salmalidvipa, Kusadvipa, Krauncadvipa, Sakadvipa, Puskaradvipa - which are inhabited by various human beings.
"The planetary system known as Bhu-mandala resembles a lotus flower, and its seven islands resemble the whorl of that flower. The length and breadth of the island known as Jambudvipa, which is situated in the middle of the whorl, are one million yojanas [eight million miles]. Jambudvipa is round like the leaf of a lotus flower." (SB 5.16.5)
The planet Earth where I live now as a human being is situated within Jambudvipa. It is known as karma-bhumi (Visnu Purana 2.3.2) or karma-ksetra (Narada Pancaratra 2.2.62), the place where new karma is created, a kind of cosmic crossroad. Here I will decide about my future situation, higher or lower, by acting in a particular way (not that "all paths are the same" - yatha mata tatha pata).
"King Rahugana said: This birth as a human being is the best of all. Even birth among the demigods in the heavenly planets is not as glorious as birth as a human being on this earth. What is the use of the exalted position of a demigod? In the heavenly planets, due to profuse material comforts, there is no possibility of associating with devotees." (SB 5.13.21)
Bila-svarga is the name of subterranean 'heavens' inhabited by the asuras and the Nagas. Bhagavata Purana lists seven of them, one below another: Atala, Vitala, Sutala, Talatala, Mahatala, Rasatala and Patala.
Bila-svarga - "In these seven planetary systems, which are also known as the subterranean heavens [bila-svarga], there are very beautiful houses, gardens and places of sense enjoyment, which are even more opulent than those in the higher planets because the demons have a very high standard of sensual pleasure, wealth and influence. Most of the residents of these planets, who are known as Daityas, Danavas and Nagas, live as householders. Their wives, children, friends and society are all fully engaged in illusory, material happiness. The sense enjoyment of the demigods is sometimes disturbed, but the residents of these planets enjoy life without disturbances. Thus they are understood to be very attached to illusory happiness." (SB 5.24.8)
Asuras - "Now let me describe the sons of Diti, who were begotten
by Kasyapa but who became demons. In this demoniac family the great devotee
Prahlada Maharaja appeared, and Bali Maharaja also appeared in that family.
The demons are technically known as Daityas because they proceeded from
the womb of Diti." (SB 6.18.10)
Nagas - "Beneath Rasatala is another planetary system, known as Patala or Nagaloka, where there are many demoniac serpents, the masters of Nagaloka, such as Sankha, Kulika, Mahasankha, Sveta, Dhananjaya, Dhrtarastra, Sankhacuda, Kambala, Asvatara and Devadatta. The chief among them is Vasuki. They are all extremely angry, and they have many, many hoods - some snakes five hoods, some seven, some ten, others a hundred and others a thousand. These hoods are bedecked with valuable gems, and the light emanating from the gems illuminates the entire planetary system of bila-svarga." (SB 5.24.31)
I have become one of the asuras or Nagas, half human and half serpent beings, who are enjoying high standard of material life on sub-earthly levels. I am endowed with supernatural powers, totally irreligious and usually inimical to humans. This seemingly ideal life is interrupted from time to time - I am killed by Lord's Sudarsana chakra and born as a human.
Hells (Naraka) - the lowest levels in the universe, places to suffer for committing specific vikarmas for a determined time. Yamadutas are bringing me to Yamaraja, the judge of the dead. He will determine the type and length of my punishment according to dharma sastras. After my punishment is over I will be born as an animal.
"While living one may be proud of one's body, thinking oneself a very
big man, minister, president or even demigod, but whatever one may be,
after death this body will turn either into worms, into stool or into
ashes. If one kills poor animals to satisfy the temporary whims of this
body, one does not know that he will suffer in his next birth, for such
a sinful miscreant must go to hell and suffer the results of his actions."
Yamaraja - "The King of the pitas [ancestors] is Yamaraja, the very powerful son of the sun-god. He resides in Pitrloka with his personal assistants and, while abiding by the rules and regulations set down by the Supreme Lord, has his agents, the Yamadutas, bring all the sinful men to him immediately upon their death. After bringing them within his jurisdiction, he properly judges them according to their specific sinful activities and sends them to one of the many hellish planets for suitable punishments." (SB 5.26.6)
240,000 miles beneath the planet Patala lives another incarnation of the
Supreme Personality of Godhead. He is the expansion of Lord Visnu known
as Lord Ananta or Lord Sankarsana. He is always in the transcendental
position, but because He is worshiped by Lord Siva, the deity of tamo-guna
or darkness, He is sometimes called tamasi. Lord Ananta is the predominating
Deity of the material mode of ignorance as well as the false ego of all
conditioned souls. When a conditioned living being thinks, "I am
the enjoyer, and this world is meant to be enjoyed by me," this conception
of life is dictated to him by Sankarsana. Thus the mundane conditioned
soul thinks himself the Supreme Lord. This great universe, situated on
one of Lord Anantadeva's thousands of hoods, appears just like a white
mustard seed. It is infinitesimal compared to the hood of Lord Ananta.
At the time of devastation, when Lord Anantadeva desires to destroy the
entire creation, He becomes slightly angry. Then from between His two
eyebrows appears three-eyed Rudra, carrying a trident. (SB 5.25.1 - 3)
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