| 1. Vedic tradition - short definition
Vedic tradition (different from so-called "Hinduism") consists of philosophy, culture and civilization based on Vedic scriptures (sastra), it is revealed by God (avaroha-pantha, or descending knowledge; to understand it both one's own endeavor and mercy of the Lord) after the creation of the universe, and it contains all knowledge, both material (apara-vidya) and transcendental (para-vidya). The correct understanding of sastra is possible only with the help of a guru from genuine parampara (spiritual lineage or succession). It's three main branches are Vaisnava (worship of Visnu), Saiva (worship of Siva) and Sakta (worship of Sakti, Durga).
The scriptures consist of sabda (transcendental sound) in the form of
mantras with purifying effect (practical realization). They are
self-evident pramana (evidence). This means they do not need any other
support, on the other hand they support other evidences - pratyaksa (sense
perception) and anumana (logical analysis). Vedic sastras are called "manuals
for using this world". Vedic philosophy is authorized and authoritative.
Therefore it can assure elevation.
Vedic education begins with acknowledgement of four errors of every conditioned living being (illusion, imperfect senses, making mistakes, cheating) and realization that sastra is not influenced by them. It leads to jnana, or knowledge of meanings, differences and relationships among five categories of reality (tattva) - isvara, jiva, prakrti, kala, karma - and enables differentiation between material and transcendental reality. Otherwise there is a danger of confusing them, e.g. jiva with body or mind.
Jnana leads to vijnana (realized knowledge) and life in harmony with cosmic order (dharma) which brings minimal karma.
The Yamadutas replied: That which is prescribed in the Vedas constitutes dharma, the religious principles, and the opposite of that is irreligion. The Vedas are directly the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Narayana, and are self-born. This we have heard from Yamaraja. (SB 6.1.40)
Bhakti is the peak and the goal of jnana and vijnana, it is beyond material intelligence:
bahunam janmanam ante
After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare. (BG 7.19)
Bhakti (sanatana-dharma, para-dharma) is devotion expressed in actions. It is both means and end of itself. Bhakti is elaborated on in confidential sastras (BG, SB, sattvika Upanisads, Puranas and Tantras, writings of Vaisnava acaryas) and taught within four Vaisnava sampradayas (philosophical schools, or traditions).
Sastras present four divisions or paths: karma, jnana, yoga, bhakti. Karma and jnana form apara-vidya, knowledge enabling life in this world in harmony with dharma. It creates karma and should be therefore minimized.
Yoga (impersonal) and bhakti (personal) form para-vidya, knowledge enabling to leave this world and live in the transcendental realm. It does not create karma (akarma).
2. New Age - definition
New Age is a mixture of various religious, philosophical and other teachings, some with very ancient roots. By no means it can be judged (accepted or rejected) as a homogeneous doctrine.
The New Age boom started in sixties and especially increased during last 10-20 years thanks to the media (TV, movies, videos, computer games, books).
There are prophecies from various traditions awaiting new era characterized by profound spiritual restoration. They speak about an advent of an empowered personality (e.g. Maitreya Buddha in Mahayana Buddhism) and mention other specific signs (e.g. Miracle, white buffalo born in Wisconsin, August 1994 was an important sign for Prairie Indians).
Formerly used term "Age of Aquarius" (e.g. in musical Hair) is incorrect - astronomically it will begin after 450 years. It is so called after the zodiac sign in which the sun rises during the vernal equinox. This sign changes approximately every 2100 years because of earth axis precession, whole cycle lasts 25 600 years (so-called Platonic year).
Vedic version of new era:
Sastras like Brahma-vaivarta Purana 4.129, SB 1.5.11, Bhagavata Mahatmya of Padma Purana, Bhavisya Purana, Divyaprabandha, Caitanya-bhagavata 4.126 (prthivite ache yata...), Caitanya-mangala, and great spiritual masters like Ramanuja, Madhva and Bhaktivinod Thakur (pioneer of this era) speak about 10,000 years of golden age in this Kali-yuga characterized by spreading of bhagavata-dharma based on chanting of holy names of Lord. Its beginning is ascertained as 5,000 years of Kali-yuga (which started on Feb 18, 3102 BC. The means circa year 1900 which is the time of spiritual renaissance of Gaudiya Vaisnavism started by Bhaktivinod Thakur and Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur. A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, founder-acarya of Hare Krsna movement was born at this time.
3. Characteristics of New Age teachings
3.1. apara vidya (how to live in this world of three gunas)
The main subjects of interest are medicine/healing, astrology, music, martial arts, worship of demigods as independent on Krsna (Asatru, worship of Goddess and Mother Earth/Gaia - tendency to elevate sakti over saktiman, feminism).
3.2. aroha-pantha (ascending knowledge, endeavor to elevate and perfect oneself by one's own power regardless of God)
3.3. heterogeneity, syncretism (artificial mixing of various teachings)
There are many different sources teachings included under New Age label:
- natural religions (paganism - druidism, wicca, shamanism, satanism)
- secret teachings of Egypt (hermetism), Judaism (kabala), Christianity (gnosticism), etc.
- healing (natural, energetic, psychic)
- Eastern philosophy ("Hinduism", Buddhism, Taoism, Shintoism) and its derivations (theosophy, anthroposophy)
3.4. confusion of spirit and matter (mind and other subtle material energies are considered immaterial), matter claimed to be the source of creation
It seems that modern materialism got this idea from various ancient esoteric philosophies like nirisvara (atheistic) Sankhya (Caitanya-caritamrta Adi 6.18).
Vedanta-sutra 2.2.1-10 refutes this idea by showing that the pradhana (unmanifest material energy), being unconscious and therefore unintelligent, cannot be the creator of the universe. It can't be shown how and why the passive dead matter started to act. Rather, matter tends to disintegrate (Second Law of Thermodynamics). "Ultimate reality" in the form of impersonal energy will therefore not create anything - it lacks impulse to do so. Similarly, matter is dull (jada) and cannot create.
"Within the effect (world) the cause (Brahman) can be seen just as
"This material nature, which is one of My energies, is working under
"By His glance, the Supreme Personality of Godhead enables the modes of
material nature to act as the causes of universal creation,
This is a problem of all Western philosophies including Christianity (Thomas Aquinas) reflecting in many spheres of life, e.g. language. Reputed Bible translator Eugene Nida said that Holy Spirit in some Bible translations may look as an evil demon due to lack of proper synonyms.
"Everything is God" -> "Everything is God's energy" (SB 3.21.19,
3.5. impersonal nature (God and His energies considered to be without personal identity)
vadanti tat tattva-vidas
Learned transcendentalists who know the Absolute Truth call this nondual substance Brahman, Paramatma or Bhagavan. (SB 1.2.11) Brahman is a lower aspect of God.
4. Characteristics of New Age followers
4.1. endeavor for power over matter and other beings, often regardless of dharma and karma (magic, modern science and technology)
Aham-mameti, or purusa-abhimana ("Ye shall be as gods", Genesis 3:5) is the main disease of conditioned jiva who turned from God and tries to become Him.
In the Western philosophy first seen in works of Roger Bacon (13th century) and Francis Bacon (1561-1626), especially in his Novum Organum Scientiarum (1620). Science is newly emerging discipline endeavoring to subdue the 'inimical' nature and separating man from it. Research is based on pratyaksa and anumana. Among its pioneers are Rene Descartes, and Isaac Newton. Philosopher David Hume comes up with so-called "problem of evil". This ushers in an era of an attack on Christian paradigm in form of materialistic philosophies and profound secularization of Western society. This society is very proud of its scientific achievements and power to change the world but suffers of subconscious fear of God and nature (natural disasters are perceived as reminders of their power). This leads to unnatural hiding of reality of suffering - poverty, hunger, disease, physical handicaps, old age and death. There is a great contrast in this regard with countries like India where these phenomena are accepted as normal part of life.
Impersonalism is a common feature of all New Age doctrines. Although some acknowledge existence of superhuman beings (devas, angels) they reject personal God.
4.2. indiscrimination in accepting authorities
Naivete and lack of knowledge leads to uncritical acceptance of "spiritual guides" of problematical character (cheaters, false avataras) or even unknown origin (channeling). Rejection of authority - one's ego becomes authority instead. Non-philosophical attitude - preference of secondary meaning of scriptures (gauna-vrtti) when primary one (mukhya-vrtti) doesn't fit one's ideas.
4.3. speculativeness, adjusting and watering down of existing systems
Trans-Saturnian planets (Uranus, Neptune, Pluto) discovered by modern astronomers were incorporated into modern Western astrology. Although some astrologers objected to it (see Ponde, Shil, 1939, Hindu Astrology, Joytisha[sic] Shastra, New York, NY: Larwood Publishers) the "progress" prevailed.
4.4. purposeless sensationalism and love of mysteriousness (exploited by the individuals and media to make huge profits)
As examples may serve paranormal phenomena like OBE, NDE or alien abductions, Nostradamus' prophecies (their cryptic character enables unlimited speculation) etc.
4.5. wrong understanding of karma and reincarnation
From Tibetan Buddhism comes the idea that from certain advanced human level (rinpocche) one allegedly cannot fall into lower species. This is refuted in BG 9.20-21, 24, 25; 14.14-18, 16.6, 16.19-21 etc.
5. New Age practices with Vedic origin
Usually is called hatha-yoga and is limited to asana and pranayama; its goal is health improvement. Its original form, astanga-yoga, comes from sage Patanjali. Astanga means "8 limbs" and is divided into hatha (first 5) and raja (other 3). The term "hatha" according to Hatha-yoga-pradipika by Swami Atmarama is composed of syllables "ha" (sun) and "tha" (moon).
Hatha-yoga is sometimes called kriya-yoga. Real kriya-yoga is defined in Padma Purana, Kriya-yogasara 3.4-5, where Vyasa speaks to Jaimini:
ganga-sri-visnu-puja ca danani dvijasattama brahmananam tatha bhaktir bhaktir ekadasi-vrate dhatri-tulasyor bhaktis ca tatha catithi-pujanam kriya-yogangabhutani proktaniti samasatah
Kriya-yoga consists of worship of: Ganga, Sri (Laksmi), Visnu, generosity, devotion to brahmanas, observance of the Ekadasi-vrata, devotion to the Dhatri tree and the Tulasi plant, and hospitality to guests.
5.2. pranic healing (cchi-kung, reiki)
Prana is a subtle material energy in microcosm (body) and macrocosm (universe). For more see the article on Prana.
Comparison of concepts in Ayurveda and Chinese philosophies:
5.3. martial arts (wu-shu)
Origin of martial arts comes from Dhanurveda, one of Upavedas. It involved operation of hi-tech weapons and war machines as well as techniques of individual combat with and without weapons. Monk Bodhidharma came from India to China around 6th century CE and founded the original Shao-lin temple. With him he brought techniques of personal combat which were developed into famous chuan-fa (kung-fu) system. From it were derived Korean, Japanese and other systems. Term wu-shu denotes all of these systems.
They endeavor to unify body and mind/soul by control of prana to achieve superhuman feats. This is however opposed to the goal of para-vidya, liberation from the material body.
5.4. astrology (vedanga-jyotisa vs. Western astrology)
See the article on Vedic Astrology as well as note under 4.3.
5.5. gemology (ratna-sastra)
Gems are often used in astrology to mitigate negative influences although the faultless ones are very expensive. Immense business profits made at the cost of uninformed people who do not know that other much less costly means can be used for the same end.
Philosopher's stone (cintamani) is one of the goals of alchemy. The name "alchemy" is derived from the Arabic el-kimya, Khem being the name for Egypt where it was practiced even before the Christian era. It blended with the magic and mysticism of the legendary Hermes Trismegistus which became known as the Hermetic philosophy.
In the fourth century A.D. alchemy evolved to its historical form. Its tradition reached Europe through Muslim alchemists in Spain in the twelfth century.
Medieval alchemy contained Gnostic elements. In its popularized form it is considered the art of mutation of metals. Yet, it went deeper than that. It issued from the assumption that matter is alive and may grow. With the right rituals matter could be influenced to transmute into higher forms.
Under the cover of semi-scientific experiments its practitioners followed a secret tradition. Thus, in its mystical sense alchemy was not a search for the philosopher's stone for the transmutation of metals into gold. Its deeper aspect was the search for purification of the soul, the mystical transmutation of the mind necessary for obtaining direct divine knowledge.
yatha kancanatam yati
As bell metal is turned to gold when mixed with mercury in an alchemical process, so one who is properly trained and initiated by a bona fide spiritual master becomes a brahmana immediately. (Tattva-sagara, quoted in Hari-bhakti-vilasa 2.12)
It is a part of pravrtti-marga, path of sense gratification regulated by sastric injunctions. Pravrtti-marga consists of four goals of human life (purusartha) - dharma, artha, kama and moksa. It is followed by householders, whereas brahmacaris, vanaprasthas and sannyasis follow nivrtti-marga, path of detachment from material enjoyment. These paths are mentioned for example in SB 3.32.35, 4.29.13, 6.1.1, or 7.15.47. Famous Kama-sutra is only a part of the body of texts in the kama-sastra system and even this is too much to follow for Westerners who try it.
For most people in the West the term "tantra" blends with "sexual exercises". It means "thread" (in a reference to the subtle structure of universe) or "ritual". Tantras are called agama and Vedas are called nigama. Tantras are classified according to three gunas. Sattvika-tantras are Pancaratra, Gautamiya-tantra, Urdhvamnaya-tantra etc. They deal with the worship of Lord Visnu/Krsna and His saktis. For more see the article on Scriptures.
6. New Age influences on society
It is an alternative to Western philosophies and religions which more or less exhausted their potential. Introduces missing concepts like karma, reincarnation etc., and answers important existential questions (personal identity, nature and meaning of life and suffering, life in this universe and beyond - Brahman etc.).
It has raised an interest in environment and inspired an endeavor to protect it although the goal is just sense gratification. Increased interest in vegetarianism, natural healing, paranormal phenomena and alternative explanations of history ("forbidden archaeology" phenomena - Daeniken, Sitchin, Hancock, Thompson & Cremo) can be ascribed to it. This has undermined the authority of materialistic science by attacking its linchpin, evolution theory.
It brought often incorrect or wrong understanding of philosophical concepts and impersonalism. There is tendency to make profit by any means (like misusing astrology for doomsday predictions) which gives bad name to all alternative paths and teachings. Violent and catastrophic scenes in movies often including inimical aliens are meant to invoke fear. Negative vibrations pollute consciousness. Millennium phenomena.
6.3. Important features and names
Orson Welles (radio play War of the Worlds, 1938), first alien movie "When the Earth Stood Still", Star Trek, Star Wars, Steven Spielberg (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., etc.), Alien 1-4, apocalyptical movies at the end of nineties (Deep Impact, Harmaggedon).
Cult of human power, violence and technology (purusa-abhimana) in action movies (Stallone, Schwarzenegger). Action movies with Eastern martial arts. The pioneer was Bruce Lee at the end of sixties but the boom was at the end of eighties which lead to an upsurge of interest in wu-shu and Eastern philosophies.
Movie Highlander (Ch. Lambert) was based on combination of mortal combats with immortality phenomena (movie covered several hundred years). Later it was followed by at least two TV series.
Movies Ghost, Poltergeist, Halloween featured ghosts, magic and evil powers, and ways how to face them. "Ghost" was obviously inspired by Vedic resources, probably Prabhupada's books (Yamadutas), movie Fluke about reincarnation of a man into a dog, too.
Combination of satanism with heavy-metal. Satanistic symbolism in texts and gestures. One member of an italian metal group in eighties lost his sanity because of satanistic rituals.
Mass suicides of fanatical members of sects like Heaven's Gate. It was influenced by a false story about aliens in cosmic ship within the Hale-Bopp comet coming to save them from impending earth catastrophe. Compare it with the effect of Orson Welles' "War of the Worlds" radio play from 1938. The whole New York and surrounding areas were in panic that inimical aliens landed. Allegedly it was mass mind control experiment. On the other hand some contactees propagate meditation and pure lifestyle (four regs).
Vedic, and especially Vaisnava tradition, offers knowledge (especially para-vidya) to everyone. Bhagavata-dharma should be established in the West as authority on both apara- and para-vidya, replacing current so-called authorities for the sake of sincere seekers.
Vaisnavas don't use much their potential in presentation of their tradition by non-traditional ways, e.g. in connection with the New Age phenomena, to make it accessible to those who now end up with New Age. In ISKCON there are few exceptions in fields of astronomy & astrology, ayurveda, forbidden archaeology etc.
Joke: Do you know 5 kinds of material suffering? Birth, death, disease, old age and New Age. 8)
The New Age misconception of samsara
The New Age followers uphold an idea that there is no degradation to the lower species from the human form of life. They think that if one acts wrongly he will be at worst born few times as a human being and then he will continue to be elevated. The only purpose of this life is to get rid of one's hangups and gain some experience. The ultimate goal is to become God, the common desire of all pseudo spiritualists. (One group with partially Christian background believes in a variation of this idea - the soul eternally develops so in the future we will become as powerful as God. But God also develops so He is always ahead...)
This idea is found in the Tibetan Buddhism which teaches that after one becomes a so-called Rinpocche, one cannot degrade to the subhuman species regardless of how he behaves. It is based on the misunderstanding of the Upanisads. Kausitaki Upanisad 2.1 says: "All who leave this world go to Candraloka (moon) [one of the heavenly planets]."
The wrong conclusion is that they will remain there eternally, enjoying the heavenly life. This desire for higher standard of material enjoyment is common to all the followers of materialistic religions.
The Vedic scriptures provide many quotes and examples to refute this idea. Some are presented here:
Bhagavad-gita As It Is, 9.20-21:
trai-vidya mam soma-pah puta-papa
Those who study the Vedas and drink the soma juice, seeking the heavenly planets, worship Me indirectly. Purified of sinful reactions, they take birth on the pious, heavenly planet of Indra, where they enjoy godly delights.
te tam bhuktva svarga-lokam visalam
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 the three Vedas achieve only repeated birth and death.
Srimad Bhagavatam 3.32.20-21:
Such materialistic persons are allowed to go to the planet called Pitrloka by the southern course of the sun, but they again come back to this planet and take birth in their own families, beginning again the same fruitive activities from birth to the end of life.
tatas te ksina-sukrtah
When the results of their pious activities are exhausted, they fall down by higher arrangement and again come back to this planet, just as any person raised to a high position sometimes all of a sudden falls.
aham hi sarva-yajnanam
I am the only enjoyer and master of all sacrifices. Therefore, those who do not recognize My true transcendental nature fall down.
Here it is clearly stated that there are many types of yajna performances recommended in the Vedic literatures, but actually all of them are meant for satisfying the Supreme Lord. Yajna means Visnu. In the Third Chapter of Bhagavad-gita it is clearly stated that one should only work for satisfying Yajna, or Visnu. The perfectional form of human civilization, known as varnasrama-dharma, is specifically meant for satisfying Visnu. Therefore, Krsna says in this verse, "I am the enjoyer of all sacrifices because I am the supreme master." Less intelligent persons, however, without knowing this fact, worship demigods for temporary benefit. Therefore they fall down to material existence and do not achieve the desired goal of life. If, however, anyone has any material desire to be fulfilled, he had better pray for it to the Supreme Lord (although that is not pure devotion), and he will thus achieve the desired result.
yanti deva-vrata devan
Those who worship the demigods will take birth among the demigods; those who worship the ancestors go to the ancestors; those who worship ghosts and spirits will take birth among such beings; and those who worship Me will live with Me.
If one has any desire to go to the moon, the sun or any other planet, one can attain the desired destination by following specific Vedic principles recommended for that purpose, such as the process technically known as darsa-paurnamasi. These are vividly described in the fruitive activities portion of the Vedas, which recommends a specific worship of demigods situated on different heavenly planets. Similarly, one can attain the Pita planets by performing a specific yajna. Similarly, one can go to many ghostly planets and become a Yaksa, Raksa or Pisaca. Pisaca worship is called "black arts" or "black magic." There are many men who practice this black art, and they think that it is spiritualism, but such activities are completely materialistic. Similarly, a pure devotee, who worships the Supreme Personality of Godhead only, achieves the planets of Vaikuntha and Krsnaloka without a doubt. It is very easy to understand through this important verse that if by simply worshiping the demigods one can achieve the heavenly planets, or by worshiping the Pitas achieve the Pita planets, or by practicing the black arts achieve the ghostly planets, why can the pure devotee not achieve the planet of Krsna or Visnu? Unfortunately many people have no information of these sublime planets where Krsna and Visnu live, and because they do not know of them they fall down. Even the impersonalists fall down from the brahmajyoti. The Krsna consciousness movement is therefore distributing sublime information to the entire human society to the effect that by simply chanting the Hare Krsna mantra one can become perfect in this life and go back home, back to Godhead.
yada sattve pravrddhe tu
When one dies in the mode of goodness, he attains to the pure higher planets of the great sages.
rajasi pralayam gatva
When one dies in the mode of passion, he takes birth among those engaged in fruitive activities; and when one dies in the mode of ignorance, he takes birth in the animal kingdom.
Some people have the impression that when the soul reaches the platform of human life it never goes down again. This is incorrect. According to this verse, if one develops the mode of ignorance, after his death he is degraded to an animal form of life. From there one has to again elevate himself, by an evolutionary process, to come again to the human form of life. Therefore, those who are actually serious about human life should take to the mode of goodness and in good association transcend the modes and become situated in Krsna consciousness. This is the aim of human life. Otherwise, there is no guarantee that the human being will again attain to the human status.
The result of pious action is pure and is said to be in the mode of goodness. But action done in the mode of passion results in misery, and action performed in the mode of ignorance results in foolishness.
urdhvam gacchanti sattva-stha
Those situated in the mode of goodness gradually go upward to the higher planets; those in the mode of passion live on the earthly planets; and those in the abominable mode of ignorance go down to the hellish worlds.
Thus perplexed by various anxieties and bound by a network of illusions, they become too strongly attached to sense enjoyment and fall down into hell.
tan aham dvisatah kruran
Those who are envious and mischievous, who are the lowest among men, I perpetually cast into the ocean of material existence, into various demoniac species of life.
In this verse it is clearly indicated that the placing of a particular individual soul in a particular body is the prerogative of the supreme will. The demoniac person may not agree to accept the supremacy of the Lord, and it is a fact that he may act according to his own whims, but his next birth will depend upon the decision of the Supreme Personality of Godhead and not on himself. In the Srimad-Bhagavatam, Third Canto, it is stated that an individual soul, after his death, is put into the womb of a mother where he gets a particular type of body under the supervision of superior power. Therefore in the material existence we find so many species of life--animals, insects, men, and so on. All are arranged by the superior power. They are not accidental. As for the demoniac, it is clearly said here that they are perpetually put into the wombs of demons, and thus they continue to be envious, the lowest of mankind. Such demoniac species of men are held to be always full of lust, always violent and hateful and always unclean. The many kinds of hunters in the jungle are considered to belong to the demoniac species of life.
asurim yonim apanna
Attaining repeated birth amongst the species of demoniac life, O son of Kunti, such persons can never approach Me. Gradually they sink down to the most abominable type of existence.
It is known that God is all-merciful, but here we find that God is never merciful to the demoniac. It is clearly stated that the demoniac people, life after life, are put into the wombs of similar demons, and, not achieving the mercy of the Supreme Lord, they go down and down, so that at last they achieve bodies like those of cats, dogs and hogs. It is clearly stated that such demons have practically no chance of receiving the mercy of God at any stage of later life. In the Vedas also it is stated that such persons gradually sink to become dogs and hogs. It may be then argued in this connection that God should not be advertised as all-merciful if He is not merciful to such demons. In answer to this question, in the Vedanta-sutra we find that the Supreme Lord has no hatred for anyone. The placing of the asuras, the demons, in the lowest status of life is simply another feature of His mercy. Sometimes the asuras are killed by the Supreme Lord, but this killing is also good for them, for in Vedic literature we find that anyone who is killed by the Supreme Lord becomes liberated. There are instances in history of many asuras--Ravana, Kamsa, Hiranyakasipu--to whom the Lord appeared in various incarnations just to kill them. Therefore God's mercy is shown to the asuras if they are fortunate enough to be killed by Him.
There are three gates leading to this hell--lust, anger and greed. Every sane man should give these up, for they lead to the degradation of the soul.
ya nirvrtis tanu-bhrtam tava pada-padma-
My Lord, the transcendental bliss derived from meditating upon Your lotus feet or hearing about Your glories from pure devotees is so unlimited that it is far beyond the stage of brahmananda, wherein one thinks himself merged in the impersonal Brahman as one with the Supreme. Since brahmananda is also defeated by the transcendental bliss derived from devotional service, then what to speak of the temporary blissfulness of elevating oneself to the heavenly planets, which is ended by the separating sword of time? Although one may be elevated to the heavenly planets, he falls down in due course of time.
kvacit puman kvacic ca stri
Covered by the mode of ignorance in material nature, the living entity is sometimes a male, sometimes a female, sometimes a eunuch, sometimes a human being, sometimes a demigod, sometimes a bird, an animal, and so on. In this way he is wandering within the material world. His acceptance of different types of bodies is brought about by his activities under the influence of the modes of nature.
The process of elevation
The Vedas describe two paths of elevation - devayana (the path of gods) and pitryana (the path of ancestors). They are mentioned for example in the Bhagavad-gita 8.24-25 and Chandogya Upanisad 5.10.3-5. Interestingly, other world cultures (like the original inhabitants of North America) also know these paths.
In the Srimad Bhagavatam 8.5.36 the devayana path is called arci-radi-vartma. Sun god marks this paths by his rays (arcis, the name of the deity of the sun rays). This deity who appears to the dying pious person is the "light being" described by the people who underwent the near-death-experience (NDE). The deities (12 or 13) on this path are mentioned in the SB 7.15.53-54 beginning with the Arcis deity. They gradually lead a person upward to his karmic destination.
In the jnana-yoga process these deities are worshiped to help one to pass further on this path and to allow one to enjoy on the heavenly planets. But these worshipers generally cannot go beyond Candraloka (moon) and have to return to the earth as previously mentioned.
The devotees of Visnu, or Krishna travel on the devayana path in a different way. Amanava purusa, "non human being", known from the Upanisads and Vedanta- sutra and in the Puranas called Visnudutas (plural; SB 4.12.20-25, 6.1.30-37, 6.3.18), leads them to the spiritual world passing the planets on the way like a special passes the whistle stops. As they are leaving the material universe they gradually shed their bodily coverings, beginning from the grossest to the subtlest (SB 2.2.28-30).
This path is always the same, but the means of travel differ according to the particular yuga-dharma: SB 2.2.15-31 describes it from the point of view of yoga (Satya-yuga-dharma), SB 7.15.54-55 from the point of view of yajna (Treta-yuga-dharma), BG 8.23-27 from the point of view of demigod worship, or upasana (Dvapara-yuga-dharma) and Brhad-bhagavatamrta, part 2, by Srila Sanatana Goswami, from the point of view of harinama-sankirtana, chanting the holy names of God (Kali-yuga-dharma).
This travel cannot be understood from the point of view of linear cosmic space. The Vedas usually describe the universe from the multidimensional point of view.
The relevant texts (paraphrases) of the Vedanta-sutra:
"The first stage of the devayana path to the spiritual world is called arcis (ray). The soul attains arcis as it departs the chamber of the heart by way of the susumna-nadi. (Vs 4.3.1)
"The arciradi-vartma includes the stages of day (dina), white fortnight (suklapaksa), northern course of the sun (uttarayana), year (samvatsara), heaven (devaloka), wind (vayu), sun (aditya), moon (candra), lightning (vidyut), water (varuna), Indra and Caturmukha Brahma. This list of stages is collated from various upanisadic texts. No one text enumerates them all. (Vs 4.3.2-3)
"The arciradi vartma is called devayana because at each stage the soul is guided by an ativahika-deva to the next higher stage. (Ati means 'great', vah means 'carry'.) After guiding the soul out of the heart, the arcis-deva turns him over to the dina-deva, who turns him over to the sukla-deva, etc. (Vs 4.3.4-5)
"The servants of the Supreme Lord, who are called amanava-purusa or non- mortal persons, conduct the devotees who have surpassed the moon (i.e. who are not attracted by the pleasures of heaven). Sometimes they save a fallen devotee, as in the case of Ajamila. (Vs 4.3.6)
"Srila Vyasadeva declares that three kinds of devotees (svanistha, parinistha and nirapeksa), who directly meditate upon the transcendental form of the Supreme Lord, are guided by the amanava-purusa to the Lord Himself. The worshipers of five fires (pancagni) enter the planet of Caturmukha Brahma, to go with him to the Supreme after the dissolution of the universe. The indirect worshipers of the Lord, who worship Him symbolically, attain relative perfections in the material world. (Vs 4.3.15)
"Scripture reveals that certain nirapeksa devotees who wholeheartedly surrendered to the Lord in the midst of extreme suffering were delivered from material existence by the Supreme Lord Himself. (Vs 4.3.16)
"Many upanisadic passages describe liberation as the absorption of the soul into Brahman. This initial stage of the soul's entry into the effulgent Brahman sphere is called sayujya-mukti. Having attained the spiritual world, the soul may attain four higher kinds of mukti, all of which share the quality of unity established in sayujya-mukti. (Vs 4.4.4)
"The liberated soul is an enjoyer. In sayujya-mukti, the soul enjoys transcendental bliss without a spiritual body like a sleeping person enjoys dreams. The bliss of personal liberation, in which the soul manifests a spiritual body, is far greater. The desire of the liberated soul to enjoy is not materially motivated, for his pleasure is the mercy of the Supreme Lord." (Vs 4.4.13-14)