When I was a young boy we lived in a suburb of Sydney that had recently been all bushland. Behind our house and the houses of my friends was a creek and a large area of bush, and I spent a lot of my childhood playing in the bush and along the creek. We’d make forts and tree houses in the bush, and make things out of clay we dug up from the bank of the creek. We would often spend half a day making toy soldiers out of clay, with helmets or caps and nails or sticks for rifles. We’d dig forts for them in the earth and place them as if they were defending it. Then we would spend the afternoon taking turns to shoot them with air rifles, shanghais or cracker cannons that shot marbles or ball bearings.
We would often take food with us and stay out all day playing. Sometimes we made little boats with sails and floated them down the creek. Being boys, we eventually bombed them with rocks to sink them. Sometimes we made dams to widen and deepen the creek, and made canoes out of corrugated iron and kerosene drum rafts and floated around in them. At other times we crushed red rocks and purple berries we found in the creek, and made paint which we used to paint our bodies like Native American war-paint. We made bows and arrows and various other weapons. We made guns that shot rocks, guns that shot sky rockets, and did a lot of other dangerous things which I won’t mention. We’d catch tadpoles, frogs, and little fish we called mud gudgeons, which we kept in jars in our rooms. We also caught golden Christmas beetles, which we played with for a while before letting them go. We climbed trees, made swings and played various ball games.
On the weekend and during the holidays I went down to the creek and met my friends, and we played together in the bush. For the first twelve years of my life I spent much of my time in this way, playing with my friends. I can still remember the last day of the school holidays before I started high school. I was twelve years old, as were most of my friends. At the end of the day it was time to go home and we all felt very sad. One of us said, “We won’t be able to do this now we’re in high school,” and we all agreed that this would be the last time we’d play as children down at the creek.
We felt that we now had to grow up, become more mature and serious, and we had a feeling of loss in our hearts – that our childhood was now over. Sometimes, many years later, I would dream that I was wandering along the creek bank, or sitting under the willow trees.
Once I was in high-school, I had a lot less free time, and gradually the pressures of life started to build up. The sheer weight of schoolwork, homework and exams destroyed any interest I might have had in learning. The expectations of parents, teachers, and society seemed immense and unattainable at times.
Life became far more complicated and less fun, and I gradually realized that the things I thought would make me happy were actually the source of anxiety and pain. When I grew up I found that responsibilities weighed heavily on an adult’s head and heart. We think we will be happy being married and having a family, but the responsibility of caring for others, feeding, clothing and housing a family, money problems and relationship problems all took their toll.
People work so hard in the material world just to survive – to house, feed, clothe and raise their families, trying to fulfil everyone’s endless material desires. Life is an endless struggle, and when or if they are finally able to retire they think, “Now I can finally enjoy life.” But they find that they are too old or too unwell to do the things they always wanted to do – they just don’t have the energy. They go bungee jumping and break their hip. And then they get cancer or their wife has a stroke, or they have a triple bypass operation, or they get dementia and can’t remember who they are or recognise any of their loved ones. Or they cannot manage living at home, and end up in a nursing home.
No matter how positive we are about our chances of happiness in the material world, the reality is that it is always a place of misery. Adults often think back to their childhood as “the best days of my life” – a time of innocence, freedom and fun without responsibility. Of course, this isn’t always the case – some children also have great suffering and insecurity in their lives. Often as they get old, people retreat into a world of reminiscence about the past, and may even end up thinking that they are young again – either a child or newly wed etc. They want to return to the days when life was more fun or when they were first in love. The son comes to visit his mother, and she thinks he’s her young husband.
Old people love to watch children playing – it takes them back to those more carefree days of their childhood and youth. There is a saying, “All work and no play, makes Jack a dull boy.” And factually, the material world is a very dull place – so dull, that most adults feel that the only way they can cope with the boredom and emptiness is to get drunk or stoned – they call this getting “merry” or getting “high.” But no one is really satisfied, and most are miserable. I remember thinking surely there must be more to life than this.
But then I had the great fortune of meeting my spiritual masters and coming to know about Krishna. I read the KRSNA Book by Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami and realized that it is possible to have great fun for all eternity, that God is the most lovable, the most playful, that He is the source of all fun. That desire for fun and games is part of the eternal nature and function of the spirit souls. The spiritual world simply revolves around loving and playing. Loving Krishna and all other souls, and playing with Krishna and His friends. It’s all fun and games. There’s no burden of responsibility, no one has to do some job they hate in order to get money to buy food or pay the rent. Anything they desire immediately appears – the trees there are called “kalpa-vriksha” or desire trees, and they produce any food you like. The spiritual world is made of spiritual gems called cintamani – touchstone – which fulfils all desires. The Brahma samhita states:
I worship Govinda, the primeval Lord, the first progenitor who is tending the cows, yielding all desire, in abodes built with spiritual gems, surrounded by millions of purpose trees, always served with great reverence and affection by hundreds of thousands of lakshmis or gopis.
[Brahma samhita 5:29]
In the purport to this verse, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati states:
By the word cintamani is meant “transcendental gem.” Just as Maya builds this mundane universe with the five material elements, so the spiritual (cit) potency has built the spiritual world of transcendental gems. The cintamani which serves as material in the building of the abode of the Supreme Lord of Goloka, is a far rarer and more agreeable entity than the philosopher’s stone. The purpose tree yields only the fruits of piety, wealth, fulfilment of desire and liberation; but the purpose trees in the abode of Krishna bestow innumerable fruits in the shape of checkered divine love. Kama-dhenus (cows yielding the fulfilment of desire) give milk when they are milked; but the kama-dhenus of Goloka pour forth oceans of milk in the shape of the fountain of love showering transcendental bliss that does away with the hunger and thirst of all pure devotees. …
No one in the spiritual world grows old, gets sick or dies. No one is too fat or too skinny – everyone is transcendentally beautiful. Everyone is already full of knowledge – they don’t have to study and do homework to cram the facts into their overfilled brain. Everyone loves everyone else – there’s no envy, jealousy or bullying. Everyone is soft hearted and full of kindness. No one feels left out or lonely – everyone feels loved. In this world maybe our best friend gets a new friend and we feel left out, but in the spiritual world everyone feels that they are the most-dear to Krishna, and everyone is also loved and respected by all other residents of the spiritual world.
By comparison, this world is totally crappy, and we would all be very foolish if we were to give up the chance that Lord Chaitanya and His representative are offering us to go back home. Basically, all we have to do to go home to the spiritual world is to chant the names of Krishna and be kind to Krishna’s children. It’s not that difficult to do and we are incredibly fortunate to know what we know – we have been given the greatest gift – how to have fun eternally. We can never feel at home or really happy anywhere else but with Krishna and His friends.
There is a wonderful book called Sri Brihad-Bhagavatamrta by Srila Sanatan Goswami. The following excerpts describe the happiness of two long lost cowherd boys, Janasarma and Sarupa, on their return to the spiritual world:
With a wonderful sound from His mouth, Krishna had the cows drink water, and with a signal from His flute He called them together. After making the cows sit in comfortable places, He and His elder brother played in the water with the two of them (Sarupa and Janasarma) and with His other friends. Sometimes, as His friends splashed water, He defeated them with splashes. And sometimes the Lord, who is expert at playing, enjoyed His own defeat. Making delightful splashing sounds, and swimming sometimes with and sometimes against Sri Yamuna’s currents, He enjoyed many wonderful pastimes.
Sometimes, submerging His body in the dark waters of the Yamuna and placing His face in a vast forest of blue lotuses, playful Krishna hid, unseen by anyone. (Srila Sanatan Goswami explains that Krishna’s body was hidden by the dark water and His face was unrecognisable among the blue lotuses.) Searching and not finding Him, His grief-stricken friends wept terribly. Laughing as He emerged from the forest of lotuses, happy Krishna played with His friends, their eyes wide with a flood of happiness. He decorated them with water-flower garlands strung on lotus stems and they also decorated Him. Then they came out of the water.
To enjoy lunch, He had the gopas make many circles on the broad shore of the Yamuna, and He placed His elder brother in the middle. (This is explained in S.B. 10:12:1). Wonderfully going here and there among them as if playfully dancing, He enjoyed serving them the many wonderful foods they had brought from home. Then He served them, as they wished, the fruits they playfully gathered from the wonderful and splendid Vrindavan trees, which always bear the fruits and flowers of every season. He served them mangoes, talas, bilvas, badaras, amalakas, coconuts, panasas, grapes, bananas, nagarangas, kariras, kharjuras, pomegranates, and other sweet, ripe fruits. To please them, He took a little from each one.
Sitting next to each one, the infallible Lord both fed and ate. (Srila Sanatan Goswami explains that Krishna sat next to each boy. Each boy thought that Krishna was sitting next to him alone.) Tasting everything and deciding what was the most delicious, each boy would respectfully offer it to Krishna, praising it, and placing it with his own hand in Krishna’s mouth. Tasting the delicious food, joking, and making funny faces, Krishna charmed them and made them laugh. Drinking, and giving them to drink many kinds of bitter and sweet nectar drinks, the Lord who is expert at enjoying many kinds of happy pastimes, pleased all the gopas.
Then He chewed fragrant betel-nuts mixed with camphor and brought from home, and He also chewed betel-nuts and betel leaves found in the forest. Then He took and distributed the wonderful garlands His friends made of tulasi, malati, jati, mallika, kunda, kubjaka, lavanga, ketaki, jhinti, karavira, the two kinds of satapatri, palasa, navamalli, odra, damanaka, kadamba, nipa, bakula, naga, punnaga, campaka, kutaja, asoka, mandara, karnikara, asana, arjuna, patala, priyaka, and many other flowers and their leaves.
Then He anointed His limbs with powder made from sandal, aguru, musk, kunkuma, and other fragrant things brought from the forest. (Srila Sanatan Goswami explains that the boys crushed these things with stones and made a powder that was then added to water to make a paste.) Then, in a beautiful forest grove scented with fragrant flowers and pleasant with humming bees, on an excellent bed made of new soft leaves and flowers, served by boys expert in combing and decorating His hair, singing, and massaging His lotus hands and feet, reciting prayers, and fanning Him, and with the body of a dear friend named Sridama as His soft pillow, He slept.
With hundreds of different playlets and funny expressions on His lotus face, He won over the discriminating audience of His friends, who were expert in comedy, and made them happy. In this way He and Balarama enjoyed many happy pastimes. By sounding signals on His flute and horn, making the cows stand up and walk, He enjoyed pastimes near Govardhana Hill. With each boy eagerly claiming, “I am first!” they decorated Him with wonderful and colourful forest ornaments according to His own wish. (Srila Sanatan Goswami gives haritala tilaka, a peacock feather crown, and a gunja necklace as examples of these forest ornaments. Then, placing the newcomer, the brahmana now named Janasarma, in Sarupa’s hand, Krishna, who gives happiness to Vraja, enjoyed the pastime of entering the gopa village at evening.
O you who, by Lord Gopinatha’s mercy, have become a great saint, reflecting on it please accept this answer to your question (Maharaja Pariksit is here speaking of his mother, Uttara). Mother, please try with a great effort to go to Sri Goloka, which is a deep ocean of the greatest transcendental bliss. Simply by going there, one is able to enjoy many sublimely sweet and blissful pastimes with the Lord. These pastimes are not always manifested to one who simply goes to Mathura-mandala on the earth. However, they will be manifested to one who is flooded with the mercy of a devotee dear to the Lord. Therefore, O mother, please take the dust of they who are dear to the Lord.
O mother, by describing Goloka, which brings eternal love for the Lord’s glorious lotus feet touched by the glory of the kunkuma on the gopis’ breasts, I have answered your sweet profound question and I have dispelled your doubts. Far above Vaikuntha, Goloka is splendidly manifest. It is attained only by a flood of love for the feet of the gopis’ handsome lover. It gives a great result beyond what one can desire. It gives a treasure of spiritual love to they who meditate on it.
[Sri Brihad-Bhagavatamrta ch.7]
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