I have two questions – I hope they don’t sound silly.
Firstly, I just want to say that there is no such thing as a silly question – what is silly is that people sometimes don’t want to ask questions because they want others to think that they already know everything. That is silly and such people’s faith doesn’t grow because their doubts are hidden from view but not removed.
We don’t say doubts are bad, or “doubts are the work of the devil” or anything like that. Some spiritual teachers may say such things, but this is because they have no answers to certain questions, and are afraid to face their own doubts. Doubts and questions are stepping stones on the path towards God. They are important to deal with because if we pretend that they are not there, our faith will not grow. But when our questions are answered and our doubts are removed, our faith becomes stronger. This is actually the process that all sincere spiritual aspirants follow.
Question 1: My questions are about death and the gross body and the subtle material body. I have heard that when people die there are different ways to leave your body, through the ears, mouth, etc. But yogis can choose and leave their bodies through the cerebral hole. And each way takes you to a different dimension. So, what are the other dimensions? What happens if you go there? Is that the reason why ghosts exist?
Ways of Leaving the Gross Body
This is a good question – not silly at all. There are different holes – doors or gates – through which a person can leave their body. The material body is referred to in Bhagavad-gita [5:13] as the city of nine gates. In the Svetasvatara Upanishad 3:18 we find the following verse:
The Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is living within the body of a living entity, is the controller of all living entities all over the universe. The body consists of nine gates: two eyes, two nostrils, two ears, one mouth, the anus and the genital. The living entity in his conditioned stage identifies himself with the body, but when he identifies himself with the Lord within Himself, he becomes just as free as the Lord, even while in the body.
The anus and genitals are generally the exit points for souls in lower consciousness, and can lead to births in lower material planets or lower species of life. They correspond to the lower chakras. In most people the higher chakras are relatively inactive. The higher chakras are connected to the subtle material elements covering the soul, and the lower chakras are connected to the grosser material elements. So, according to our consciousness, we tend to leave our bodies through lower or higher gates.
There are innumerable planets within each material universe, like the one we are in, and according to our karma and our consciousness, we can go to a lower or hellish planet where people go temporarily to work off their bad karma, a middle planet like planet earth where people can experience predominantly bad or good karma, or a mixture of both. Or people can leave through the higher exit doors like the mouth, ears, eyes, nostrils etc.
So, people in a higher consciousness and with better karma may go to a higher or heavenly planet. These are still material planets within the material universe. By heavenly, we are not referring to the spiritual world where God – Krishna – resides. The heavenly planets within the material universe have a much greater degree of material happiness and virtually no suffering, but living there is still only temporary and souls will eventually fall down to an earthly planet again when their good karma runs out. And the happiness there is still very limited and considered insignificant compared to the unlimited bliss experienced by those who love Krishna.
According to their karma, all living entities are wandering throughout the entire universe. Some of them are being elevated to the upper planetary systems, and some of them are going down into the lower planetary systems. Out of many millions of wandering living entities, one who is very fortunate gets the opportunity to associate with a bona fide spiritual master by the grace of Krishna. By the mercy of both Krishna and the spiritual master, one gets the creeper of devotional service.
[Caitanya-caritamrta Madhya 19:151]
Every star we see in the sky is a planet where there are living beings in different types of bodies suitable for the various atmospheric environments of that planet. Souls on these planets experience different degrees of material happiness and distress. All of these planets or dimensions are made of Krishna’s separated material energies: earth, water, fire, air ether, mind, intelligence or false ego – or various combinations of these material elements. There are souls living even on the sun, where the living beings have fiery bodies. The Bhagavad-gita tells us that souls are all-pervading – found everywhere – in the material universes.
For those yogis who want to go to the impersonal brahman effulgence, the vast ocean of spiritual light rays that makes up the outer circumference of the spiritual world, the goal of their meditation and spiritual practices is to raise the life force up the sushumna, a subtle energy channel or tunnel leading from the base of the spine to the top of the head. Sometimes you hear of people’s near-death experiences, where they report travelling at great speed through a tunnel of light. This is the sushumna.
For a yogi proficient in astanga or kundalini yoga, as the life force moves through the chakras which are situated along the sushumna, it picks up the soul who is situated in the heart chakra, and propels her up to the cerebral hole or crown chakra at the top of the head. Yogis have various techniques by which they can block off the various doors so that they don’t exit before the crown chakra, and a yogi has to be very expert or he may blast out of the wrong door. If Krishna allows, the soul can at this point leave the body through the crown chakra and simultaneously pass through the outer layers of the material universe, to merge into the “ocean of light” as the Brahmajyoti is called.
This is only a temporary form of liberation, as there is no awareness of oneself as an individual or of others as individuals. For one in the formless Brahman effulgence, there is only oneness. And because there is no awareness of Krishna or ourselves in the Brahman effulgence, there is no possibility of experiencing the natural love of the soul. And as love is the nature of the soul, the souls merged in the Brahman effulgence will eventually fall down to the material world. This is because the soul’s loving propensity and active nature are not fulfilled in the Brahman effulgence. Souls in the ocean of light are unable to pass through the Brahman and enter the spiritual planet where Krishna resides, because they have no love for Him. They have no awareness of Him when in the merged condition. So, their desire to love others, to have relationships, forces them back down into the material universes.
Meditation on the impersonal Brahman effulgence is definitely not recommended by Krishna in Bhagavad-gita. Krishna describes in the Bhagavad-gita that He is the basis of the Brahman effulgence – this vast ocean of spiritual light rays is coming from Krishna – it is His bodily aura or halo. But Krishna does not want us to practice this type of yoga meditation because He wants us to love Him and come home to Him. In Bhagavad-gita, Krishna encourages all souls to meditate upon His personal form in a mood of loving affection:
Arjuna inquired: Which is considered to be more perfect, those who are properly engaged in Your devotional service, or those who worship the impersonal Brahman, the unmanifested? The Blessed Lord said: He whose mind is fixed on My personal form, always engaged in worshiping Me with great and transcendental faith, is considered by Me to be most perfect.
The mystic yoga system can be used to develop mystic powers, or to merge with the Brahman effulgence. But originally, this system – as taught by Patanjali and by Krishna in Bhagavad-gita – was meant to focus on and experience the Paramatma or Lord in the Heart. Lord Paramatma would then give the successful yogi further wisdom to go beyond the ocean of light and enter the spiritual planets where Krishna and His expansions reside. But whatever the desired result of the astanga/kundalini yoga systems, this form of meditation is extremely difficult and not recommended for the modern age. This subject is covered in more depth in my essay called Yoga for the Modern Age.
Those yogis who are attempting to transcend the material world through the mystic yoga process as taught by Patanjali and summarized by Krishna in the sixth chapter of the Bhagavad-gita, are relying on their own strength, physical prowess and mental determination to enter the spiritual world. They perform great austerities: sitting in silent meditation in a solitary place for many hours each day, controlling their senses, renouncing family life and human companionship, practising celibacy, fasting etc. without a mobile phone. On being taught this system of mystic yoga meditation by Krishna, Arjuna said:
O Madhusudana, the system of yoga you have summarized appears impractical and unendurable to me, for the mind is restless and unsteady. For the mind is restless, turbulent, obstinate and very strong, O Krishna, and to subdue it is, it seems to me, more difficult than controlling the wind.
So, this system of kundalini yoga, of struggling to raise the life force through the various chakras, performing incredible austerities etc. is not recommended or possible for all but a very few rare men in the present age of Kali yuga. But the bhakti-yogi does not rely on his own strength or mental determination. He simply relies on Krishna. He does not have to worry about which of the nine gates through which he leaves his body, whether it is an astrologically auspicious time etc. The mystic yogis are trying to enter the spiritual world by their own mystic power. But Arjuna refers to Krishna in Bhagavad-gita as Yogesvara – the master of all mystic power. The bhakti-yogi does not have to rely on his own mystic power. He simply worships Krishna and puts his life in Krishna’s hands, knowing that the Lord who is all-powerful and all-loving will protect and look after him.
For one who worships Me, giving up all his activities unto Me and being devoted to Me without deviation, engaged in devotional service and always meditating upon Me, who has fixed his mind upon Me, O son of Prtha, for him I am the swift deliverer from the ocean of birth and death.
So, a devotee of Krishna, one who is chanting Krishna’s names and trying to develop his relationship with Krishna, does not have to concern himself about these other dimensions, these various holes or gates to different parts of the universe. Krishna is saying here that if you are devoted to Him, endeavouring to develop your love for Krishna, Krishna Himself will come at the time of death and deliver you from the ocean of birth and death. You don’t have to concern yourself with trying to be a great mystic yogi and performing great austerities to raise the life force up the chakras, or worry about what door you leave the body from – it’s so difficult – but simply chant Krishna’s names and help His representative, his pure devotee, and Krishna and His perfect devotee will look after you. A devotee can relax and know that they are in Krishna’s hands and He will protect and maintain them and bring them home to Him.
After attaining Me, the great souls, who are yogis in devotion, never return to this temporary world, which is full of miseries, because they have attained the highest perfection. From the highest planet in the material world down to the lowest, all are places of misery wherein repeated birth and death take place. But one who attains to My abode, O son of Kunti, never takes birth again.
Question 2: From my reading, I understand the difference between the gross and subtle material bodies, and how when you die you still take with you the subtle material body that includes the mind, intelligence and false ego. Does this mean that the intelligence is bad? Or is it just bad in the way we use it, when it is from the false ego or from the materialistic point or view? So, does this mean that we will always have the intelligence? Even enlightened people?
Krishna says in Bhagavad-gita:
Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego – altogether these comprise My separate material energies. Beyond this inferior nature, O mighty armed Arjuna, there is a superior energy of Mine – the living beings who are struggling with material nature and are sustaining the universe.
In the spiritual world, the liberated souls are loving Krishna and enjoying pastimes with Him face to face. Just as Krishna has a spiritual [non-material] form, they too have eternal spiritual forms, called the swarup. And this spiritual form is determined by our particular flavour of relationship with Krishna. It may be as a cowherd girl or one of Krishna’s cowherd boy buddies, or of one who loves Krishna with a parental-like affection etc. These different relationships we can have with Krishna, called rasas, are described in Srila Bhaktivedanta Swami’s wonderful book called “The Nectar of Devotion.”
So, just as the conditioned soul trapped in the material world is covered by a material body which is an inferior imitation of the spiritual forms of the spiritual world, so the materially conditioned soul is also covered by the material mind or consciousness. This is also an imitation of the spiritual mind or consciousness of the liberated souls loving Krishna in the spiritual world.
In the material world, the mind and body are separate from the spirit soul – she is spiritual and eternal but they are material and temporary. However, in the spiritual world, the body and mind or consciousness are eternal, spiritual and inseparable from the soul. The soul who loves Krishna consists of an eternal spiritual form and consciousness – there is no separation. So, in the spiritual world one can serve Krishna with their spiritual form, which is full of eternity, knowledge and bliss, without the imperfections of disease, old age and death. And they can meditate on Krishna with perfect spiritual intelligence, without confusion, ignorance, fear or anxiety – constantly thinking of Him in great love and happiness.
So, while we are here in the material world, we are covered by a material body and a material mind. They are certainly not as good as what we will have when we are liberated and living in the spiritual world. But we have to make the best use of a bad bargain, and use the material energies that are covering us in Krishna’s service. As Krishna has stated in the above verses:
Earth, water, fire, air, ether, mind, intelligence and false ego – altogether these comprise My separated material energies.
Not only are our material body, mind and intelligence etc. not us – they don’t even belong to us. They are Krishna’s material energies. And we are Krishna’s superior or spiritual energy. So as long as we are living for ourselves, we are actually stealing from the Lord. And a thief can never be peaceful because he knows that what he has taken from others can one day be taken from him. So, our intelligence, if we use it for our own material benefit or pleasure will only lead to suffering. Who is there who can take the fruits of his material intelligence with him when he dies? Our material attachments simply lead to suffering:
Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.
For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.
[1 John 2:16-17]
So, while we are covered by a material body and mind, we can use Krishna’s energy in Krishna’s service – what Krishna has given us we give back to Him. Otherwise we are thieves. It is not possible for the leaf to flourish if it is watered directly. If we want the leaf to be nourished, we must water the root of the tree, and then all of the individual leaves will receive the benefit. So, Krishna is the root of all existence and we can only be happy by serving Him. And how do we do that – by using the body, mind and intelligence He has temporarily loaned us. And the more our heart is purified and the more we want to serve Krishna, then the more He will provide us with the intelligence, how to please Him.
Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita that He is “the intelligence in man.” And He is:
the self-sufficient Philosopher Who is fulfilling everyone’s desires since time immemorial.
[Sri Isopanisad mantra 8]
When a person desires to achieve something in the material world, it is Krishna within his heart who gives him the intelligence to achieve his goals. And when we turn our desires towards pleasing Krishna, He gives us the intelligence to know how best to please Him. But when we die, if we are attached to Krishna and attain our original spiritual form, our swarup, we leave behind our material body, our material mind, our material intelligence. But we are not without spiritual intelligence at this time. Spiritual intelligence – how to please Krishna – is part of the intrinsic nature of the soul and it is with us for all eternity.
To those who are constantly devoted and worship Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me. Out of compassion for them, I, dwelling in their hearts, destroy with the shining lamp of knowledge the darkness born of ignorance.
The stage of perfection is called trance, or samadhi, when one’s mind is completely restrained from material mental activities by practice of yoga. This is characterized by one’s ability to see the self by the pure mind and to relish and rejoice in the self. In that joyous state, one is situated in boundless transcendental happiness and enjoys himself through transcendental senses. Established thus, one never departs from the truth, and upon gaining this he thinks there is no greater gain. Being situated in such a position, one is never shaken, even in the midst of greatest difficulty. This indeed is actual freedom from all miseries arising from material contact.
Srila Bhaktivedanta swami has stated in the purport to this verse:
… one becomes situated in trance, or samadhi, which means that the yogi realizes the Supersoul (Lord in the heart) through transcendental mind and intelligence, …
… in this verse transcendental pleasure – realized through transcendental senses, is accepted. And that is corroborated by Patanjali Muni, the famous exponent of the yoga system … This chiti-sakti, or internal (enlightening) potency (of the Lord), is transcendental.
[From purport to Bhagavad-gita 6:20-23]
In the fourth canto of Srimad Bhagavatam, we find the story of Dhruva Maharaja, a young boy who left the royal palace of his father, and went to the forest to find God. Although young and lacking in spiritual knowledge, Dhruva showed incredible determination in following the instructions of Narada Muni, and meditated on the Vishnu form of the Lord within his heart. Lord Vishnu became pleased with Dhruva, and appeared to him, first within his heart, and then standing outside the young boy.
Upon seeing the Lord, Dhruva experienced great ecstasy, and love awakened in his heart. Dhruva at this time wished to offer appropriate prayers to the Lord, but was unable until the Lord, understanding Dhruva’s desire, touched the boy’s forehead with His conch shell. Immediately, Dhruva “became perfectly aware of the Vedic conclusion and understood the Absolute Truth and His relationship with all living entities.”
The form of the Lord, which was brilliant like lightning and in which Dhruva Maharaja, in his mature yogic process, was fully absorbed in meditation, all of a sudden disappeared. … When Dhruva Maharaja saw his Lord just in front of him, he was greatly agitated and offered Him obeisances and respect. He fell flat before Him like a rod and became absorbed in love of Godhead. Dhruva Maharaja, in ecstasy, looked upon the Lord as if he were drinking the Lord with his eyes, kissing the lotus feet of the Lord with his mouth, and embracing the Lord with his arms.
Although Dhruva Maharaja was a small boy, he wanted to offer prayers to the Supreme Personality of Godhead in suitable language. But because he was inexperienced, he could not adjust himself immediately. The Supreme Personality of Godhead, being situated in everyone’s heart, could understand Dhruva Maharaja’s awkward position. Out of His causeless mercy He touched His conchshell to the forehead of Dhruva Maharaja, who stood before Him with folded hands. At that time Dhruva Maharaja became perfectly aware of the Vedic conclusion and understood the Absolute Truth and His relationship with all living entities. …
[Srimad Bhagavatam 4:9:2-5]
So from this story, we can understand that when a person has love for Krishna, he will not be lacking in spiritual knowledge and intelligence. This is also confirmed in the first canto of Srimad Bhagavatam:
By rendering devotional service unto the Personality of Godhead, Sri Krishna, one immediately acquires causeless knowledge and detachment from the world.
[Srimad Bhagavatam 1:2:7]
The soul is described in Vedic teachings as having the qualities of sat, chit and ananda. Sat means eternality. Chit means complete wisdom. And ananda means blissfulness. So although we leave our material mind and intelligence behind upon entering the spiritual world, we will not be without transcendental mind and intelligence. We will know whatever we need to know.
You have also asked in your question about ghosts – why they exist. I have included the answer to another person’s question here as it answers your question.
Family Members in Ghostly Bodies
Question: From the day my mother died, I have dreamed about her 4 or 5 times now and each time, before I went to bed, I could feel chills because I felt someone in the room. And outside it was very windy, the cat cries, the rooster crows all the time even though it’s only 11pm. I have never experienced this before and it got me really scared and I find it difficult to fall asleep. Maybe I imagine or miss my mum so much. Usually I picture my mum as sad and miserable, but yesterday … I heard my mum say she was very healthy, her face was pink and wrinkled and she told me I should “make a new altar for the god of wealth and the god of the land at home and often make offerings on the altar.”
Maybe because I imagined or I’m thinking too much, or maybe because she died suddenly, that the family members are still attached to her, or is it possible she has become a ghost and still has not reincarnated into a new body? If so, still a ghost, then I have to make her to rest, I also chant and wish spiritual life to give her peace. … Could this be the reason why I’m seeing her in my dreams so often? Because just last night she came again and told me to pay respects and do an offering to her. … Can you please help me to understand this as I’m worried and at times I’m scared of her because I don’t want her to have a ghostly body hanging around.
Firstly, please accept my condolences – I am very sorry for your loss. Yes, it sounds like your mother is hanging around in her subtle or ghostly body. Sometimes this happens. Generally, at the time of death, the soul, covered by the subtle material body or mind which contains the desires and attachments cultivated during that lifetime, will take another material body in order to fulfill those desires. However, under certain circumstances, the soul covered by the subtle body will remain in the location where they lived or where those who they are attached to are now dwelling.
There are a number of reasons for this occurring. If someone commits suicide or dies on drugs they will remain as a ghost until the time they were meant to leave their previous body. This is not the reason why your mother is still around, however, from what you have said. Another reason someone will remain as a ghost and not move on is because they are very attached to their home or to a family member or loved one, which seems to be the case here. This is especially likely in a society and culture where people are very close to their families and worship their ancestors and departed ones. These practices tend to encourage departed family members to stick around.
If a person becomes a ghost, this does not mean they have become evil or that we should be afraid of them. If the person was a nice person in their life, then they will still be nice as a ghost. And if they were a bad person, then they may use their situation as a ghost to cause fear and annoy embodied people. So, I am sure your mother wishes you well. However, being in a ghostly body is generally a frustrating situation to be in because that person still has their material desires, but does not have a body to fulfill those desires. They desire to taste certain foods they love, but have no tongue or belly. They desire to hold and talk to their loved ones, but are unable to do so. So being in a ghost body is considered to be a suffering condition.
Some people like to hold seances or communicate with ghosts. They even accept them as their guru and worship them. This is called worship in the mode of ignorance. They think that because God or the Absolute Truth is a mystery to them, that therefore anything mysterious must be from God, or must be the truth. However, if a person was not an enlightened soul or self-realized person during this lifetime, they will not be enlightened as a ghost. So, we are strongly encouraged in the Vedas and by our spiritual masters to not accept a ghost as a guru. We aim to have love and compassion for all souls, including those trapped in a ghostly existence. But we should not follow their instructions if we receive them. Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita:
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.
There are certain things you can do to help your mother. You can play the chanting of our spiritual master for her to hear. Also, you can make an offering of food stuffs, flowers, incense etc. to Lord Krishna, and then have a picture of your mother on a small table and offer the prasadam to your mother – after it has first been offered to Lord Krishna. And of course, you should pray to Lord Krishna and to our spiritual master to help your mother.