Why the Demigods Want Birth on Earth
by Stephen Knapp
Sometimes I hear devotees or bhaktas, both young and old, accusing themselves of being slow or even stupid in attaining the right understanding on the importance of engaging in devotional service to Lord Krishna. It is as if they feel they are not making any progress, only due to their own faults. Naturally, there is no harm in being humble in their view of themselves. But we should also see the big picture and realize how far we have come just to have taken birth on this planet, and to be able to engage, in any degree, in the process of bhakti-yoga, and especially in the process of sankirtana-yajna, the chanting and singing of the holy names of Lord Krishna. It is explained that it takes many lives of pious activities just to come in contact with such books as the Srimad-Bhagavatam. It is either that or by the causeless mercy of a pure devotee who can supersede our karma and easily give it to us. So, we should look at the big picture and realize how far we have come on our journey to enlightenment. Maybe we are not doing so badly after all.
As Srila Prabhupada further explains (Bhag.5.19.28 purport), in order to have taken birth on this planet, we must have performed more pious activities than the demigods or residents of heaven. It is planet Earth which is the portal through which we can attain the spiritual world. It is especially in Bharata-varsha, India, where we can easily cultivate Krishna consciousness. However, as the pure devotee spreads the process of bhakti-yoga all over the globe, then the whole planet becomes an extension of the opportunities found in India. Therefore, Bharata-varsha and the whole planet Earth, especially those countries that allow for freedom of religion, can grant the means for the engagement in the devotional service of the Lord, especially under the guidance of a pure devotee, all of which is attained only by the accumulation of many pious credits.
To help understand this, we should take a look at how the demigods view their life in the heavenly worlds compared to how they view the great opportunity of life in Bharata-varsha, and what can be accomplished here. The Srimad-Bhagavatam provides a few choice verses that describe how the demigods view life on Earth.
“Since the human form of life is the sublime position for spiritual realization, all the demigods in heaven speak in this way: ‘How wonderful it is for these human beings to have been born in the land of Bharata-varsha. They must have executed pious acts of austerity in the past, or the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself must have been pleased with them. Otherwise, how could they engage in devotional service in so many ways? We demigods can only aspire to achieve human births in Bharata-varsha to execute devotional service, but these human beings are already engaged there.’” (Bhag. 5.19.21)
Actually, life in heaven can be a deterrent to attaining the real goal of life, in which case what is the use of such a life?
“The demigods continue: ‘After performing the very difficult tasks of executing Vedic ritualistic sacrifices, undergoing austerities, observing vows and giving charity, we have achieved this position as inhabitants of the heavenly planets. But what is the value of this achievement? Here we are certainly very engaged in material sense gratification, and therefore we can hardly remember the lotus feet of Lord Narayana. Indeed, because of our excessive sense gratification, we have almost forgotten His lotus feet.’” (Bhag. 5.19.22)
This means that a life in heaven is simply the continuation of the cycles of birth and death. One life may be up, full of pleasure, and another life down, full of miseries. When does this end?
“A short life in the land of Bharata-varsha is preferable to a life achieved in Brahmaloka for millions and billions of years because even if one is elevated to Brahmaloka, he must return to repeated birth and death. Although life in Bharata-varsha, in a lower planetary system, is very short, one who lives there can elevate himself to full Krishna consciousness and achieve the highest perfection, even in this short life, by fully surrendering unto the lotus feet of the Lord. Thus, one attains Vaikunthaloka, where there is neither anxiety nor repeated birth in a material body.” (Bhag.5.19.23)
“Bharata-varsha offers the proper land and circumstances in which to execute devotional service, which can free one from the results of jnana [mental speculation] and karma. If one obtains a human body in the land of Bharata-varsha, with clear sensory organs with which to execute the sankirtana-yajna, but in spite of this opportunity he does not take to devotional service, he is certainly like liberated forest animals and birds [having been freed from certain death by the hunter] that are careless and are therefore again bound by a hunter.” (Bhag.5.19.25)
In this way, the Earth is the best planet for spiritual development, and Bharata-varsha is the best place on planet Earth. In India everyone knows about Krishna. And there are many holy places to visit and associate with saintly people. However, I know of many people from India who did not take this opportunity seriously until they came to America and met the devotees of Krishna. Only then did they realize the value of their own Vedic heritage. So, now the opportunity found in Bharata-varsha exists everywhere on Earth. But it is up to the individual to take advantage of such an opportunity, as the demigods explain:
“An intelligent person does not take interest in a place, even in the topmost planetary system, if the pure Ganges of topics concerning the Supreme Lord’s activities does not flow there, if there are not devotees engaged in service on the banks of such a river of piety, or if there are no festivals of sankirtana-yajna to satisfy the Lord [especially since the sankirtana-yajna is recommended in this age of Kali-yuga].” (Bhag.5.19.24)
In this way, the benefits of life on Earth are so great that even the demigods pray that they may take birth on Earth to take advantage of the opportunity to remember the lotus feet of the Lord and engage in His service to reach the real perfection of existence. This is why we should count our blessings for what we have, and why even the demigods pray to take birth on planet Earth, especially in the age of Kali-yuga, because through only one short life of engaging in bhakti-yoga, Krishna consciousness, a person can become qualified to reach the spiritual world, as the demigods pray:
“We are now living in the heavenly planets, undoubtedly as a result of our having performed ritualistic ceremonies, pious activities and yajnas [rituals for pleasing the Lord], 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-varsha 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-varsha and expands the good fortune of its people.” (Bhag.5.19.28)
This should help impress us about the value that we have attained by some qualification or other, of human life on this planet. Therefore, now that we somehow find ourselves living on planet Earth, especially those who are living in India, we should make sure that we are not overly distracted toward engaging in anything other than developing our Krishna consciousness. This is what it takes to utilize this opportunity to its fullest degree and reach the highest purpose of existence, which is to ultimately attain the spiritual world of Vaikuntha or Goloka Vrindavana.
“After many, many births, when the results of one’s pious activities mature, one gets an opportunity to associate with pure devotees. Then one is able to cut the knot of bondage to ignorance, which bound him because of varied fruitive activities. As a result of associating with devotees, one gradually renders service to Lord Vasudev, who is transcendental, free from attachment to the material world, beyond the mind and words, and independent of everything else. That bhakti-yoga, devotional service to Lord Vasudev, is the real path of liberation.” (Bhag.5.19.20)
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