On learning that the material world is not our real home,
we naturally wonder, “How did we get here?”
When we hear that we live in this material world because we are “fallen souls,” it’s natural for us to ask, “Where have we fallen from?”
Srila Prabhupada says that as living souls we are all originally Krishna conscious. But what does that mean? Were we all originally with Krishna in the spiritual world? And if so, how could we ever have fallen? In Bhagavad-gita Lord Krishna says, “Once you attain to that spiritual world, you never fall.” So how then could we have fallen from there to begin with?
Some have tried to work around this problem by suggesting a different idea: We fell not from Krishna’s personal abode but from the brahmajyoti, the effulgent light that surrounds it. As stated in Srimad-Bhagavatam, yogis who seek the impersonal aspect of the Supreme may merge into that effulgent light—only to fall back later to the material world. Perhaps, then, we originally fell from the brahmajyoti.
Srila Prabhupada rejected this idea. Those in the brahmajyoti, he wrote, are not Krishna conscious, so they too are fallen. “So there is no question of falling down from a fallen condition. When fall takes place, it means falling down from the non-fallen condition.”
Well, then, since we’re called “eternally conditioned,” eternally illusioned, perhaps we’ve never really fallen at all—we’ve just always been down.
That idea, too, Srila Prabhupada rejected. “Eternally conditioned,” he explained, simply means that we’ve been down so long that when we fell is no longer possible to know.
Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura, three generations before Srila Prabhupada in the line of spiritual teachers, put it this way: “Please avoid the misleading question ‘When were these jivas [living beings] created and enthralled?’ The Mayik time has no existence in spiritual history, because it has its commencement after the enthrallment of jivas, and you cannot, therefore, employ Mayik chronology in matters like these.”
“The Relationship is Eternal”
Here, then, is how Srila Prabhupada described our original state and the way we fall and leave it.
“Constitutionally,” he said in one letter, “every living entity, even if he is in the Vaikunthaloka [the personal spiritual abode of the Lord], has a chance of falling down. Therefore the living entity is called marginal energy.”
“Usually,” he explained, “anyone who has developed his relationship with Krishna does not fall down in any circumstance, but because the independence is always there, the soul may fall down from any position or any relationship by misuse of his independence.”
In another letter, Srila Prabhupada gave further insights. “We are always with Krishna. Where is Krishna not present?” But “when we forget this fact we are far, far away from Him. In the Isopanisad it is clearly stated, tad dure tad v antike: ‘He is very far away, but He is very near as well.’ (Isopanisad, Mantra Five). So this forgetfulness is our falldown. It can take place at any moment, and we can counteract this forgetfulness immediately by rising to the platform of Krishna consciousness.”
Our relationship with Krishna is never lost, Srila Prabhupada said. “Simply it is forgotten by the influence of maya. So it may be regained or revived by the process of hearing the holy name of Krishna, and then the devotee engages himself in the service of the Lord which is his original or constitutional position. The relationship of the living entity with Krishna is eternal, as both Krishna and the living entity are eternal; the process is one of revival only, nothing new.”
In still another letter, Srila Prabhupada restated this in yet another way: “We are all originally situated on the platform of Krishna consciousness in our eternal personal relationship of love of Krishna. But due to forgetfulness we become familiar with the material world, or maya.” But when we chant the Hare Krishna mantra sincerely and without offense, our original Krishna consciousness is at once revived. “So naturally everything about Krishna is originally known to us all, and as soon as we begin to associate with the devotees of the Lord and chant His holy name, this memory gradually becomes stronger as we remember our constitutional position of always serving Krishna in different ways.”
Our separation from Krishna, Srila Prabhupada taught, is like a dream. We dream, “I am this body,” and we dream of happiness in material relationships. This dreaming condition is our non-liberated state. But although this state of dreaming may seem to last for lifetimes, as soon as we become Krishna conscious we awaken, and the dream at once disappears. “After millions and millions of years of keeping oneself away from the lila [pastimes] of the Lord, when one comes to Krishna consciousness this period becomes insignificant, like dreaming.”
Don’t Figure It Out—Get Out
Ultimately, Srila Prabhupada would stress, puzzling over when we fell or where we fell from won’t solve our problem. “The conclusion is that whatever may be our past, let us come to Krishna consciousness and immediately join Krishna.”
Again: “One should know he is in conditioned life and try to cure it. . . . Forgetfulness of Krishna is the disease, so let us keep ourselves always in Krishna consciousness and get out of the disease. That is healthy life.”
Still again: “Rather than taking account of how things happened that [we] came here, our best occupation is to get out of the scene by constantly chanting Hare Krishna and being engaged in the transcendental service of Lord Krishna.”
The advice is clear enough. But still the intellect hangs on, trying to figure out what can’t be figured out. So we delve into books to find out what was taught by other great acaryas (spiritual teachers) of the past. And what do we find? Different teachers—all Krishna conscious—seem to express different views. So then what? We take sides with one view or another, or simply become confused. Our mental circuits start to burn out.
Srila Prabhupada’s spiritual master, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, therefore gave this advice. We should avoid, he said, “vain empirical wranglings,” which he called “false and full of specious verbosity.” He reminds us, “What the unalloyed devotee of the Supreme Lord says is all true and is independent of any consideration of unwholesome pros and cons.”
When such pure devotees disagree, he says, there is “the element of mystery in their verbal controversies.” And “those whose judgment is made of mundane stuff” can’t “enter into the spirit of the all-loving controversies among pure devotees.” Lacking pure devotion, such people “are apt to impute to the devotees their own defects of partisanship and opposing views.” Therefore, he counsels, whenever such disputes arise about the pastimes of the Lord, we should remember what was taught by Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu and His associates the Gosvamis, “that the Truth Absolute is ever characterized by spiritual variegatedness that transcends the variegatedness of mundane phenomena; but He is never featureless.”
Endless Arguments: Maya’s Trick
The Mahabharata tells us that we can’t know the truth simply by logic and arguments (tarko ‘pratistah). Acintyah khalu ye bhava na tams tarkena yojayet: “There’s no use arguing over that which is inconceivable.” After all, it’s inconceivable.
Srila B.R. Sridhara Maharaja, one of Srila Prabhupada’s godbrothers, respected for his deep philosophical realization, used to stress the same point, one of his followers told us. Repeatedly asked about where the living beings fell from, Srila Sridhara Maharaja grew weary of the question. “Why do you always ask about the most difficult thing to understand?” he once responded. “Why not try to understand the most easy thing?” That is: how to become Krishna conscious and go back to Godhead.
Pure devotees of Krishna avoid endless arguments. Such devotees know that such arguments are merely another distraction offered by maya. As stated in Srimad-Bhagavatam (6.4.31):
yac-chaktayo vadatam vadinam vai
kurvanti caisam muhur atma-moham
tasmai namo ’nanta-gunaya bhumne
“Let me offer my respectful obeisances unto the all-pervading Supreme Personality of Godhead, who has unlimited transcendental qualities. Acting from within the cores of the hearts of all philosophers, who propagate various views, He makes them forget their own souls while sometimes agreeing and sometimes disagreeing among themselves. Thus He creates within this material world a situation in which they are unable to come to a conclusion. I offer my obeisances unto Him.”
Therefore, the student in transcendental science is best advised to simply accept what has been accepted by his own bona fide Krishna conscious acarya, or spiritual master. As Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura says, “It is a great offense to disrespect the acarya and to seek to establish a different doctrine in opposition to him.”
The Crow-and-Fruit Philosophy
To illustrate the uselessness of arguing about where the soul fell from, Srila Prabhupada once gave the example of the crow and the fruit of an Indian palm, the tal fruit. On the top of a tree was a nice tal fruit. A crow went there and the fruit fell down. Some learned scholars saw this and began discussing. The fruit fell because the crow shook the limb, one said. No, said another, as the crow was landing the fruit happened to fall. This frightened the crow, so the crow flew away. No, said a third, the fruit was ripe, and the weight of the crow’s landing broke the fruit from the branch. . . .
“What is the use of such discussion?” Srila Prabhupada said.
Whether we came from Krishna’s pastimes or from some other spiritual source, Srila Prabhupada said, “at the present you are in neither. So the best policy is to develop your Krishna consciousness and go there [to Krishna], never mind what is your origin.”
“At the present moment you are in maya’s clutches,” he wrote, “so our only hope is to become Krishna conscious and go back to home, back to Godhead.”
Don’t waste time with the crow-and-tal-fruit logic, Srila Prabhupada advised. “Now the fruit is there. Take it and enjoy.”
NOTE: The letters from Srila Prabhupada quoted in this article appear at greater length in Srila Prabhupada Siksamrta, Volume Two, pages 1157–1176. The quotations from Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura come from his commentary on Sri Brahma-samhita. The quotation from Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura comes from Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu—His Life and Precepts.