The material world is like God’s penitentiary

Swami Mukundananda
Swami Mukundananda

In the path of spirituality when people engage in devotion to God, many doubts linger around in the mind. Most often these doubts question the very divinity of God and potentially cripple our devotion. For example Lord Krishna’s divine pastimes are commonly analyzed by people who use their material intellect to comprehend His divinity and thereafter find faults in Him.

Sincere spiritual aspirants should refrain from such intellectual deliberations and instead focus on perfecting their devotion. He Devotion is the process of making divine sentiments towards God and its foundation is faith in the divinity of God. With that faith, we can harbor divine sentiments, in our mind and intellect, towards His names, forms, virtues, pastimes, abodes and saints. One must remember that if a doubt arises regarding God’s divinity, it strikes at the very foundation of our palace of devotion.

Shree Krishna states,
Janma karma cha me divyamevam… (Bhagavad Geeta 4.9)
He says that if you can understand the divinity of God’s birth and activities, then doubts that hinder devotion will not arise, and your love for God will grow quickly. As a result you will be released from this realm of life and death.

Here are answers to some frequently asked questions on understanding God’s extraordinary personality and pastimes using our ordinary intellect and nurturing our devotion.

Question: We hear the word “Divine” repeatedly mentioned in your satsangs. Can you please explain what is Divine?
Swami Mukundananda: Divine is that which is God-like in nature. God is divine and anything connected with Him and possessing His nature is also divine.

However, the absolute import of the word cannot be understood in the materially conditioned state. The materially bound soul has only experienced the realm of Maya since infinite lifetimes. It has no experience till date of anything truly divine, and so how will it understand the word.

Let us say, we were to explain the sweetness of a Rasgulla (Indian sweet made from paneer) to a worm living on the Neem tree, how would we do that? If the worm tells us that he has never tasted anything sweet like sugar, honey or jaggery, because all his life he has tasted only bitter Neem leaves. We would simply be perplexed to explain the sweetness of a Rasgulla to such a worm.

Similarly, the materially bound soul has only experienced the world of Maya all its life. It has never experienced even a speck of the Divine realm of God. So no Saint can truly explain the nature of Divine to us. Let it suffice to say that it is not material; it is of the nature of God.
Q: Everybody in the material plane is under the influence of Maya. If God descends in the world, wouldn’t He also come under the influence of Maya?
SM: Understand the answer to your question through the analogy of a jailhouse. There are three kinds of personalities in a prison house:
1. The convicts who are serving their term there. They have been incarcerated against their will.

2. The Warden and employees of the penitentiary. They are not imprisoned, yet out of their own volition, they freely move in and out of the jail.

3. The Governor of the State. In his position as Executive head of the State, he has merely come for an administrative inspection of the prison house.

Although all three are in the prison, yet there is a stark contrast in their status. We cannot make a blanket statement that everyone in the prison house is a convict; or that they all are Wardens; or that everyone in jail is a Governor. They are all standing in the jailhouse, but in different capacities.

Similarly, this material world is like God’s penitentiary. Three kinds of people are present here:
1. The materially bound souls, who have been put in this cycle of life and death because they have turned their backs towards God.
2. The God-realized Saints who are outside the bondage of Maya, but have come into the world just to help the materially bound souls.
3. God Himself, the Proprietor of the jailhouse of Maya, who occasionally takes an Avatar and descends in the world to accomplish some special work.

As in the previous example, we cannot make a blanket statement that whoever is in the material world is a materially bound soul; or that everyone here is a God-realized Saint; or that all residents of this world are God. They have their own status and personality.

Hence, God does descend on the earth, and that is what we call “Avatar,” but it does not mean that He becomes bound by Maya, like us.
Maya paraityabhimukhe cha… ( Shreemad Bhagavatam 2.7.47)
“Maya feels ashamed to even stand before God.” Thus, there is no question of God coming under the grips of Maya.
Q: Many times we read the leelas (pastimes) of God but we are unable to understand the purpose behind them. Why does God do such strange leelas on earth?

SM: God’s leelas are Divine, and hence they are beyond the comprehension of the material intellect. If everything of God could be understood by us, then what would be the difference between Him and us? You cannot hope to know the specific reasons behind His every leela, but you can try to comprehend a broad explanation for them.

The primary reason behind God’s leelas is to provide a basis for the soul to do devotion. During His descension in the world, God manifests His divine name, form, virtues, pastimes, abode and associates on the earth plane. These become the basis for the devotion of billions of souls in future. For example, Lord Ram displayed his pastimes ages ago, but even today, innumerable souls remember them, and sing their narrations in the Ramayan, to enhance their devotion. Hence, the Saint Tulsidas states:
Rama eka tapasa tiya tari, nama koti khala kumati sudhari
“In His Avatar period, Lord Ram saved only one Ahilya from the stone body. But He left His Divine name “Ram” behind, and billions of fallen souls have saved themselves by taking His Name.” By taking an Avatar in the world, the Lord manifested the paraphernalia of names, forms, pastimes, virtues and abode, which the soul can use for fixing the mind upon Him. If God had not descended in the world, the souls would not have had any basis for Bhakti, since meditation upon the formless aspect of God is exceedingly difficult.

Hence, the primary reason for the Divine leelas of God on the earth is for the welfare of the souls.

Q: One may believe that God does everything for the welfare of human beings, but His pastimes like the Maharaas seem bizarre at times. Please explain how can we rise above the confusion we face while trying to figure out His unusual pastimes?
SM: All the actions performed by God and God-realized Saints are only for the welfare of others, as they are already absorbed in divine bliss and there is nothing for them to attain. So it is also simple to understand that anything that anything that an avatar of God did is also for the welfare of the souls. Now, it is a different matter that we may not be able to comprehend what was the welfare through a particular action.

But that should not be surprising to us! After all, how large is God’s intellect, and in comparison, how small is ours?
Suppose that a primary school student were to go to Albert Einstein, and ask him how he arrived at his equation E=mc2. Einstein could question him, “Do you know polar integration?”
“No Sir!”
“Do you know Calculus?”
“Sir, I have never heard of it!”
“Do you at least know Algebra?”
“No! All I know is how to count two plus two on my fingers.”
Einstein would probably say, “In that case I cannot explain my Relativity Equation to you.”
“Really, you cannot explain it to me? That means your theory is wrong.” If the boy were to reach such a conclusion, how presumptuous and inaccurate that would be!
Similarly, the Maharaas of Shree Krishna is in the tenth canto of the Shreemad Bhagavatam. If we want to jump straight there without having even realized that we are the body, it will be equally presumptuous. We must begin understanding spirituality from Grade One. First, from the Bhagavad Geeta, we should appreciate that we are the soul and not the body. With this knowledge, we must learn to detach ourselves from the world.

Then, we should start relishing Divine Love from the Bhagavatam, which begins where the Bhagavad Geeta ends. The Maharaas is in the tenth canto of the Bhagavatam, and so it is a post-doctoral topic. By gradually progressing in our devotion, we will reach the point where we will develop an understanding of the Maharaas of Shree Krishna.
Q: We give respect to elders in the world. So we do not call them by their names. But, we call God by His Names like Radha, Krishna etc. Isn’t calling God’s Name similar to insulting Him?
SM: Taking God’s Name is simple way to remember Him. It is an easy method of engaging in devotion. One can take the Name along with performing one’s worldly duties. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu said:
Khaite shuite yatha tatha naam laya …( Chaitanya Charitamrita Antya 20.18)
“Taking the Name of God is so easy because there are no rules for it; one can do it even while eating, walking, resting, etc, and in this way attain Divine Love.”
In some traditions, they do not take God’s name thinking that would be insulting to Him. However, the Vedic understanding is that when we take God’s name, He feels delighted that we are increasing our love for Him.

Chanting the Name is also a way of expressing our love for Him. Many devotees chant the Names in groups, which is called sankirtan. Saints says:
Radhe radhe bola nita…
“Always chant the name of “Radha” and meditate upon Her Divine Form. Shree Krishna will be so pleased that He will leave Golok and come running to you.”
Swami Mukundananda is a world renowned spiritual teacher from India, and is the senior disciple of Jagadguru Shree Kripaluji Maharaj and founder of JK Yog. He has received his degrees in engineering from world renowned institutes in India, IIT and IIM. He has inspired people all over the world on the path of spirituality, holistic health, yoga, meditation, service to society and God realization. This year, Swamiji will be conducting weeklong programs in 30+ cities of USA from April onwards. For more information visit: or contact:
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