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Wednesday, August 27th, 2003

Johannesburg, South Africa

Mars And Beyond

Easy journey to other planets

The scientific world is agog: at midday today, the planet Mars made its closest approach to Earth in 60,000 years. Not since 56,617 BC, has our nearest planetary neighbor come this close: a mere 34,646,418 miles. In the early evening, Mars is quite noticeable, appearing as a large orange blob in the starry African night sky.

Our Earth planet takes 365 days to orbit the sun while Mars takes 687 Earth-days, so every 780 days the two planets pass close to each other before separating again. Since the two orbits are eccentric rather than circular, the closeness varies: sometimes Mars is as "close" as sixty million miles. To exploit this much shorter fly-by, Europe and the United States have launched three spacecraft designed to probe for evidence of life and other resources on Mars.

But we do not need a spaceship to exploit other worlds; we will be given that facility automatically, according to the accumulated aggregate of our conscious and unconscious desires (yanti deva-vrata devan). As Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupad pointed out many years ago in Easy Journey To Other Planets, we travel from one planet to another by a spiritual process (abrahma-bhuvanal lokah punar avartino).

Our understanding of the planets should be that they are not so much physical worlds, as worlds of consciousness: "The world is in the mind," as the Irish philosopher George Berkeley so succinctly put it.

How have we come here to this material universe, to this world of exploitation? Our consciousness has brought us, and others like us, here. Our mutual desire to exploit the environment and other living entities (jivo jivasya jivanam) has brought us to this particular planet, or plane of consciousness (bhur loka).

If, as Bhakti Sudhir Goswami Maharaj said recently in Russia, our material bodies are "the biological expression of the soul's delusion," then the planets are the playground in which the soul enacts her individual fantasies of exploitation.

We have to continuously try to make progress from this gross plane of existence to the higher worlds, and progress means elimination and new acceptance (eho bahya, age kaha ara).

To make progress, our old ideas and misconceptions have to be given up (jnane prayasam udapasya), because no matter what our present state of consciousness (sthane sthitah), once we begin to hear submissively (sruti-gatam) from Guru and Vaishnava, our consciousness will inevitably be drawn from this lower world into the upper worlds (jito 'py asi tais tri-lokyam), on all three levels of our existence (bhur, bhuvah, svah).

In the diverse and multifarious physical worlds of exploitation, proximity is measured in light years; in the spiritual world of dedication, the unit of measurement is consciousness. We have to try to elevate our consciousness, in the association of the sadhus, to those higher worlds, to Vaikuntha.

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