There’s an interesting concept I once heard that I haven’t seen anywhere in the śāstra so far, but it makes a lot of sense. I’ve been wandering along the same lines myself and this idea offers a fresh look at my questions. Since there’s no scriptural evidence for it I would treat it as purely speculative and therefore not mention any names. I have no idea how people would react to it and I want to spare the source from unnecessary criticism, plus I might misrepresent the source anyway.
If I say anything truly horrible the buck should stop with me even though it’s not me who started it, but such are the sacrifices we need to make for Kṛṣṇa every day. If we say something encouraging all credits should go to Kṛṣṇa and His devotees but when we screw up it’s all our fault. Fair? Maybe not, but that’s the reality – Krṣṇa is faultless by definition and He is also the only enjoyer of all fame and glory, expecting anything for ourselves is like stealing from Him.
So the idea goes like this – in the spiritual realm of Vraja all the devotees exist in their original svarūpa but in Vaikuṇṭhas they are bewildered by Lord’s yoga-māyā potency. In short, they don’t really know who they are, they are just as conditioned there as we are down here.
The big and crucial difference is that there’s no suffering on Vaikuṇṭhas and everybody serves Kṛṣṇa every moment of their lives but it’s a difference that is important only to us. From the POV of Vraja both residents of the material world and residents of Vaikuṇṭha live in perpetual illusion and ignorance regarding Kṛṣṇa’s and theirs true nature.
Now that’s a tall claim to make and it surely needs explanations. Personally, I was always wandering about the role of yoga-māyā in the spiritual world but I was concerned with jīvas acting against their nature in relationships with Kṛṣṇa, not on Vaikuṇṭhas. To put it another way, I thought that upon liberation jīvas who are otherwise perfectly spiritually adjusted get covered by yoga-māyā potency of Kṛṣṇa so that they can participate in His pastimes. On their own they might not fit, I thought.
It never occurred to me that residents of Vaikuṇṭha can, by the mercy of yoga-māyā, join Kṛṣṇa’s pastimes in Goloka but that would have been a reasonable supposition. I mean there are stories of demigods and even Lord Śiva HImself trying to sneak into the rasa dance but they had to be transformed into female forms first, by the said yoga-māyā. In case of Śiva it actually worked, afaik, not sure about demigods.
There’s also the story of sages of Daṇḍakāraṇya who desired female bodies to be able to enjoy with Lord Rāmā during His next advent here. Some of them didn’t get into rasa dance but that is a different story, what’s important for me here is that bodies of the gopīs were given to them on request while their original spiritual svarūpa remained undetermined. Or maybe I misread the whole episode, not really important.
In the theory of “spiritual conditioning” I heard from a more or less authoritative source everything is almost directly opposite to my own ideas. Yoga-māyā here engages devotees in their original svarūpa, exactly how they are supposed to be and how they are supposed to serve Kṛṣṇa. Devotees of Vaikuṇṭha, however, are not blessed by her in a similar way. Instead of approaching Kṛṣṇa in one of the original rasas of Vraja they are dazzled by the majesty and opulence of Lord Nārāyaṇa. They can’t overcome it and they can’t restore their original relationships with the Kṛṣṇa.
It makes sense if we consider that Vraja is the center, source, and shelter of all spiritual worlds. It’s the origin of all forms of the Lord and all kinds of devotees. If we talk about any sort of original svarūpa we must talk about relationships with Kṛṣṇa and a place in Vraja līlā. Nothing original exists outside that realm.
When I think about it this way it sounds axiomatic, yet, on the other hand, we have been told that devotees of Vaikuṇṭha serve the Lord in their true spiritual forms and according to their true spiritual desires. If there are degrees of devotion in the spiritual world they all start with perfection. Devotees of Vaikuṇṭha are perfect and devotees of Kṛṣṇa are “more perfect”, a phrase that doesn’t make sense in the material world but seems perfectly acceptable when we talk about spiritual planets.
We also know of five forms of liberation, four of which describe life on Vaikuṇṭhas. We generally reject them but only because they are considered inferior by our ācāryas. We do not mean to say that devotees achieving those positions are lacking anything in their spiritual lives. They get to relate to the Lord in two of the main rasas – śānta and dāsya. To anyone reading our books it would also be inconceivable to say that four armed forms of devotees present on Vaikuṇṭha are not their svarūpas and are meant to be discarded for something better.
Yet it also makes sense that they are being bewildered by Lord’s aiśvarya, wealth and opulence, and therefore they do not appreciate intimacy and sweetness of Kṛṣṇa Himself. There’s no way they could not be attracted to Him, right? That should be impossible by definition, right?
Even if they are perfectly satisfied with śānta and dāsya, these two rasas find their perfection in Vṛndāvana where they are practiced in their most pure form. There’s no way people from Vaikuṇṭha would go to Vraja, look around, and say “meh”, right? This is something materialists would do but we know they’d say it due to their conditioning. Why not explain lack of interest in Kṛṣṇa among residents of Vaikuṇṭha by some sort of spiritual conditioning, too?
Vaikuṇṭhas are opulent places, right, but they possess only infinitesimal spark of the opulence of Vṛndāvana. If it’s opulence devotees appreciate so much, there’s plenty of in Vraja, too, they just don’t realize it – just as conditioned souls don’t.
As I said, it makes sense, but still I think it’s highly speculative ATM. Even if it is correct – we can only speculate about these things and it’s so far beyond our level of realization that everything we say is bound to be wrong. We don’t even have the words of our ācāryas on this subject we could faithfully repeat.
Still, I believe discussing these things is not a waste of time as long as it leads to better and deeper appreciation for Kṛṣṇa, His dhāma, and His devotees there. So what if we are objectively wrong? As long as our devotion grows it doesn’t really matter.