If a devotee were to ask, “Please bless me so that I’ll never take birth again in this horrible material world,” would this be asking for some kind of liberation? Hundreds of times, Srila Prabhupada encouraged us to “Go Back home, back to Godhead.” Would it be a form of boldness or naiveté to desire to come back to this world and serve by preaching?
That would depend on our level of perception and spiritual progress. There were times when some disciples indicated to Srila Prabhupada that they would perhaps like to take birth again and help with preaching Krishna consciousness. Even then Srila Prabhupada would variously say, “Don’t try to come back…simply go back to Godhead.”
If going back to Godhead is what we must seek, then does this fare somewhat less to an ideal expressed by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur, as paraphrased by Srila Prabhupada: Nitya-dasa prati tuwa adhikara: “You have got every right to do whatever You think right in relation with Your servant. I am Your eternal servant.” Janmaobi moe iccha jadi tor: “If you so desire” — because a devotee goes back to Home, goes back to Godhead - therefore Bhaktivinoda Thakura proposes, “If You like that I shall again take birth, it doesn’t matter.”
Bhakta—grhe jani janma hau mor: “The only request is that if I have to take my birth, please kindly give me the chance of taking my birth in a devotee’s house.” Kita—janma hau jatha tuwa das: “I don’t mind if I am born as an insect, but I must be in the house of a devotee.” Bahir mukha brahma-janme nahi as: “I do not like non—devotee life.
Noticing that Srila Bhaktivinoda said, “…IF I have to take my birth…” in a mood of allowing Krishna to do whatever He wants, does this appear more surrender’ful than our ‘conditional’ Back to Godhead wish, as encouraged by Srila Prabhupada? We can look at this in different ways, and the way Srila Prabhupada emphasised it so much points in the right direction.
Here is one of many examples: “And after passing 5,000 years, we find so many difficulties, and the more we grow in this Kali-yuga, the days will be more and more difficult. So best thing is that you finish your Krishna consciousness business and go back to home, back to Godhead. That will save you. Otherwise, if we come back again, the difficulties, the difficult days are ahead. We have to suffer more and more.” (SB 1.8.32 - Los Angeles, April 24, 1973)
A daunting prospect of rebirth in Kali-yuga is discouraged. Srila Prabhupada also knew that most of us are rules and regulation types and will struggle mightily to ascend the path of devotion. For these reasons it would be an extraordinarily rare event to actually go back to Godhead, and the extraordinary is made clear and simple for us by him - and many devotees are going back to Godhead.
An interesting question can be raised at this point: Srila Prabhupada sometimes said that many of his disciples were sent by Krishna, or by his spiritual master Srila Bhaktisiddhanta to come and help him spread Krishna consciousness all over the world – from where did they come?
To have the desire to go back to Godhead, or not to ever take birth again in this world, is the correct thing for those of us who are unsure of our eternal position in Godhead. If we haven’t yet realised our spiritual identity, then better we pray to go back to Godhead where we might discover something wonderful. This is the greatest fortune.
Then there are those rare souls who are certain and assured of themselves spiritually. This certainty enables someone like Srila Bhaktivinoda to know that wherever he is in the material world, he is already in Godhead. “If one has a strong desire to serve the Lord, even if he accepts a material body, there is no cause of anxiety, since a devotee, even in a material body, is a liberated soul.” (SB 9.13.9 purport)
On this level, going back to Godhead or not, being in heaven or hell, are inconsequential so long as service or devotion is rendered in the company of devotees. “Even if I am born as a Lord Brahma. I want to remain with the devotees.” Bhukti-mukti—sprha vihina je bhakta: “I want such devotee who doesn’t care for material happiness or spiritual liberation.” Labhaite tako sanga anurakta: “ I simply desire to be associated with such pure devotees.”
And while serving with devotees an assured soul knows, “When he gives up his body, he goes directly to become an associate of the Lord and serve Him, although he does the same thing even in a material body in the material world.” (SB 9.13.9 purport)
If we try to express our desires to take birth again in this world without having the certainty and assurance of eternal spiritual grounding, we could be moving ahead of ourselves. This is why Srila Prabhupada encouraged a more realistic prospect of desiring to go back to Godhead. Besides, having a genuine realised desire to go wherever Krishna wants us to go, stems from relishing real taste for chanting Hare Krishna.
When Sri Gauranga Mahaprabhu says in the fourth verse of Sri Sikastakam, “I only want Your causeless devotional service birth after birth,” He is – “By saying "life after life" (janmani janmani), the Lord referred not to an ordinary birth but a birth in which to remember the lotus feet of the Lord. Such a body is desirable.” (SB 9.13.9 purport)
According to Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakur’s analysis in his writings like Sri Bhajana Rahasyam and others, this Siksastakam verse equates with having deep taste or Ruchi. In other words, someone possessed of this quality of spiritual progress can have more realisation when and if, the desire for rebirth arises, and is expressed with proper understanding.
It could be that one wants to go back to Godhead because - (SB 9.13.9 purport) “…whereas a nondevotee, having no engagement in the service of the Lord, is very much afraid of accepting a material body or giving up his present one,” could reflect some of the uncertainty. This uncertainty is due to not knowing one’s eternal relationship with Krishna, or even retaining or practicing impersonal concepts in the realm of personal service to the Lord and His devotees.
“Mahārāja Nimi continued: Mayavadis generally want freedom from accepting a material body because they fear having to give it up again. But devotees whose intelligence is always filled with the service of the Lord are unafraid. Indeed, they take advantage of the body to render transcendental loving service.” (SB 9.13.9)
To seek relief from material suffering and from bodily inconveniences in order to go back to Godhead, can be a selfish motive. Then again, we are encouraged to use this selfishness for a higher purpose. The fact that we somehow came here at – Anadi(From time immemorial) – time for some selfish reason, and now wanting some selfish relief, is well worth our effort in going back to Godhead.
At least having returned back to Godhead there will be some capacity to serve the Lord. And in that service one may want to come back down to the material world to help bring back other suffering souls - from an already liberated position. With an assured Godhead situation as this, who would not want to go back home, back to Godhead to render eternal loving service, either here, there or anywhere?