“…the word pavarga signifies our struggle for existence and our meeting with defeat, exhaustion, bondage, fearfulness and, at last, death. Apavarga means that which can nullify all of these material conditions. Krishna is said to be the giver of apavarga, the path of liberation.” (Shrila Prabhupada, The Nectar of Devotion, Ch 59)
Vedic wisdom is passed down through the Sanskrit language. Considered a dead language since no one speaks it today, Sanskrit is the original language of the world. The script in which the language is written is known as Devanagari, meaning the language of the gods or demigods. The Vedas tell us that there is a spiritual city/realm where elevated living entities known as demigods live. People who are somewhat familiar with what is known as the Hindu faith know that it subscribes to many gods. This doesn’t mean that each of these gods is the original God, but rather they are elevated living entities. Just like in various parliamentary systems around the world, some leaders are referred to as “Lord” due to their exalted status, there are administrative heads in charge of various aspects of the material creation who are known as devas, or demigods. It is in the city of the demigods that Sanskrit is still spoken; hence all Vedic teachings are transmitted through this language to this day. The language is so comprehensive that every word has deep meaning, especially as it relates to knowledge of the Supreme Absolute Truth, Lord Krishna. A great example of this can be seen with the word “apavarga”.
When we put the letter “a” in front of a word, it can act as a form of negation. For example, the word “moral” turns into “amoral” when an “a” is placed in front of it. Moral means something which is considered pious and in line with the codes of righteousness. Amoral can mean just the opposite; those activities which are considered sinful and against the established code of conduct. This concept of negation using the letter “a” started with the Sanskrit language, which is the oldest form of communication known to man. They say it is difficult to accurately come up with a Sanskrit dictionary because the total number of words one can come up with is unlimited. We can put the “a” prefix in front of pretty much any word and come up with its negation. This negation concept is also a great way to understand the qualities of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Lord Krishna. Everything we see in this world has limits to its powers. God, on the other hand, is unlimited, so He is often described as the opposite of each of the flawed aspects of creation that we encounter. Through negation, we can gain a better understanding of the Lord’s potencies.
The concept of salvation serves as a good example. People who take to religious life are often looking to be “saved”. “Oh God, I am in trouble. Please take away my suffering. I want to surrender unto you so I can be saved.” Preachers on television often utter these phrases with confidence: “Give yourself over to Lord Jesus Christ and be saved…Surrender now, or suffer the consequences. Only the Lord can save you.” Obviously, being saved is a nice thing. After all, who wouldn’t want to be rescued, especially by God Himself? But what does it actually mean to get salvation? In ice hockey, a save is a statistical category tabulated each time a goaltender stops a puck from going into his net. The same holds true in soccer, but how does one get saved in relation to God?
In the Sanskrit language, the path of salvation is known as apavarga, and it can only be granted by God. If we analyze the components of the word “pavarga”, we can gain a better understanding of what salvation actually means. Pavarga consists of five separate Sanskrit letters. The first letter is “pa”, which comes from the word “parabhava”, which means defeat. This is an easy concept to understand. In material life, we are always meeting defeat. Let’s take the issue of cooling as an example. With advancements in technology, people can now survive through extreme heat by using air conditioners. These appliances can be small enough to cool a tiny room, or large enough to cool an entire office building. Living in an air conditioned environment is quite comforting, but things aren’t so simple. These devices malfunction quite often, and if one is accustomed to the cool temperature, they will be quite agitated once their air conditioner breaks. In our own experiences, we have purchased several air conditioners in our lifetime, only to see many of them cease to function after a short period of time. This same concept can be applied to all areas of life. No matter how comfortable we are or how well things go for us, defeat is just around the corner.
The next letter from pavarga is “pha”, which is taken from the word “phenila”. This is a type of foam which surfaces on the mouth when a person becomes tired, or exhausted. Exhaustion is very easy to understand, for who among us doesn’t get tired? In America today, almost no one is engaged in agriculture, which means that they have to sustain their livelihoods by taking up forty-hour per week jobs. The pressures of work are year round, so most people tend to be quite exhausted when they come home from a long day at the office. The worry doesn’t end there, for family life is equally as tough. The spouse and children are always in need of something, and the house requires constant maintenance. The responsibilities of adult life are too many to count, thus exhaustion is a natural consequence.
The next letter in pavarga is “ba”, which comes from the word “bandha”, which means bondage. Again, this is easy to understand because we are all bound to the repeated cycle of birth and death in the material world. The soul is eternal, but the body is not. We can think of the soul as being trapped in a drying machine. It is constantly tossed around from body to body through an endless cycle. This is a form of bondage because none of us can remember choosing to take birth here. Moreover, we are bound to the stringent laws of nature which force us to suffer from the three types of miseries: those inflicted by the body and mind, those coming from other living entities, and those coming from nature, which is managed by the demigods. Aside from these miseries, there are the irrepressible forces of nature which manifest through birth, old age, disease, and death. We may discover new vaccines from time to time, but this doesn’t mean that disease can be stopped. The same holds true for aging; no matter how hard we try to prevent it, we all have to get older.
The next letter in pavarga is “bha”, which comes from the word “bhiti”, meaning fearfulness. Animal life consists of eating, sleeping, mating, and fearing. Since human beings are similar to animals, they also have a propensity to defend or fear. We acquire possessions and create relationships and then start to worry about how to maintain them. Lord Rama, an avatara of God, explains that for a mature human being, there is no greater fear than death. It is similar to how a ripened fruit has nothing left to worry about except falling down. This means that even if we achieve all our material objectives in life, there will still be a fear of death. This fearing is not something we have to think about, nor is it something we can control.
The last letter of pavarga is “ma”, which stands for “mriti”, or death. Again, this is something that is easy to understand. Death is something that we can’t control, yet it is a central part of material life. It is considered a miserable event because it represents the end of the line, so to speak. The soul continues to exist, so death only refers to the quitting of the current body by the soul. One’s life as it relates to the current body is considered over at the time of death, and this is considered a miserable event because it is undesired and usually comes about through disease or some other affliction.
So we see that pavarga refers to death, fearfulness, bondage, exhaustion, and defeat. Lord Krishna, or God, gives apavarga, which is the negation of these five miserable conditions. Salvation means to put an end to these five miseries. Lord Krishna stops death by taking our soul back to His spiritual abode. One who goes there never has to return to the temporary material world. This doesn’t mean that the soul loses its identity. In the spiritual world, the soul is given a spiritual body which allows it to associate with the Supreme Lord in a variety of different relationships. Lord Krishna is never alone; He is always with His eternal associates and devotees. Therefore, God’s spiritual kingdom is the real heaven, a place free of all miseries.
“The Lord, the Supersoul of all living entities, is sober, peaceful and equal to everyone. Since the great devotee Prahlada was protected by the Lord's potency, Hiranyakashipu was unable to kill him, in spite of endeavoring to do so in various ways.” (Shrimad Bhagavatam, 7.1.43)
Lord Krishna takes away all of our fears, hence one of His names is Hari. If we become Krishna’s devotee, what need is there to be fearful? The Supreme Lord guarantees to protect us under any and all circumstances, as He did with His five-year old devotee Prahlada. Becoming a devotee of God means making Him the supreme object of worship. Currently we spend our time singing the praises of other living entities, offering them our service and the fruits of our labor. To become a devotee, we simply have to shift the focus of our worship towards Krishna.
Krishna removes the bondage of material life by taking our soul back to His spiritual world. Thus we see that the true meaning of liberation is to become free from the cycle of repeated births and deaths. Liberation is the end of bondage, and since Krishna can deliver this liberation, one of His names is Mukunda, meaning one who grants mukti.
Exhaustion comes about through material endeavors. In spiritual life, there is no concept of fatigue, for one is devoted completely to the Supreme Lord. To see evidence of this, we can look to the example of the great devotee Narada Muni. Narada travels throughout the three worlds with his vina, always singing the names of Narayana, or God. Narayana is a transcendental sound vibration, so Narada never tires of uttering this word.
One of Lord Krishna’s names is Achyuta, which means one who never falls down. Krishna is also known as Ajita, or one who is never conquered. The beauty of devotional service is that anyone who takes to it automatically acquires many of the same qualities possessed by God. Devotees are referred to as bhagavata since they are in association with Bhagavan. In this way there is no difference between Bhagavan and bhagavata. If Bhagavan is incapable of defeat, the same will hold true for the bhagavatas.
All of this information is nice to know because it provides meaning to the word “salvation”. When Krishna saves someone, He delivers them from the miseries of pavarga. This information only begins to scratch the surface of the Lord’s greatness. It’s safe to say that anyone who takes up devotional service by regularly chanting, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, will quickly be rewarded with apavarga, along with an even greater boon, that of eternal association with Krishna.