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Since no one can trace the history of the living entity’s entanglement in material energy, Lord Caitanya said that it is beginningless. By “beginningless” He meant that conditioned life exists prior to the creation; it simply becomes manifest during and after the creation. Due to forgetfulness of his real nature, the living entity, although spirit, suffers all kinds of miseries in material existence. It should be understood that there are also living entities who are not entangled in this material energy but are situated in the spiritual world. They are called liberated souls and are always engaged in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, devotional service.
The activities of those who are conditioned by material nature are taken into account, and in their next life, according to these activities, they are offered different grades of material bodies. Thus in the material world the conditioned spirit soul is subjected to various rewards and punishments. When he is rewarded for his righteous activities, he is elevated to the higher planets, where he becomes one of the many demigods, and when he is punished for his abominable activities, he is thrown into various hellish planets, where he suffers the miseries of material existence more acutely. Caitanya Mahāprabhu gives a very nice example of this punishment. Formerly a king used to punish a criminal by having him dunked in a river, raised up again for breath, and then again dunked in the water. Material nature punishes and rewards the individual living entity in just the same way. When he is punished, he is dunked in the water of material miseries, and when he is rewarded, he is taken out of it for some time. Elevation to the higher planets or to a higher status of life on this planet is never permanent. One must again come down to be submerged in the water. All this is constantly going on in this material existence: sometimes one is elevated to higher planetary systems, and sometimes one is thrown into the hellish condition of material life.
In this regard Caitanya Mahāprabhu recited a nice verse from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (11.2.37) that is part of the instructions of Nārada Muni to Vasudeva, the father of Kṛṣṇa:
- bhayaṁ dvitīyābhiniveśataḥ syād
- īśād apetasya viparyayo ’smṛtiḥ
- tan-māyayāto budha ābhajet taṁ
- bhaktyaikayeśaṁ guru-devatātmā
In this verse, which Nārada Muni quotes from the instructions that the Nine Yogendras imparted to Mahārāja Nimi, māyā is defined as “forgetfulness of one’s relationship with Kṛṣṇa.” Actually, māyā means “that which is not.” Thus it is false to think that the living entity has no connection with the Supreme Lord. He may not believe in the existence of God, or he may think he has no relationship with God, but these ideas are all illusions, or māyā. Due to absorption in this false conception of life, a man is always fearful and full of anxieties. In other words, māyā is the godless concept of life. One who is actually learned in the Vedic literature surrenders unto the Supreme Lord with great devotion and accepts Him as the supreme goal. When a living entity forgets the constitutional nature of his relationship with God, he is at once overwhelmed by the external energy. This is the cause of his false ego, his false identification of the body with the self. Indeed, his whole conception of the material universe arises from this false identification with the body, for he becomes attached to the body and its by-products. To escape this entanglement, he has only to perform his duty, namely, to surrender unto the Supreme Lord with intelligence, with devotion, and with sincere Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
A conditioned soul falsely thinks himself happy in the material world, but if he is favored by an unalloyed devotee—if he hears the unalloyed devotee’s instructions—he gives up his desire for material enjoyment and becomes enlightened in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. As soon as one enters into Kṛṣṇa consciousness, his desire for material enjoyment is at once vanquished, and he gradually becomes free from material entanglement. There is no question of darkness where there is light, and Kṛṣṇa consciousness is the light that dispels the darkness of material sense enjoyment.
A Kṛṣṇa conscious person is never under the false conception that he is one with God. Knowing that he would not be happy working for himself, he engages all his energies in the service of the Supreme Lord and thereby gains release from the clutches of the illusory material energy. In this connection, Caitanya Mahāprabhu quoted a verse from the Bhagavad-gītā (7.14), where Krsna states:
- daivī hy eṣā guṇa-mayī mama māyā duratyayā
- mām eva ye prapadyante māyām etāṁ taranti te
“My material energy, composed of the three modes of material nature, is very strong. It is very difficult to escape the clutches of the material energy, but one who surrenders unto Me is easily freed from the clutches of māyā.”
Caitanya Mahāprabhu went on to teach that each and every moment the conditioned soul is engaged in some fruitive activity, he forgets his real identity. Sometimes, when he is tired of material activities, he wants liberation and hankers to become one with the Supreme. But at other times he thinks that by working hard to gratify his senses he will be happy. In both cases he is covered by the material energy. For the enlightenment of such bewildered conditioned souls, who are working under a false identification, the Supreme Lord has presented us with voluminous Vedic literature, including the Vedas, the Purāṇas and the Vedānta-sūtra. These are all intended to guide the human being back to Godhead. Caitanya Mahāprabhu further explained that when a conditioned soul is accepted by a spiritual master out of his mercy and is guided by the Supersoul, the soul can take advantage of the various Vedic scriptures, become enlightened and make progress in spiritual realization. It is because Lord Kṛṣṇa is always merciful to His devotees that He has presented all this Vedic literature, by which one can understand his relationship with Him and can act on the basis of that relationship. In this way one is gifted with the ultimate goal of life.
Actually, every living entity is destined to understand his relationship with the Supreme Lord and ultimately to reach Him. The execution of duties to attain this perfection is known as devotional service, and in maturity such devotional service becomes love of God, the true goal of life for every living being. The living entity should not desire success in religious rituals, economic development or sense enjoyment, or even liberation. One should desire only to achieve the stage of transcendental loving service to the Lord—pure Kṛṣṇa consciousness. The all-attractive features of Lord Kṛṣṇa help one attain this stage of pure devotional service, and one who engages in the preliminary practices of Kṛṣṇa consciousness can ultimately realize the relationship between himself and Kṛṣṇa.
In this connection Caitanya Mahāprabhu related a story from Śrīla Madhvācārya’s commentary on the Fifth Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (5.5.10–13). This story involves the instructions of an astrologer (sarvajña) to a poor man who came to him to have his future told. When the astrologer saw the man’s horoscope, he was astonished that the man was so poor, and he said to him, “Why are you so unhappy? From your horoscope I can see that you have a hidden treasure left to you by your father. However, the horoscope indicates that your father could not disclose this to you because he died in a foreign place. But now you can search out this treasure and be happy.” This story is cited because the living entity is suffering due to his ignorance of the hidden treasure of his supreme father, Kṛṣṇa. That treasure is love of Godhead, and in every Vedic scripture the conditioned soul is advised to find it. As stated in the Bhagavad-gītā, although the conditioned soul is the son of the wealthiest personality—the Personality of Godhead—he does not realize it. Therefore the Vedic literature is given to him to help him search out his father and his paternal property.
The astrologer further advised the poor man: “Don’t dig on the southern side of your house to find the treasure, for if you do so you will be attacked by a poisonous wasp and will be baffled in your efforts to find the treasure. Search on the eastern side, where there is actual light, which is devotional service, or Kṛṣṇa consciousness. On the southern side there are Vedic rituals, on the western side there is mental speculation, and on the northern side there is meditational yoga.”
The astrologer’s advice should be carefully noted by everyone. If one searches for the ultimate goal by the Vedic ritualistic process, he will surely be baffled. Such a process involves the performance of rituals under the guidance of a priest who takes money in exchange for service. A man may think he will be happy by performing such rituals, but this is not true. Even if he does gain some result from them, it is only temporary. His material distresses will continue. So he will never become truly happy by following the ritualistic process. Instead, his material pangs will increase more and more. The same may be said for digging on the northern side, or searching for the treasure of love of Godhead by means of the meditational yoga process. The perfection of this process is to think oneself one with the Supreme Lord. But this merging into the Supreme is like being swallowed by a large serpent. Sometimes a small serpent is swallowed by a large serpent, and merging into the spiritual existence of the Supreme is analogous. While the small serpent is searching after perfection, he is swallowed. This is spiritual suicide. On the western side there is also an impediment in the form of a yakṣa, an evil spirit who protects the treasure. This yakṣa is jñāna-yoga, the speculative process of self-realization. The idea is that a hidden treasure can never be found by one who asks the favor of a yakṣa to attain it. The result is that one will simply be killed. So while the yogī’s practicing meditation is like a small serpent’s being swallowed by a large serpent, practicing the speculative process to attain the treasure of love of Godhead is also suicidal.
The only possibility, then, is to search for the hidden treasure on the eastern side, which represents the process of devotional service in full Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Indeed, the process of devotional service is itself the perpetual hidden treasure, and one who attains to it becomes perpetually rich. One who is poor in devotional service to Kṛṣṇa is always in need of material gain. Sometimes he suffers the bites of poisonous creatures and is baffled, and sometimes he follows the philosophy of monism and thereby loses his identity and is swallowed by a large serpent. It is only by abandoning all this and becoming fixed in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, devotional service to the Lord, that one can actually achieve the perfection of life.