Material Life In All Its Complexities by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura
What is material desire?
“To maintain a mentality that “I will simply enjoy sense gratification as long as I live in this world.” is called material desire.
What is the nature of this material world?
Those akiñcana devotees who want nothing from this world understand that there is nothing in this world that can give us eternal happiness. There is no eternal happiness in this world. The material world is considered a prison house for conditioned souls. We are imprisoned here because we are averse to Krishna. This is the cause of our unlimited miseries and distresses. According to the dictation of the mind, which is compared to the superintendent of a prison house, we think our lesser miseries to be happiness and our greater miseries suffering.
Fools who run after material happiness find themselves completely entangled in Maya’s network. Attached householders think, “Becoming householders will make us happy. We will find ourselves some servants and will understand everything we want to know through the manipulation of our senses.” The desire to become politicians, literateurs, scholars, aristocrats, philanthropists, national leaders, and moral workers is simply an attempt to master the illusory energy. But Prahlada Maharaja warned us not to engage our senses in external activity or to aspire for selfish interest. We think we have become masters in this world because we have become attached to family life and have accepted the body as the self. We think the material world and everything in it is meant for our enjoyment. Earth, water, fire, air, ether, sun, moon, planets, stars, animals, birds, trees, and creepers— we imagine that all these have been placed here for us to enjoy. Along with that idea, we think everyone and everything here is intended to serve us. We never think about the actual purpose of this material world which is that it is an ingredient for the Supreme Lord’s worship. If we are not worshiping Hari, we have no right to take even a blade of grass from this world.
Why is this material world full of miseries?
The Lord says to the embodied living entities, “I have arranged all these miseries and dangers not to give you trouble but to teach you that such miseries (which result from material pleasure) are not inevitable and that you should search after the supremely covetable eternal happiness.”
What is Maya?
Maya literally mean “that which is not” (illusion). Maya is that which we can measure. All temporary perishable objects are Maya. That which is not the Supreme Lord is Maya. The Supreme Lord is Maya’s controller and no one can measure Him. According to the Christians, Godhead is separate from Satan, but the Maya described in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam is not like that. According to the Bhāgavata school Maya is present in the Supreme Lord, although, being ashamed of her role to rectify the living entities who are averse to Krishna by punishing them, she stays a little distant from Him.
What is the ascending path (self-help method) ?
The ascending path can be compared to Ravana’s attempt to build a staircase to heaven. Such uphill work is a most puzzling task. Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam has instructed us to reject this “ uphill work”, or Ravana’s policy of building a staircase to heaven. There are two ways to look at things. One can, for instance, try to forcibly see the sun at night with the help of a lamp. Alternatively, one can wait until sunrise and see the sun with the help of the sunshine itself. If one wants material prosperity, one is bound to adopt the ascending path. If one wants to tread the path of jṅāna (cultivation of knowledge), karma (fruitive work), or yoga, he must strenuously endeavor. But the ascending path will always remain incomplete. A twenty-year civilization or experience will prove faulty and incomplete before a one hundred-year civilization or experience. Two hundred years of experience may seem silly in the eyes of a thousand years of experience. Intelligent persons do not follow the ascending path but the descending path, which is based on real experience which is handed down by the truly learned.
Why do so few in this world respect a real devotee?
In a world full of cheating and deception, greater cheaters and deceivers are venerated. Pure devotees who do not misguide people are never respected in this world. It has become fashionable to be cheated by those who misguide people even in the name of harikathā (spiritual teaching). Genuine devotees
and those who expose non-devotees are often mistaken for ordinary people. This is because non-devotees and cheaters mislead ordinary people by calling the real devotees thieves. In this way they try to prop up their own cheating. The illusory energy does not allow the living entities to become sincere at any cost. Therefore she arranges various tricks to keep people away from the association of real devotees.
What kind of people find fault with Vaisnavas?
Only those who are averse to Lord Hari and whose sole capacities are their defective material senses will find fault with Vaisnavas. In Bhagavad-gītā Lord Krishna emphatically states that His devotees never perish. Thus, can those who worship the Lord without deviation ever fall down? They certainly achieve perfection. Since our vision is polluted, we find fault with others and thereby ruin ourselves. When we thus become materialists we are deprived of service to guru and Krishna. We think of the trouble of others because we ourselves are in trouble. Because we are full of faults we find fault with others. If we can take up the duty of self-correction, we will then find that we have no time to find fault with others.
Can our malady of mind be defined?
Our main ‘disease’ is that we seek material involvement and accumulate things unrelated to Krishna, simply for sense gratification. We derive happiness from sense gratification, but we do not find pleasure in chanting and serving the Supreme Lord, who is the ultimate object of all enjoyment. This is our misfortune. Just as a jaundice patient does not relish sugar candy, we who are attached to sense gratification do not relish the sweetness of holy names or the Lord’s service. When the body is poisoned, even honey tastes bitter. Still, sugar candy is the only medicine for jaundice. As one takes the medicine, the sugar candy gradually begins to taste sweet. Similarly, our aversion to the Lord and our attachment to sense gratification will gradually diminish if we, willingly or even unwillingly, chant the holy name and serve the Supreme Lord. As we are cured, we will taste the sweetness of the Lord’s service and the sweet holy name will automatically engage our spiritual senses in the service of the transcendent Lord.
What is our primary mistake and how have we tried to rectify it?
We all want to be happy, but we have mistaken distress for happiness. We often call a doctor to treat our illness, but if, we advise him to prescribe a cure of our choice, instead of following his prescription , then how can we be cured?
Similarly, after accepting a spiritual master, if we act whimsically rather than following his instruction, how will we be benefited? That is why a flatterer cannot be a doctor. If a flattering ‘doctor’ prescribes according to the patient’s taste only to collect his fee , instead of prescribing suitable medicine and diet,, then although the patient may gain temporary relief, his disease will not be cured.
—Amrta Vani: Words of Immortality by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta, Chapter 11, Material life Published by Īśvara dāsa.