Imagine Waking up one day in a foreign place with total amnesia. after the initial shock and a frightening period of adjustment, you decide to start a new life. But even though you’ve forgotten your past, it returns to haunt you. People with guns chase you in your car, someone breaks into your house and ransacks the place, and a note tacked to your front door says, “Did you think you’d get away with itn”

your sense of urgency to uncover your identity would come alive: “I really need to find out who I am and why this is happening to me.”

This amnesia is a metaphor for our life as human beings. We’re born without knowing anything, including who we are, and we start suffering right away. The birth process itself is extremely traumatic. as children, we quickly learn that we’re rewarded for being good and punished for being bad. We see a connection: “I suffer when I do bad things.” But as we mature, we notice that a lot of suffering seems to come out of nowhere. We don’t know what we did wrong to deserve all the punishment we seem to get.

as described in the Caitanya-caritamrta (Madhya 20.102), Sanatana Gosvami’s first questions to Caitanya mahaprabhu were “Who am I, and why am I suffering”

an elaboration on the second question might be “Have I brought the suffering upon myself”

Sanatana had preceded his questions by saying, “I do not know what is beneficial for me or what is detrimental.” Like the amnesiac, our first business should be to understand who we are; otherwise, we can’t know what’s good for us. The besieged amnesiac has to find out who he is and what he has done to create enemies. Otherwise, his actions might bring on new enemies, and even more suffering.

Caitanya mahaprabhu revealed Sanatana Gosvami’s identity to him by telling him that every living being is an eternal servant of Krishna and part of Krishna’s ta†astha sakti, or “marginal energy.” and Caitanya mahaprabhu revealed the source of Sanatana’s suffering: “Forgetting Krishna, the living entity has been attracted by the external feature from time immemorial. Therefore the illusory energy [maya] gives him all kinds of misery in his material existence.” (Cc. Madhya 20.117)

We suffer because we’re spiritual beings in a material world. When we reject God and rebel against our natural position as His servants, maya deludes us into thinking we are the bodies we inhabit. In fact, our body (and mind a subtle energy, but not spiritual) is a vehicle to deliver suffering, most prominently old age, disease, and death. If we continue in the illusion that we are our bodies, the Vedic scriptures teach us, we’ll repeatedly get another body after death, and our suffering will never end.

Buddha realized that suffering is eternal and life should be dedicated to breaking free of it. His solution was to dissolve the self, to cease to exist. The mayavada solution to become one with everything is a similar prescription because it means the loss of one’s individuality.

according to Caitanya mahaprabhu, each of us is an eternal spiritual person and our eternal relationship with Krishna defines our identity. For the self-realized soul, self-annihilation would mean the unthinkable the end of that relationship. The solution to our woes lies not in spiritual suicide but in recovering our memory. By remembering who we are, we can live happily in eternal loving exchanges with God.