As Jack was playing in the playground he heard an old lady calling to him. Thinking she needed help, Jack ran toward her. But when he arrived, Jack saw the woman standing with roasted almonds in her hand. She offered them to Jack. Jack was delighted. “You like them?” she asked.
“Come everyday, then,” she said, “because I can’t eat them.”
Meeting this old woman and eating her handful of almonds became routine for Jack. One day, though, while he was playing football, he began to wonder: “If this old woman can’t eat the roasted almonds, why does she buy them everyday?” He decided to ask her. The old woman innocently replied, “I can’t eat the almonds, but I like to eat the chocolate they were coated in.” With that she went home.
Jack stood there shocked and utterly disgusted with himself. He threw today’s handful of roasted almonds in the trashcan and marched home. He was completely nauseated by the fact that he had been relishing this woman’s dirty leftovers. After that day, Jack never went over to see the old woman. She continued to wave to him, but he never even looked her way. If she tried to cheat some other boy Jack cautioned him.
The Bliss of Ignorance
After reading this story one knows why ignorance isn’t necessarily bliss. Jack could have continued to relish the almonds, unaware that they were unclean, but discovering the reality of the situation ended his happiness. Those who think ignorance is bliss wonder why we should bother to understand reality if it ruins our happiness. But this story illustrates the nature of the kind of happiness we find in this material world.
As individuals we try to gratify our senses we taste whatever attracts us, listen to whatever our ears find pleasing, watch movies that stimulate us, touch things that give us pleasure, and are drawn to aromatic smells. But we don’t realize the disastrous effects our attempts at enjoyment have on our body and mind or on the earth’s resources. Rather, captivated by the glaring material energy, we remain blissfully ignorant of both absolute and relative realities. In the meantime, the contamination of material existence infects us more and more. The “sicker” we become, the further away we are from true enjoyment. We identify ourselves with our temporary, miserable body and remain ignorant of our real self, the blissful soul. We act like the proverbial ostrich hiding its head in the sand. When a hungry tiger chases it, the ostrich buries its head and thinks it is safe. Similarly we ignore the effects of time, thinking we are safe from the effects of material nature.
Therefore Lord Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita (5.22), ye hi samsparsa-ja bhoga duhkha-yonaya eva te/ ady-antavantah kaunteya na tesu ramate budhah: “An intelligent person does not take part in the sources of misery, which are due to contact with the material senses. O son of Kunti, such pleasures have a beginning and an end, and so the wise man does not delight in them.”
Ignorance of Bliss
Although we appear to be immersed in the bliss that stems from ignorance, we remain ignorant of one factor that threatens to destroy our illusion: death. Death is a ruthless force that comes at the most unexpected moment, stealing our happiness in a flash. We see death all around us hundreds of people die everyday. But the illusory happiness of material enjoyment doesn’t allow us to look this imposition of reality in the face. Instead, we prefer to live in spiritual oblivion, trying to extract as much enjoyment from this world as possible. As busy as bees, we spend most of our time trying to find solutions to life’s everyday problems, but we forget to solve the greatest calamity of our life.
It’s fear of death that keeps us from experiencing the true bliss we all hanker for the bliss of devotional service. When we misidentify with the temporary body, we are always in a state of fear, because the body is bound to die. Every moment of happiness associated with the body is temporary. We are sometimes happy when we eat delicious food, smell nice fragrances, see beautiful sights, hear soothing music, or touch those we love. But the happiness of these experiences remains with us as long as we are enjoying them. The moment the food is swallowed whatever happiness we felt becomes a memory. And memories of the food we ate yesterday do not satisfy our hunger today.
Moreover, material happiness cannot solace us at the time of death. If a man with terminal cancer is given his favorite meal, will he be able to relish it with death around the corner?
This means that sensual happiness is not permanent. Nevertheless, we look for nothing but this ephemeral happiness. The soul can never become happy by bodily pleasures just as a wined and dined fish can never become happy outside the ocean. So why not put an end to this “Google search” for sensual happiness and opt for eternal bliss?
Real Knowledge and Bliss
Conditioned living beings always lament about the past, are fearful about the future, and in illusion about the present. In other words, they are always in anxiety. Their greatest fear is the fear of death. Death is painful for two reasons: we experience physical pain of whatever disease or condition is causing us to lose our body, and we experience the mental pain of leaving everything we hold dear the body, our relatives, and our home.
Actually, the soul is eternal and full of knowledge and bliss; it can never be subjected to suffering. The soul appears to suffer only because we identify with the body we misunderstand who we really are. If a rich man is attached to his car, he will be horrified if a truck smashes it in his driveway. The agony he feels at the loss of his car is intense. Although he is sitting safely in his living room, he will feel pain because he identifies with the car. Similarly, the transcendental soul suffers due to its false identification with the body.
How do we transcend this pain? By the process of self-realization which means developing positive and intense love for God, Krishna. Attachment to Krishna with love and devotion has the power to detach us from all mundane inferior attachments. A young girl in love with a boy may be attached to her family, but when the boy tells her, “Let’s run away from our homes and get married,” she easily gives up the attachment and runs away with him without pain or fear. She is delighted to give up her familial attachments if it will allow her to stay with her beloved. Similarly, if we constantly meditate on Lord Krishna with love and devotion, we will easily transcend all material attachments and at the time of death, we will blissfully enter His eternal abode.
The scriptures tell us that the easiest way to develop love of Krishna is to chant His holy names. Krishna is full of bliss, so coming in contact with His name, form, fragrance, and prasada (sanctified food offered to Him) with our ears, eyes, nose, and tongue satisfy and purify us completely. The process of Krishna consciousness does not recommend artificial abstinence from sense gratification. It is a blissful process composed of feasting on the Lord’s prasada and participating in melodious chanting and dancing with His devotees. Usually we try to find permanent happiness in temporary material things related to the body. But the body itself is temporary and subject to death, so as we get closer to death, we become more fearful. With the destruction of our material attachments comes destruction of our fear of death. So any time Krishna comes to take us to His eternal abode we are ready to go and live there with Him eternally. This is the beauty of Krishna consciousness: life becomes joyful, death loses its sting, and life after death becomes blissful.
Yugavatara Dasa is an associate professor in Anatomy in a medical college in Mumbai. He is a regular contributor to BTG.