The following conversation between His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and some of his disciples took place in Rome in May 1974.
Srila Prabhupada: People are doing all kinds of forbidden activities. Why? What is the purpose? Nunaṁ pramattaḥ kurute vikarma yad indriya-pritaya. The only purpose is sense gratification. The rascal does not think, “I am doing all these sinful activities for sense gratification, and as a result, I will have to accept a very low grade body.” That he does not know. He has already got one low-grade body, and so he is simply suffering. And by his present activities he is guaranteeing that he will get yet another low-grade body – more suffering. And still, he will do everything for sense gratification.
The Srimad-Bhagavatam warns him, na sadhu manye yata atmano ’yam: “Oh, it is not good. This kind of activity has already covered your soul by a miserable body.”
“Well, this body is temporary. I’m not going to worry.”
“Then take another body, rascal. This body is temporary – but after this life you will get another body. Most abominable. So why are you doing this kind of nonsense? Yes, this body is temporary, but why don’t you understand that it is also kleśada: it is always subjected to the miserable conditions of the material world? You know this body is miserable, and any other body you get will be miserable. So why do you keep getting these bodies? Stop these activities.”
This is Krishna consciousness. But people do not know that any type of material body you accept will be miserable. For instance, they have constructed this comfortable building, but if for only a few hours there is severe cold, many people may die, even in this building. Isn’t it true? So whether you remain in this or that material situation, the sufferings will be there. And just to attain the comfort of this tall building, how much misery one has to go through.
“Sir, I am not going through misery,” the owner says. “The laborers are doing that.”
“But you have to get the money to pay them. How miserable it is to acquire this money to pay the laborers.”
People are simply captivated by money. Otherwise, the whole affair is miserable. Sometimes the laborers fall to their death while constructing a skyscraper, do they not? And I have heard that in New York, many buildings have no tenants. Another misery. The owner of the place – he is also suffering. “I have spent so much money, but no tenants.” For the last six or seven years, the tallest building in London has been vacant.
Disciple: On Tottenham Court Road. Yes, that big one.
Srila Prabhupada: Yes [laughing]. The owner’s misery is that if he kept tenants, that would be still more miserable than going without tenants. Isn’t it so? Yes. Therefore he remains without tenants – because he would have to pay so many taxes that it would be more miserable. So he is avoiding that. In summary, constructing the building was troublesome, and now, keeping it is also troublesome. To search out pleasure, people have manufactured so many things – this thing or that thing. But still they cannot enjoy it. For a few minutes they can enjoy it, then once again it is useless. “Let us go away.”
Disciple: Sometimes people wonder, “How can I be sure that I can actually become a bird or a dog?”
Srila Prabhupada: Where are all these birds and dogs coming from? Let these people answer. Where are all these birds and dogs coming from?
Disciple: Well, most people say from other birds and dogs.
Srila Prabhupada: That you may think, but you do not know the natural law. Nature is providing these bodies, and your past activities force you to accept them. Take this apartment – either you accept it or someone else accepts it. Similarly, this body is an apartment. Nature provides it, and you have to accept it. We are all spiritual entities, and under nature’s direction we are changing material bodies. My past activities may force me to change to one kind of body. His past activities may force him to change to another kind of body. Is that unreasonable? In our next lives this person may accept my kind of body, and I may accept his kind of body. This is simply an apartment change. I may go to one kind of apartment, he may go to another kind. But anyway, nature is providing so many apartments.
You may say, “No, no. I am not going to accept that apartment.”
Nature will reply, “No, no. It is not your decision any longer. How much ‘money’ [good karma] have you accumulated, sir, to pay for your accommodations?”
“I have no money.” “All right. Then go to this apartment.” And you must accept that apartment. Karmana daiva-netrena: by your past activities it will be decided what kind of apartment you will get. It is not your decision.
Many a rascal thinks that now that he has gotten a human body, he can never again be degraded to the animal species. That is very palatable. [Laughing.] But nature will force him to accept the body of a cat or dog. The decision is not yours but that of the superior authorities – just as in the office, when you get promoted or demoted the decision is not yours but that of the directors. You cannot say, “No, no. I am not going to accept this new post.” No. You have to accept.
Karanaṁ guna-saṅgaḥ asya sadasad- yoni-janmasu: these different types of bodies are due to your past association with the different modes of material nature. Otherwise, why are there so many varieties? One person has become a crow; another person has become a sparrow; another person has become a dog; another person has become a cat; another person has become a tree; another person has become a blade of grass. Nature is so expert, though, that in spite of these different varieties of misery, she assembles them in such a nice way that they look very beautiful.