If we turn away from Krishna, all that we get is misery.
The American Paradox Spiritual Hunger in an Age of Plenty by David G. Myers is one among the several books that use telling facts and revealing statistics to examine the reality behind the globally-glamorized American dream of the happy life through wealth and sensual enjoyment.Since 1960:
1) The divorce rate has doubled.
2) The teen suicide rate has tripled.
3) The recorded violent crime rate has quadrupled.
4) The prison population has quintupled.
5) The percentage of babies born to unmarried parents has sextupled.
6) Cohabitation (a predictor of future divorce) has increased sevenfold.
7) Depression has soared to ten times the pre– World War II level.
Has the American dream turned out to be a masked nightmare? What went wrong?
For devotees of Lord Krishna, this sad situation is a vindication of Krishna’s teachings in the Bhagavad-gita wherein he declares in 5.22 that material enjoyment is pregnant with misery; the delivery is only a matter of “when, not if?”. The devotees of the Lord are often more merciful than the Lord; one way their extra-mercy manifests is in their forceful enunciation of the Lord’s teachings. “There is no point in arguing that a materialistic man can be happy.” This is one of those quotes of Srila Prabhupada that, by its sheer conviction, jolts us out of our complacency in material life. Most of the media and culture around us is vigorously propagating that materialism is the way to become happy and Srila Prabhupada is asserting with absolute conviction that materialism can never make anyone happy.
The fact is that Srila Prabhupada is simply rephrasing an essential and repeated teaching of the Lord. To help us grasp this scriptural teaching, Srila Prabhupada would often give the analogy of a fish: just as a fish starts suffering the moment it leaves the ocean, we start suffering the moment we leave the nectar-ocean of Krishna consciousness. Let us reflect on this analogy a bit more.
The Fate of the Fish
Imagine a fish in the water on an ocean coast bordering a vast desert. Suppose it is allured out of the vast ocean by a mirage. From the moment it comes out, its suffering begins. But no matter how good-looking that water outside the ocean seems to be, it due to its sheer smallness it can never satisfy the fish. The only way the fish can experience happiness is by returning to the ocean. The more it pursues the drops of water, the more it will have to suffer due to the scorching heat of the sand underneath and the sun overhead. Therefore, when it is obvious that the fish is going become miserable the moment it comes out of the water, why then should it ever come out? Indeed, why should it even cast a glance at the mirages that might beguile it to come out? Even if it doesn’t feel sufficiently happy in the water, the only way to greater happiness is not outwards, but inwards; not out of the ocean, but deeper into the ocean.
All of us are like the fish and Krishna consciousness is like the ocean. From the moment we let our consciousness come out of the nectar-ocean of Krishna consciousness, we will begin experiencing misery. We are allured out of Krishna consciousness by the sense objects: pleasures and treasures, positions and possessions. No matter how good-looking the sense objects seem to be, they are simply a sham (they are temporarily pleasure-giving, whereas we are eternally pleasure-seeking) and can never make we happy. The only way we can experience happiness is by returning to Krishna consciousness. The more we pursue the sense objects, the longer we will have to suffer as our consciousness makes the painful and difficult journey to and fro between Krishna consciousness and the sense objects through the scorching heat of the materialistic conditioning internally and the material conditions externally. Why is this journey painful and difficult? Because every action that we perform conditions us, implicates us into patterns of thinking and behaving that incite us to repeat that action. It is the human vulnerability to conditioning that traps us in addiction often unwittingly and sometimes even unwillingly. That’s why, when we do realize the futility of material enjoyment, often material enjoyment has become the default setting of our mind; we instinctively, unthinkingly gravitate toward it and going against that gravity force becomes difficult and often painful. Moreover, the pursuit of material enjoyment also makes us mix and bond with materialistically oriented people and the emotional bonds that have opportunistically formed between us and them often make it tough for us to turn away from those worldly pleasures that have earlier won us their approval. Therefore, when we know that we are going to eventually only increase our misery by coming out of Krishna consciousness, why then should we ever come out? Indeed, why should we even cast a glance at the sense objects that might beguile us to come out? Even if we don’t feel sufficiently happy in Krishna consciousness, the only way to greater happiness is not outwards, but inwards; not out of Krishna consciousness, but deeper into Krishna consciousness.
Of course, the fish analogy is not perfect. In fact, no material analogy can ever perfectly convey a spiritual truth. But as long as we are at our present material level of consciousness, we can think of only material objects and concepts. So, if the spiritual teachers did not use material analogies, then we would hardly be able to grasp any spiritual truth. Therefore, they use material analogies to convey spiritual truths even if imperfectly. To avoid any misconceptions due to the incidental imperfections of the fish analogy, let us consider its limitations. In fact, these qualifications reveal important nuances of the philosophy of Krishna consciousness:
1. When the fish comes out of the water, within a short time, it dies. We being eternal souls never die, but by forsaking Krishna consciousness we “kill” our spiritual awareness: the awareness that we are spiritual beings entitled to spiritual happiness in the spiritual world by reciprocating spiritual love with the supreme spiritual reality, Krishna. Those who kill their spiritual awareness are referred to in the Srimad-Bhagavatam and the Isopanisad by the apt metaphorical term “atma-ha,” killers of the soul.
2. A fish is never allured by a mirage, but we are attracted by the mirage-like sense objects. This is due to the power of Maya, the illusion-causing energy that perverts our perception by its twofold potencies:
a. Avaranatmika-shakti (covering potency): This potency obscures our perception of our true nature as spiritual beings and freezes our spiritual desires
b. Praksepatmika-shakti (kicking potency): This potency deludes us with the false self-conception that we are materialistic creatures and kindles our material desires.
3. A fish out of water can be seen to be suffering, but people devoid of Krishna consciousness are not always seen to be suffering. Factually, no one can be happy without Krishna consciousness and the statistics quoted at the start are a poignant demonstration of this eternal truth. But those living beings who have been living without Krishna consciousness for a long, long time have almost entirely forgotten the taste of Krishna consciousness. As they presently don’t know any pleasure other than the pseudo-pleasure of sense gratification, they have become habituated to this pseudo-pleasure despite all the miseries that precede and succeed it. Due to this habituation, they don’t always seem miserable, as is confirmed in the Srimad-Bhagavatam (3.30.5), “The conditioned living entity is satisfied in his own particular species of life; while deluded by the covering influence of the illusory energy, he feels little inclined to cast off his body, even when in hell, for he takes delight in hellish enjoyment.”
Due to this power of illusion, materialistic people may seem temporarily happy, though they aren’t. And this apparition may beguile even spiritually-minded people into materialistic pursuits and to alternate between material enjoyment and spiritual purification. But those of us who know something better, who have recently tasted Krishna consciousness, can no longer be satisfied with the illusory tastes of sense gratification. Why? Because the sublime and supreme taste of Krishna consciousness is still fresh in our memory if not in our conscious memory, then at least in our subconscious memory. That’s why even if we consciously turn away from Krishna consciousness to pursue sense gratification, we subconsciously keep comparing the taste of sense gratification with the taste of Krishna consciousness and naturally find the former unsatisfying. That’s why the Bhagavatam (1.5.19) proclaims, “Even though a devotee of Lord Krishna sometimes falls down somehow or other, he certainly does not undergo material existence like others because a person who has once relished the taste of the lotus feet of the Lord can do nothing but remember that ecstasy again and again.”
Unfortunately, despite repeatedly experiencing sense gratification to be insipid and inane, our stubborn mind may still impel and compel us to keep pursuing it. In such situations, we can use the graphic fish analogy and the resonant Srila Prabhupada quote as the hammers for driving in the nail-like truth of the futility of sense gratification through the wall-like stubbornness of our mind. Sooner or later we will realize that the pursuit of sense gratification is a lost cause and will turn rather re-turn to Krishna consciousness. But better sooner than later.
Caitanya Carana Dasa is the associate-editor of Back to Godhead (US and Indian edition). To subscribe to his free cyber magazine, visit thespiritualscientist.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org