Why Condemn Life?
Often learned speakers in ISKCON say that this world and life are full of sufferings only. The world and life here are worthless, they say, and have been imposed on us because of our birth.
I am not convinced by this point. This life is not all struggles, failures, pain and suffering. There are great many moments of joy, success and happiness as well. In fact it is a beautiful mix of the positives and negatives. The reality is that only through this body can we worship Sri Krishna , chant His name and also attend to our daily responsibilities towards family and society. Life on earth may be transient, but why should we always condemn this as merely a burden and suffering ? Fulfill your responsibility towards family, society, nation and humanity at large in a virtuous way, and at the same time regularly devote some time in service of Sri Krishna . This is what ISKCON should preach.
– Shyamsunder Sharma
Reply by Nanda Dulal Dasa: That struggles, failures and pain are an inescapable component of life in the material world is not just a philosophical point presented by different ISKCON speakers during their talks; rather it is an undeniable reality very much confirmed by our own experience here. This point is highlighted repeatedly in spiritual classes because there is over-emphasis on hedonistic enjoyment today by all kinds of media to woo the masses. Lord Krishna asserts this harsh truth in Bg. 8.15 by calling this material world as duùkhalayam (place of miseries) and asasvatam (temporary). Deliberating on both words together, one can easily understand that periods of distress will undoubtedly be interspersed by moments of joy and happiness.
Life in the material world is not worthless because it is characterized by struggles and failures. It is worthless because as an alternative abode, it keeps us away from our original home in the spiritual world. The adverse experiences we continue to obtain here are actually a grim reminder of the futility of trying to accomplish utopian expectations of eternal joy while in the temporary material world. The denunciation of the material world is not due to the adversities that we face here; it is due to the deceptive sense of security and pleasure that it offers to us and separates us from our true wellwisher, Lord Krishna .
The art of experiencing divinity in the material world is not widely known and so only a fortunate few can experience spiritual life even while staying in the material world. Speakers of ISKCON also try to teach this fine art to the listeners. Classes do not just bash material life but also provide encouragement and practical techniques to make it spiritual by dovetailing it in Krishna consciousness.
If struggles are perceived as a harsh teacher, these struggles can act as the most immediate and irrefutable impetus for us to turn towards the Supreme Lord. One of the four categories of people who turn to the Lord is the distressed (ref. Bhagavadgita 7.16) who seek refuge in the Lord for relief from their anguish. A mature devotee not only accepts the harshest realities of life but also tries to convert it into something that will impel him towards Krishna .
Worship of the Supreme Lord in the material world thus becomes the best use of a bad bargain. What is the quality of our service to the all-deserving Supreme Lord with our present imperfect senses and polluted intelligence? The desire to serve Him can actually reach its pinnacle in the spiritual world where the facilities (our senses etc.) are pure and the environment is fully fine-tuned to serving Him. We can get only a glimpse of what lies in store for us there when we make feeble attempts to serve Lord Krishna here. In serving Krishna with our handicapped senses and frail intelligence whatever little we do turns out to be a source of great joy to us. Interestingly, it simultaneously provides inspiration to others. Thus, a sincere devotee is a benchmark for service to humanity not by the dint of his endeavors to serve humanity (independent of Krishna ) but due to the purifying effect of devotional service to Krishna that unknowingly robs him of all his anarthas viz. pride, lust, illusion etc. A pure devotee of the Supreme Lord is automatically a pure gentleman capable of not just benefiting humanity but all forms of life.
Devotees’ Apparent Sorrows
Why does it seem that intense sorrow follows all those blessed with a personal association with the Lord – Dasaratha, Radharaëi, Yasoda, Devaki, saci, and Sita, to name a few. And why should I really aspire for such likelihood?
– Harkumar Singh
Our reply: We should not make the mistake of equating the experiences of the Lord’s most exalted devotees with our own. Everything about these devotees takes place on the transcendental platform, the essence of which is pure love for God, or prema. The quality of prema is ecstatic spiritual bliss. Everything that goes on in the relationship between the Lord and His liberated devotee is of the nature of pure happiness. Because we are conditioned souls bound by the material energy, our vision is defective and we see sorrow in spiritual existence. But there is no sorrow there, only various flavors of happiness. In the Caitanya-bhagavata (Madhya 9.240), Srila Vrndavana Dasa Thakura writes, “Know for certain that whatever worldly distress is seen in a Vaisnava is actually spiritual happiness.” In his commentary, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura writes, “By seeing a fully engaged devotee’s scarcity rather than external opulence, sickness rather than good health, poverty rather than wealth, and ignorance rather than scholarship, those who consider such a Vaisnava afflicted by various deficiencies and who therefore hanker after gold, women, and fame, like the karmis – and thus consider him distressed – should be understood to have lost their intelligence.” The word Vaiñëava here means pure devotees of the Lord. If we think their experiences are the same as ours, we are mistaken. Pure Vaisnavas are far beyond the reach of mundane sorrow. To fully appreciate this truth, we must purify ourselves through the practices of Krishna consciousness (bhakti-yoga) as given to us by Sri la Prabhupada. When we attain the transcendental state of pure love for Krishna , we too will taste the uninterrupted spiritual happiness of our eternal relationship with Him.