Most people will agree that the desire to be happy is the basic motive behind everything we do. We want satisfaction from our endeavors, be they the most obviously selfish ones or seemingly selfless acts of compassion and charity. When people are asked what they want out of life, a common reply is “I just want to be happy.”
A basic point of the philosophy of Krishna consciousness is that we can’t be happy unless we know who we are.
Sanatana Gosvami expressed this idea when he asked Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu, “Who am I? Why do the threefold miseries [caused by my body and mind, other living entities, and nature] always give me trouble? If I do not know this, how can I be benefited?” (Caitanya-caritamrta, Madhya 20.102)
Several verses later Lord Caitanya revealed to Sanatana the nature of the self: “It is the living entity’s constitutional position to be an eternal servant of Krishna because he is the marginal energy of Krishna and a manifestation simultaneously one with and different from the Lord, like a molecular particle of sunshine or fire.”
This exchange between the Lord and His devotee has far-reaching philosophical implications. Sanatana’s question, first of all, should be asked by all of us. “Why do I suffer?” The happiness we seek is always just beyond our reach. We desire something we think will make us happy, but when we achieve it, it’s not enough; we feel the need for something else. This constant state of dissatisfaction is one aspect of our state of suffering.
By revealing the nature of the self, Lord Caitanya implies the answer to the question of why we suffer. It’s because we’ve forgotten who we are: eternal servants of Krishna and integral parts of Him. We identify ourselves with our material bodies, and all our suffering springs from that illusion. Our bodies get sick, grow old, and die, and we think, “This is happening to me.”
But as spiritual beings who are part of Krishna , the source of all happiness, in our original pure state we too are happy. That’s why, despite repeated frustration in our attempts at happiness in this world, we never give up trying.
The practices of bhakti-yoga are meant to return us to our pure state of existence, to cure us of our amnesia, our forgetfulness of our true identity. To begin the treatment, we must acknowledge our illness. Then, like any patient, for recovery we must follow the advice of the doctor – the guru.
The guru will tell us to do certain things and abstain from others. For example, medical treatments often include dietary restrictions. In the bhakti-yoga treatment for spiritual amnesia, we give up meat, fish, and eggs and accept a diet of prasada, food prepared for Krishna and offered to Him. We also give up gambling, intoxication, and sex other than for having children.
These aspects of the treatment ensure the effectiveness of the primary medicine: the chanting of Krishna ’s holy names.
In their search for happiness, people sometimes shop for a religion that appeals to them. Unfortunately, they may base their choice on external factors and reject a path to God that prescribes what seem to them unnecessary or arbitrary restrictions.
We who follow the path of bhakti-yoga, however, accept the restrictions, knowing they lead to discovery of our real self and to the qualifications we need to enter the spiritual realm, the only situation where we can be truly happy and satisfied.