On the occasion of his sixty-fifth birthday, the Duke of Windsor said, "The older I get, the more cynical I get…. I just think things are going to get worse." He also worried about the kind of world his grandchildren would inherit. He was a pessimist.
Ronald Reagan, on the other hand, is known to be a great optimist. "Our people [of America] have triumphed over every adversity," he said recently. Walter Mondale, Reagan's rival at the polls in 1984, said, "Give Reagan credit for one thing: He's uncanny in his ability to create a sense of feeling good, of enhancing the American spirit, of pumping up the American sense of worth."
Optimists and pessimists are at opposite poles. Both consider their views to be realistic. The optimist genuinely believes that our world is the best of all possible worlds, that the universe is improving, and that good ultimately triumphs over evil. The pessimist, on the other hand, disdains such a view. Describing playwright Samuel Beckett, The Guardian stated, "He is a realist who has looked at the history of mankind and seen our sad past for what it is a long catalog of disasters: wars, massacres, genocide, holocaust, man inflicting incredible cruelties on others because of some difference in color, race, creed or tribe, his cruelty matched only by his stupidity." There is little hope for reconciling the two opposing viewpoints, and there is much bad feeling between the two camps.
The Krsna consciousness viewpoint has been described both as pessimistic and as optimistic. Optimists criticize the devotees for pointing out that life is full of misery and that attempts to enjoy are ultimately frustrating. The optimists feel the devotees are falsely denying themselves the joys of life.
Pessimists, on the other hand, criticize the devotees for being naive. They consider spiritual activities to be impractical for solving the world's problems.
One in Krsna consciousness is actually both pessimistic and optimistic. He is pessimistic about material enjoyment, but he is optimistic about serving Krsna and about the power of that service to provide the satisfaction material life promises but doesn't deliver.
In the Bhagavad-gita (8.16) Krsna says, "From the highest planet down to the lowest, all are places of misery where repeated birth and death take place." Life in the material world is nothing to be optimistic about.
The devotee doesn't romanticize. He knows that pleasure is inevitably followed by misery and lamentation. All material happiness is spoiled by the inevitable pains of birth, old age, disease, and death. The Bhagavad-gita says this material world is duhkhalayam, a place of misery. And this conclusion is not just the product of someone's jaded or disappointed outlook. The inevitability of suffering is a fact all honest people must acknowledge.
This is not only the viewpoint of Bhagavad-gita but of all great saints. Consider Krsna, Buddha, Jesus, Mohammed none of them ever said this material world was our real home and could be made a very happy place. Rather, they all pointed to how the material world is a vale of tears and to the need for renunciation, knowledge, and service to God.
So in this sense, Krsna consciousness, like any genuinely spiritual perspective, has its pessimistic side. In fact, until a person understands that life is temporary and full of miseries, he cannot make spiritual advancement. Some commentators who have superficially studied the Vedic literature declare that the Vedas are "life-negating." They think that Krsna conscious people, by restricting themselves from natural, animal pleasures and leading a life dedicated to God, are saying no to life. But this is not a fact. Krsna consciousness says no only to that which is actually full of suffering and is actually negative. But this "no" is necessary before saying yes to real happiness, the right of every individual soul. We have to say no to the inferior to embrace that which is superior.
Now, the difference between a Krsna conscious person and a die-hard pessimist is that a Krsna conscious person recognizes an enduring truth, one that will outlast the suffering of this world. This differs from the view of Samuel Beckett, who saw life as "our fear of anonymity, of being born, going through the trauma of our life span, dying, and being forgotten, all record of ever having existed soon lost forever." The Krsna conscious person points beyond all this to factual spiritual truth: There is an eternal world, a world that doesn't perish even when all in this world is destroyed. As Krsna explains in Bhagavad-gita (8.20), "Yet there is another unmanifest nature, which is eternal and is transcendental to this manifested and unmanifested matter. It is supreme and is never annihilated. When all in this world is annihilated, that part remains as it is."
The devotee knows that at the end of this life he will return home to Godhead. As Krsna promises in the Bhagavad-gita, "To those who are constantly devoted to Me and worship Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me…. One who attains to My abode, O son of Kunti, never takes birth again."
Thus the devotees' optimism is not based upon naive assertions about making this material world a wonderful place. It is not, for example, the optimism of "Reaganism," which offers "a vision in which Americans can have it all: world leadership, economic growth manship, without guilt or hard choices." Says Reagan, "Americans have only to believe in their own dreams." The optimism of the devotee is based on factual knowledge of the eternal self, which is transcendental to material suffering.
Although the pessimists and the optimists look disdainfully upon each other, neither can do anything to change the state of affairs in this world. Theirs is an armchair debate, the pessimists ridiculing the "crackpot optimists" and the optimists scoffing at the "dreary, jaded pessimists." But the devotees in Krsna consciousness relieve people from the cycle of birth and death. After taking realistic stock of the pessimistic view of life, they actually transform the world with positive, transcendental knowledge.
This synthesis of both the optimistic and the pessimistic was expressed by Lord Caitanya: "Wake up, sleeping souls! I have brought the medicine for destroying the illusion of maya. Pray for this Hare Krsna mantra and chant it."
By propagating the chanting of the Hare Krsna maha-mantra Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare Lord Caitanya inaugurated the method of developing love of God in this age. Thus Lord Caitanya's followers mercifully approach those who are suffering, not simply to make a doomsday statement, but to offer hope. SDG