I’ve heard people say they wouldn’t want to live in Florida because they’d miss having four seasons. I live in north Florida, and we have four seasons here, just none with snow. It’s midsummer here now, with nature’s greenery on full display. Autumn delivers a hint of the spectacular foliage of the northern climes where I grew up. In winter many trees go bald. My favorite season is spring, when new flowers and foliage put on their show. Besides, spring reminds me of a revelation of Krishna’s in the Bhagavad-gita (10.35): “Of seasons I am flower-bearing spring.”
I seem to be more aware of the changing seasons than I used to be. When I noticed that about myself recently, I wondered, “How aware am I of my own changing seasons?”
I’m in the autumn of my life, with dead, cold winter approaching too quickly. I don’t like to think about growing old and dying, but Krishna says that reflecting on them is the intelligent thing to do. In the Bhagavad-gita (13.9), among the list of items He declares to be knowledge, one is janma-mrtyu-jara-vyadhi-duhkha-dosanudarsanam: “the perception of the evil [duhkha: distress; dosa: fault] of birth, death, old age, and disease.”
The prefix anu in the Sankrit word Prabhupada translates as “perception” (anudarsanam) suggests we should perceive these “evils” under the guidance of self-realized spiritual authorities. Srila Prabhupada, my primary spiritual authority, generally referred to these four as “the miseries of material existence.” You might think you can solve all your problems by material means, he would say, but don’t be foolish enough to believe that material solutions will ever eliminate disease, old age, death, and rebirth.
Such pessimism about material existence doesn’t mean hopelessness, though. Hope lies in spiritual life. Acknowledging the inevitability of suffering is an important impetus for spiritual life, where the real solutions lie.
We souls have a choice. The Katha Upanisad (1.3.14) tells us, “O living entity, you are sleeping in this material world. Please get up and take advantage of your human form of life.” We can snooze and suffer the miseries of birth, old age, disease, and death, or we can wake up to our real life of loving service to Krishna, a life of full knowledge and happiness.
We are now “conditioned souls,” the phrase Prabhupada uses for souls controlled by the conditions the material energy imposes upon us. Souls free from material influence are known as liberated souls, and the practice of bhakti-yoga can place us in their ranks.
We conditioned souls get used to our situation under the material energy and think of suffering as normal. But it’s not normal for us in our real, or liberated, life. It’s only part of our dream life in material existence, and we have little or no understanding of what a liberated life would be like.
In Vermont, where I grew up, people get used to the long, frigid winters. But I remember eagerly awaiting spring, when I could finally shed layers of clothing and heavy snow boots. The feeling of running in tennis shoes on pavement damp with melting snow may have been a hint of real liberation in Krishna’s abode, where His devotees are always dancing, and the weather’s always perfect.