How can we find happiness that is not purchased with our pain?
Have you ever wished upon a shooting star or thrown a penny in a magic fountain? In the spiritual world there are trees called "desire trees," which can fulfill any desire. If you could have just one wish granted, what would it be? To be a Rockefeller? An Einstein? Miss America? The President? Wealth, fame, beauty, knowledge, and power are indeed very desirable under certain circumstances, but they are not ends in themselves. There is, however, one thing that we all want-to be happy. Every living being from Lord Brahma, the creator of this material world, down to the insignificant ant seeks his own pleasure.
But what is pleasure? One man's food is another man's poison, so the saying goes. Some people appear to have everything, yet they are miserable. We can all think of many cases of famous people, the Marilyn Monroes and Elvis Presleys, who have met tragic ends despite the best that this world has to offer. And on the other hand, there are the great souls who have found peace and happiness even in great distress and tribulation. This is explained by Lord Krsna in the Bhagavad-gita: "One who is taking pleasure in the self, who is illumined in the self, who rejoices in and is satisfied with the self only, fully satisfied for him nothing more remains to be gained." Life's ultimate goal, therefore, is to know the self, and that is called self-realization.
As long as we identify with the temporary material body, we are forced to suffer or enjoy the various conditions of material life, including birth, old age, disease, and death. There is, of course, a certain amount of sense pleasure mixed in. Otherwise, how could we tolerate these miseries? No one asks to be born, we don't like to grow old, we try our best to avoid disease, and everyone fears death, or at least tries to ignore it. We overlook these things under the impression that we are enjoying. In fact, it is this desire for enjoyment that drives us on through the hard struggle for existence.
You want pleasure, I want pleasure, even Krsna seeks pleasure. Actually, it is because that tendency is in Him that it is also in us. The qualities of the father are found in the son. The only difference between the Lord and ourselves is that He is self-fulfilling whatever He desires is; whereas we can only desire, but we cannot fulfill our desire. "Man proposes, God disposes." Lord Krsna, being perfect, desires perfectly; but because we are presently imperfect, we are also desiring imperfectly.
The whole world is mad after more and more sense gratification, with no understanding that the spirit soul can never be satisfied in this way. Suppose a fish is out of water. He will certainly feel discomfort; but he cannot be made comfortable by any kind of adjustment on the land even if you give him a king's palace. But just put him back in the water and there he will find pleasure.
Trying to become happy by material arrangement is simply useless for the soul. Modern civilization, despite its so-called economic advancement and glorious technology, is more frustrated than ever before. We are working very hard for an illusion, this material body. This was realized thousands of years ago by the great sages and saints of India. The great saintly king Lord Rsabhadeva wanted to impress upon his sons the importance of human life, and therefore He advised them as follows: "My dear boys, of all the living entities who have accepted material bodies in this world, one who has been awarded this human form should not work hard day and night simply for sense gratification, which is available even for dogs and hogs that eat stool. One should engage in penance and austerity to attain the divine position of devotional service. By such activity, one's heart is purified, and when one attains this position, he attains eternal, blissful life, which is transcendental to material happiness and which continues forever." This blissful, eternal life is called Krsna, or God, consciousness and is life's ultimate goal.