Since no one can trace the history of the living entity's entanglement in material energy, the Lord says that it is beginningless. By beginningless it is meant that conditional life exists prior to the creation; it is simply manifested during and after the creation. Due to forgetfulness of his nature, the living entity, although spirit, suffers all kinds of miseries in material existence. It should be understood that there are also living entities who are not entangled in this material energy but are situated in the spiritual world. They are called liberated souls and are always engaged in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, devotional service.
The activities of those who are conditioned by material nature are taken into account, and in their next life, according to these activities, they are offered different types of material bodies. In the material world the conditioned spirit soul is subjected to various rewards and punishments. When he is rewarded for his righteous activities, he is elevated to the higher planets where he becomes one of the many demigods, and when he is punished for his abominable activities, he is thrown into hellish planets where he suffers the miseries of material existence more acutely. Caitanya Mahāprabhu gives a very nice example of this punishment. Formerly a king used to punish a criminal by dunking him in the river, raising him up again for breath and then again dunking him in the water. Material nature punishes and rewards the individual entity in just the same way. When he is punished, he is dunked in the water of material miseries, and when he is rewarded, he is taken out of it for some time. Elevation to the higher planets or to a higher life status is never permanent. One must again come down to be submerged in the water. All this is constantly going on in this material existence; sometimes one is elevated to higher planetary systems, and sometimes one is thrown into the hellish condition of material life.
In this regard Caitanya Mahāprabhu recites a verse from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam taken from the instructions of Nārada Muni to Vasudeva, the father of Kṛṣṇa (SB 11.2.37):
- bhayaṁ dvitīyābhiniveśataḥ syād
- īśād apetasya viparyayo 'smṛtiḥ
- tan-māyayāto budha ābhajet taṁ
- bhaktyaikayeśaṁ guru-devatātmā
In this quotation from the nine sages who were instructing Mahārāja Nimi, māyā is defined as "forgetfulness of one's relationship with Kṛṣṇa." Actually, māyā means "that which is not." It has no existence. Thus it is false to think that the living entity has no connection with the Supreme Lord. He may not believe in the existence of God, or he may think that he has no relationship with God, but these are all "illusions," or māyā. Due to absorption in this false conception of life, man is always fearful and full of anxieties. In other words, a godless concept of life is māyā. One who is actually learned in the Vedic literatures surrenders unto the Supreme Lord with great devotion and accepts Him as the supreme goal. When a living entity forgets the constitutional nature of his relationship with God, he is at once overwhelmed by the external energy. This is the cause of his false ego, his false identification of the body with the self. Indeed, his whole conception of the material universe arises from this false identification with the body, for he becomes attached to the body and its by-products. To escape this entanglement, he has only to perform his duty and to surrender unto the Supreme Lord with intelligence and devotion and with sincere Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
A conditioned soul falsely thinks himself happy in the material world, but if he is favored by the instructions of an unalloyed devotee, he gives up his desire for material enjoyment and becomes enlightened in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. As soon as one enters into Kṛṣṇa consciousness, his desire for material enjoyment is at once vanquished, and he gradually becomes free from material entanglement. There is no question of darkness where there is light, and Kṛṣṇa consciousness is the light that dispels the darkness of material sense enjoyment.
A Kṛṣṇa conscious person is never under the false conception that he is one with God. Knowing that he would not be happy by working for himself, he engages all his energies in the service of the Supreme Lord and thereby gains release from the clutches of illusory material energy. In this connection, Caitanya Mahāprabhu quotes the following verse from Bhagavad-gītā:
- daivī hy eṣā guṇa-mayī
- mama māyā duratyayā
- mām eva ye prapadyante
- māyām etāṁ taranti te
"The divine energy of Mine, consisting of the three modes of material nature, is difficult to overcome. But those who have surrendered unto Me can easily cross beyond it." (BG 7.14)
Caitanya Mahāprabhu went on to teach that for each and every moment he is engaged in some fruitive activity, the conditioned soul forgets his real identity. Sometimes when he is fatigued, when he is tired of material activities, he wants liberation and hankers to become one with the Supreme Lord, but at other times he thinks that by working hard to gratify his senses he will be happy. In either case, he is covered by material energy. For the enlightenment of such bewildered conditioned souls, the Supreme Lord has presented voluminous Vedic literatures such as the Vedas, the purāṇas and the Vedānta-sūtra. These are all intended to guide the human being back to Godhead. Caitanya Mahāprabhu has given further instructions by explaining that when a conditioned soul is accepted by the mercy of the spiritual master and is guided by the Supersoul and the various Vedic scriptures, he becomes enlightened and makes progress in spiritual realization. It is because Lord Kṛṣṇa is always merciful upon His devotees that He has presented all these Vedic literatures by which one can understand his relationship with Him and can act on the basis of that relationship. In this way one is gifted with the ultimate goal of life.
Actually every living entity is destined to reach the Supreme Lord. Indeed, it is possible for everyone to understand his relationship with the Supreme. The execution of duties to attain perfection is known as devotional service, and in maturity such devotional service becomes love of God, the factual goal of life for every living being. Actually the living entity is not intended to achieve success in religious rituals, economic development or sense enjoyment. The living entity should not even desire success in liberation, what to speak of success in religion, economics and sense enjoyment. One's real desire should only be to achieve the stage of loving transcendental service to the Lord. The all-attractive features of Lord Kṛṣṇa help one in attaining this transcendental service, and it is by such service in Kṛṣṇa consciousness that one can realize the relationship between Kṛṣṇa and himself.
Concerning man's search for the ultimate goal of life, Caitanya Mahāprabhu relates a story from the commentary of Madhva which occurs in the Fifth Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (Madhva-bhāṣya) Sarvajña to a poor man who came to him to have his future told. When Sarvajña saw the horoscope of the man, he was at once astonished that the man was so poor, and he said to him, "Why are you so unhappy? From your horoscope I can see that you have a hidden treasure left to you by your father. However, the horoscope indicates that your father could not disclose this to you because he died in a foreign place, but now you can search out this treasure and be happy." This story is cited because the living entity is suffering due to his ignorance of the hidden treasure of his Supreme Father, Kṛṣṇa. That treasure is love of Godhead, and in every Vedic scripture the conditioned soul is advised to find it. As stated in Bhagavad-gītā, although the conditioned soul is the son of the wealthiest personality—the Personality of Godhead—he does not realize it. Therefore Vedic literatures are given to him to help him search out his father and his paternal property.
The astrologer Sarvajña further advised the poor man: "Don't dig on the southern side of your house to find the treasure, for if you do so you will be attacked by a poisonous wasp and will be baffled. The search should be conducted on the eastern side where there is actual light, which is called devotional service or Kṛṣṇa consciousness. On the southern side there are Vedic rituals, and on the western side there is mental speculation, and on the northern side there is meditational yoga."
Sarvajña's advice should be carefully noted by everyone. If one searches for the ultimate goal by the ritualistic process, he will surely be baffled. Such a process involves the performance of rituals under the guidance of a priest who takes money in exchange for service. A man may think he will be happy by performing such rituals, but actually if he does gain some result from them, it is only temporary. His material distresses will continue. Thus he will never become truly happy by following the ritualistic process. Instead, he will simply increase his material pangs more and more. The same may be said for digging on the northern side, or searching for the treasure by means of the meditational yoga process. By this process a person thinks of becoming one with the Supreme Lord, but this merging into the Supreme is like being swallowed by a large serpent. Sometimes a large serpent swallows a smaller one, and merging into the spiritual existence of the Supreme is analogous. While the small serpent is searching after perfection, he is swallowed. Obviously there is no solution here. On the western side there is also an impediment in the form of a yakṣa, an evil spirit who protects the treasure. The idea is that a hidden treasure can never be found by one who asks the favor of a yakṣa in order to attain it. The result is that one will simply be killed. This yakṣa is the speculative mind, and in this case the speculative process of self-realization, or the jñāna process, is also suicidal.
The only possibility then is to search for the hidden treasure on the eastern side by the process of devotional service in full Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Indeed, that process of devotional service is the perpetual hidden treasure, and when one attains to it, he becomes perpetually rich. One who is poor in devotional service to Kṛṣṇa is always in need of material gain. Sometimes he suffers the bites of poisonous creatures, and sometimes he is baffled; sometimes he follows the philosophy of monism and thereby loses his identity, and sometimes he is swallowed by a large serpent. It is only by abandoning all this and becoming fixed in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, devotional service to the Lord, that one can actually achieve the perfection of life.