“The material pains are birth, death, old age and disease. Even if I am a rich man, a beautiful man, an educated man, born in an aristocratic family, etc., I still cannot avoid death, old age, and disease.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Krishna, The Reservoir of Pleasure)
Without a consciousness focused on the Supreme Spirit, who is the origin of both matter and spirit, the mind will be drawn to dichotomies in condition. And from there develop anger, resentment, envy, and a host of other negative emotions. These emotions then lead to activism to address the apparent imbalances, and so the living entity is further thrown into illusion. With a little applied thought, however, instigated by the teachings of the acharyas, who know the equality shared amongst all sparks of spirit, the illusion can be dispelled. In that higher state of consciousness, the true pitiable condition of all living entities devoid of God consciousness is seen.
A classic example of the illusion is the apparent difference in condition between the rich man and the poor man. The rich man has it all. He’s got the house, the car, the high income, and the ability to get whatever he wants. He’s not suffering in any way, right? If he suffers, such as through addiction to alcohol or gambling, it is his own doing. He deserves the punishment he gets because he is unwisely utilizing the precious gift of opulence that life handed to him.
On the other side, the poor man is struggling. He’s not sure about the future. He doesn’t know if he’ll have a job tomorrow, and with that uncertainty he’s not sure he can pay for the apartment that he lives in. What if a calamity befalls him, such as a health issue? How is he going to pay the bills? He doesn’t have it easy like the rich man. He can’t just buy his way out of trouble. He lives in poverty, and so future generations springing from him will also bear the burden of a life of financial uncertainty.
This doesn’t seem fair. Why should one person be rich and another poor? Something must be done to address the inequity. Why should greed win out? Does the rich person really need all of those cars? Just one car donated to a person in need can do so much. Does the rich person need all of their money for themselves? If they donated some of that wealth to pay for the medical bills of the poor, we could prevent so many tragic deaths. Therefore let us try to fix the inequities. Let’s end poverty altogether.
What’s immediately forgotten in this push is that actions have reactions. There are consequences to the way someone behaves, and those consequences manifest in life conditions. You can’t completely attribute a person’s good financial fortune to luck, and by the same token you can’t say that someone is completely unlucky to fall into poverty. Statistics in America at least show that illicit sex is the primary contributing factor to remaining in poverty. Simply graduating high school and waiting until you are married to have children greatly reduces your risk of being poor. Along the same lines, being responsible with family life, working hard, developing a product or service that other people like, and putting in the necessary effort to get the word out about your work will do wonders for improving your economic condition. The wealthy companies of the world are primarily those which sell products and services that appeal to the masses. The more people who will buy what you are selling, the wealthier you will be.
Even if you are wealthy, does this mean that your problems end? Take a look at some common reactions to action and test for yourself whether or not they apply universally. If I place my hand into a fire, will it not burn? Does the fire care if I have a lot of money? Does the fire react differently based on my income? The miseries of material life affect all; they do not discriminate. A person may own a lavish home, but a hurricane can wipe it out within hours. A disease can strike any person, and the pain of that disease is the same regardless of one’s disposition. One may say that the rich man has a better chance of getting medical treatment, but treatment itself is not guaranteed to remove the disease. You can have the best medical treatment in the world, but sometimes nothing can save you.
If the pain of disease can strike any person, shouldn’t the focus be on stopping disease altogether? Shouldn’t I try to figure out who I am and why I contract disease? The Vedic seers focus on spirit, which is above the dualities of the material nature. The material nature creates temporary conditions like rich and poor, healthy and diseased, happy and sad, etc. The spirit soul is above these conditions, and through the help of the gifts of material nature, the individual who is that soul can remain above the material conditions as well.
Birth, old age, disease and death will strike everyone, regardless of country of origin, age, gender, or religion. In the Bhagavad-gita, the focus is on how to become free of these miseries. It is said that one who knows the nature of Shri Krishna, and how He appears and disappears transcendentally, never has to take birth again. Without rebirth, there is no chance for experiencing the miseries of material life.
“One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode, O Arjuna.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 4.9)
And who is Krishna? He is the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He is the same God vaguely known by others. He is all-attractive; so His features are described in more detail in the Vedas, which include the sacred work called the Bhagavad-gita. The saints who follow the conclusion of the Gita, which is surrender to Krishna in a mood of love, remain above the illusion caused by contact with material nature. They also teach others how to reach the same elevated status.
Their teaching applies to rich and poor alike. The pizza pie fresh out of the oven is the same for every person, so the rich person doesn’t really have an advantage here. They essentially eat the same food, though they may dine at a fancier restaurant. The taste is the same regardless, so there is really no distinction in grades of material enjoyment.
Real life is Krishna consciousness, which is known as bhakti-rasa. In bhakti, or devotion, there is a rasa, or taste. Anyone who is without this taste is considered poor, and so the devotees of Krishna accept the thankless task of distributing this nectar to anyone who is willing to accept it. The cost for this most valuable gift is sincerity, which any person can offer, provided they are wise enough.
No one insulated from material pain,
Disease hurts for rich and poor the same.
Actions never without consequence,
Dichotomies in condition thus make sense.
If material condition from birth to all applies,
Would not escaping rebirth be more wise?
This is the conclusion the Vedas make,
Liberation to all who devotion to Krishna take.