“Unless a living entity forgets his real identity, it is impossible for him to live in the material conditions of life. Therefore the first condition of material existence is forgetfulness of one’s real identity.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.12.2 Purport)
If you tell someone that you are suffering from a disease, they will ask about the symptoms. For instance, if you have some type of cold or flu, there is likely a fever. In the absence of a high body temperature, how can you be suffering from the disease? In that case, your condition is the same as the healthy person’s. For the individual who suddenly turns forgetful of God, there is an immediate symptom: birth. The disease is the forgetfulness and the first symptom is birth. The cure is, not surprisingly, remembrance.
Bhakti-yoga brings the required remembrance. In the spiritual world there is no concept of bhakti-yoga. The term has no value. All activities are already in bhakti. All the participants are of pure motives. They want only one thing: to serve God. Each serves to their best capacity. The tree lacks features to allow it to do things like move and communicate, but this does not preclude it from offering service. It takes on the noble role of providing shade to the Supreme Lord and His closest friends when they play in the forest.
The highest spiritual planet is itself a forest-like area. It is known as Vrindavana, which means a forest where Vrinda Devi is prominent. She is the goddess of devotion who takes the form of the tulasi plant, which is a kind of basil. As this is the spiritual land, the nature isn’t exactly like that of an ordinary forest. There is no chance of a devastating fire consuming everything. The bugs don’t bite the young children that play. The scorching heat doesn’t do anything to harm anyone. Time, as a reference point, surely exists, but it has no influence. No one is going anywhere because they are happy where they are. They are consumed with loving thoughts of their beloved Krishna, who is the darling of Vrindavana.
When there is forgetfulness, the first outward indication of the disease is birth. Typically, birth is taken as a joyous occasion, the appearance of a new addition to the family. The birth brings so much potential. The new child can do whatever they want. They can become an astrophysicist, a chemist, a biologist, a politician, an inventor, etc. They can just be a very nice person who makes others happy. They can be a very good person for their family, raising nice children of their own. The potential starts with birth.
Lost in the joy, however, is the condition of the previous life. The newborn didn’t just emerge from thin air. They remain constant throughout their time on earth, and so they were a constant in the past as well. Today they are born, and tomorrow they will still be alive in most cases. This means that their existence continues into the future.
From the Vedas we get an idea of what the past life was. It was in a condition that saw forgetfulness of God. It could have been in the body of a different species, too. The cats, the dogs, the crows, the swans, the trees, and the parrots are also living entities. They can’t do the same things that human beings can, but that essence which gives them life is the same in quality as in the human species.
There is real potential for the newborn. Though birth is the symptom, the disease can be cured through actions taken in the current life. I may be suffering from a fever, but this does not mean that the fever has to stay with me forever. Following the doctor’s orders, I can accept a regimen of healing. This will eventually cure me. In the same way, following the spiritual doctor’s orders, I can make sure that this birth is the last one I will have.
The cure is bhakti-yoga. All other forms of religion, spiritual practice, mysticism, work for fruitive gain, and acquisition of knowledge are meant to culminate in bhakti. Bhakti-yoga is the easiest to practice but the most difficult to take up in earnest, for it requires a genuine shift in desire. Not just a signed statement attesting to the change of heart, bhakti-yoga requires a different kind of consciousness. That consciousness is measured at the time of death, where the judging authority cannot be fooled.
“Those who know Me as the Supreme Lord, as the governing principle of the material manifestation, who know Me as the one underlying all the demigods and as the one sustaining all sacrifices, can, with steadfast mind, understand and know Me even at the time of death.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.30)
To change consciousness, one simply has to remember and then keep remembering. The best way is to chant the holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.” The word “Krishna” addresses the darling of Vrindavana. Rama addresses both His elder brother Balarama and the Supreme Lord’s incarnation of Shri Ramachandra. Hare speaks to His divine pleasure potency, Shrimati Radharani. She is a permanent resident of Vrindavana, so fixed in bhakti-yoga that she knows no other way of life.
With the disease of forgetfulness, you get constant birth and death, both in terms of the physical body and the experiences within it. There is the birth of entrance into school and the subsequent death of graduation. There is the birth of meeting your friends for fun and then the death of separating from them. In this way everything in the diseased condition is temporary. In the healthy condition, the opposite is true, which means that remembrance of God is always superior to forgetfulness of Him. Through chanting the holy names and practicing bhakti-yoga as a way of life, that remembrance becomes easy and automatic.
When in diseased condition to be,
Some various symptoms should see.
Disease of forgetting God has symptom first,
Of entry into material land, painful birth.
Symptoms to vanish through cure,
Remember God for relief sure.
To spiritual land return back,
When supreme consciousness not to lack.