“There are two classes of men in the world; one is called the demon, and the other is called the demigod. The demigods concern themselves with the spiritual upliftment of human society, whereas the demons are concerned with physical and material upliftment.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.17.16 Purport)
“Oh no, what happened to my sandcastle? It was here a few moments ago. Do you know how long it took to build? Do you know that my first few attempts were utter disasters? I had no idea what I was doing. I had to work hard at it. Once I figured out the technique, the difficulties still didn’t end. It’s like knowing how to plant a seed to get a crop. Once you’ve figured it out, the long work of planting all the seeds necessary for a good harvest lays ahead. In the same way, once I figured out how to build this castle, I had to do the physical work all by myself. I had to apply a lot of “elbow grease” to get it done. Now it’s all gone. I’m so sad. I wonder what happened.”
This example perfectly illustrates the life cycle of material advancement, from start to finish. It also illustrates the mindset of the individuals within that cycle. The sandcastle is nothing more than material and physical upliftment, both literal and figurative. The castle goes up through hard work, and there is some pleasure in seeing the end result. Through the laws of nature, however, everything gets erased. Sometimes without prior warning even, all that past work is wiped out. A wave comes to the shore, a tropical storm hits the coast, or an unsupervised child runs through the area and destroys the beautiful structure.
In the sandcastle example, what is the wise choice going forward? Should the person rebuild the sandcastle, taking the same effort? Should they move on to something else? Should they build a sand fort? What about playfully burying one of their friends in the sand?
We bring home a dog to serve as a pet. We have to housebreak them, making sure that they learn that their crate, the living room floor, or even the kitchen is not a bathroom. If they have to relieve themselves, they are to wait until they are outside. In return for good behavior, the dog accepts the affection of the owner. The owner offers unconditional love.
As the average lifespan of the dog is much shorter than the human’s, there is every likelihood that the dog will pass on while the owner is still alive. Then what? There is sadness for sure. There is grief. Not surprisingly, the next step is often to get another dog and repeat the cycle. The same holds true for failed marriages, heartbreak in relationships, indigestion from eating, hangovers from drinking, and so many other interactions in material life.
The wise souls target spiritual upliftment. This means to improve the lot of the spirit soul. The best reward would be to escape the cycle of birth and death completely. Get out of this misery of acceptance and rejection, building and destroying. Spiritual means not material. Material means not spiritual. The two are never the same until one becomes completely spiritual. That is the case with the origin of matter and spirit. He is neither spiritual nor material. He is completely pure. The dichotomy is for His innumerable sparks. They are spirit by nature, but they can choose between spiritual life and material life.
When they choose material life, they opt for building and rebuilding so many things. This is not exclusive to external objects, either. The body itself can be built and rebuilt. Think of the person who gains a lot of weight and then loses it through diet and exercise. Think of the person who shatters their knee playing football and then slowly brings it back into shape through surgery and rehabilitation.
At the time of death, the entire body goes away. Then a new one is given, in new circumstances. The cycle therefore repeats. Material upliftment can do nothing to end this cycle. By its very nature, it is meant to bring rewards that are temporary and thus perishable. When something is destined for destruction, the individuals who are attached to it must suffer.
Spiritual upliftment brings something permanent, namely a consciousness. God consciousness does not have to break. It travels with the individual from lifetime to lifetime. Actually, the ordinary consciousness does as well, for it determines the kind of nature we inherit at the time of birth. With the material consciousness, however, nothing is permanent. So even if we were an expert physician in a past life, in this life we don’t have any knowledge of that. We may even grow up in a family of physicians, but since we are prone to attack from material forces, our retention of medical knowledge is not guaranteed.
God consciousness stays with the individual. The reward for possessing this consciousness at the time of death is residence in a land conducive to that consciousness. The person who always thinks of God gets to be with God. It’s that simple. In the spiritual land there is endless play. One day people are playing with the Supreme Lord in His childhood form of Damodara, and the next people are listening to the beautiful sounds emanating from His flute. Because of His expert ability to play this instrument, He is known as Muralidhara.
Every aspect to Him is attractive, so He is most commonly known by the name Krishna. The demigods in this world, who are saintly and thus after the spiritual upliftment of society, teach us how to know Krishna. By knowing Him, we can think about Him. By thinking about Him, we can get God consciousness. With God consciousness we return to the spiritual land, where the only concern is how to please the Supreme Lord. His happiness brings happiness to others, so it’s a win-win situation.
Castle on the beach to build,
With sand and effort it’s filled.
Then with just one crashing wave,
Castle gone, helpless are attempts to save.
This example with others the same,
Loss to follow any temporary gain.
With Supreme Lord, wielder of flute, not so,
To His permanent abode the devoted souls go.