“The child cries to have the moon from the mother, and the mother gives the child a mirror to satisfy the crying and disturbing child with the reflection of the moon. Similarly, the crying child of the Lord is given over to the reflection, the material world, to lord it over as karmi and to give this up in frustration to become one with the Lord. Both these stages are dreaming illusions only. There is no necessity of tracing out the history of when the living entity desired this. But the fact is that as soon as he desired it, he was put under the control of atma-maya by the direction of the Lord.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 2.9.1 Purport)
A child is known to ask questions. They are discovering the world, after all. They will ask question after question, and if they are genuinely inquisitive they will remember the answers they get from the adults. The loving parent is more than happy to oblige, but sometimes the questions are difficult to answer. For example, what should the response be to, “Why are we here?”
This is the mystery to life itself. The child hasn’t even seen that much. Yet they want to know something that philosophers and great minds for thousands of years have pondered. Fortunately, Vedic philosophy does provide an answer. It doesn’t solve the mystery of time and space, which are both infinite, but there is at least something to chew on. The answer goes something like this:
“We are here because we wanted to be. This land is known as material. You, I and every other living thing are spiritual at the core. The land is material because each living thing gets covered up by things that don’t represent us. These things are composed of five different elements: earth, water, fire, air and ether.
“In a material existence, the coverings to spirit constantly change. This is how time operates. Nothing remains fixed. This property of the material world cannot be changed. It is intended to be this way. When a person wants to imitate God, they get sent here. When they no longer want to imitate, they get to return to His shelter. Therefore we are here right now because at some point in the past we were envious of the Almighty. We don’t know when it happened, but as long as we keep that envy we stay here.”
There is much more nuance and detail to this explanation. The lengthy Shrimad Bhagavatam should be consulted for more information. Indeed, the Bhagavatam is only one work of many in Vedic literature. It is not that the Vedas are the only religion having legitimacy, but they do provide the most information. Every religion describes the same God, but some offer more information about Him than others.
If you are a nice, kind and respectful person, when you first hear this you may be flabbergasted. “Did I really want to imitate God? I can’t believe that. I respect Him so much. I have believed in Him since childhood. I can’t imagine that we all rebelled in that way.” It’s sad, but a truth nonetheless.
The validity of a truth is not dependent on the acceptance of others. For instance, if I tell you that I saw the sun in the sky during the day, that is evidence enough to establish the fact. You can ask others for confirmation, just for your own satisfaction, but that testimony still doesn’t make what I said any more true. In the same way, the truth of the living entity spinning on the wheel of reincarnation due to rebelling against the Supreme Lord is fact enough based on the authority of Shri Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, who describes such matters in the Bhagavad-gita.
tān ahaṁ dviṣataḥ krūrān
kṣipāmy ajasram aśubhān
āsurīṣv eva yoniṣu
“Those who are envious and mischievous, who are the lowest among men, are cast by Me into the ocean of material existence, into various demoniac species of life.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 16.19)
Still, for our own peace of mind, we can get further confirmation elsewhere. Just look around. Take a tally of how many people actually worship the Supreme Lord in earnest. In the House of Representatives in the United States legislature, there is a post known as the Whip. Their job is to go around to each representative in the party and see how they will vote on a particular piece of legislation. This task is known as taking a whip count. It gives the leaders of the parties a better idea of whether or not to bring a piece of legislation to the floor of the House for a vote.
If you took a whip count of people who actually serve God with thought, word and deed, you would be resigned to the fact that everyone is doomed. Doomed here means stuck in the perpetual cycle of birth and death, which features acceptance and rejection of so many things in between. Therefore the proof is already before us. There is no need to make a detailed study of history. The present corroborates the past.
The truth presented by the Vedas is not meant to depress anyone. In fact, it is a great blessing for a person to even hear this truth, for so many go their entire lives without coming across it. Knowledge of this single truth is the key to happiness and peace of mind. Simply change the way you live. Keep working. There is no need to abandon that. Just change who is the primary beneficiary. Work for the Supreme Lord’s pleasure first.
The way to do this is know more about Him. The Vedas describe Him as all-attractive; hence the name Krishna. How lucky are we? The person we’re meant to serve is actually attractive in every aspect. This makes the service rewarding. His features are inexhaustible. That means if I serve Him today, I won’t get bored with that service after a few months. If I’m serving properly, my enthusiasm will only increase with time. This gradual rise is what purifies the consciousness. It is that consciousness which determines the next birth.
yaṁ yaṁ vāpi smaran bhāvaṁ
tyajaty ante kalevaram
taṁ tam evaiti kaunteya
“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.6)
The change in consciousness is known as bhakti-yoga, or Krishna consciousness. The person who is fortunate enough to be in bhakti considers it to be a new life. Indeed, there is the symbolic entry into the new life known as diksha, or initiation. The first birth comes from the parents and the second from the spiritual guide, the guru. The guru has changed their consciousness long back, and they are kind enough to now help others to change theirs. The shift is worth it, as soon the “here” will be in the company of the Supreme Lord, who is joined by those who serve Him with love.
If legislation on House floor to mount,
Party whip first taking a count.
To see how many votes are there,
For chance of passage to become aware.
If poll of devotion to Krishna done the same,
Then seeing proof of how to this world we came.
Just a simple tweak to turn things around,
When in bhakti-yoga feet on solid ground.