“Materialistic persons, who are too much engaged in material enjoyment and who do not know anything beyond their material experiences, are carried by the whims of material nature. They live a life characterized by chewing the chewed, and they are controlled by their uncontrolled senses. Thus they go down to the darkest regions of hellish life.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 4.26.8 Purport)
Question: “I’m familiar with the assessment of material life made by Prahlada Maharaja, the five-year old son of the king Hiranyakashipu. Namely, the part about chewing the chewed, how man seeks enjoyment in things that don’t have any taste to give – from studying the issue it makes sense. What I’m puzzled over, however, is why man would continue down this line? They know there is no taste left, so why do the same thing over and over again?”
Matter is dull and lifeless. Spirit is the opposite. It is the very definition of life. You cannot have a living thing without the presence of spirit. The fundamental difference is consciousness. A living thing, spirit, has consciousness, whereas matter does not.
Material life is where the spark of spirit, the animating force within a body, accepts a temporary material covering that then leads to a false identification. We can think of it like someone putting on a uniform for playing on a team and then never taking that uniform off. The football player isn’t identified as such at home, where they may be the husband or the father. To constantly wear the uniform is silly, as the identification as athlete is meant to only be temporary.
Material life is like falsely identifying all the time. With an incorrect sense of identity, the activities engaged in are not superior. They are inferior, meaning the enjoyment is also second class. The purpose to an existence is to feel pleasure, after all. The Sanskrit word is ananda, which means “bliss.” Ananda is an integral aspect of spirit; ananda-mayo ’bhyasat.
A long time back the son of a king compared material life to chewing the chewed. We can think of the dog trying to extract taste from a bone that doesn’t have any food to give. The bone is dry. Yet the dog continues to try, and then other dogs come to fight for the same bone.
The struggles continue even in the more intelligent human species due to the potential for enjoyment.
“I had a bitter experience the last time I played blackjack, but maybe this time it will be different. Maybe I will win.”
“Oh, I won that one time, and afterwards I still didn’t have peace of mind. But anyway, there is nothing better to do. Rather than sit around and do nothing, let me pass the time in excitement.”
The excitement resulting from the potential for enjoyment erases the previous memory contradicting the same. The way out of the ignorance and into the light is proper identification. This comes only through the spiritual science, which must be learned from a higher authority. Through enough personal experience and self-analysis, we can maybe come to the conclusion that all human beings are struggling through the same existence. We can appreciate the other species for their struggles as well, but proper identification will not come.
“The humble sage, by virtue of true knowledge, sees with equal vision a learned and gentle brahmana, a cow, an elephant, a dog and a dog-eater [outcaste] .” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 5.18)
The spiritual master has it on good authority that the individual is spirit soul, part and parcel of the complete collection of spirit that is Brahman. That authority is the highest, since it descends from the original person, adi-purusha. The guru opens our eyes and fills our heart with transcendental knowledge. The temporary identifications are the result of mundane knowledge, whose significance does not span beyond the present lifetime. Transcendental knowledge is for lifetime after lifetime.
The proper assessment of chewing the chewed is but one benefit from receiving this knowledge. With proper identification, I can engage in activities that will benefit me each time I try them. Even if I fall back into illusion, forgetting my real identity after having learned it, the time spent in the transcendental light will pay dividends at some point in the future. That which is already chewed will no longer give me enjoyment. I will have to trick myself in order to jump in again. Whereas in spiritual life, the more knowledgeable I am, the more enjoyment I continue to find.
The individual is intimately tied to the Supreme Spirit, who is also known as God. Service to the Divine is full of taste. Just like His transcendental form, which is ever fresh and new, there can never be enough bliss in surrender, or sharanagati. There is real potential for enjoyment every time a sincere attempt is made at connection, which is known as yoga. A single time chanting the holy names found in the maha-mantra brings a higher taste to be relished for a lifetime: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Tremendous bliss to find,
By holy names chanted just one time.
Not like with material activities a waste,
Chewing the chewed, no longer a taste.
Potential there, maybe to find,
Engaging only after tricking the mind.
Higher taste from getting knowledge real,
Bhakti’s bliss more and more to feel.