“Human life by nature is full of suffering, and lower life forms are even more miserable. Any sane man with properly discriminating senses can understand that life in the material world is full of miseries and that no one is free from the actions and reactions of such miseries. This is not a pessimistic view of life but is an actual fact which we should not be blind to.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Elevation To Krishna Consciousness, Ch 2)
Friend1: Hey, let me ask you about pessimism and optimism.
Friend2: Glass half empty or half full?
Friend1: That’s pretty much it. I guess that’s why people use that comparison all the time.
Friend2: What did you want to ask?
Friend1: I’ve heard it said quite often that Vedic philosophy has a pessimistic view of the world.
Friend2: From people just learning about the philosophy?
Friend1: And so basically Krishna consciousness, bhakti-yoga, devotional service – whatever you want to call it, is a bummer. The argument is that people should be happy instead.
Friend2: Oh, exactly. I agree. The thing is, you start off with a poor view in order to realize the eternal opportunity. The pessimism turns into optimism.
Friend1: Really? Why not just start out optimistic?
Friend2: Because at that stage the optimism is in illusion. It is towards reaching a permanent solution in a temporary world. It is thinking that lasting happiness will come while in a body destined for destruction. It ignores the threefold miseries of life, which attack at every second somewhere in the world. Just because I am spared for now doesn’t mean I will be safe later.
Friend1: Wow. Good job so succinctly describing the pessimistic view. We are all doomed to die, to change bodies, so what is there to be happy about? Can you just as succinctly describe the optimism that occurs later on?
Friend2: I am spirit soul, part and parcel of God. No matter how low I sink, I always have an opportunity to reconnect with Him. I think I have fallen from the spiritual world, but actually God is always with me. The opportunity to serve Him and find real happiness is always there.
Friend2: Did something happen to you that triggered this line of questioning today?
Friend1: You know me too well. I did have an experience. It immediately got me to thinking about people who complain that Vedic philosophy is too pessimistic, which I don’t really agree with.
Friend2: What happened?
Friend1: I went to a wedding.
Friend2: Okay. It wasn’t fun?
Friend1: It’s supposed to be, right? Listen, I’m not trying to put down other religions here. These were just my initial observations. Every person is bound to make them when in a foreign environment.
Friend2: Oh, the wedding wasn’t Hindu or Vedic?
Friend1: No. It was Christian, Catholic I think. Anyway, when we get to the church, I just got a weird vibe.
Friend2: How so?
Friend1: The best way I can describe it is that it felt like we were in a room suited for people who had done something wrong. Somber, serious, grave. That was the attitude. “You are a sinner and now you are in church to atone.”
Friend2: Hmm. You realize that to so many people that is the only experience they have with religion.
Friend1: Yeah, that’s what I’m getting to. I mean without speaking a single word of philosophy, I got a true experience of a pessimistic view. I immediately compared it to the mood of devotion and sweetness when worshiping God the person directly. You know, with the deity form.
Friend2: Ah, yes. Certainly a different mood. Instead of, “Come here so you can take your punishment,” it is, “Come here and enjoy with Me. Be in bliss eternally. Use everything you have to stay connected with Me, and I’ll make sure that you are protected, happy, and excited to be alive.”
Friend1: Wow. Perfect, again. That’s exactly it! There was no happiness at this church, even though it was a wedding. I don’t know, maybe I was the only one who felt like that. The whole experience made me very thankful to know that there is a side of God where He shows His attractiveness and asks you to enjoy.
Friend2: Listen, that is the history of the world.
Friend1: What is?
Friend2: Variety. Not everyone is the same. The one religion, dharma, is taught differently based on time and circumstance. Not everything is revealed to everyone. Sometimes you need to scare people into approaching the Divine. I love what His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada says about the ten commandments.
Friend1: What does he say?
Friend2: Those commandments are important to many people; they’re taken very seriously. Well, rules become important only when the people are prone to behaving against them. Basically, people during that time needed to be told to not steal, not cheat on their spouse, not kill, etc. If you think about it, though, the principles aren’t that important. You can figure those things out on your own. Religion has much more to it, or at least it should.
Friend1: That is a good point. Spirit, matter, the changing of bodies, action and reaction, birth and death, the different species, the nature of God, the types of interaction with Him, the place of residence – those are much higher topics than “thou shall not do this, thou shall not do that.”
Friend2: Right, but those commandments are still very important to certain people. It is their introduction to dharma. Any genuine step taken in spiritual life is significant, as it helps to bring elevation from the animal mindset.
Into church, at pew to kneel,
Weird vibe inside to feel.
As if into a prison shown,
Ready now for mistakes to atone.
Different from bhakti-yoga’s view,
Worship of God, ever fresh and new.
“Enjoy with Me, come to My land,”
Welcoming, guiding and compassionate hand.