The Four Miseries Of Life

[Krishna's lotus feet]“In the Bhagavad-gita (13.9) it is stated, janma-mrityu-jara-vyadhi-duhkha-doshanudarshanam: one who is actually advancing must always consider the four principles of miserable life, namely, birth, death, old age and disease. One cannot be saved from all these miseries unless he takes shelter of the lotus feet of the Lord.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Chaitanya Chairtamrita, Adi 7.1 Purport)

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There are the three sources of misery in life, but that relates to the experience within a specific lifetime. There are four commonly listed miseries which apply to a material existence itself. Namely, these affect every living entity, in any time period, where there is a distinction between body and spirit.

1. Birth

This is where the two meet. The acharyas advise against pursuing the complete history of the living entity. A waste of time. Better to cure the disease than to search out the root cause. The time is short. Make the best use of the current situation.

But we can easily decipher the cause. There was a lack of a pure consciousness during the previous lifetime. Successive lifetimes, dating infinitely back into the past, but we know the presence of impurity based on the event of birth.

The pure spirit soul contacts material elements. The association begins behind the curtain, so to speak. No one actually sees the development, though advancements in technology allow for the detection of a heartbeat and the vision of a general shape of the body-spirit combination.

Shrimad Bhagavatam reveals that the experience within the womb is not pleasurable. Would you prefer to be bunched up in a tight space for upwards of nine months, with no relief in sight? No ability to act on desires. No contact with the outside world.

Finally, birth itself is such a traumatic experience that the living being forgets their time spent in the womb. The mother delivering the baby might suffer tremendously in the process. It may take her quite a long time to heal, and she may vow to never endure the same again in the future.

2. Old age

The Sanskrit word is jara. Old age works in concert with kala, which is time. No one is immune to this process. We typically equate jara with reaching the status known as “senior citizen,” but aging takes place constantly. The person in the boyhood state of body has aged considerably since their time spent in the womb. The adult may be halfway through the typical time spent in a human form.

[winter]Nothing can be done to stop old age. Despite every advancement made in modern society, the body eventually deteriorates. I can no longer eat the way I used to when I was younger. My muscles start to ache after barely any physical exertion. I cannot tolerate the cold weather the same; I must move to someplace warmer.

3. Disease

This misery is everywhere, but it is easy to overlook. How else to explain the sudden panic over the spread of the virus which is really no different than other common illnesses? Disease applies to every person and every time period. There are so many viruses carried and spread constantly, but the effect is not always the same. I may be suffering from a cold and have close contact with my husband, but this does not mean that he is guaranteed to suffer in the same way.

Disease works along with kala to further worsen the condition of the body. That automobile cannot keep running forever. Eventually, the parts start to wear out. The living room sofa needs new cushions. As soon as you sit down, you sink to the bottom.

4. Death

This is the final misery, which no one really expects or wants. Better to avoid thinking about it, but the experience can be very painful. Forced exit from a home that we grew attached to. Kala’s final act, and for this reason the same word can translate to “death.”

These miseries are guaranteed to take place in a material existence. For this reason, the acharyas urge an end to the cycle. Break the pattern. Refuse to participate. Don’t buy into the panic that we must live a certain way or miss out on the fun. Seek real and lasting enjoyment.

The person who is realized in the difference between body and spirit, in the sources of misery and the guaranteed nature of their arrival, no longer has to suffer the experience. They win something called moksha, which is liberation. The end to the cycle of birth and death.

दैवी ह्य् एषा गुण-मयी
मम माया दुरत्यया
माम् एव ये प्रपद्यन्ते
मायाम् एतां तरन्ति ते

daivī hy eṣā guṇa-mayī
mama māyā duratyayā
mām eva ye prapadyante
māyām etāṁ taranti te

“This divine energy of Mine, consisting of the three modes of material nature, is difficult to overcome. But those who have surrendered unto Me can easily cross beyond it.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.14)

[Krishna's lotus feet]Serve the Supreme Lord and easily cross beyond the vast ocean of suffering. He has been with us all along, ready to help. Now we can realize Him and wake up from the slumber of ignorance: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.

In Closing:

Appearing the misery first,
Traumatic time before birth.

Kala then its battle to wage,
Guaranteed old coming age.

Disease vast and wide to spread,
And final blow of death to dread.

But rescued those at His feet falling,
And in love His holy names calling.

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