“The miseries of life, namely birth, death, old age and diseases, are present everywhere within the material world. But one who understands his real constitutional position as the eternal servitor of the Lord, and thus knows the position of the Personality of Godhead, engages himself in the transcendental loving service of the Lord. Consequently he becomes qualified to enter into the Vaikuntha planets, where there is neither material, miserable life, nor the influence of time and death.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 2.51 Purport)
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada explains that there are four primary miseries in a material existence. This is of a different category from the three sources of misery, which are adhidaivika, adhibhautika, and adhyatmika.
The four miseries are birth, old age, disease and death. The astute observer, a person experienced in life who has been paying attention, will immediately give confirmation, nodding in approval. Though the list descends from tradition, parampara, after accepting the information on faith a person can find validation using basic observation and experiment.
These miseries cannot be fully removed from the experience. It is better to avoid a material existence altogether. A person might be surprised to find “birth” on the list. This is where the miseries begin. The living entity gets packed inside of the mother’s stomach and can’t escape for at least nine months.
In the modern day, the misery is more pronounced due to the potential for lethal harm. To escape from the womb alive is an achievement. There is intentional killing, somehow sanctioned through word jugglery and made-up “rights.”
Aging begins immediately upon birth. With each passing day, the person who suffered through birth comes closer to the inevitable end. Though in the beginning it looks like positive development, with the advancement through stages of maturity, soon thereafter the capacity diminishes.
As an example, I used to be able to run for miles without getting tired. I could get up early and travel a long distance to reach the office. I could eat whatever I wanted, and I never worried about bodily metrics such as blood pressure, glucose levels, and acuity in vision.
Yet everything changes with old age. Along the way there is potential for disease. Nothing has been done to stop disease, despite what any scientist or doctor says. The exact kinds of disease plaguing society may be different from fifty or one hundred years ago, but there are sick people all the same. Hiding in your house, obstructing your breathing while in public, or taking experimental injections will never stop disease.
The final misery is death. This is the end itself. After suffering so much from the beginning, enduring ups and downs, working hard just to stay alive, there is the forced exit. You have to leave; there is no choice. The wise person does not overly lament the situation, for they understood this to be the guaranteed fate as soon as birth took place.
To top it off, if there is a continued desire for material existence, the experience will repeat. Like turning on the washing machine for another cycle. Like visiting an amusement park after having been there before. Like going back to jail after thinking you were set free.
The acharyas of the Vedic tradition advise to lean on the side of intelligence. Be aware of these miseries. Be cognizant of them. Learn how and why they take place. Do not live in illusion, thinking that you will be free as long as you don’t ponder what will take place in the future.
The purpose of real religion, dharma, is to escape these miseries. The living entity’s natural state is bliss, ananda. The soul is always happy when the work and consciousness align with the essential characteristic.
Devotion to the Supreme Lord is inherent in the living being. That property can never be removed; only suppressed. Material existence is nothing more than forgetfulness of God. Spiritual existence is remembering Him.
अन्त-काले च माम् एव
स्मरन् मुक्त्वा कलेवरम्
यः प्रयाति स मद्-भावं
याति नास्त्य् अत्र संशयः
anta-kāle ca mām eva
smaran muktvā kalevaram
yaḥ prayāti sa mad-bhāvaṁ
yāti nāsty atra saṁśayaḥ
“And whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.5)
Those who are conscious of the Almighty still suffer the miseries of life, but the degree of pain is lessened. Moreover, they are on track for escaping the cycle. Since they possess the Divine consciousness today, they are more likely to keep it tomorrow, and the next day. If it remains through to the time of quitting the body, the end of life, then there is no more rebirth.
The existence does not cease. There is eternal life in liberation, mukti. That life is free of miseries; hence the corresponding place of residence has the name of Vaikuntha. That place is the goal for every living being, and due to the mercy of the acharya we have the opportunity to find it again.
Chance for once again finding,
Instead of karma’s wheel rewinding.
Because of acharya rescuing me,
Finally properly to see.
That miseries since birth affecting,
Where end of death expecting.
Not natural state this place,
Only dharma the miseries to erase.
Categories: devotional service