“Again and again the day comes, and this host of beings is active; and again the night falls, O Partha, and they are helplessly dissolved.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.19)
भूत-ग्रामः स एवायं
भूत्वा भूत्वा प्रलीयते
रात्र्य्-आगमे ऽवशः पार्थ
bhūta-grāmaḥ sa evāyaṁ
bhūtvā bhūtvā pralīyate
rātry-āgame ‘vaśaḥ pārtha
“Wherever you look, people are working hard. I know that might not be the prevailing opinion on the current generation. The older folks look at the younger folks as spoiled and unmotivated. Life was much harder in their day, don’t you see? They had to walk five miles through the snow to get to school. Somehow, it was uphill both ways.
“Seriously, though, just browse through local listings for rooms for rent. Busy people everywhere. Even the elderly who are at home all day, they have something going on. They sit in a recliner and watch television. The younger folks are at school, studying to get ahead.
“The working professional might travel upwards of two hours to get to work. When they return home at night, they are exhausted. No one is ever satisfied. The apartment is too small. After upgrading to a new home, they miss the cozy environment of the previous dwelling.
“There must be a point to all of this. There must be meaning to an existence. It can’t just be survival. Am I off base here? Should I not be concerned with higher philosophical points? Should I just follow along, doing what everyone else is doing?
“I have never been that type. I know there is more. I want to know what it is. I want someone to tell me. There has to be a wise person or two who keeps the secret.”
Bhagavad-gita explains that the cycle of work and exhaustion, tireless effort for fruits, enjoying and then suffering, continues birth after birth. At the present moment in time we see that everyone is busily engaged, but the same is true at any point in the past and also any arbitrary period of analysis moving forward.
Shri Krishna explains that the host of beings is active during the day of the cosmic manifestation. This one day is billions of years in our ordinary calculation. This means that the period of activity spans multiple births. Both awake and asleep. Both alive and dead. Both within the womb and without.
At the end of that very long day, everything gets dissolved. The host of beings essentially enter a dormant state. That is the nighttime of the cosmic manifestation. The inactivity does not signal an end or a loss of existence.
The same period of activity will occur in the future. The cycle repeats. This means that a single individual might go thousands of lifetimes without questioning the meaning to it all. They might follow the ways of nature without applying any thought. Eating, sleeping, mating, and defending, only. Do it all again.
To understand the meaning to it all, we can use the temporary world as a point of reference. It has the cycle of manifestation and annihilation. The host of beings is active during the day and dormant at night. They are helpless to the changes.
At the same time, there is another realm, which is unaffected by the day and night. It is called unmanifest because there is no period of creation or extinction. It is eternal. There is a proprietor to that realm. This is one way to understand the concept of God.
पुरुष: स पर: पार्थ भक्त्या लभ्यस्त्वनन्यया ।
यस्यान्त:स्थानि भूतानि येन सर्वमिदं ततम् ॥
puruṣaḥ sa paraḥ pārtha
bhaktyā labhyas tv ananyayā
yena sarvam idaṁ tatam
“The Supreme Personality of Godhead, who is greater than all, is attainable by unalloyed devotion. Although He is present in His abode, He is all-pervading, and everything is situated within Him.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.22)
He lives in that realm, but He is also all-pervading. He is simultaneously in both places. This is something we cannot accomplish. We are either under the control of the manifest world or we find liberation again in the unmanifest home.
The meaning to it all is to again find the unmanifest. His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada refers to this as going back to Godhead. As explained in Bhagavad-gita, the proprietor of the unmanifest realm can only be attained by devotion. There is no other way.
We essentially use the same working spirit, but change the beneficiary. Sort of how we make out a last will and testament, to stipulate who will receive our property after we pass on, or how we list beneficiaries in a life insurance policy, we work for the satisfaction of God.
He gets one hundred percent of our effort and the fruits of that labor are for His benefit. He knows how to properly distribute, thereafter. Whatever He gives, whether a little or a lot, is used for continuing in that service. This is the secret to life, taught by the acharya, and for our eternal benefit.
By the acharya taught,
From Vaikuntha brought.
That rather cycle continued dread,
Towards unmanifest be led.
Which not subject to birth and death,
Where devotion in every breath.
Otherwise helplessly working so,
In fruitless endeavor to go.