Chapter 18: Liberation from Ignorance and Suffering

bhave ’smin kliśyamānānām
avidyā-kāma-karmabhiḥ
śravaṇa-smaraṇārhāṇi
kariṣyann iti kecana

And yet others say that You appeared to rejuvenate the devotional service of hearing, remembering, worshiping, and so on, in order that the conditioned souls suffering from material pangs might take advantage and gain liberation.

Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 1.8.35

In the Śrīmad Bhagavad-gītā the Lord asserts that He appears in every millennium just to reestablish the way of religion. The way of religion is made by the Supreme Lord. No one can manufacture a new path of religion, as is the fashion for certain ambitious persons. The factual way of religion is to accept the Lord as the supreme authority and thus render service unto Him in spontaneous love. A living being cannot help but render service because he is constitutionally made for that purpose. The only function of the living being is to render service to the Lord. The Lord is great, and living beings are subordinate to Him. Therefore, the duty of the living being is just to serve Him only. Unfortunately the illusioned living beings, out of misunderstanding only, become servants of the senses by material desire. This desire is called avidyā, or nescience. And out of such desire the living being makes different plans for material enjoyment centered about a perverted sex life. He therefore becomes entangled in the chain of birth and death by transmigrating into different bodies on different planets under the direction of the Supreme Lord. Unless, therefore, one is beyond the boundary of this nescience, one cannot get free from the threefold miseries of material life. That is the law of nature.

The Lord, however, out of His causeless mercy, because He is more merciful to the suffering living beings than they can expect, appears before them and renovates the principles of devotional service, comprised of hearing, chanting, remembering, serving, worshiping, praying, cooperating, and surrendering unto Him. Adoption of all the abovementioned items, or any one of them, can help a conditioned soul get out of the tangle of nescience and thus become liberated from all material sufferings created by the living being illusioned by the external energy. This particular type of mercy is bestowed upon the living being by the Lord in the form of Lord Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu.

In this very important verse the words bhave ’smin mean “in this material world.” The word bhava also means “grow,” and it refers to that which has taken birth. In the material world there are six kinds of changes. First there is birth, then growth, and then that which has been born and has grown stays for some time, produces some by-products, and then dwindles and finally vanishes. These six changes are called ṣaḍ-vikāra. The body, for example, takes birth at a certain date, and then it grows and stays for some time. From the body come so many by-products in the form of sons and daughters, and then the body becomes old and weak, and finally when it is very old it dies.

But when the body is finished, I am not finished. When the gross body comes to an end, I am still present within the subtle body of mind, intelligence, and false ego, and this subtle body carries me to another gross body. Although everyone has to accept a subtle body, the scientists and medical men cannot see it. I have a mind, and you have a mind, but I cannot see your mind, and you cannot see mine. I have intelligence, and you have intelligence, but you cannot see my intelligence, nor can I see yours, because they are very subtle. Similarly, the spirit soul is still more subtle, so what will the materialistic scientists see of it? They cannot see the mind, intelligence, or false ego, what to speak of the soul. Therefore they say, “The body is everything, and there is nothing more.” Actually, however, that is not a fact.

The fact is that the spirit soul is very, very small. Bālāgra-śata-bhāgasya śatadhā kalpitasya ca (Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad 5.9). The soul is one ten-thousandth the size of the tip of a hair. Suppose we were to take a hair and divide it into a hundred parts. Could we do it? No. That is not possible. But if we could do it and then divide it again into another one hundred parts, each part would be the size of the spirit soul.

Of course, this is not possible to understand by experimental knowledge, so how can it be learned? One must learn of this from an authority. Our knowledge is so imperfect that it cannot deal with such subtle affairs, and because rascals cannot deal with such things, they think that matter is the cause of life. Nonetheless, they have not been able to demonstrate that life comes from matter. Let them take chemicals in their laboratory and produce even a small insect with hands, legs, and eyes. Every night we see many of such small insects with legs and eyes with which they approach the light. From such small insects up to Brahmā there are 8,400,000 different forms of life, among which we are traveling from body to body, leaving one body and entering another, as stated by Kṛṣṇa in Bhagavad-gītā (tathā dehāntara-prāptiḥ). Therefore, either we must reject Kṛṣṇa’s word or reject all the so-called scientific theories that life comes from matter. But we are pledged to Kṛṣṇa consciousness, and therefore we cannot reject Kṛṣṇa’s word. We accept Kṛṣṇa when He says that we have to travel from one body to another.

Every living entity within this material world is under the influence of avidyā, ignorance. Avidyā-karma-saṁjñānyā tṛtīyā śaktir iṣyate. God, Kṛṣṇa, has many millions of potencies (parāsya śaktir vividhaiva śrūyate), and they have been summarized into three categories – the external potency, the internal potency, and the marginal potency. The marginal potency and the internal potency are of the same spiritual quality, but the third potency, the external potency, is inferior.

viṣṇu-śaktir parā proktā
kṣetrajñākhyā tathā parā
avidyā-karma-saṁjñānyā
tṛtīyā śaktir iṣyate

(Viṣṇu Purāṇa 6.7.61)

In this material world, everyone is in ignorance (avidyā). Even Brahmā was ignorant until he was given knowledge by Kṛṣṇa. Therefore no one should be proud of his knowledge. Everyone in this material world is a rascal. A particular living entity desires, “If I can get the opportunity to obtain the post of Brahmā, then I can create a big universe.” Thus he receives the body of Brahmā. And the small insect thinks, “If I can create a small hole within this room, then I can live very peacefully and eat.” Thus Brahmā desires to create a universe, we desire to create a skyscraper, and an ant desires to create a hole in a room, but the quality of the work is the same. We are all fools, however, because we do not realize that because these things are material they will not last. Because of ignorance we think, “This will be very nice. That will be very nice.” Kāma-karmabhiḥ. We create some desire (kāma), and then we work accordingly. This results in so many difficulties (kliśyanti). To become Brahmā is not a very easy thing. Brahmā is such a big post, and it is given to a very qualified living entity who is highly advanced in austerities and penance. But he is also a living entity like us. In America there are many citizens, and President Ford is also a citizen, but by dint of his ardent labor and diplomacy he captured the post. Still, he is an ordinary citizen. President Nixon, for example, has now been dragged down and is no longer president. This is because he was an ordinary citizen. Similarly, if we like, we may also become Brahmā. Therefore Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura says:

kīṭa-janma hao yathā tuyā dāsa
bahirmukha brahma-janme nāhi āśā

“Let me become an insect in a place where Your devotee is present, because if I fall down in the dust of the feet of a devotee my life will be successful.” Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura says, bahirmukha brahma-janme nāhi āśā: “I would not want to be a Brahmā and not be a devotee of Kṛṣṇa.”

Because we are in ignorance, māyā, at any time we may forget Kṛṣṇa. Therefore we must always engage in Kṛṣṇa consciousness so that we shall not forget Him. That is indicated by Kuntīdevī by the words śravaṇa-smaraṇārhāṇi. The word śravaṇa means “hearing,” smaraṇa means “remembering,” and arhaṇa means “worshiping the Deity of Kṛṣṇa.” One should always engage oneself in hearing about, remembering, and worshiping Kṛṣṇa. All the centers of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement are opened only for this purpose – to facilitate chanting, dancing, and worshiping so that we shall not forget Kṛṣṇa. Sadā tad-bhāva-bhāvitaḥ: if we always think of Kṛṣṇa, there is a chance that we shall remember Kṛṣṇa at the end of life (ante nārāyaṇa-smṛtiḥ).

Everything takes practice. For example, if one wants to dance on the stage, one has to perform many rehearsals to practice how to dance. Then if one becomes an expert dancer, when one dances on stage one will receive acclaim: “Ah, a very good dancer.” But one cannot say, “I shall go immediately to the stage and become a good dancer.” That is not possible. One may say, “No, no, no. I shall not attend the rehearsal. Just give me the stage, and I shall perform.” But the director will not allow this, for one cannot become a good dancer without practice. The real purpose of life is to remember Kṛṣṇa when one’s life comes to an end (ante nārāyaṇa-smṛtiḥ). If at the time of death one can remember Kṛṣṇa, one’s life is successful.

In this material world one must suffer from material miseries, but rascals do not care to understand this, for they are absorbed in ignorance. A smuggler may go on with his work, even though he knows that he will be arrested and punished. A thief may know that he will be arrested and punished for criminal acts, and he may even have been punished several times, but still he will commit the same crime again (punaḥ punaś carvita-carvaṇānām). Why? Ignorance. He is so much absorbed in ignorance that he does not think, “I am repeatedly stealing and being repeatedly arrested and sent to jail to be punished. Why am I doing this? The result is not good.” A person who is too much sexually inclined may suffer many times from venereal disease and have to undergo treatment, but still he will go to a prostitute again. This is avaidha-strī-saṅga, illegitimate sex. But even legitimate sex involves so many difficulties. After sex, a woman becomes pregnant and has to suffer for ten months, and at the time of delivery there is also sometimes very great danger. And the father, after the child is born, must take care of the child and work hard to provide for its education. Therefore the Vedic literature says, bahu-duḥkha-bhājaḥ: after sex, legitimate or illegitimate, there are so many troubles. Tṛpyanti neha kṛpaṇāḥ: but one who is an ignorant rascal will not be satisfied. Instead, he will do the same things again and again (punaḥ punaś carvita-carvaṇānām). This is called bhava-roga, the disease of material existence.

yan maithunādi-gṛhamedhi-sukhaṁ hi tucchaṁ
kaṇḍūyanena karayor iva duḥkha-duḥkham

(Bhāgavatam 7.9.45)

In the Vedic civilization, therefore, small boys are trained to remain brahmacārī, celibate, and not involve themselves in the troubles of sex. But if one is unable to remain brahmacārī, he is allowed to marry. After being trained in the beginning as a brahmacārī, he will not stay for many years in family life, but will very soon become vānaprastha (retired) and then accept sannyāsa, the renounced order of life.

In this material world everyone is suffering – the birds, the beasts, the trees, the animals, the plants, and even Brahmā and Indra. Indra is also not safe; he is always in anxiety about competitors who may come.

tat sādhu manye ’sura-varya dehināṁ
sadā samudvigna-dhiyām asad-grahāt

(Bhāgavatam 7.5.5)

Why is everyone in this material world always in anxiety? Avidyā-kāma-karmabhiḥ: because they are rascals. Therefore Kṛṣṇa stresses, “You rascal, give up all your nonsense and surrender unto Me.” This is Kṛṣṇa’s very good mercy. He is the supreme father. Therefore He directly says, sarva-guhyatamam: “This is the most confidential knowledge.” Sarva-dharmān parityajya mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja: “You rascal, give up everything and simply surrender unto Me.”

Therefore Kuntī says, “You have come to teach rascals like this and engage them in hearing, remembering, and worship.” This is bhakti. Śravaṇaṁ kīrtanaṁ viṣṇoḥ: one should hear and chant about Viṣṇu, Kṛṣṇa. But as soon as devotees begin to hear and chant about Viṣṇu, some rascal svāmī will say, “No, hearing or chanting any name will do. Why Viṣṇu? Why not Kālī?” In Bengal there is a group of people who have invented “kālī-kīrtana,” chanting the name of the demigoddess Kālī. What is this nonsense? In the Vedic literature there is no such thing as “kālī-kīrtana.” Kīrtana means śravaṇaṁ kīrtanaṁ viṣṇoḥ – hearing and chanting about Viṣṇu, Kṛṣṇa. The Vedic literature recommends harer nāma, chanting of the holy name of Hari, Kṛṣṇa, and no one else.

This śravaṇaṁ kīrtanam, hearing and chanting, was described very nicely by Śukadeva Gosvāmī in the Second Canto of Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (2.4.15). He said:

yat-kīrtanaṁ yad-smaraṇaṁ yad-īkṣaṇaṁ
yad-vandanaṁ yat-śravaṇaṁ yad-arhaṇam
lokasya sadyo vidhunoti kalmaṣaṁ
tasmai subhadra-śravase namo namaḥ

Before speaking Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, Śukadeva Gosvāmī offered his obeisances to Kṛṣṇa with this verse. He said, “I offer my obeisances unto Him, for simply hearing of Him is subhadra, auspicious.” The entire Bhāgavatam is glorification of Kṛṣṇa, and this is glorification by Śukadeva Gosvāmī. He says that one can be perfectly purified if one either glorifies Kṛṣṇa, meditates upon Him, or simply sits before the Deity of Kṛṣṇa and sees Him, thinking, “How nicely dressed is Kṛṣṇa. How nicely dressed is Rādhārāṇī.” If one has no ability to chant or if one’s mind is so disturbed that one cannot fix it upon Kṛṣṇa, one is given this chance: “Here is the Deity. Simply see Him.” If one is engaged in the service of the Deity, there is a good chance of always seeing Him, twenty-four hours a day. While cleansing the floor of the temple, while dressing the Deity, while bathing the Deity, or while offering Him food, one will always see Him. This is the process of devotional service, but people are such fallen rascals that they do not even go see the Deity. “Oh,” they think, “what is this Deity worship? It is idol worship.” They may worship the statue of Gandhi or someone else, but when asked to come see the worship of the Deity they will say, “No, this is idol worship.”

I have seen that in Calcutta in Chaurangi Square there is a statue of Sir Asutosa Mukherji. Throughout the year the crows pass stool on his face, and the stool becomes caked on. So on one day a year the ordinary sweepers cleanse the statue with their brush in the morning, and in the evening some big men come and garland him with flowers. Then after that evening they go away, and again the next morning the crows come to pass stool on his face. So this kind of worship is accepted – sweeping the face of Sir Asutosa Mukherji with the municipal brush – but if we install the Deity of Kṛṣṇa and worship Him nicely, people will say that this is idol worship.

So people are embarrassed by being entangled in avidyā, ignorance, and the method by which to educate them and rescue them from the clutches of this ignorance is devotional service. As explained by Śukadeva Gosvāmī, one may chant the name of Kṛṣṇa or meditate upon Kṛṣṇa, or if one cannot meditate one may simply sit down and see Kṛṣṇa. Even a child can see, “Here is Kṛṣṇa. Here is Rādhārāṇī.” Even a small child or even an animal can do this and benefit, or if one is more intelligent one may offer prayers, and if one is expert and has been trained by a spiritual master one may perform appropriate worship.

Christians and Muslims are also Vaiṣṇavas, devotees, because they offer prayers to the Lord. “O God,” they say, “give us our daily bread.” Those who offer this prayer may not know very much and may be at a lower stage, but this is a beginning, because they have approached God. Going to a church or mosque is also pious (catur-vidhā bhajante māṁ janāḥ sukṛtino ’rjuna). Therefore those who begin in this way will one day become pure Vaiṣṇavas. But the atheistic propaganda that one should not go to a church, temple, or mosque is very dangerous to human society.

One may not be very advanced, but one should try at least to do something to understand God. A child is sent to school, and although he may simply learn ABCD, if he is interested he may one day become a very good scholar. Similarly, one day a pious man may become a pure devotee. Why should one give up religion altogether, become completely secular, and simply open a factory in which to manufacture nuts and bolts and work very hard and drink, and eat meat? What kind of civilization is this? It is because of this so-called civilization that people are suffering.

It is by ignorance that people think that by opening factories they will be happy. Why should they open factories? There is no need. There is so much land, and one can produce one’s own food grains and eat sumptuously without any factory. Milk is also available without a factory. The factory cannot produce milk or grains. The present scarcity of food in the world is largely due to such factories. When everyone is working in the city to produce nuts and bolts, who will produce food grains? Simple living and high thinking is the solution to economic problems. Therefore the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is engaging devotees in producing their own food and living self-sufficiently so that rascals may see how one can live very peacefully, eat the food grains one has grown oneself, drink milk, and chant Hare Kṛṣṇa.

The process of Kṛṣṇa consciousness should be very vigorously propagated all over the world. Simply by seeing the Deity or simply by joining in chanting of the Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra, people will derive tremendous benefit. If one performs kīrtana, chanting, one will be able to think of Kṛṣṇa. One may think, “I danced for two hours and chanted Hare Kṛṣṇa. What is the meaning of this?” This is smaraṇa, thinking of Kṛṣṇa. One may even think, “I foolishly chanted ‘Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa’ for two hours.” But that also is smaraṇa. Because the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is spreading, people are purchasing our books about Kṛṣṇa. Because they are curious they say, “What is this Kṛṣṇa? Let us see the book.” Then they immediately see a picture of Rādhā and Kṛṣṇa, and if they open the book they will see more. In the book there are many prayers glorifying Kṛṣṇa. So some will hear about Kṛṣṇa, and others will read, and if they are fortunate enough they will become Kṛṣṇa conscious and engage in the worship of the Deity. These methods of devotional service – hearing, chanting, remembering Kṛṣṇa, and so on – are so perfect that as soon as one takes to them (either all of them, some of them, or even one of them) one becomes purified. Therefore Śukadeva Gosvāmī prays, “I offer my worship to the Supreme Personality of Godhead, for simply by remembering Him, simply by glorifying Him, or simply by seeing Him, so many benefits follow.”

Śukadeva Gosvāmī is one of twelve important spiritual authorities, and these are the authorities we must follow (mahājano yena gataḥ sa panthāḥ). He affirms that by performing these methods of devotional service one will be cleansed of material contamination. When? Sadyaḥ: immediately, without waiting. This is the great benefit of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement.