by Śrīla Bhaktisiddhānta Sarasvatī Ṭhākura Prabhupāda
Question 1: What is our duty as human beings?
Answer: There are two considerations – preyaḥ-para, the inclination toward temporary, mundane pleasure, and śreyaḥ-para, the inclination toward eternal welfare. Only the search for śreya, our eternal welfare, is essential to us. Preyaḥ, or mundane gratification, is easily accessible, but śreyaḥ is difficult to achieve. Śreya includes that which is truly gratifying (preyaḥ) for the soul, but the kind of gratification sought after by the materially inclined mind does not include anything that amounts to śreyaḥ, true welfare for the soul.
It is said in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam that the soul achieves a human birth only after a great many lifetimes; it is extremely rare. This human life is temporary, but it provides the opportunity to achieve spiritual welfare. If we take shelter of a true guide by relinquishing our independence and engage in genuine bhajana (internal devotional service), we can attain the Supreme Lord in this very lifetime. Therefore a person who is dhīra (wise and sober) will, without a moment’s delay, strive to achieve his topmost welfare until the day he dies. Food and other material necessities are available for all other forms of life, only paramārtha (absolute welfare) is unachievable for all but humans.
In whatever form of life one takes birth, sensory pleasures are always available. It is not just available for humans. In human life, one should seek out and strive for śreyaḥ alone. Even animals strive for preyaḥ, temporary, mundane pleasure, but as human beings we can listen to and deliberate on what we hear. Animals do not have the capacity to discuss the subjects they have heard. As human beings, we can try for and achieve śreyaḥ.
If we do not deliberate on subjects that lead to our true welfare, we will simply be contemplating ordinary, low class matters. But we have wisdom. Even if we were to be born as a demigod, we would be immersed in sense gratification. Consequently we would suppress thoughts of truth and untruth (sad-asad vicāra) because, although we meet with both happiness and distress in this dimension, as a demigod we would mostly meet with material happiness. The word ‘material’ (prakṛta) means that such happiness is not eternal – kṣīṇe puṇye martyalokaṁ viśanti.
In this rare human life we have become busily engaged in so many activities. I consider myself to be the master (prabhu) and I falsely identify myself as the active agent behind all my actions. I deprive myself of service to Śrī Bhagavān and accept service from others instead. Driven by my longing for various attainments, I engage in serving different demigods and demigoddesses. I worship Sūrya for religiosity (dharma), Ganeśa for wealth (artha), Śakti (Goddess Durga) for sense gratification (kāma), and Śiva for liberation (mokṣa). But in reality this is not worship at all. Rather it is as if we are demoting those whom we worship to the position of our own servants and demanding that they supply us the objects we desire.
It is important to know what service, or sevā, is. To provide pleasure to the object of our service is the sole meaning of the word sevā. Śrī Hari is the fountainhead and origin of all beings. We are all factually servants of Śrī Hari, and serving Him is our sole dharma, our constitutional function, activity and duty. By serving Him, everyone else is served. This is confirmed by the verse “yathā taror mūla-niṣecanena – by watering the root of a tree, all the branches and leaves are nourished.”
Because we do not know what is truly, absolutely substantive, we have created a lot of problems for ourselves. Our need is to rid ourselves of these difficulties, and that is feasible in human life. If we listen with patience to narrations about Śrī Bhagavān from the lips of sādhus (saints), we will not, like a fish caught by a fishing hook, be attracted by the mundane beauty, taste, smell, sound and touch of this material world. Then we shall remain attracted to the eternally and absolutely attractive Supreme Lord.
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For those who are busily engaged in varieties of mundane activity within this material world, service to the Supreme Lord, who is beyond the grasp of the material senses, cannot be understood. But our sole necessity is to deliberate upon topics about Him. How can one do that? It is possible by the influence of sādhu-saṅga.
It is essential that we associate with sādhus. Association with conditioned souls leads us to all of our many difficulties. If we will truly associate with a sādhu we will definitely realize the power of the Supreme Lord. In the absence of sādhu-saṅga, we will be thrashed by the material potency (māyā-śakti). If we surrender to Śrī Hari, we can be freed from our false pride, which arises from the conception that we are the active agent (ahaṅkāra vimudhātma); there is no other way. Śrī Bhagavān alone is the complete substance, the topmost and absolute object of worship – that is, the sole shelter for the living being. In order to achieve service to Him, we must seek shelter at the lotus feet of śrī gurudeva, who is the manifestation (prakāśa vigraha)of the Supreme Lord.
It is only from śrī gurudeva that we can receive transcendent sound – that is, the holy name from the kingdom of God (vaikuṇṭha-nāma). And even by the semblance of that holy name we are delivered from this material world. By chanting the holy names of the Lord, we shall never have to return to the womb of a mortal mother. Anāvṛttiḥ śabdād anāvṛttiḥ śabdāt – the Vedānta-sūtra says to repeatedly chant the transcendental sound vibration. If we are unable to understand all these subject matters the first time we hear them, then we must hear them again and again. Those who do not accept the shelter of sabda brahma-śruti (the transcendental words of the Vedas) must return again to this material world.
We should only hear hari-kathā from those who can reveal Bhagavān to us, those who are engaged in serving Him twenty-four hours a day. That place where the sole activities are serving the Supreme Lord and learning about Him is called the temple.
The devotees of the Supreme Lord see Śrī Śyāmasundara Kṛṣṇa within their hearts through the eyes of devotion. By the mercy of the sādhus, we, too, shall be able to see the Supreme Lord within our heart. The Supreme Lord can be seen through the eyes of devotion. When we try to see Him through our material eyes, we can only see the objects of this material world. If we become engrossed in the activities of this world, we will be incapable of knowing the Supreme Lord.
We will not waste any more time! Now we shall completely engage, in every respect, in thinking about the Supreme Lord, who is the basis of all happiness, and we shall engage in serving Him. As a result, all the obstacles in the path of achieving darśana of Him shall be removed. We can attain supreme welfare only by worshipping Śrī Krsna. The moment I realize that the Supreme Entity is my true master, only then shall I be comfortable. There is no other object worth worshipping in this world.
One achieves true welfare only by engaging in hearing and speaking subjects related to the Supreme Lord. All the activities one engages in, forgetting the Supreme Lord and considering oneself as the doer, only lead to one’s harm.
Presently, our situation is that we have fallen from our original position and have come into relationship with this material world. Now, by establishing our relationship with the Supreme Lord, we will have to manifest our eternal nature. We will not be able to stay on this earth for eternity. Those who desire to serve Śrī Bhagavān wish for nothing from this world. They are akiñcana. For the welfare of this world, for our own future welfare, our only duty is to engage in worshipping the Supreme Lord, without desiring anything from this plane.