I remember when I was five years old. Those were magical days lived mostly in my own world of imagination as I played with Ninja Turtle and Power Ranger toy figurines. I do remember on one fine morning, my father had gone to work and it was just my mother and I; all of a sudden I burst into tears. "Mum, what does it mean to die? Does it happen to everyone? Are you going to die?" Kids those age are so full of questions, I've heard, that it can get frustrating at times. My mother nervously tried to pacify me saying "Oh, that's not going to happen for a long, long time."
Since then I've always wondered about the nature of material happiness. Our desires to enjoy and be happy in this world seem to be limitless and non-exhaustive, yet the instrument with which we use fulfil those desires (our body) is ever disintegrating and temporary in nature. We spend so much of our time, energy and resources in amassing material prosperity to at long last be content, but all too often our plans are frustrated. Trust no future however bright - I recently came across a sad story of a young woman who fell off a cliff to her death while posing for a photo while celebrating the easing of the strict Coronavirus lockdowns. We seem to be too busy building sandcastles next to the shore unaware that the tides of time will strike at any moment and take everything we laboured for, away.
Society encourages us to work hard for material prosperity till a ripe old age.
No one in this world works hard day and night to be unhappy, but still unhappiness is thrust upon us at times against our wish. While I was playing with my Green Ranger figurine as a five year old, the great Bhakti saint, Prahlad, also of the same age was much more grounded in reality. In the spiritual treatise, the "Srimad Bhagavatam", he explains an interesting phenomenon that we perhaps don't think about:
"The happiness perceived with reference to the sense objects by contact with the body can be obtained in any form of life, according to one’s past fruitive activities. Such happiness is automatically obtained without endeavour, just as we obtain distress."
His instruction to all of us here is twofold. Firstly, in principle, the nature of happiness we get when our material senses interact with our surroundings isn't much different to the happiness experienced in other species of life. As humans, we may consider ourselves advanced than let's say, a pig, because we sleep on a nice comfortable bed while the pig sleeps in mud and dirt. What we don't often consider is that the pig prefers to sleep in the pigsty as much as we prefer to sleep in a nice bed; does this make us more superior than pigs?
Five year old Prahlad's second illumination is just as wondrous, if not more, than the first. Just as distress automatically befalls a person who is actually endeavouring for happiness, similarly whatever happiness we are supposed to receive by way of karmic reactions, will also come to us automatically without us having to endeavour so hard for it. Far out. It means we can use our time more wisely before the Grim Reaper strikes.
Five year old Prahlad dancing with his school mates.
The bhakti wisdom texts such as the Bhagavad Gita and the Srimad Bhagavatam urge those of in the human form of life to not waste time exclusively in the pursuit of material happiness which is governed by the reactions to our past actions. Instead they coax us to fulfil a higher, more lofty purpose in life. That very purpose is to question who we actually are, what are we doing here, what is the purpose of life, what happens after death and so much more. While material science may have its own answer to these thoughts, the spiritual science textbooks of bhakti provide us with more reassuring answers. What's more, bhakti is a self-experiential and verifiable process.
If we can muster up enough courage and sincerity to try Bhakti Yoga, we'll be amazed with the profound evolution in our own consciousness that it stirs up.