Once an infamous robber was asked why he continued to rob banks. His answer – “That’s where they keep all the money”. So it seems that the only way to stop him from robbing banks was to remove all money from them. But by the same logic, if the money was put in libraries he would start attacking libraries instead.

Similarly, if the question is raised as to why we want to enjoy this world, the common answer would be – “That’s where all the resources exist.”

Most of us who are trying to be happy in this world must love some aspect of it which we intend to use for our own gratification. If we did not love it we would never try to enjoy it. Now there are those philosophers who state that since no-one can be happy trying to enjoy the world, the best course of action is to harbour contempt towards it.

Western philosophers coined a term to denote the way some scriptures describe life in this material world. Contemptus mundi – contempt for the world, a real dislike for things. But as many of us might have experienced, we love something so much that if we do not get it we begin to hate it. And vice versa, we hate a thing so much that, how do I put it – “We love to hate it.”

Loving something and hating another are common human experiences.

We have to constantly change our position in order to remain productive. A businessman is not satisfied by working the whole week; wanting a change for the weekend, he goes to a place where he tries to forget his business activities. Then, after the weekend is spent in forgetfulness, he resumes his position and continues his actual business activities. Material engagement means accepting a particular status for some time and then changing it. This position of changing back and forth is technically known as bhoga-tyaga, which means a position of alternating sense enjoyment and renunciation. A living entity cannot steadily remain either in sense enjoyment or in renunciation. Change is going on perpetually, and we cannot be happy in either state, because of our eternal constitutional position. Sense gratification does not endure for long, and it is th erefore called ‘capala-sukha’, or flickering happiness. For example, an ordinary family man working hard day and night, successfully giving comforts to his family th ereby relishes a kind of mellow, but his whole advancement of material happiness immediately terminates along with his body as soon as his life is over.

Therefore, even if we really love things in the strictest material sense of the term we still have to lose them and even if we hate them to the extreme we may still have to embrace them, this question then pops into our mind –

Do I really have to hate this world in order to feel relief from its pangs?

Lord Krsna exhorts us to understand the fact – the perception of the evil of birth, death, old age, and disease. Krsna does not say that the world is evil but our experience of these four bodily changes is.

Srila Prabhupada further illuminates Krsna’s instructions by stating that

‘One should try to understand the distress of accepting birth, death, old age, and disease.’ There are descriptions in various Vedic literatures about birth. In the Srimad Bhagavatam, the world of the unborn, the child’s stay in the womb of the mother, its suffering, etc., are all very graphically described. It should be thoroughly understood that birth is distressful. Because we forget how much distress we have suffered within the womb of the mother, we do not make any solution to the repetition of birth and death. Similarly at the time of death there are all kinds of sufferings, and they are also mentioned in the authoritative scriptures. These should be discussed. And as far as disease and old age are concerned, everyone has practical experience. No one wants to be diseased, and no one wants to become old, but there is no avoiding these. Unless we have a pessimistic view of this material life, considering the distresses of birth, death, old age, and disease, there is no impetus for our making advancement in spiritual life.

At the same time the Bhagavad-gita does not merely stop at bestowing a pessimistic view of life on us. It states that – ‘By thus engaging in devotional service to the Lord, great sages or devotees free themselves from the results of work in the material world. In this way they become free from the cycle of birth and death and attain the state beyond all miseries [by going back to Godhead].’ (B.g. 2.51)

Now we have the whole picture – Love this world and try to enjoy it separately from Krsna and you are guilty of theft. Renounce it artificially and harbour contempt towards it and you are accused of being crazy, because you are giving up something that was never your property. Learn the art of using it for Krsna and you will become happy.