Throughout the world at the present moment, almost all the leaders, scholars, and mahātmās are more or less materialists, without any taste for transcendental knowledge. Thus, in the first instance Śrī Kṛṣṇa, the Personality of Godhead, rebuked Marshal Arjuna and refused to accept him as a paṇḍita or scholar, with a view to teach the so-called learned scholars and leaders of the materialistic fools.
Almost all the leaders of the people have popularized various modes of religiosity that have to do only with the material body and mind. But very few of them know that the body and mind are nothing but the outward coat and shirt of the soul proper. Simply by taking care of the outward coat and shirt, one cannot do any good for the real self, the soul proper. Since factually the soul is the chief interest, the real self, no sane man can look after the interest of the outward paraphernalia while overlooking the chief interest, his very self; the interest of the subordinates, the material bodies, is looked after automatically. But no one can serve the chief simply by serving the subordinates. In other words, it is not possible to satisfy one's inner hunger simply by soaping the outer clothing.
So when we speak of a living entity, we must see the body and the mind as two outward coverings, two layers of paraphernalia—and the living force or spirit soul as the chief, central figure. The outward coverings are temporary arrangements, and therefore everything dependent on the outward covering is also a temporary arrangement. Happiness or distress perceived in relation with the temporary arrangement of the body and mind is also temporary. Thus, in Bhagavad-gītā the Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, says, "O son of Kuntī! All forms of happiness or distress, such as winter cold or summer heat, are due to material sense perception only. They come and go according to the laws of nature, and they are therefore to be tolerated without our being disturbed. One who is not disturbed by all these comings and goings of temporary happiness and distress—he alone becomes a fit person to attain eternal life."
But at the present stage of our existence, it is difficult to be unaffected by the temporary happiness and distress pertaining to the body and mind. Nor is it possible at present to assert that we are unidentified with the body and mind. Therefore, in our present state of existence, there is no possibility of our being indifferent in these matters of material happiness and distress. Thus, acquiring transcendental knowledge does not mean that we become indifferent to our present state of affairs, but it means that we should not be overwhelmed by the coming and going of happiness and distress.
We must know the nature of those temporary states of material happiness and distress. It would be sheer stupidity to ignore them, or to remain indifferent in matters concerning the spirit soul, around which the material body and mind exist. In fact, if one is fortunate enough to understand the happiness and distress of the spirit soul and gets a taste for transcendental knowledge, then he will be indifferent to the happiness and distress of the body and mind and will relish a transcendental peace eternal, even in the midst of worldly happiness and distress. Real peace can be obtained only in that transcendental stage of existence. That is the state of real contentment. If, after a long time, somebody embarks on a homeward journey, the pleasure of being homeward—bound diminishes the accompanying distress of the journey. The inconveniences of traveling become subordinate to the pleasure of heading homeward.