Generally people think that one should act very piously in order to be relieved from misery, but this is not a fact. Even though one engages in pious activity and speculation, he is nonetheless defeated. His only aim should be emancipation from the clutches of māyā and all material activities. Speculative knowledge and pious activity do not solve the problems of material life. One should be inquisitive to understand his spiritual position. As stated in Bhagavad-gītā (BG 4.37):
- yathaidhāṁsi samiddho 'gnir
- bhasmasāt kurute 'rjuna
- jñānāgniḥ sarva-karmāṇi
- bhasmasāt kurute tathā
"As a blazing fire turns firewood to ashes, O Arjuna, so does the fire of knowledge burn to ashes all reactions to material activities."
Unless one understands the self and its activities, one has to be considered in material bondage. In Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (SB 10.2.32) it is also said: ye 'nye 'ravindākṣa vimukta-māninas tvayy asta-bhāvād aviśuddha-buddhayaḥ. A person who doesn't have knowledge of devotional service may think himself liberated, but actually he is not. Āruhya kṛcchreṇa paraṁ padaṁ tataḥ patanty adho 'nādṛta-yuṣmad-aṅghrayaḥ: (SB 10.2.32) such people may approach the impersonal Brahman effulgence, but they fall down again into material enjoyment because they have no knowledge of devotional service. As long as one is interested in karma and jñāna, he continues enduring the miseries of material life—birth, old age, disease and death. Karmīs certainly take on one body after another. As far as jñānīs are concerned, unless they are promoted to the topmost understanding, they must return to the material world. As explained in Bhagavad-gītā (BG 7.19): bahūnāṁ janmanām ante jñānavān māṁ prapadyate. The point is to know Kṛṣṇa, Vāsudeva, as everything and surrender unto Him. Karmīs do not know this, but a devotee who is one hundred percent engaged in the devotional service of the Lord knows fully what is karma and jñāna; therefore a pure devotee is no longer interested in karma or jñāna. Anyābhilāṣitā-śūnyaṁ jñāna-karmādy-anāvṛtam (CC Madhya 19.167). The real bhakta is untouched by any tinge of karma and jñāna. His only purpose in life is to serve the Lord.