There are multifarious miseries in material existence - those pertaining to the body and the mind, those imposed by other living entities and those imposed by natural disturbances. But a sādhu is not disturbed by such miserable conditions because his mind is always filled with Kṛṣṇa consciousness, and thus he does not like to talk about anything but the activities of the Lord. Mahārāja Ambarīṣa did not speak of anything but the pastimes of the Lord. Vacāṁsi vaikuṇṭha-guṇānuvarṇane. He engaged his words only in glorification of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Ordinary conditioned souls, being forgetful of the activities of the Lord, are always full of anxieties and material tribulations. On the other hand, since the devotees always engage in the topics of the Lord, they are forgetful of the miseries of material existence. Thus they differ from other living entities, who are simply suffering.
There is no one in the world materially engaged who can boldly say, "I am not suffering." I challenge anyone to say this. Everyone in the material world is suffering in some way or another. If not, why are so many drugs being advertised? On the television they are always advertising tranquilizers and pain killers, and in America and in other Western countries they are so advanced that there are dozens of tablets for various pains. Therefore there must be some suffering. Actually, anyone who has a material body has to accept suffering. There are three types of suffering in the material world: ādhyātmika, ādhibhautika and ādhidaivika. Ādhyātmika refers to the body and mind. Today I have a headache or some pain in my back, or my mind is not very quiet. These are sufferings called ādhyātmika. There are other forms of suffering called ādhibhautika, which are sufferings imposed by other living entities. Apart from this, there are sufferings called adhidaivika, over which we have no control whatsoever. These are caused by the demigods or acts of nature, and include famine, pestilence, flood, excessive heat or excessive cold, earthquakes, fire and so on. Nonetheless, we are thinking that we are very happy within this material world, although in addition to these threefold miseries there is also birth, old age, disease and death. So where is our happiness? Because we are under the spell of māyā, we are thinking that our position is very secure. We are thinking, "Let us enjoy life," but what kind of enjoyment is this?
Obviously we have to tolerate suffering. One of the characteristics of a sādhu is tolerance. Everyone is tolerant to a degree, but a sādhu's tolerance and an ordinary man's tolerance are different. This is because a sādhu knows that he is not the body. According to a Bengali Vaiṣṇava song: deha-smṛti nāhi yāra saṁsāra-bandhana kāhāṅ tāra.
If we properly understand that we are not the body, although we may suffer, we will not feel the suffering as acutely. For instance, if one thinks, "This is my car," and is very attached to it, he suffers more when it is wrecked than a person who thinks, "It can be repaired, or I can leave it." It is a question of mental absorption. Because he is more like an animal, a materialist suffers more. The devotee, on the other hand, takes Kṛṣṇa's advice in Bhagavad-gītā (2.14):
- mātrā-sparśās tu kaunteya
- āgamāpāyino 'nityās
- tāṁs titikṣasva bhārata
"O son of Kuntī, the nonpermanent appearance of happiness and distress and their disappearance in due course are like the appearance and disappearance of winter and summer seasons. They arise from sense perception, O scion of Bharata, and one must learn to tolerate them without being disturbed."
In summer we suffer, and in winter we suffer. In the summer, fire brings suffering, and in the winter the same fire is pleasing. Similarly, in the winter, water is suffering, but in the summer it is pleasing. The water and the fire are the same, but sometimes they are pleasing, sometimes they are not. This is due to the touch of the skin. We all have some "skin disease," which is the body, and therefore we are suffering. Because we have become such rascals, we are thinking, "I am this body." According to the Āyur-vedic system, the body is composed of three material elements: kapha-pitta-vāyu. The more we are in the bodily conception, the more we suffer.
Presently so many "ism's" are being developed according to the bodily conception - nationalism, communism, socialism, communalism and so on. In Calcutta during the 1947 Hindu-Muslim riots, there was more suffering because everyone was thinking, "I am a Hindu" or "I am a Muslim." But, if one is advanced in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, he will not fight according to such conceptions, A Kṛṣṇa conscious person knows that he is neither Hindu nor Muslim but the eternal servant of Kṛṣṇa. Because people are being educated to become more body conscious, their sufferings are increasing. If we reduce the bodily conception, suffering will also be reduced. Those who are Kṛṣṇa conscious, who are always thinking of Kṛṣṇa within their minds and within their hearts, are not suffering as much because they know that whatever they might suffer is due to Kṛṣṇa's desire. Therefore they welcome suffering. For instance, when Kṛṣṇa was leaving, Queen Kuntī said, "My dear Kṛṣṇa, when we were in a dangerous situation, You were always present as our friend and adviser. Now we are well situated with our kingdom, and now You are leaving for Dvārakā. This is not good. It is better that we again suffer so that we can always remember You." Thus the devotee sometimes welcomes suffering as an opportunity to remember Kṛṣṇa constantly. When a devotee suffers, he thinks, "This is due to my past misdeeds. Actually I should be suffering a great deal, but due to Kṛṣṇa's grace I am suffering just a little. After all, suffering and enjoyment are in the mind." In this way, a devotee is not greatly affected by suffering, and this is the difference between a devotee and a nondevotee.
Prahlāda Mahārāja, a five-year-old boy, had to undergo a great deal of suffering at the hands of his father, who was torturing him for being a devotee. The boy was trampled by elephants, thrown from a mountain, placed in burning oil and thrown into a snake pit, yet he was silent during this whole ordeal. Similarly, Haridāsa Ṭhākura, a Muhammadan by birth, was a very great devotee and was always chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa. That was his only fault. However, the Muslim Kazi called him forth and said, "You are a Muhammadan, born in a great Muhammadan family, yet you are chanting this Hindu Hare Kṛṣṇa mantra. What is this?" Haridāsa Ṭhākura mildly replied, "My dear sir, there are many Hindus who have become Muhammadans. Suppose I have become a Hindu? What is wrong with this?" The Kazi became very angry and ordered Haridāsa Ṭhākura to be whipped in twenty-two bazaars. This essentially meant that he was to be beaten to death, but because he was such a great devotee he did not actually feel the pain. Although a devotee may sometimes have to suffer, he tolerates the suffering. At the same time, he is very kind to conditioned souls and tries to elevate them to Kṛṣṇa consciousness. This is one of the primary features of a devotee's life. People are always putting a sādhu into difficulties, but he does not give up his job, which is to spread Kṛṣṇa consciousness so that others may become happy. It was Prahlāda Mahārāja who said: "My Lord, I am not suffering, for I know the art of being happy." How is this? "Simply by hearing about You and chanting about You I am happy." This is the business of a devotee - hearing and chanting about the Lord. This is śravaṇaṁ kīrtanaṁ viṣṇoḥ smaraṇam (SB 7.5.23). Now this śravaṇaṁ kīrtanam is taking place all over the world through the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement.
Even in ordinary life it is possible for the mind to be absorbed in such a way that even a surgical operation may not disturb a man. Years ago, when Stalin had to undergo a surgical operation, he refused the use of chloroform. If this is possible even in an ordinary materialistic life, what to speak of spiritual life? One's mind should always be absorbed in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, in thinking of Kṛṣṇa. It is Kṛṣṇa's injunction, "Always think of Me." The European and American youths in the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement have been accustomed to many bad habits since birth, but now they have given these up. Many people think that it is impossible to live without illicit sex, intoxication, meat-eating and gambling. One famous Marquess told one of my Godbrothers, "Please make me a brāhmaṇa." My Godbrother said, "Yes, it is not a very difficult thing. Simply give up these bad habits - intoxication, illicit sex, meat-eating and gambling. Then you can become a brāhmaṇa." The Marquess then said, "Impossible! This is our life." Actually we have seen that in Western countries older men cannot give up these habits, and because of this they are suffering, yet many young boys and girls have given them up, and there is no suffering. This is due to Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
This process is open to everyone. Everyone has heard of the Bhagavad-gītā. We can attain perfection simply by following the instructions given in this book. It is not necessary to abandon our responsibilities. Mahārāja Ambarīṣa was a great emperor administering to his kingdom, yet at the same time he spoke only of Kṛṣṇa. Caitanya Mahāprabhu requested that His devotees only talk about Kṛṣṇa. If we simply talk about Kṛṣṇa and hear about Him, the stage will come when we will no longer suffer. This is called ānandamayo 'bhyāsāt in the Vedānta-sūtra. The living entity and Kṛṣṇa are both ānandamaya, transcendentally blissful. On that platform, there is no possibility of material suffering. It is not a question of displaying some magical feats. The greatest magic is freedom from suffering, and this is the freedom of a devotee. When we feel pleasure from hearing about Kṛṣṇa and talking about Him, we should know that we are making progress on the path of perfection. At that time, material suffering will not be felt at all. This is the practical effect of rendering devotional service, which Lord Kapila is pointing out to His mother.