Since no one can trace the history of the living entity's entanglement in material energy, Lord Caitanya said that it is beginningless. By "beginningless" He meant that conditioned life exists prior to the creation; it simply becomes manifest during and after the creation. Due to forgetfulness of his real nature, the living entity, although spirit, suffers all kinds of miseries in material existence. It should be understood that there are also living entities who are not entangled in this material energy but are situated in the spiritual world. They are called liberated souls and are always engaged in Kṛṣṇa consciousness, devotional service.
The activities of those who are conditioned by material nature are taken into account, and in their next life, according to these activities, they are offered different grades of material bodies. Thus in the material world the conditioned spirit soul is subjected to various rewards and punishments. When he is rewarded for his righteous activities, he is elevated to the higher planets, where he becomes one of the many demigods, and when he is punished for his abominable activities, he is thrown into various hellish planets, where he suffers the miseries of material existence more acutely. Caitanya Mahāprabhu gives a very nice example of this punishment. Formerly a king used to punish a criminal by having him dunked in a river, raised up again for breath, and then again dunked in the water. Material nature punishes and rewards the individual living entity in just the same way. When he is punished, he is dunked in the water of material miseries, and when he is rewarded, he is taken out of it for some time. Elevation to the higher planets or to a higher status of life on this planet is never permanent. One must again come down to be submerged in the water. All this is constantly going on in this material existence: sometimes one is elevated to higher planetary systems, and sometimes one is thrown into the hellish condition of material life.
In this regard Caitanya Mahāprabhu recited a nice verse from Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (11.2.37) that is part of the instructions of Nārada Muni to Vasudeva, the father of Kṛṣṇa:
- bhayaṁ dvitīyābhiniveśataḥ syād
- īśād apetasya viparyayo ’smṛtiḥ
- tan-māyayāto budha ābhajet taṁ
- bhaktyaikayeśaṁ guru-devatātmā
In this verse, which Nārada Muni quotes from the instructions that the Nine Yogendras imparted to Mahārāja Nimi, māyā is defined as “forgetfulness of one's relationship with Kṛṣṇa.” Actually, māyā means "that which is not." Thus it is false to think that the living entity has no connection with the Supreme Lord. He may not believe in the existence of God, or he may think he has no relationship with God, but these ideas are all illusions, or māyā. Due to absorption in this false conception of life, a man is always fearful and full of anxieties. In other words, māyā is the godless concept of life. One who is actually learned in the Vedic literature surrenders unto the Supreme Lord with great devotion and accepts Him as the supreme goal. When a living entity forgets the constitutional nature of his relationship with God, he is at once overwhelmed by the external energy. This is the cause of his false ego, his false identification of the body with the self. Indeed, his whole conception of the material universe arises from this false identification with the body, for he becomes attached to the body and its by-products. To escape this entanglement, he has only to perform his duty, namely, to surrender unto the Supreme Lord with intelligence, with devotiona, and with sincere Kṛṣṇa consciousness.