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.
A conditioned soul falsely thinks himself happy in the material world, but if he is favored by an unalloyed devotee—if he hears the unalloyed devotee's instructions—he gives up his desire for material enjoyment and becomes enlightened in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. As soon as one enters into Kṛṣṇa consciousness, his desire for material enjoyment is at once vanquished, and he gradually becomes free from material entanglement. There is no question of darkness where there is light, and Kṛṣṇa consciousness is the light that dispels the darkness of material sense enjoyment.
A Kṛṣṇa conscious person is never under the false conception that he is one with God. Knowing that he would not be happy working for himself, he engages all his energies in the service of the Supreme Lord and thereby gains release from the clutches of the illusory material energy. In this connection, Caitanya Mahāprabhu quoted a verse from the Bhagavad-gītā (7.14), where Krsna states:
- daivī hy eṣā guṇa-mayī mama māyā duratyayā
- mām eva ye prapadyante māyām etāṁ taranti te
"My material energy, composed of the three modes of material nature, is very strong. It is very difficult to escape the clutches of the material energy, but one who surrenders unto Me is easily freed from the clutches of māyā."
Caitanya Mahāprabhu went on to teach that each and every moment the conditioned soul is engaged in some fruitive activity, he forgets his real identity. Sometimes, when he is tired of material activities, he wants liberation and hankers to become one with the Supreme. But at other times he thinks that by working hard to gratify his senses he will be happy. In both cases he is covered by the material energy. For the enlightenment of such bewildered conditioned souls, who are working under a false identification, the Supreme Lord has presented us with voluminous Vedic literature, including the Vedas, the Purāṇas and the Vedānta-sūtra. These are all intended to guide the human being back to Godhead. Caitanya Mahāprabhu further explained that when a conditioned soul is accepted by a spiritual master out of his mercy and is guided by the Supersoul, the soul can take advantage of the various Vedic scriptures, become enlightened and make progress in spiritual realization. It is because Lord Kṛṣṇa is always merciful to His devotees that He has presented all this Vedic literature, by which one can understand his relationship with Him and can act on the basis of that relationship. In this way one is gifted with the ultimate goal of life.