By His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Human life is meant for tapasyā (austerities). We know in our Indian history all big, big kings, they went to the forest for tapasyā. King Bharata, Bharata Mahārāja, under whose name this planet is called Bhāratavarṣa, left his kingdom, young wife, children, everything, at the age of twenty-four years, and went for tapasyā. So also the Pāndavas. Everyone. The last stage of life should be especially meant for tapasyā. Not that up to the point of death we shall remain addicted to this worldly life. No.
This life is meant for purifying our existence. That means stop this cycle of birth and death. Janma-mrtyu-jarā-vyādhi-duhkha-doṣānudarśanam [Bg. 13.9]. We should always keep in front. We may be puffed up as very much advanced in material comfort, but, at the same time, you should keep in front, janma-mrtyu-jarā-vyādhi (birth, old age, disease and death).
You should always think that what advancement we have made? Have we stopped dying? Have you stopped birth? There are so many contraceptive method, but the population is increasing, the birth is going on. Similarly we have discovered so many nice medicines, but people are dying. You cannot stop this birth and death. They are trying to remain as young men, as young women, but they are getting older. So intelligent men should always keep in front that, “What advancement have we made?” Simply struggling. A struggle, a heavy struggle, a hard struggle. That struggle. And we are thinking: “This is advancement.” You are struggling just like ass. The whole day and night you are working. Actually I am working very hard, but I am thinking that I am advancing.
Janma-mrtyu-jarā-vyādhi: These are the problems of material existence – birth, death, old age and disease – that cannot be stopped, either you become Brahmā or something like that. That is not possible. That is possible only by Krishna consciousness. That is explained in the Bhagavad-gita:
This world is described by the Creator of this world as duhkhālayam aśāśvatam. It is the place for miseries. And that also temporary. If you want to make compromise, “All right, it may be miserable life. But I will stay here.” Oh, that also you’ll not be allowed. You’ll be kicked out after some days. You may try to become very comfortable, good income, good bank balance, or nice wife, nice car, but one day it will come that you’ll be kicked out. “Please get out.” Finished. Mrtyuh sarva-haraś cāham [Bg. 10.34]. Krishna says that “I am mrtyu, death. I take away everything. At that time, finished, everything.”
So, this is our foolishness, that we are trying to be happy in a place which is recommended by the Creator Himself as duhkhālayam aśāśvatam [Bg. 8.15]. Duhkhālayam – a place of misery. This is called foolishness. Therefore, Bhaktivinoda Thākura says: anitya saṁsāre (this world is temporary). We are already in a distressed place, and we are increasing our distressed condition of life. That means you are becoming more and more ass, in the name of so-called advancement of education. Jada-bidyā jato, māyāra vaibhava, tomāra bhajane bādhā.
If, by advancement of civilization, we forget God and forget the mission of our life, that is nothing but to become like an ass. Unnecessary working. The example is given, the ass, because ass has no sense. He works very hard. The washerman’s ass, it is loaded with three tons of cloth and takes it to the ghāṭa and again brings it. And what is the result? He gets a little grass. That’s all. But he has no sense that I can get this this grass anywhere. Why am I working so hard for this washerman? Therefore it is an ass. I’ll take four cāpātis, but I am working so hard. There is no limit to my working. And one day Krishna comes. Please get out. Finished. So we are all asses. Therefore Kavirāja Gosvāmī says: krishna yei bhaje se baḍa catura. One who is Krishna conscious is the only intelligent man. Otherwise all asses.
[An excerpt from a lecture delivered on the Bhagavad Gita 6.47 on Dec 12, 1972 in Ahmedabad, India]