“Unless a living entity forgets his real identity, it is impossible for him to live in the material conditions of life. Therefore the first condition of material existence is forgetfulness of one's real identity.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.12.2 Purport)
A material existence has duality. One person is my friend and another is my enemy. Today I am happy and tomorrow I am sad. Today there is birth and tomorrow there is death. Nothing is fixed. Despite the fact that the essence is constant, that life continues on infinitely, the external changes create an illusion, making one fearful over things that aren’t worth fearing. This illusion fosters forgetfulness of the actual position of the living entity, and only in forgetfulness can one continue to live in the material conditions of life.
An example can help us see how this forgetfulness is necessary for the continuation. Pick your favorite professional sport of choice. Even if you don’t follow any, think of one that you know that you might be interested in if you were compelled to. In that sport of choice, there is a season. They don’t play games all the time, though it may seem like it. There is a season, which culminates in the championship round. Someone wins. They are better than everyone else for that season. Thus the goal for every player and team during the season is to be the champion.
But what happens when there is victory? The winning team celebrates, but then they are immediately asked about next year. “Do you think you can repeat? How will this team look going forward? Can you become one of the greatest teams of all time? Can you become a dynasty?” These questions are built on forgetfulness. Previously the questions related to whether the team could win that year. Then as soon as they won, the victory was more or less forgotten. Essentially, everyone is playing so that they can have the same worry going forward. There is never a fixed position.
Forgetfulness is the only way one can continue playing. The winners can’t remember that their previous victory didn’t bring lasting happiness. The losers are even happier to forget, for who wants to remember losing? Just one victory erases the memory of all the previous losses. And then one stinging defeat erases the joy of the previous victory.
Material conditions are like this, but across all spheres. The first victory is birth and the last defeat is death. We see that defeat always wins out. At death, everything is erased. The cherished car that took so much hard work to purchase does not follow the individual after death. That car is never to be seen again. The same goes for the cherished relationships, the association of people we hold so dear.
Intelligence, which remembrance helps to increase, progressively leads to different activities. Why don’t grownups watch television programming for children? In the past they used to watch cartoons and be interested in certain things that no longer interest them. Indeed, they will never be interested in these things again. The answer, of course, is that their intelligence increased. As they grew wiser they no longer took an interest in things targeted for those with a lower intelligence.
Devotional service, or bhakti-yoga, can be thought of in the same light. It is the activity for the grownups in terms of consciousness. The grownup here knows about their true identity, their svarupa. “Aham brahmasmi” says that I am Brahman. Brahman is the Sanskrit word to describe spirit, and more accurately the collective spirit. The abstract of all spirit combined is Brahman. Jivatma is the term to describe the individual spirit, the one that resides locally and gives life to a body.
Svarupa is the self-form of the jivatma. There is a nitya-svarupa, a form that is eternal. The form of the living entity suffering through material conditions is not eternal. The form we have right now is actually different than the one we had five minutes ago. Perhaps we are not consciously aware of this at the moment, but the fact cannot be denied. The body changes at every second. And yet I am the same person from five minutes ago. My identity has not changed. Therefore my identity must be fixed; it is not material.
One of the pillars of bhakti-yoga is remembrance. His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada translates bhakti-yoga as “Krishna consciousness.” Krishna is just a name for God. This God is not Hindu, as the less intelligent would have you believe. The word “Krishna” says that God is all-attractive, and who can deny this? And what is the harm in remembering someone who is all-attractive? Would you rather think of something repugnant all the time? Actually, you would try your best to forget it. Material life rewards forgetfulness, whereas spiritual life rewards remembrance. The best reward is the ability to constantly remember the one person who is all-attractive. Spiritual life practiced up until the time of death brings precisely that.
“And whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.5)
Bhakti-yoga is adulthood for the consciousness. One who keeps the all-attractive Lord in their mind has no desire to go back to something of temporary significance. Why chase after money when you need to do something with it afterwards? Why work so hard for something that won’t give you lasting happiness? Indeed, the previous engagements in material life become dull and boring for the bhakta, the person who practices bhakti-yoga. We all have a right to do what makes us happy, and nothing makes the jivatma happier than serving God. All other kinds of service are but derivatives of the pure service in bhakti-yoga, and these derivatives aren’t nearly as potent. The real thing is what gives the gem of a result, residence in the planet of constant remembrance of Krishna.
Watching cartoons and running wild,
Common pastimes for young child.
Mature adult has a mindset new,
No longer same programs to view.
By remembrance to find this way,
Only with forgetfulness in past to stay.
In bhakti-yoga of the attractive Krishna think,
And no longer into forgetfulness’ land to sink.