The most essential question before us, and the one that has the most bearing on whether we see this material world as designed perfectly or terribly flawed, is this:
How do we find happiness?
Do we find happiness by being the center of our own universe -- by always putting ourselves first and expecting everyone else to put us first too -- by having enough personal beauty, money and power so that our slightest whim will be instantly carried out by a horde of faithful servants -- by having new toys and gorgeous sex partners every day so that our minds will always be occupied and distracted from the dissatisfying shallowness of our pleasures?
They say it's lonely at the top. Rich and famous people commit suicide too. Just watch a spoiled child reject one lovely toy after another and then throw a tantrum. Having all the "stuff" one could wish for is not the key to happiness.
The above are blatant, undiluted examples of what Hare Krishnas refer to as "trying to be the enjoyer" or "imitating God." Although such a lifestyle is much-hyped in this world, envied and striven after, it is a dry well that contains no real happiness, just the glittery illusion thereof.
All right, so in spite of the amount of time people waste chasing after it, money (and power) alone can't buy happiness. Nothing will buy real happiness for you when you're selfish and shallow enough to put yourself and your own sense-enjoyment ahead of everyone and everything else.
Where does happiness come from, then? How about mutually pleasurable relationships?
If they're based on exchanging sensually gratifying experiences with each other -- well, how great is it to be giving the thing to another person that didn't satisfy you when you gave it to yourself? Sure, it's better because it's less selfish, but if you were truly selfless (not contaminated with the desire for your own personal sense-gratification at all) then you would want to be giving the other person whatever was truly the best, most fulfilling and satisfying thing. And for that, you're gonna have to keep looking. Most of the relationships that pass for "love" in this world are really "you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours" -- more like a business relationship. If either party stops their back-scratching and starts pushing buttons instead, then fighting begins and the "love" is over. Where is the reality, the permanence, or the deep satisfaction in that -- two selfish people agreeing to please one another as long as it feels good to both of them?
So for real happiness, you have to eschew sense-gratification and break entirely free of the paradigm that you should be seeking your own pleasure/happiness/satisfaction?
Now you're getting it!
What would a life like that even look like??
One word: SERVICE. Unmotivated and uninterrupted.
That's what will set you free. That's what will give your heart wings. Clearing all selfishness and expectation of reward out of your heart and simply trying your best to bring happiness to others. Ironically enough, that's when your heart will open and the happiness will flood in.
It's not that this is hidden knowledge. Instructions on living life with less of a competitive, self-centered attitude and increasing your kind, generous-hearted qualities -- such as "Do unto others as you'd have them do unto you" -- could hardly be more well-known. Many have heard of the "natural high" you get from acts of kindness. Anyone who is attracted to these ideas has complete freedom to adopt them and achieve a life of solid, exhilarating joy. And yet -- how many people take them up? No matter how many times this message is put out there, you'll only find a few who take it seriously. Most who hear it will say "Oh, what a beautiful idea!" and then go on with their habitual, more or less self-centered lives.
Look around you. How many people do you know who have truly realized the truth of this and are living accordingly? How many people do you see who get up each morning and spend the entire day trying with every thought, word and deed to be of service to others, with no ulterior motive of having their kindnesses reciprocated?
This world is a school of saints. And only a few of those who've graduated stick around to be part of the faculty.
For those who do graduate, none of the horrors of this world hold power any more. The wellspring of their joy lies elsewhere, untouched by any mundane calamity. The only ones upon whom material calamities have any effect are those who are still learning what life is all about.
What is the scientific analysis of the reason for pain? It's an alarm clock, an alert that something is wrong so that we'll sit up, pay attention and fix it. The suffering experienced by everyone in this world serves the same purpose. It's trying to tell us "You aren't spiritually healthy yet. You still have more to learn!" Everything that happens here carries the potential for profound lessons and realizations, or at least the opportunity to practice necessary life skills and build our patience and endurance muscles. Once we've woken up to this fact, we can actually become grateful for every painful thing that happens to us because it is a teacher and we desperately want to learn. Once we begin seeing the world in this way, we can develop childlike trust in the process and be freed to experience spontaneous joy at all times, no matter what is happening to us. And in the end, after all our lifetimes of learning here are over, all the pain we've been through will seem unreal and unimportant. We'll see that the sufferings we generated for ourselves by our choices in this world are completely over and done with, to be relegated to the past and put aside just like a nightmare, without any residual ill effects on us whatsoever; the progress we made could not possibly be more worth it; and we certainly would not want this world to be designed any other way, lest it fail to motivate us to get out of it and back to where we can really be happy! Allowing us to remain stuck in this mesmerizing trap baited with never-really-satisfying sense-gratification would have been no favor, but a curse. Nothing is truly helpful to us except that which helps us transcend this place and regain our birthright of indestructible spiritual bliss.
So, Krsna/the Lord never forces us to choose anything. He always leaves the final choice between good and bad up to us. (Again, if He didn't do that, we would be robots -- or slaves!) But (without removing our chosen veils of illusion from us --
after all, we wanted to wear those veils; this world is the place He set
aside for us to act out our fantasies in, and if He ripped away all illusion from us before we made it clear to Him through our choices and prayers that we wanted that illusion removed, then that would hamper our free will too, as we could no longer pursue our desire to "play pretend"!), He does His best to make clear to those of us in this material world (via the constant and widespread broadcasting of His messages) which is the better choice -- the thing that, while it may not be easy for us if we've developed contrary habits, will always be absolutely and thoroughly worth it. All the choices available to us have consequences, but never eternal ones. We are always and forever free to decide what we want. And whenever we decide that we want Him -- He will be waiting for us with glad and eager open arms.
So what do you think? Still want to criticize Him, or His design of this world? :) What more could we ask than for everything to be up to us to choose, with a loving and all-powerful Lord ready and willing to make our desires into reality? We just have to be careful what we choose lest we get ourselves into a not-so-pleasant situation. "Be careful what you wish for, you just might get it." And if we feel like this is too much license for us, if we're afraid that we're fools who will hang ourselves with too much rope, then never fear. Just listen to the still, small voice in your heart and it will never lead you wrong. It's the Lord Himself in His Paramatma feature... traveling with you through thick and thin... just waiting for you to turn to Him, to take shelter of Him and ask His advice... to make Him your shepherd so that He can protect you and fulfill your needs and wants as only He knows how.
How adorable is He?!?!?!