Yes, we’ve come up with all our man-made solutions to the problems of life, but they don’t work. We don’t even know what the real problems of life are. The yoga teachings say the real problems of life are birth, disease, old age and death. These are the real problems of life.
Now who sees birth as a problem? Most people see it as, “Oh, a wonderful thing! Oh great!” But actually in the Vedas, specifically in the Srimad Bhagavatam, one of the main Vedic teachings, it describes life in the womb. It describes how painful and hellish it is, the soul in the womb suffers so much, especially in the last 2 or 3 months. They suffer so much that in the womb the soul actually prays to God, “If you remove the suffering, if I can just get out of here, I promise I’ll be Yours, I’ll serve You, … I’ll be good!”
He finally gets out, he’s in there telling his mum, “You know, I gotta get out of here, let me out!” She says, “Oh, my little baby, he’s so nice!” Finally the time comes. Okay…pummmm! Blasted down the birth canal. Has everybody seen a newborn baby? You know, they don’t look too good, all twisted. “Hey man, where have you been?” “Oh, don’t talk about it!” It’s like, “I don’t even want to talk about it!”
You see it’s so painful that we forgot it all. Does anybody here remember all that stuff: being in the womb, being born? No, we don’t, because we’ve forgotten it. It’s by divine arrangement that we can’t remember. Uniquely enough, I gave a lecture on reincarnation in Moscow and after the lecture one man came up and said, “You know, I do remember being in the womb, I do remember being born, I remember my mum taking me, putting me on her breast.” I said, “Wow, can you describe it?” He described it almost word for word as it’s described in this Vedic scripture. I said, “far out.” Of course, I didn’t doubt the scripture, but now I had someone who had actually said, “yeah, this is how it is.”
So that is the first problem of life, being born. It’s a problem to be born, you see, but what are you going to do about it? You don’t hear anybody say, “Hey, I don’t wanna be born now!” It’s just part of the cycle of birth and death, according to our karma we’re destined to take a birth.
If we make it through that (not everybody does, but now, due to advanced medical science, more and more people are making it), then we come to the next problem – disease. Nobody likes disease, nobody wants to get sick, but we do. Even a little common cold, a little flu, nothing to worry about, but it’s so uncomfortable, so unpleasant. We have to deal with that and that’s a problem. Not to mention the big ones like the cancers, the heart attacks, the tuberculosis and all these kinds of diseases.
And after we’ve gone through that, then we come to the next reward of material life. What is that? Old age. “Oh, great, old age! I’m so glad I made it, I’ve been waiting all my life to get here!” No, it’s not what we have been waiting for, we’ve been trying to avoid it, but we cannot. The only way to avoid old age is to die first, that’s the only solution. If you don’t die first, you’ll get old. And when you get old, life becomes even more difficult. All those wonderful senses that were so active and brought us so much pleasure, they begin to shut down, to wear out. Can’t see anymore, “Oh wow…” Glasses get thicker, bifocals and cataracts; have to have them removed. It’s hard to see, it gets dimmer and dimmer.
Can’t smell, the sense of smell gets fainter and fainter. “What did you say? What? What was that? Talk a little louder.” Turn up the hearing aid. “Oh, okay.” Taste, when the smell goes, the taste goes. Can’t taste, well, why eat? When you can’t taste the food, what’s the point of eating? Have you ever had that problem? You’ve got the flu or something, you’ve got a nose block, you can’t taste, and then do you eat as much? That’s a good way to lose weight. Why eat… no pleasure there.
And so on. All the muscles, all the parts of the body get weak. The limbs, the joints get stiff and fragile. Breaking bones: you fall down, break a hip. Old age is not fun, not much enjoyment here. All we can do is remember, if we can remember the past pleasure. That’s why we talk about the things we used to do.
Then finally the grand finale – death, and that’s a big problem. This is the most fearsome time; this is the most unknown event in our life. You can’t avoid that one either, it’s destined and it’s built in. In the Bhagavad-gita, another main scripture, it says, “For one who has taken birth, death is certain. For one who dies, birth is certain.” We’re on the wheel of birth and death, and what are we going to do about that? Birth, disease, old age and death – again and again.
What Is the Solution?
We can solve it by following the yoga teaching. The yoga teaching makes us aware of all these truths. If I know for a fact that there’s no happiness in the activity I’m going to perform – for me, the spirit soul – then I’m less likely to expect that it’s going to make me happy.
We put so much expectation on different things in life that are supposed to work. For instance, a relationship or a marriage, we enter a relationship with so much expectation. “This is it, this is going to make me happy. This is my life’s ambition. I’ve found the one true love. Oh, I can’t wait!” So we enter into it with a huge expectation, “This is going to fill in all the slots.” It starts off very sweet and then gradually diminishes, diminishes, diminishes, and maybe gets bitter, bitter, bitter. Finally, the pleasure may disappear completely and we’re very disappointed. That expectation was so great and then… “Wow…” That’s why there’s so much anger there. “You were supposed to make me happy, but you didn’t, I was supposed to make you happy, but I couldn’t.” And so it’s a big disappointment.
If we know the yoga teaching, we will know, “That’s not going to make me happy.” That’s not it, because what really makes the soul happy is uniting with the Supreme Soul. This is the link, this is the union, and this is the yoga that brings about inner perfection, inner peace and inner tranquility. Along the way, as we cultivate that link, that relationship, we will find automatically more and more inner happiness, and less and less dependence on the external world for our happiness.