Srimad Bhagavatam Canto 7 Chapter 6 describes Prahlāda Mahārāja’s instructions to his class friends. In speaking to his friends, who were all sons of demons, Prahlāda Mahārāja stressed that every living entity, especially in human society, must be interested in spiritual realization from the very beginning of life. When human beings are children, they should be taught that the Supreme Personality of Godhead is the worshipable Deity for everyone. One should not be very much interested in material enjoyment; instead, one should be satisfied with whatever material profits are easily obtainable, and because the duration of one’s life is very short, one should utilize every moment for spiritual advancement.
Correcting an Error in Thinking
One may wrongly think, “In the beginning of our lives let us enjoy material facilities, and in old age, we may become Kṛṣṇa conscious.” Such materialistic thoughts are always useless because in old age one cannot be trained in the spiritual way of life. Therefore, from the very beginning of life, one should engage in devotional service (śravaṇaṁ kīrtanaṁ viṣṇoḥ [SB 7.5.23]). This is the duty of all living entities. Material education is infected by the three modes of nature, but spiritual education, for which there is a great need in human society, is transcendental. Prahlāda Mahārāja disclosed the secret of how he had received instructions from Nārada Muni. By accepting the lotus feet of Prahlāda Mahārāja, who is in the paramparā succession, one will be able to understand the mode of spiritual life. In accepting this mode of activity, there is no need for material qualifications.
Properly Directing Energy
Every human being has a maximum duration of life of one hundred years, but for one who cannot control his senses, half of those years are completely lost because at night he sleeps twelve hours, being covered by ignorance. Therefore such a person has a lifetime of only fifty years. Eating, sleeping, sex life and fear are the four bodily necessities, but to utilize the full duration of life a person desiring to advance in spiritual consciousness must reduce these activities. That will give him an opportunity to fully use his lifetime.
Wastage of the Duration of Life
In the tender age of childhood, when everyone is bewildered, one passes ten years. Similarly, in boyhood, engaged in sporting and playing, one passes another ten years. In this way, twenty years are wasted. Similarly, in old age, when one is an invalid (jarā-vyādhi), unable to perform even material activities, one passes another twenty years wastefully.
One whose mind and senses are uncontrolled becomes increasingly attached to family life because of insatiable lusty desires and very strong illusion. In such a madman’s life, the remaining years are also wasted because even during those years he cannot engage himself in devotional service.
Proper Utility of the Stages of Life
For the perfection of life Prahlāda Mahārāja’s instructs to follow varnaashrama dharma in spiritual life. Prahlāda Mahārāja’s first proposal was kaumāra ācaret prājño dharmān bhāgavatān iha: [SB 7.6.1] “One who is sufficiently intelligent should use the human form of body from the very beginning of life—in other words, from the tender age of childhood—to practice the activities of devotional service, giving up all other engagements.”
One should be trained to be a perfect brahmacārī in the beginning of life and then to be perfect in sense control, following the regulative principles, if one becomes a householder. In this way, he learns how to control his senses and sacrifice everything for the guru. When he is fully trained if he likes he is allowed to marry. Thus he is not an ordinary gṛhastha who has learned only how to satisfy his senses. A trained gṛhastha can gradually give up household life and go to the forest to become increasingly enlightened in spiritual life and at last take sannyāsa. Therefore children should be taught from the very beginning of life to be first-class brahmacārīs. Then it will be possible for them to give up household life in the future.
From household life, one is ordered to accept vānaprastha life and go to the forest and then accept sannyāsa. That is the perfection of life. From the very beginning of life, those who are ajitendriya, who cannot control their senses, are educated only for sense gratification, as we have seen in the Western countries. Thus the entire duration of a life of even one hundred years is wasted and misused, and at the time of death one transmigrates to another body, which may not be human. At the end of one hundred years, one who has not acted as a human being in a life of tapasya (austerity and penance) must certainly be embodied again in a body like those of cats, dogs, and hogs. Therefore this life of lusty desires and sense gratification is extremely risky.
While in the material world we manufacture so many duties in the name of so many isms, but our actual duty is to free ourselves from the cycle of birth, death, old age and disease. For this purpose, one must first be liberated from material bondage, and especially from household life. Household life is actually a kind of license for a materially attached person by which to enjoy sense gratification under regulative principles. Otherwise, there is no need of entering household life.
The first aphorism in the Vedanta-sutra is athato brahma jijnasa. In the human form of life, one should put many questions to himself and to his intelligence. In the various forms of life lower than human life the intelligence does not go beyond the range of life’s primary necessities–namely eating, sleeping, mating and defending. Dogs, cats, and tigers are always busy trying to find something to eat or a place to sleep, trying to defend and have sexual intercourse successfully. In the human form of life, however, one should be intelligent enough to ask what he is, why he has come into the world, what his duty is, who is the supreme controller, what is the difference between dull matter and the living entity, etc.
If one engages in devotional service from the beginning of life, he easily attains vairāgya-vidyā, or asakti, detachment, and becomes jitendriya, the controller of his senses. One who perfectly engages in devotional service is therefore called gosvāmī or svāmī, master of the senses. Unless one is master of the senses, he should not accept the renounced order of life, sannyāsa. A strong inclination for sense enjoyment is the cause of the material body. Without full knowledge, one cannot be unattached to material enjoyment, but as long as one is not in that position one is not fit to return home, back to Godhead.
To return home, back to Godhead, one must be completely free from material attachment. Therefore, bhakti-yoga means vairāgya-vidyā, the art that can help one develop a distaste for material enjoyment. Dharmān bhāgavatān means the religious principle of reviving our relationship with the Supreme Personality of Godhead. For this purpose Kṛṣṇa personally advises, sarva-dharmān parityajya mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja: [Bg. 18.66] “Give up all other duties and surrender unto Me.” “By rendering devotional service unto the Personality of Godhead, Śrī Kṛṣṇa, one immediately acquires causeless knowledge and detachment from the world.” (Bhāg. 1.2.7)