(Click to enlarge photo of Srila Prabhupada)
We accept as blessings different states of higher life, distinguishing them from lower states of life, but we should know that such distinctions exist only in relation to the interchange of the modes of material nature. Actually these states of life have no permanent existence, for all of them will be destroyed by the supreme controller.
In our material existence we accept a higher form of life as a blessing and a lower form as a curse. This distinction of "higher" and "lower" only exists as long as the different material qualities (guṇas) interact. In other words, by our good activities we are elevated to the higher planetary systems or to a higher standard of life (good education, beautiful body, etc.). These are the results of pious activities. Similarly, by impious activities we remain illiterate, get ugly bodies, a poor standard of living, etc. But all these different states of life are under the laws of material nature through the interaction of the qualities of goodness, passion and ignorance. However, all these qualities will cease to act at the time of the dissolution of the entire cosmic manifestation. The Lord therefore says in Bhagavad-gītā (BG 8.16):
punar āvartino 'rjuna
mām upetya tu kaunteya
punar janma na vidyate
Even though we elevate ourselves to the highest planetary system by the scientific advancement of knowledge or by the religious principles of life—great sacrifices and fruitive activities—at the time of dissolution these higher planetary systems and life on them will be destroyed. In this verse the words īśa-vidhvaṁsitāśiṣām indicate that all such blessings will be destroyed by the supreme controller. We will not be protected. Our bodies, either in this planet or in another planet, will be destroyed, and again we will have to remain for millions of years in an unconscious state within the body of Mahā-Viṣṇu. And again, when the creation is manifested, we have to take birth in different species of life and begin our activities. Therefore we should not be satisfied simply by a promotion to the higher planetary systems. We should try to get out of the material cosmic manifestation, go to the spiritual world and take shelter of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. That is our highest achievement. We should not be attracted by anything material, higher or lower, but should consider them all on the same level. Our real engagement should be in inquiring about the real purpose of life and rendering devotional service to the Lord. Thus we will be eternally blessed in our spiritual activities, full of knowledge and bliss.
Regulated human civilization promotes dharma, artha, kāma and mokṣa. In human society there must be religion. Without religion, human society is only animal society. Economic development and sense gratification must be based on religious principles. When religion, economic development and sense gratification are adjusted, liberation from this material birth, death, old age and disease is assured. In the present age of Kali, however, there is no question of religion and liberation. People have taken interest only in economic development and sense gratification. Therefore, despite sufficient economic development all over the world, dealings in human society have become almost animalistic. When everything becomes grossly animalistic, dissolution takes place. This dissolution is to be accepted as īśa-vidhvaṁsitāśiṣām. The Lord's so-called blessings of economic development and sense gratification will be conclusively dissolved by destruction. At the end of this Kali-yuga, the Lord will appear as the incarnation of Kalki, and His only business will be to kill all human beings on the surface of the globe. After that killing, another golden age will begin. We should therefore know that our material activities are just like childish play. Children may play on the beach, and the father will sit and watch this childish play, the construction of buildings with sand, the construction of walls and so many things, but finally the father will ask the children to come home. Then everything is destroyed. Persons who are too much addicted to the childish activities of economic development and sense gratification are sometimes especially favored by the Lord when He destroys their construction of these things.
It is said by the Lord: yasyāham anugṛhṇāmi hariṣye tad-dhanaṁ śanaiḥ. The Lord told Yudhiṣṭhira Mahārāja that His special favor is shown to His devotee when He takes away all the devotee's material opulences. Generally, therefore, it is experienced that Vaiṣṇavas are not very opulent in the material sense. When a Vaiṣṇava, pure devotee, tries to be materially opulent and at the same time desires to serve the Supreme Lord, his devotional service is checked. The Lord, in order to show him a special favor, destroys his so-called economic development and material opulences. Thus the devotee, being frustrated in his repeated attempts at economic development, ultimately takes solid shelter under the lotus feet of the Lord. This kind of action may also be accepted as īśa-vidhvaṁ-sitāśiṣām, whereby the Lord destroys one's material opulences but enriches one in spiritual understanding. In the course of our preaching work, we sometimes see that materialistic persons come to us and offer their obeisances to take blessings, which means they want more and more material opulences. If such material opulences are checked, such persons are no longer interested in offering obeisances to the devotees. Such materialistic persons are always concerned about their economic development. They offer obeisances to saintly persons or the Supreme Lord and give something in charity for preaching work with a view that they will be rewarded with further economic development.
However, when one is sincere in his devotional service, the Lord obliges the devotee to give up his material development and completely surrender unto Him. Because the Lord does not give blessings of material opulence to His devotee, people are afraid of worshiping Lord Viṣṇu because they see that the Vaiṣṇavas, who are worshipers of Lord Viṣṇu, are poor in superficial material opulences. Such materialistic persons, however, get immense opportunity for economic development by worshiping Lord Śiva, for Lord Śiva is the husband of the goddess Durgā, the proprietor of this universe. By the grace of Lord Śiva, a devotee gets the opportunity to be blessed by the goddess Durgā. Rāvaṇa, for example, was a great worshiper and devotee of Lord Śiva, and in return he got all the blessings of goddess Durgā, so much so that his whole kingdom was constructed of golden buildings. In Brazil, in this present age, huge quantities of gold have been found, and from historical references in the Purāṇas, we can guess safely that this was Rāvaṇa's kingdom. This kingdom was, however, destroyed by Lord Rāmacandra.
By studying such incidents, we can understand the full meaning of īśa-vidhvaṁsitāśiṣām. The Lord does not bestow material blessings upon the devotees, for they may be entrapped again in this material world by continuous birth, death, old age and disease. Due to materialistic opulences, persons like Rāvaṇa become puffed up for sense gratification. Rāvaṇa even dared kidnap Sītā, who was both the wife of Lord Rāmacandra and the goddess of fortune, thinking that he would be able to enjoy the pleasure potency of the Lord. But actually, by such action, Rāvaṇa became vidhvaṁsita, or ruined. At the present moment human civilization is too much attached to economic development and sense gratification and is therefore nearing the path of ruination.
(Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 4.22.36, Translation and Purport)