Science and technology have made amazing progress over the last hundred years. We seem to know a lot more now about how things work than at any other time in history. And even though science still searches for a theory that explains everything, it has learned enough to produce things that in former times would have been considered miracles.

With so much success, many people believe that someday science will solve every problem. But that belief ignores the fact that along with the benefits of technology have come new problems, especially social and environmental ones. The rewards of science have been a mixed blessing.

“[Science] reduces the death rate in retail,” wrote the philosopher Will Durant, “and then kills us wholesale in war.”

Many commentators bemoan the loss of quality of life amid the quantity of gadgets. Why, despite gigantic leaps in knowledge and computing power, does life on earth often seem to be getting worse instead of better?

The Bhagavad-gita tells us that the quest for perfection through material means, including science and technology, is a utopian dream, never to be realized. Lord Krishna certifies the material world as temporary and miserable. Would science agree? While scientific theories may support the idea that the universe is temporary, the ultimate goal of science—full control of the universe—implies the possibility of getting rid of all sources of misery. Krishna says that will never happen.

Does all this mean that Krishna’s devotees should shun technology? Not necessarily. No doubt Prabhupada promoted the simple, agrarian life, but that may also include much hardship. Living off the land has many benefits, but we can’t expect it to end all our suffering.

Srila Prabhupada taught us not to reject technology but to use it in Krishna’s service and reject its exaggerated promises. We accept Krishna’s opinion that misery is part of life in the material world. Whether we drive a tractor-trailer or a team of oxen, we’re still going to get sick, grow old, and die. Try as we might to create heaven on earth, we’ll never succeed.

Still, people have a hard time believing that God would create a miserable world. Why would He?

Because He loves us. We’ve turned away from Him, and the hardships we face in this world are meant to inspire us to wake up, toss aside our rebellion, and seek His shelter. The reliable miseries of the material world should humble us.

Submission before God’s authority is a prerequisite for spiritual life. When one young man heard Prabhupada make this point, he said that he didn’t feel the need to submit himself to anyone. Prabhupada replied that it was illusion to think he wasn’t already “bowing down.”

“You are bowing down to so many things,” Prabhupada said. “You are forced… Now we have to find out ‘Where will I be happy even by bowing down?’ That is Krishna.”

Battling nature is ultimately futile; victory comes by submitting to the will of the person behind nature. That brings self-realization—the self, or soul, being naturally subordinate to God. And Krishna’s incarnation Kapila says that the self-realized person “becomes indifferent to material existence, and the material influence acts less powerfully on him.”

Like the small fish that thrives in the same raging stream that carries away the mighty elephant, the devotee thrives in Krishna’s energy, having surrendered to Him. The materialist, on the other hand, will always fight a losing battle.

—Nagaraja Dasa