त्रैवर्गिका ह्यक्षणिका आत्मानं घातयन्ति ते ॥ १६ ॥
ye cātītāś ca mūḍhatām
trai-vargikā hy akṣaṇikā
ātmānaṁ ghātayanti te
ye — those who; kaivalyam — knowledge of the Absolute Truth; asamprāptāḥ — have not achieved; ye — who; ca — also; atītāḥ — have transcended; ca — also; mūḍhatām — gross foolishness; trai-vargikāḥ — dedicated to the three goals of pious life, namely dharma (religiosity), artha (economic development) and kāma (sense gratification); hi — indeed; akṣaṇikāḥ — not having even a moment to reflect; ātmānam — their own selves; ghātayanti — murder; te — they.
Those who have not achieved knowledge of the Absolute Truth, yet who are still beyond the darkness of complete ignorance, generally follow the threefold path of pious material life, namely religiosity, economic development and sense gratification. Not having time to reflect on any higher purpose, they become the killers of their own soul.
Those who are completely in the darkness of ignorance and thus bereft even of material pious life commit innumerable sinful activities and suffer greatly. Due to such intense suffering such persons sometimes seek the shelter of the devotees of the Lord and, being blessed by such transcendental association, are sometimes elevated to the highest perfectional stage of Kṛṣṇa consciousness.
Those who are not completely sinful experience some mitigation of the miseries of material life and thus develop a false sense of well-being within the material world. Because those who are materially pious generally obtain worldly prosperity, bodily beauty and a pleasant family situation, they become falsely proud of their position and are not inclined to associate with or accept instructions from the devotees of the Lord. Unfortunately, all material activities, whether pious or impious, are inevitably contaminated by sinful activity. Those who are proud of their piety and do not like to hear about Kṛṣṇa sooner or later fall down from their artificial position. Every living entity is an eternal servant of Kṛṣṇa, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Therefore, until we surrender to Kṛṣṇa, our position is actually always impious. The word akṣaṇikāḥ (“not having even a moment to reflect”) is significant in this verse. Materialistic persons cannot spare a single moment for their eternal self-interest. This is a symptom of misfortune. Such persons are considered to be killing their own souls because by their obstinacy they are preparing a dark future for themselves from which they will not escape for a very long time.
A sick man receiving medical treatment may be encouraged by the preliminary results of the doctor’s care. But if the patient becomes falsely proud of the preliminary progress in his treatment and prematurely gives up the doctor’s orders, thinking himself already cured, there will undoubtedly be a relapse. The words ye kaivalyam asamprāptāḥ in this verse clearly indicate that material piety is a long way from perfect knowledge of the Absolute Truth. If one gives up his spiritual progress before achieving the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa, he will undoubtedly fall back down into the most unpleasant material situation, even if he has achieved impersonal realization of the Brahman effulgence. As stated in Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, āruhya kṛcchreṇa paraṁ padaṁ tataḥ patanty adhaḥ.