“There are two kinds of penance: one for sense gratification and the other for self-realization. There are many pseudo-mystics who undergo severe penances for their own satisfaction, and there are others who undergo severe penances for the satisfaction of the senses of the Lord. For example, the penances undertaken to discover nuclear weapons will never satisfy the Lord because such penance is never satisfactory. By nature’s own way, everyone has to meet death, and if such a process of death is accelerated by anyone’s penances, there is no satisfaction for the Lord. The Lord wants every one of His parts and parcels to attain eternal life and bliss by coming home to Godhead, and the whole material creation is meant for that objective. Brahma underwent severe penances for that purpose, namely to regulate the process of creation so that the Lord might be satisfied. Therefore the Lord was very much pleased with him, and for this Brahma was impregnated with Vedic knowledge. The ultimate purpose of Vedic knowledge is to know the Lord and not to misuse the knowledge for any other purposes. Those who do not utilize Vedic knowledge for that purpose are known as Kuta-yogis, or pseudo transcendentalists who spoil their lives with ulterior motives.
One cannot enjoy material illusory prosperity if he desires to return home, back to Godhead. One who has no information of the transcendental bliss in the association of the Lord foolishly desires to enjoy this temporary material happiness. In the Caitanya-caritamrta it is said that if someone sincerely wants to see the Lord and at the same time wants to enjoy this material world, he is considered to be a fool only. One who wants to remain here in the material world for material enjoyment has no business entering into the eternal kingdom of God. The Lord favors such a foolish devotee by snatching all that he may possess in the material world. If such a foolish devotee of the Lord tries to recoup his position, then the merciful Lord again snatches away all that he may have possessed. By such repeated failures in material prosperity, he becomes very unpopular with his family members and friends. In the material world, the family members and friends honor persons who are very successful in accumulating wealth by any means. The foolish devotee of the Lord is thus put into forcible penance by the grace of the Lord, and at the end the devotee becomes perfectly happy, being engaged in the service of the Lord. Therefore penance in devotional service of the Lord, either by voluntary submission or by being forced by the Lord, is necessary for attaining perfection, and thus such penance is the internal potency of the Lord.
One cannot, however, be engaged in the penance of devotional service without being completely free from all sins. As stated in the Bhagavad-gita, only a person who is completely free from all reactions of sins can engage himself in the worship of the Lord. Brahmaji was sinless, and therefore he faithfully discharged the advice of the Lord, ” tapa,” and the Lord, being satisfied with him, awarded him the desired result. Therefore only love and penance combined can please the Lord, and thus one is able to attain His complete mercy. He directs the sinless, and the sinless devotee attains the highest perfection of life.”
Source: A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada (2014 edition), “Srimad Bhagavatam”, Second Canto, Chapter 09 – Text 20 & 23