By Sri Chaitanya Chandra Dasa
The most important topic in life is the one no one wants to think about.
The last thing people want to discuss or even think about is death. And, ironically, they often don’t live long enough to do so. We’ve made so much innovation in technology that we can control satellites thousands of miles away. We’ve managed to put so much complexity into a small electronic chip that we can work wonders. But death challenges all human achievements. Death is an affront to the genius of modern human beings.
Nobody wants to die, but everyone has to. Death is beyond our control. Much research has gone into eliminating death, but the wonder is that no one has escaped cruel death, including the researchers themselves. The death rate is the same everywhere: one hundred percent.
In my childhood I used to deliberate often about death. The more I did it, the more befuddled I became, as there seemed no solution to this enigma. I used to cry at night thinking that one day I would have to leave my loved ones. “How can I never be separated from them?” was my relentless anxiety.
I used to ponder that when we come into this world, attachments grow around us. And those attachments – for mother, father, friends, and so on – give us a boost to struggle in this world. Without attachments, rarely can one survive. But the paradox is that at the time of death all attachments are abruptly severed. How ghastly! How painful! Death means the end of everything, perpetual separation from loved ones, never to meet again – ever! How horrifying is the idea! We are like the leaves on a river that come together and with a surge of a wave are separated forever. Thinking thus, I would cry the whole night.
One who thinks profoundly about death cannot afford to bear attachments for anyone and anything in this world. But people don’t want to think about death; rather, they want to forget it so they can cultivate attachments for their loved ones because attachments are a source of pleasure. It is like when we are ailing and we know something is wrong with the body and we take medication. In this world we can’t live without attachments, but death brusquely severs our attachments and makes us suffer bitterly. Hence we can conclude that we are in the wrong place. This world is not meant for anyone who wants to be happy.
Once when the Pandavas, great devotees of the Lord, were in exile, they were extremely thirsty while roaming in the forest. Yudhishthira asked his brothers to search for water. When they didn’t return after a long time, he went in search of them and found them dead beside a lake.
A voice called out, “Your brothers didn’t care to answer my questions before drinking water from my lake; hence their current state. If you too don’t answer, you will follow them.”
Yudhishthira nodded solemnly.
One of the many questions asked by the supernatural voice was “What is the most astonishing thing in this world?”
Yudhishthira impeccably replied, “One sees death everywhere around, but he thinks he is an exception. This is most astonishing.”
Later, after Yudhishthira had perfectly answered all the other questions, the brothers were resurrected.
So the most astounding thing is not the Seven Wonders of the World, but the attitude that I will never die in spite of seeing death all around. Everyone who has died has thought like that. Nobody likes to die.
In the Light of Scriptures
While voyaging throughout 8,400,000 species of life, we encountered death every time. We were in species of dog, ant, tree, snake, fish, tiger, elephant, eagle, demigod, pigeon, spider, scorpion, lion, whale, shark, bacteria . . . Thrilling! But surely not fun. Every animal species is filled with immense angst for survival. Even the kings of the jungle have to famish for weeks to catch their prey. It’s not a tranquil life.
If we deliberate deeply, we can observe that nature facilitates every kind of desire we may have. If someone desires to fly freely in the air, a bird’s body is available; if someone desires to swim, an aquatic’s body is available; if someone desires to eat a lot, an elephant’s body is available; if someone desires excessive sex, a pigeon’s body is available; if someone desires to sleep a lot, a bear’s body is available; if someone desires to be naked, a tree’s body is available; if someone desires to eat flesh, a tiger’s body is available. And so forth. God has provided the facility to fulfill every kind of desire. You just think of it, and nature fulfills it. (Of course, we need to deserve the fulfillment of the desire. That depends on our karma.)
Now, the desire for living eternally is present in everyone without exception. No one wants to die. So is there any facility for that in nature? Yes. Hence the quest for the supernatural is natural. In the Bhagavad-gita (15.6) Lord Krishna describes a supernatural place where one doesn’t die and can live happily eternally.
“That supreme abode of Mine is not illumined by the sun or moon, nor by fire or electricity. Those who reach it never return to this material world.”
A Devotee’s Death
Vedic texts explain that we are not the body but spirit soul and that the body dies, not the soul. So we don’t die. Good news! And a relief. Although the body is destructible, the soul is indestructible.
The soul is the driving force for the body. A transcendentalist understands this fact and goes further to know the source of the soul. The original home of the soul is the kingdom of God. Somehow the soul has landed in this foreign land and is suffering like an orphan. Hence the duty of the living entity is to go back to his original home, where there is eternity, bliss, and complete knowledge in the association of God.
Death terrifies materialists, but devotees welcome it as God’s loving embrace as He calls them back home. An example: For a rat, being carried in a cat’s teeth is terrifying, but for a kitten, it is a loving embrace.
Another example: When two prisoners are escorted out of a jail into a van, it may seem they are heading to the same destination. But one is being released because of his good behavior, while the other is moving on to more rigorous imprisonment because of his impish conduct. So death may appear to be the same for materialists and transcendentalists, but what happens after death is completely different.
So a devotee practices bhakti-yoga, which is more powerful than death. Even death cannot check progress on this path. The best way to practice is to chant God’s names: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna. Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. One who practices sincerely and seriously will surely at the time of death acquire a spiritual body absolutely free of any deficiency. Death is the time when we can change our body from an inferior one to a superior one.
An End to Crying
My crying for my loved ones came to an end when I understood that if we perform bhakti-yoga and achieve perfection, then we can all meet again in spiritual world, never to be separated. (In regard to the Krishna consciousness movement, Srila Prabhupada once wrote in a letter that when its members go back to the spiritual sky, “We will have another ISKCON there.”)
Bhakti-yoga is the best welfare activity we can perform for our family members because we can deliver them by its performance. The holy pages of Srimad-Bhagavatam, Fourth Canto, tell the story of Dhruva Maharaja. His mother guided him to practice bhakti-yoga in the forest to achieve the Lord. When Dhruva attained perfection and was about to leave for the spiritual world, he asked that his beloved mother be taken along even though she hadn’t practiced bhakti-yoga. He then saw that she was boarding a spiritual airplane just as he was.
So if I practice seriously enough, when the time comes for soaring back to the spiritual world I shall take my loved ones along. Then we shall live happily together with God in His eternal kingdom.