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Dying to Live

March 24th, 2010 | No Comments

Life is about death, nothing more. But what is death? In the sacred lore of India a king asked a young sage about his impending death and what he should do. The young sage responded with the poetic narrative Srimad-Bhagavatam. He told the king that no one is really a king, for death rules over all. But death is the hand of God, so we should take this hand and hold tight. There is life in understanding death, otherwise not.

The poetry of Srimad-Bhagavatam reaches its apex when Krishna’s milk-maidens die esoterically. They give up their desires for the world and risk everything to unite with Krishna in divine love, to hold on to his extended hand. Thus they gave up their lives in that they died to the world of the senses to live in the world of the soul. This is how the boy sage replied to the king. Even a young boy or girl can understand this. It is common sense.

The world is here today but it will be gone tomorrow. We cannot hold on to it. But we have all set out to become kings and to own and hold on to so many things, and in this mad pursuit we have lost sight of the obvious. It is the interconnectedness of all things that we should pursue, not independence from everything, not our own kingdom. In this pursuit we will find freedom, freedom from the illusion that we are independent entities. It is this illusion that fosters fear of death—the illusion of death that is really the hand of God. We must try to change our angle of vision.

Let me cite the English poet Thomas Gray’s “Elegy Written in a Churchyard” that B. R. Sridhara Deva Goswami was fond of:

The boast of heraldry, the pomp of power,
all that beauty, all that wealth ‘er gave
await alike the inevitable hour;
the paths of glory lead but to the grave.

Outside of spiritual culture all people in this world are but digging their own graves, nothing more, and most material plans lead but to an unknown grave at that. Such is the nature of karma. The ghosts of our past surround us, and our present life is haunted.

There is no time like the present, for in it both the future and the past reside. The present determines the future and enables us to retire the past. Yet the present is lost to those who remain controlled by their past and do not heed the clarion call of a spiritual reality that speaks to us untiringly at every moment. The call is heard not only in scripture and in the words of the wise, but in every movement of nature as well—with every rising and setting of the sun.

All of reality is but different notes harmonizing together in one song: the song of life beyond the graveyard of material existence. Those who ignore this—the tone deaf—will never dance in the land of eternal life.

Saints and scripture tell us to reside amongst the living, those who are spiritually alive. Hegel said, “Die to live.” Let the bondage of attachment to our past die and let us awaken to new life in the realm of the soul. In that realm there is no death and rebirth. Life there is one of unending love. Die to live!

In difficult times we should look to scripture for comfort and guidance, as seeing life through the eyes of scripture (sastra-caksusa) will help us like nothing else can. Indeed, the second chapter of Bhagavad-gita tells the entire story of life and death—death being described there as another change of garments for the soul. Through scriptural insight and philosophy, one can truly deal with death, and dealing with the problem of death is what life is about. If we neglect this problem, no other endeavor amounts to time well spent, as we will never find lasting happiness by working against the clock to acquire something in this short life. This is but a realistic outlook on life in this mortal plane where time will take everything from us all too soon.

What is time? “Time I am, destroyer of all the worlds,” says Sri Krishna in Bhagavad-gita. There is, of course, more to his message than this. But this is the beginning. Once we have thoroughly grasped that this present life we are experiencing is one in which we are born to die, we can begin to know about eternity, where real life begins.

In order to live the carefree life we are seeking, we must cross over the influence of time. The Gita tells us that this can only be done by surrendering to the reality of our utter helplessness in the face of material nature, under whose jurisdiction we are living. From this recognition of our dire need comes the impetus to call for help–absolute help, for we are absolutely helpless. This call attracts the sympathy of Godhead, who is ever ready to respond to those who are meek and humble, thus our happy life beyond time is at hand. The positive experience of tangible spiritual life requires no rational validation. It leaves no doubt and fulfills the need of the heart as nothing else can. It is not unreasonable, but picks up where reason leaves off. Everything else pales in comparison.

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