Time to time, I run into people having odd questions, formulating crazy theories based on biased perceptions or utter dejection. Some of them end up there due to their upbringing where they accept these ideas given to them either by their environs or life. This Q&A segment will be an eclectic collection of such random questions and my attempt to explain them from Hindu and Vedantic viewpoint. The answers are not definitive, but intended to be stimulative and thought provoking. They are my current observations from my vantage point, seen through the prism of my limited knowledge. Readers, can either email me or use the contact form or leave a message on the blog with their questions.
Q1: I find God to be cruel. All nice people I love seem to be leaving this plane very early, said a vexed friend. Not to mention about the deep scars of family and friend loss this person was carrying. So all good people die early and the ones who are left to suffer are her?
Ans: At the outset, this seems very logical. Ramalinga Swamigal (Vallalar) was 51 at the time of his death. Ramakrishna Paramahamsa was 50, Swami Vivekananda was 39, Adi Shankara was 32. So seem great scientists like Vikram Sarabhai at 52. Great souls seem to be hastening the exit from this body, it so appears. Before we conclude let us see the other end of the spectrum. Raghavendra Swami took jeeva Samadhi at 76. Vedhathri Maharishi cast his body at 94, Holiness Kanchi Chandrasekhara Saraswati at 99, Ramanuja, one of the prime Vaishnavite revivers shared his grace till 120. Mahatma Gandhi was 78, CV Raman 82, Abdul Kalam 83, Mother Theresa 87 and Nelson Mandela 95.
So there goes the pet theory my friend I would like to tell that there is no correlation between death, morality, and effective contribution to the society.
Logic doesn’t fill the void of the loss of a near and dear one. But when one listens and studies more about the subtle truths in life, the bereaved mind gets assuaged. Having seen many widows and old people who relocate to sacred towns like Vrindavan, Varanasi, with the sole purpose of dying, many of them living decades past the original reason of dejection behind their move, it is interesting to note that the value of our life. While Science is still not able to exactly explain what is LIFE, till such time religion and spirituality seem to be giving some reasons.
Hinduism believes the reason for birth is Karma, one’s actions (be it real or in the mind). The bundle of all our karmas in the past is called Sanchita Karma. A portion of them seem to be ready for ripening, for this to happen, we need a body, which is the reason for our birth. This is called Prarabhda Karma. Based on our vasanas, we have tendencies or may have strong free will to chart a new direction. The new karmas we generate is called Kriyamana or Agami Karma. This body comes prewired to exhaust a certain set of Prarabhda Karmas. Once they are realized, the body has no ability to hold the soul any longer. Add to this, our Kriyamana Karmas, they can add or shorten the lifespan. I have seen long lived old people with bad health due to such habits during their youth. So longevity should not be the only criteria to evaluate our life.
If we go back to the purpose behind our birth (assuming we can easily understand the Hindu way of explanation via Karma), this life is a gift. What we do with this gift, will be the real gift back to GOD. We can not only exhaust the vasanas, but we can also use this platform to evolve higher.
In this context, I would like to recall the story of Narada, who keeps chanting Narayana, Narayana non-stop. If one can get past the imbecile and sometimes motivated portrayal of Narada in current media, one has applaud his non-stop service to help others evolve. We saw that in the story of Dhruva, Prahalada, even Ratnakar whom he transformed to Valmiki. Onetime, he gets a desire to understand the see the power of the mantra he is chanting all the time. He goes to Krishna and expresses his desire. Krishna suggests him to chant the mantra in the ears of a worm that was wriggling nearby. Narada excited to know, does as directed, is shocked to his dismay, the worm wriggles desperately and dies. A shocked Narada gets further instruction to go and chant the mantra at a butterfly that was flying nearby. A hopeful Narada witnesses the death of the butterfly at the chant of the mantra. Narada now begins to wonder if this mantra is the secret behind all the deaths in the universe.
Narada is now guided by Krishna to go and chant in the ears of the bird which was about to hatch from its egg. Narada chants the mantra and is pushed to unbearable sorrow seeing a cute bird die due to his curiosity. A smiling Krishna now directs him to a deer which was about to give birth to a calf. The calf met the same fate when Narada chanted Om Namo Narayana, in its ears.
With the sadness of having killed the innocent lives, Narada decides to abandon further research into the power of the name. But Krishna says he cannot back off. He tells the great king of Kasi is about to have a son, after yearning and praying for a long time. Narada trembled at the thought of killing one more and was worried that the King was very powerful. He weighed in the repercussions of not listening to Krishna. Half-heartedly he goes in front of the King who is anxious to hear the news about his child. The King is delighted at the sight of the Devarishi Narada and pleads him to bless the child first. Moments later, the royal midwife brings the happy news of the birth of the son. The King promptly hands the baby to Narada.
Having the expectations set by his previous experiences, Narada reluctantly chants the mantra thrice. Hurriedly, he hands over the baby to the King and turns around to depart. To his surprise, he hears a revered voice, requesting him to stop and suggests that his real purpose of the visit has not yet been served. Narada turns around to see the newborn baby talking to him. The wonderstruck audience is left with their mouths agape. The baby thanks Narada for helping him get faster spiritual evolution by acting as him Guru. A confused Narada asks for explanation.
The baby reveals that it was the worm, the butterfly, the bird and the deer. The power of the name of the Lord helped it cast its mortal coil sooner than its slow process to exhaust its vasanas. Now thanks to hearing the Lord’s name, it is now born with the memory of its past lives, in a royal family. Narada rushes to Krishna to thank him profusely and seeks his apology for not having complete faith.
Now the story is not to scare a person that if one chants the Lord’s name, one will die. It is merely to highlight that the Lord’s name can hasten the evolutionary process that usually takes a long winded path. The story also reminds the fact that the purpose behind taking a body is due to its past karma and the exhaustion of its vasanas. If new ones are created, a new one may be needed. In fact, the direction of (d)evolution is solely determined by the actions of the individual.
Once we take a body and the atman believes it is the body and not something grander, it also believes in the seeming relations the body has. Enmeshed in this fleshy tabernacle, the atman deludes itself into believing about the birth and death of its relatives and also its body. It is interesting to note, irrespective of the language, we always refer to the dead body of the person, as So and So’s body. This should give us the clue that we are not the body. Death and birth are interestingly the facets of the same thing - our ignorance about our true SELF.
There is an incident in the Autobiography of a Yogi, by Paramahamsa Yogananda, a Guru who was much revered in the West and East, who cataloged numerous testimonials and personal accounts of wondrous miraculous events in the book. He narrates the incident in Ranchi, where he comes across a young deer, which he had taken care for quite some time affectionately, dead. He tries his best to restore and finds a feeble deer on his hands. Taking special care for the deer, he fell asleep. In the dream, the deer is pleading Yogananda to let it go. The deer was being held captive by his love and was unable to move ahead in its evolutionary path. Yogananda quickly realized his mistake and informed the eager children around that they deer is dying and won’t be alive for long.
Reading this episode made me realize that one has to be conscious of one’s actions. Yudhishtra was once asked what the most surprising thing he had ever seen was. He quipped that every day one is surrounded by death, but everyone acts as if it will never happen to them. Once a young mother, whose loss of her young son was unbearable, repaired to Buddha. She pleaded him to revive the child, for she believed he could. Buddha asked her to fetch some mustard seeds from any house which has not seen death. The mother, desperate against hopes, goes house after house, village after village, only to realize that death is inevitable. Buddha also highlighted that no matter when death happens, the dead body left is going to be met with grief, lamentations and sorrow.
So working on the four purusharthas – Dharma-Artha-Kama-Moksha, one overcomes the loss of relations, as one raises their consciousness above one’s body. Being aware of a higher purpose in life, helps one to be tuned to the subtler cosmic mind.
A Blessing or Curse
In the book, At Every Breath, A Teaching, Rudite Emir recounts an incident in Swami Chinmayananda’ s life. During a visit to a housewarming ceremony of a disciple, Swami Chinmayananda wrote the following in a brand new guest book
Grandfather dies, father dies, son dies, grandson dies.
The disappointed host was assured that this was a blessing not a curse. The Swami said the above is a desirable pattern, a rhythm. If the rhythm is altered, then extreme sorrow ensues.
My friend who was feeling this pain, was experiencing this break in the rhythm. The only thing that can heal is selfless service to others. Instead of talking about pain and sorrow, if we can extend our hands to someone with greater sorrow, not only it alleviates other’s pain, but magically our pain disappears as well.
May we connect ourselves bit deeper, so that we can be a blessing in other’s lives. Nishkamya Karma (Selfless actions) help us purify our minds. This scrubbing also reveals the hidden jnana. Jnana alone will keep us away from such perceived sorrows.
Om Tat Sat