Life, Death and Dying from the Soul Perspective
For instance, if we see death as the end of our existence we will tend to be selfish, greedy, and self-absorbed. After all, with this world view, the only thing we have is today, so morality is only utilitarian—to get what I want and to look good, since if we don’t get caught doing something against morality or the law, we have succeeded. From this perspective there is no accountability other then the here and now! So go for it. As the saying goes, “Live for today, for tomorrow you die”. What an unfortunate illusion this is, with no spiritual understanding!
From another perspective, death can become the enemy. We may live our life in the defensive mode, trying to play it safe. I remember a health food advocate, who became very angry after being diagnosed with 4th stage cancer, since he had done all the right things for health by his diet and lifestyle. "How could this be happening to me?"
A theistic perspective sees a purpose driven Universe, and that nothing really happens by chance. Without this understanding there appears to be injustice, and we may rally against God, for letting certain things happen. It's true that he “allows” many things to go on that he may not agree with, for he gives us free will and doesn’t force us to believe in or love him, or do the right thing. Thus it is said that not a blade of grass moves without his sanction. However, we have to understand that “sanction” means that he gives us the freedom to screw the world up. His greatness is all sided. He gives both the theist and atheist their arguments. “As they surrender to me, I reward them accordingly. Everyone follows my path in all respects.” (BG 4.11) In an ordinary material sense God is neutral and gives us what we think we want. Never the less, the Universe is "stacked" to help the spiritual quest.
If we fear death, we may also fear to live fully. There is a quote by someone which says that “I don’t fear death as much as much as I do to never have fully lived.” “Fully lived” will mean different things to people of various world views. For a Krishna devotee it means living to serve and love Krishna. Of course some people confront death by trying to ignore it or make light of it. Some become totally absorbed in material success and all of its trappings.
In different ways people become so busy that they don’t give themselves time to ponder the really important questions. Factually, because they don’t have a spiritual understanding of death or life, they can’t face such topics. This is because they are afraid to really embrace the answers to the ultimate questions about the meaning to life, and whether death is the end of everything, or that there is an eternal life and a God to whom we are accountable to for our life’s actions.
For many people the only really satisfying answers to the question of what death and life are, is a spiritual one. In this view one understands their eternal spiritual identity and the existence of a merciful, loving God who sustains their lives and the whole Universe. Coming to such a conclusion is more than just the logic of theism, but is do to the mercy of God. The scriptures, which are full of logical perspectives on how and why God exists, tell us that logic and intelligence, being material things, are not ultimately the way to understand the Supreme Truth. They can be helpful, but are imperfect. Spiritual logic is meant to convince of to do spiritual practice and humble us before the greatness and wonder of the "infinite absolute" or God. By this knowledge or hearts are meant to become soft, not harden by pride that we know something.
If by logic and material intelligence we could understand God, then every logical and intelligent person would be a theist. We don’t find this to be true. Every system of belief—religious, spiritual, or scientific and so on—has a particular type of logic which certain people become convinced by. It is not an accident, but is based on a preexisting psychology from our past lives, which predisposes us to a certain ideology or perspective. For spiritual life one needs some blessings or “sukriti” to have attraction for theistic logic.
The scripture Shrimad Bhagavatam begins with the question as to what one’s duty is, especially at the hour of death. We may ask, “Who is about to die?” Usually we think that an old person is close to death. Yet I may die tonight, while the so-called “old person” may live another 20 years. So who is really old and about to die? Since it could be anyone we must consider that we are all on the threshold of death. With the idea that my death may come at any time, am I prepared? If not, how does one prepare?
To understand the answers we must understand the truth about why we are in the material world in the first place, and who “I” am. If we understand those things, then we can truly comprehend how to live and how prepare for death. Study of Vedic texts like Bhagavad-gita and hearing from those who live their lives by them is essential. This will help us understand our eternal nature as a blissful, wise by nature soul, who by material identification is acting less intelligently. From this perspective we need to look at our faith and attachments and what they say about us and our future lives. Spirituality changes who or what we think of as assets or what our liabilities are which have no value beyond the flesh. True value is spiritual lasting value, not buying a house that will soon be torn down (the body).
Prabhupada often quoted a Bengali proverb, “What we do in life will be tested at death.” Truly, death is our final exam for this life, a tally sheet where the pluses and minuses of our life are add up, and balanced in order to determine our next destination. “Whatever one thinks of at the time of death, that situation one will obtain without fail.” (Bg 8th chapter)
Death is a reminder that in a physical body, life is temporary. Life exists within the constraints and limitations of physical laws. At the same time, behind those laws, there is a controller and Supreme Source. If we want to walk the spiritual path there is a Divine plan and purpose to our life—otherwise Darwin had it right: life will be a struggle of the fittest, and then you die!.
The fact that the body dies is really the mercy of God because it really means that we are continually given chances to understand our true spiritual identity as a servant and lover of God. It is not that we are created at so-called birth and is we don't get it right in this very short life, we will burn in hell for eternity.
Death and life are really inseparable parts of the material world. Basically there are two main purposes to life: as a facility for rebellious souls to try to enjoy apart from God, but ultimately for us to realize our absolute dependence on him, and that our true happiness is through giving to, serving and loving God…who for us is the all-attractive Shri Krishna and Radha!
The Bhagavad-gita teaches our true spiritual identity, and how we are bound in the material world. The soul doesn’t require a material body. Though this is considered the ABC’s of spiritual life, it is not so easy to realize. It takes time, lifetimes actually.”For one who has taken birth, death is certain, and after death one is sure to take birth again.” When the body is no longer usable we receive another one just suitable for our unfinished business and good and bad karmic debts. Good karma is also a kind of bondage! In the Vedas it is said that every person has a certain number of heartbeats, a certain amount of allotted breathes. Although our ego wants us to believe we are the center and the controller of our life, our control is very tiny.
We are the soul—it is not that we are the body with a soul, but we are a soul having a human experience. Real life is eternal life, just as real happiness is eternal happiness. It will be helpful to our life to gain this perspective of things as they are, not hold the vain hope of materialists to enjoy life without any reference to the soul or God. We suffer in life because we seek our happiness in things which do not endure, whereas our desire is to have happiness without end. If we are fortunate we will seek out the answer to suffering through a spiritual solution, which is the only “happily ever after” possibility. Then we can attend to our real duty or “business” as a soul, self realization.
As we make progress understanding our spiritual nature, we also need to understand our relationship to our Source, God, or that aspect of God which attracts us. From a Gaudiya Vaishnava perspective, there is no meaning of “self-realization” without “God-realization”. This is because we are not only part of God, and also have a very intimate relationship with him. All the relationships of this world are tiny reflections of those primal, original relationships we have with God, his energies and his devout.
We are putting forward the idea of Radha and Krishna, or Shri Chaitanya as those aspects of God which are the original manifestations of God, and the most accessible, merciful, and loving. It is our claim, but can only be realized by study and experience. The process of Krishna consciousness means gaining faith in this by practical experience--not waiting till death. In any case, we need to understand that there is one Spiritual Source or God in the Universe, though he has infinite aspects or faces to serve different purposes. This is why there are so many conceptions of God or religions. Unfortunately, egoic religions think theirs is the "only way".
Faith here means the activity of a spiritual heart, while "belief" refers to a mental understanding. We may begin with belief and by realization and reciprocation from Krishna gain practical experience and a knowingness beyond words or the intellect. However, when we love Krishna, we will know what to do, and we will have logic to support our faith. When we hear from great devotees and we are receptive to their message, then their words have the power to change us and give us the beginning of our spiritual standing and faith.
That is why associating with saintly devotees is so important. Hearing, serving and pleasing them gives spiritual standing. They represent God in the world, and have to be understood in both a relative and spiritual way. Then will be able to see death and material life in the proper perspective and always feel in the loving hands of Krishna and his devotees, even in the greatest calamity. Really, there are no problems, only service opportunities under different circumstances.