Revisiting my Mom's passing away
I don't often recycle my blogs, but I thought I would post this again from last year. I wrote ten blogs around my trip to Palm Springs, California to be with my mom in her last days. If you are interested you can read some of the other ones by going to page 14 (http://www.krishna.com/blogs/karnamritadas?page=14) and 17(http://www.krishna.com/blogs/karnamritadas?page=15) in my blog archives. Anyway, the anniversary of her death is May 20th, so in her honor, I thought I would post this again, as it says what i would like to share with you. As we will all have to face the death our parents at some point, it is good to be prepared. Please say a prayer for her, though I am confident that her destination was auspicious. May we all be so fortunate. In any case, we can prepare ourselves for when our time is up, by being dedicated to our spiritual practices and depending on the Lord, who is our real shelter, friend, and the love of our life.
Our spiritual master Shrila Prabhupada often spoke of going back to home, back to Godhead. It is one of the mottos of the Krishna consciousness movement. I have thought often over the last 2 months about the concept we generally have of our “home” in this world and the idea that the soul has an origin, a place or real home where he belongs eternally, which never has to be—or is wanted to be—left. Although people like change and seek fulfillment through variety, we also seek permanence, and lasting, loving relationships.
In our experience we see that unless a person is very depressed or in unbearable pain, they don’t want to die. If they can’t avoid dying, they don’t want to die in an impersonal hospital, but at home surrounded with family and friends and familiar surroundings. And if they could be relieved of their sadness, sickness or pain they would rather live then to face the fear of uncertainty and the possibility of non-existence that death symbolizes. The tendency of everyone is to have a secure comfortable home they share with loved ones. Our whole endeavor in the material world can be summarized as the endeavor to avoid impermanence and suffering, seek fulfilling, useful knowledge and to be ever increasingly happy. Although these desires are expressed physically, they actually come from the soul, since they are qualities the soul possesses by nature. Thinking about this fact will call our divine progress if we use it as a motivation for our spiritual practices.
What we think about determines the direction of our life, or our focus. If we don’t know about our spiritual home and our lasting shelter with God, our search for home will only be within our sensual awareness. However, if our thinking is informed by spiritual intelligence gained from purificatory observances (bhakti sadhana), and hearing from saints and the scriptures we will tend to think in ways that are spiritually helpful and endeavor—as the Gita recommends--to “seek that place from which, having gone, one never returns”. This means our eternal home with God.
In the mood of Prabhupada’s saying that “utility is the principle”, or in the spirit of “swanning” that I have spoken about in other blogs, we can apply the saying of Henry Ford to our devotional thinking: “Thinking is the hardest work there is, which is probably the reason why so few engage in it.” Another interesting quote is that “Opportunity is often missed by people because it comes disguised in work clothes”. Actually the world is full of useful things and knowledge which can be helpful in our progressive Krishna consciousness. Our intention is the deciding factor whether we can use the things of the world for Krishna, or will be used by those things in the service of our senses or illusion (maya). The mind will naturally think about unlimited varieties of things according to our inclinations, so we have to train it to think in spiritual ways according to our aspirations for Krishna.
Even though I can be dull at times, being with my mom as she died brought many of life’s formidable questions to my awareness. This is the beauty of Krishna consciousness or spiritual training. Whatever happens to us or whatever we do, we do our best to see the lesson and how it can be helpful for our spiritual progress. Our focus is on Krishna and we endeavor to see him as a helping hand to us even in life’s difficulties or so-called calamities. Our spiritual progress will determine what is good or bad, and how much this is true for us will depend on our level of material attraction or interest in service to Krishna. Regardless of the degree of our divine consciousness, Krishna is not out to get us; not trying to trip us up or give us more than we can handle. When we give him even a little bit of our attention and affection, he takes special interest in us. Everyone has their own karma, but for one who is endeavoring to serve and love Krishna, that karma is being minimized and Krishna uses it to help our spiritual progress.
For a devotee, even though he or she has material desires, no part of life is outside the purview of Krishna, or his energy or service. Although the primary focus of this blog is about where our real home is, there are many corollary questions to consider as well.
So where is home anyway?
Home is where the heart is!
And where is our heart?
Our heart is in our attachments and desires.
Looking at our attachments and desires:
How important are they spiritually?
What do you think is the likely outcome of pursuing these desires or keeping these attachments?
The above are useful questions to ask ourselves at various times of our life to check on our progress in devotion to Krishna or bhakti-yoga. They were strongly brought to my awareness after my mom passed away and all her valuable possessions become either garbage, or something to be sold or given away. We felt like we were drowning in her stuff, which now needed another home.
Then driving to our home 2300 miles away, we stayed in a different hotel every night. The hotel could be compared to our body and the life we create for ourselves. The only difference is the amount of time. The hotel is only one night, while our life is many days, months and years. Yet before we know it, we will have to leave our life behind to take up a new one. The type of hotel or body we obtain depends on our ability to pay, taste and just good or bad fortune--which are all different ways of speaking of karma or pious and impious results. It is quite a meditation.
It reminds me of a story from the scripture which spoke of a sage who received a benediction that he would live one day of Lord Brahma (4 billion 320 million years) for every hair on his body—and he was a very hairy sage. At some point his disciples asked him if he would like a cottage to reside in, to which the sage replied, “Why makes so much endeavor, life is only temporary”. How is this for another perspective of our “long life”?
When we stayed in the hotels the routine was the same whether we stayed in a very opulent room or just a basic one. We would arrive and check in. Then I unpacked the car and took it on a cart to our room, where we unpacked, set up our altar and kitchen, heated up milk and spices, offered it to the Lord, took prasadum (holy food), and went to bed.
Then we rose, chanted before our Deities (Shila’s or sacred stones, our teacher Shrila Prabhupada, and the holy name teacher Haridas Thakur, along with pictures of our Radha Krishna deities and Lord Chaitanya and Nitai). Then we went to the exercise room. I rode a stationary bike and my wife walked on a treadmill. We went back to the room to shower, and do our morning service. I would worship my deities and my wife would cook breakfast and lunch. I offered the Lord breakfast and then we ate while the lunch was cooking. Finally we washed the Lord’s plates and pots and pans, and packed up for another day’s travel. And so we traveled for 7 days and six nights.
When we finally arrived “home” after almost 2 months of being in many temporary “homes”, it was very surreal for me. It was hard to take it all in after what I had gone through. My head was spinning thinking of living in the desert, resolving at least to a great extent my relationship with my mom, being with her as she left her body and finally the trip home. And so many things in my life now have a different feel. So where is home?
As Krishna devotees, we try to make our home an ashrama or place of spiritual practice and have deities of the Lord to remind us that we are in the family of Krishna and not of this material world. This transforms our home and life. As much as possible we hear and chant Krishna holy names, engage in devotional service to the Lord and his devotees, read scriptures teaching about the impermanence and misery of the world and also the nectar of Krishna’s activities.
Then when it comes our time to leave our body, we will have no weights holding us down to the earth. Like an untethered balloon we will soar to our real destination in the spiritual world—our real “home sweet home” with Radha-Krishna and their devotees. Even if we don’t return there in this life, in one life we will, and for sure we will make gradual progress life after life until we are perfectly Krishna conscious.