Utilizing the Time of our Lives for the Best Purpose: Appreciating the Value of Prema Part 1
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Although we may die at any time in youth or old age, the older one is the more possibility exists that this day will be our last in our current body. Many accounts have been written about the regrets of those on their death beds. Most people don’t bemoan their lack of social standing, accumulated money, or accomplishments, but are focused on feelings of regret about how they used their time, or their unresolved conflicts in close relationships. Such unsettled emotions are centered on actions they did, or should have done, words they said, or should have said, etc. Our sense of regret or incompleteness partially makes up our desires which combine with our good and bad deeds to fuel our future births.
In my training in hospice work one service we learned to offer to the dying was to help them make peace with their past, or we could say, to have a life review before death. Eastern religious traditions speak about how at the time of death one experiences a panoramic life review from the soul perspective. This perspective has been strengthened for some people by the convincing testimony of those having near-death experiences. At such a time one can experience what is truly important (according to the level of one’s wisdom and guidance), and are reminded that whatever we do comes back to us in kind, and that there is a higher purpose to life than one’s personal selfish agenda. Therefore, the time we have in our life is a very valuable asset and needs to be used in the best possible way for the advantage of all. Hierarchies of benefits exist, from levels of material blessings to planes of spiritual obtainment, culminating in prema, or pure love for God.
What do you think would be the highest benefit you could obtain? While the answer is debatable from the perspective of different people, from the soul perspective—or one’s view as a conscious individual spark of divinity—true benefit in this life leads to spiritual awakening. Our souls are presently in ignorance of our true nature beyond our physical embodiment. Good or bad is relative. Thus, even materially desirable good karmic actions that only lead to a higher material standard of living are not true benefit. Material facilities or good karma will be exhausted, and one has to return again to the worldly struggle for survival in a plane that revolves around rebirth, disease, old age, and death—all foreign states for the eternal soul.
More than what we have done or accomplished, or any heavenly realm we may obtain, is who we have become by how we have lived. We could understand this as virtuous character, yet the true fruit of virtue is not material rewards, but to understand our spiritual identity as the life force, or consciousness, animating the body which is part of God. Material virtue from the bhakti perspective is not true lasting virtue if it doesn’t lead to the life of the soul in loving service to Krishna. In other words, whether piety or impiety, good or bad, whatever keeps us in material consciousness is not true benefit. To the extent that we believe or have experience that we are a spiritual being having a human experience we will be able to embrace this idea. Otherwise, one will be mainly focused on one’s immediate happiness and gain without understanding the ramifications in future lives—nothing beyond the here and now.
To help convince us about our spiritual identity we have Vedic texts such as the Bhagavad Gita, Shrimad Bhagavatam, or any religious or spiritual literature which teaches the difference between the soul and the body, and the Source of both. Besides transcendental knowledge some type of spiritual practices for realization of the self is essential if we are to go beyond theory to personal experience. Traditionally one receives such processes from teacher or guru in a lineage who has realization and experience with the technique and the offered goal, as one might earn an advanced degree by study and practice with a learned professor
In the practice of pure devotional service or bhakti yoga, as introduced by Shri Chaitanya and his followers, we chant the holy names of God (primarily the Hare Krishna mantra), in meditation (japa) and in group chanting or kirtan. This chant is considered the main process of God realization for the times we live in, and while it is easy to do, it has the potential, when uttered purely, to cleanse our awareness so we can realize our self and its relationship to God. For those who are trained in this practice of bhakti, their lives are centered on the remembrance of Krishna, and the cultivation of love for him through various types of devotional actions. True spiritual practice is ego-effacing, whereas most religions are ego-enhancing. To be clear, ego here means the false material, temporary self, so actual spiritual practice uncovers the real spiritual self, or soul, and retires our material misconceptions and designations. [Continued in Part 2]