Living Simpleminded / Dying Ignorant
from Back To Godhead Magazine #13-10, 1978
by Satsvarupa Dasa Goswami
The poet’s vision is “to see infinity in a grain of sand and eternity in an hour.” In much the same way, a person who ponders Lord Krishna’s words in Bhagavad-gita can see the Transcendence even in the daily affairs of this material world.
Case in point: a recent article reported that each year, 20 million Americans suffer sports injuries. It seems a large percentage of these mishaps occur to people thirty-five and older who refuse to recognize that their bodies are aging. One prominent doctor quipped that these people are suffering from “an acute case of simplemindedness.”
Now, the good doctor may well claim that anyone who thinks his fifty-year-old body can cavort around the tennis court the way it did at twenty is simpleminded. But in the Gita Lord Krishna tells us that the so-called old man is still young—inside—and that anyone who can’t appreciate his inner psychology is simpleminded.
In other words, Krishna points to an enduring, ever-youthful self within the aging outer body. And He describes that while the outer body is changing from boyhood to youth to old age, the inner self stays the same. (Every day we see mothers recognize full-grown men as the same sons they once burped on their shoulders, even though the sons’ bodies have completely. changed.)
As Krishna goes on to explain, the inner self (the atma) will live for eternity—but the body has to grow old and diseased and die, and until we become self- realized, we’ll go on getting more and more bodies that have to grow old and diseased and die. So why don’t our knowledgeable doctors tell us how we can deal with this most critical injury—death? Could the answer be they don’t know how to treat it? Actually, both patients and doctors show an acute case of simplemindedness when they don’t see that the body has to grow old and decrepit and die. If they completely forget the inner self and fail to get the self in shape for death and the next life, then there’s no word for it but simplemindedness.
In our human life we’re supposed to be preparing ourselves. But not so much by exercising our bodies or giving them extra rest. Rather, we have to analyze our situation—discover the difference between the body and the self, find out about Krishna’s cure for death. Though the rage today is simplemindedness, we have to gain the presence of mind to see ahead, to our death and beyond.
For most of us, the real disease is that we’re ignoring the self and the next life. Old age means a bit more than having to cut out baseball and tennis. It means we’re going to die. So before we get too far along in years, we have to start a spiritual fitness program. We have to exert ourselves strenuously for self-realization.
This brings us to another “grain of sand.” In the past decade, death has become a fashionable topic. It’s no longer taboo, and in fact, people talk about it as if they were quite unafraid and thoroughly enlightened about its meaning. They read bestsellers like Life After Life, and they flock to courses on death and dying. But what does all this amount to? Has anyone come to understand what his death will actually be like? It doesn’t seem so. Death dilettantes may record volumes of scientific data about the physiological and mental experiences dying people go through, and they may try to help the patient die “easier,” but they can’t tell us what death really is.
Yet Bhagavad-gita tells us: death means the soul leaves the body. If that simple explanation isn’t enough, we can observe the fact in everyday life. At a funeral someone laments, “My husband is gone!” In other words—and we all know it—the self has left the body. The corpse may be lying in the coffin, but the actual living person has left.
Unfortunately, we soon forget this lesson, perhaps after seeing a psychologist who specializes in “grief therapy.” But our so-called experts can’t explain death away just by saying, “It happens to everybody,” or, “You still have your own life left to live.”
What, after all, has happened to the person who left his body? The Gita says, “For the soul there is never birth or death, nor having been, does he ever cease to exist. He is original, unborn, eternal, and undying. He is not slain when the body is slain.” After he leaves one body he simply gets another.
What kind of body will we get? That will depend on our mental state when we leave this body. India’s Vedic literatures describe 8.4 million different species, from the lowest aquatics and plants up through insects and reptiles and birds and beasts to human beings. After death we may have to take a body in any one of these species. And if we do things that are great wrongs in the eyes of God—say, needlessly killing other living beings or neglecting self- realization—we’ll certainly not attain a higher body.
So we can’t just ignore the signs of old age and death we daily see around us. And we have to see beyond the facile, faddish investigations. If we want to see things as they really are, we have to look to Bhagavad-gita and get transcendental vision.