I WAS SURPRISED was surprised by how much the recent death of Princess Diana affected me. I never took much interest in royal affairs, except to mildly disapprove of them. But her untimely death seemed tragic. She was special to many, yet death took her cruelly. It was as if Kali, the spirit of the modern age, was saying, "Don't forget that at any moment I can pluck even your most exalted heroine and destroy her utterly!" It was an omen, a warning to our materialistic society. A warning to change, but one which few will seriously heed.
To understand the misery of birth, death, old age and disease, says Krsna, is part of knowledge. Diana, the most admired woman in the world, could not find happiness and suffered a cruel and unexpected death. If even she could not escape, what hope is there for ordinary people? In the days following her death, ordinary people in Britain poured out their grief on an unprecedented scale. Despite my own belief in reincarnation and in the grace of God, I too felt part of this. I mingled with the crowds massing in the park around her home in Kensington Palace on the eve of her funeral. The mood was not of hysteria or depression, but of caring about her and what she seemed to stand for. Although Diana in many ways paid the price of her own ambition, she was said by her confessor, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to have had a personal faith in God, and she spent much of her time in helping others. She had been regularly seen lighting candles at a Catholic shrine near her home. Now, in the gathering twilight, candles flickered everywhere under the trees outside her house in her own memory.
It was as if, during those extraordinary days of early September, the ordinary people of Britain discovered how much they really cared about something transcending their own lives. Most of the messages of condolence I saw piled up in their thousands among the acres of flower bouquets around Kensington Palace expressed a belief in an afterlife, in heaven, or in God. They assumed that Diana lived on in some other dimension. This expression of faith did not belong to any single religion; it was something common to all. It showed that in times of trouble or dismay, the universal instincts of the soul rise to the surface.
But how are those who have chosen a religious path to view such mass sentiment? After all, Jesus once said, "Let the dead bury their own dead," and Krsna said that the wise do not lament for either the living or the dead. On one level, Krsna consciousness has nothing to do with the illusion of material life. But on another level, as long as we are living in the world of birth and death we cannot remain completely untouched by bereavement.
People gathered in churches across Britain to mourn Diana, their attention focused via television screens on Westminster Abbey, besieged by a million mourners on the day of her funeral. The Prime Minister, reading in the abbey, addressed to the nation St. Paul's famous words to the Corinthians: "If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but I have not love, I am nothing." These uncompromising words were a stark reminder of the fragility of materialism. They reminded me of the words of Srimad-Bhagavatam: "One may be adept at mystic yoga or at working to maintain his family, but if he has not love for God he has no good qualities."
May those of us who felt touched by the life of Diana strive toward that love for God in whatever time may still be ours.