NOT LONG AGO I gave a talk about the importance of preparing our consciousness for death. We have to face the fact that death is inevitable, I said, so we'd better be ready for it.
Several people in the audience were hearing about Krsna consciousness for the first time. After the talk, one of them, Jerry, commented that my emphasis on death was a negative way of looking at life.
"I try to concentrate on living a full life," he said, "and not worry about death."
His comment made me think that I could have delivered my message differently. Maybe my talk had come across as rather negative.
"Actually, you're right," I said, trying to redeem myself. "If we live right, we will be ready for death. So let's concentrate on living right. That's what Krsna consciousness is all about."
It's good to have a positive outlook on life, but I have to admit that the fear of death and of the test that comes with it is a significant part of my motivation to keep up my spiritual practices. Krsna says that if we remember Him at the time of death we'll go to Him and if we don't remember Him we'll have to accept another material body. Along with each body come the miseries of birth, death, old age, and disease. I fear the alternative to going to Krsna. Being somewhat (well, maybe more than somewhat) claustrophobic, the thought of being packed in a womb again helps me press on.
This type of negative motivation might not be the ideal, but Krsna does mention it in the Bhagavad-gita. He says that we should always be conscious of the miseries of birth, death, old age, and disease. This vision is one of the items of real knowledge, woefully absent in modern times. "Material civilization," Srila Prabhupada writes, "is a patchwork of activities meant to cover the perpetual miseries of material existence." People absorb themselves in everyday life, trying to live with gusto and trying to forget that the material world is not a happy place.
I was giving my talk in Sarasota, Florida, a balmy, well-to-do city on the Gulf of Mexico. When speaking to an audience like this (people enjoying their good karma), I often have to remind them that although life may seem great to them right now, they can easily see how millions of people around the world are suffering tremendously from war, disease, poverty, starvation on and on. And are they themselves really that well off? The citizens of Sarasota are not exempt from misery. It just comes in different flavors: stress, depression, bankruptcy, divorce.
We have to step back from our "patchwork of activities" and see things as they are. Fortunately, the life of Krsna consciousness that Srila Prabhupada gave us includes both taking a hard look at material life and living a fully satisfying spiritual one. Devotees of Krsna do concentrate on living, because, after all, real life is spiritual. Real life is the undying exchange between the soul and Krsna.
Later, as Jerry and I spoke while enjoying a feast of Krsna-prasadam, I had a chance to tell to him more about the well-rounded life of Krsna's devotees.
"If this food is any indication," he said, "I'd say you live a great life!"