A recent "Notes from the Editor" essay, "The Power of Prayer," drew a response from a grieving mother, who wrote as follows:
I read your article on prayer and sadly found no answer to a question that was plaguing me. I would not call myself a "church woman," but I have always honored God in my heart.
Six months ago my seventeen-year-old daughter died in an automobile accident, a victim of a drunken driver. Since her death I have repeatedly prayed for some understanding of why this should have happened to my child. God has been mysteriously quiet.
At the close of your article you say, "The power of prayer comes when we call to Krsna out of desire to do His will." In my case, the power of prayer would be relief through understanding. Can relief come from desire to understand His will?
Admittedly, my thoughts are confused and perhaps my prayers are also. Perhaps you can elaborate on how to understand the death of a loved one. What could be the meaning of my daughter's dying?
Even a person with full transcendental knowledge may grieve when he is separated from a loved one. But his solace is to remember the instructions of theBhagavad-gita: "For the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time. He is not slain when the body is slain." Lord Krsna spoke these words not as armchair discussion but as crucial advice to the grief-stricken Arjuna, who was anticipating the mass slaughter of all his friends and relatives in warfare. The meaning is that the beloved person who has died, or who is about to die, doesn't actually face extinction. The soul is immortal, and therefore even after the demise of the body, the atma, or spirit-self, lives on in another life either in this mortal world or in the spiritual world.
Although Lord Krsna was very compassionate to His friend Arjuna, He also mildly admonished him for his grief and said. "While speaking learned words, you are mourning for what is not worthy of grief. Those who are wise lament neither for the living nor for the dead" (Bhagavad-gita 2.11).
But perhaps hearing precepts on immortality is not enough when one is feeling the pain of loss. We want to know why death had to occur to our loved one, especially when it seems to be a premature death. Here again, Vedic knowledge helps us with definite, nonsentimental information. A person takes birth in a particular body and family and lives for a certain duration of time based on his or her karma. Karma is the law of action and reaction.
As His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada writes, "According to one's desire and activities, material nature places one in various residential quarters. The being himself is the cause of his attaining such residential quarters and his attendant enjoyment or suffering. But once placed in some particular kind of body, he comes under the control of nature." Therefore, because of sinful or inauspicious acts we committed toward others in a past life, we may have to die prematurely in our present life. But this in turn diminishes our bad karma, so that in the future we no longer have to suffer for our past misdeeds. The karmic results of our own actions are carried out by inexorable laws beyond our power to control.
When a person is faced with traumatic losses, his faith is tested. Those who fail the test, owing to a lack of knowledge about atma, karma, and the Supreme, may become agnostics or atheists. But one who knows from authorized Vedic sources the reality of life and death moves even closer to God at times of death. When we approach the death of a loved one, or when we come close to our own death, we can see it as nature's way of showing us that life is short and that soon all our attempts at happiness in the material world will be finished. Our shock at meeting death shows us that we have been living in illusion.
Our emotional confusion makes us think that God has done something wrong to us when death takes away a loved one. Actually, Lord Krsna wants to deliver us from ever facing death again. But liberation from death can be achieved only when we revive our original God consciousness. The living entity is originally an eternal, blissful servant of God, and his residence is in the kingdom of God, the spiritual world. But because of envy of God, we have fallen to this material world, where we try to carry out our plans for self-centered, material enjoyment. Unfortunately, instead of enjoyment, we meet with suffering and death.
Lord Krsna does not want us to remain in a suffering condition, and so He comes to this world in different incarnations and sends His representatives, just to teach us how to go back to home, back to Godhead, where we are free of repeated birth and death. As Krsna says in Bhagavad-gita (4.9), "One who knows the transcendental nature of My appearance and activities does not, upon leaving the body, take his birth again in this material world, but attains My eternal abode. O Arjuna." Just as Arjuna applied these teachings in battle, so they can be applied by a grieving mother in the case of her seventeen-year-old daughter, or by any of us.
But sometimes a survivor becomes unreasonable and unable to hear good instruction. For example, one time a grieving mother asked Gautama Buddha if he could bring her young son back to life. Buddha said that he would try to help her, but first he requested her to gather some grains from all the houses in the local village. He stipulated, however, that she should bring grains only from houses in which no death had occurred. The woman became hopeful of regaining her dead son and set out to gather grains. But at each house, when she asked whether any death had occurred there, the residents said that recently or in the past death had occurred in their house. Gradually, the woman began to learn the lesson: Death occurs to all, and so we should not grieve or attempt to change the inevitable.
Krsna consciousness similarly teaches that "One who has taken birth is sure to die, and after death one is sure to take birth again. Therefore, in the inevitable discharge of your duty, you should not lament" (Bhagavad-gita 2.27). But beyond this, Lord Krsna teaches liberation from death, through bhakti, or loving service to the Supreme Lord. By association with devotees and scriptures, we can learn this art. If during this present lifetime we can perfect love of God, then death will have no dominion over us. When we realize that we are not these bodies but joyful, eternal servants of Krsna, then death itself becomes our release from suffering and our entrance into eternity, bliss, and knowledge. SDG