Learning our true identity should inspire us to fully use our life to secure the best destination after our time in this body runs out.
It cannot be seen or touched or felt, but its existence is undeniable. Just like a tsunami wave, it has no emotions, but it entraps and swallows all. The high and the mighty, the poor and the meek, men and women, every being of this world has to bow to it and surrender to its dictum. Time – the mightiest of all – is unstoppable and unconquerable.
The might of time has always been unchallenged and will remain so forever. Time annihilates everything and underlines the reality that in this world nothing is timeless but everything is temporary. That is why scholars, philosophers,and sages for eons have been urging people to purge their insatiable worldly desires and focus on things that are permanent and indestructible. Yudhisthira Maharaja, who ruled about five thousand years ago, said that the most astonishing thing in this world is that people see that others are dying every moment but they never believe that one day they too will die.
Suppose you are presented with a luxury car, say a Rolls Royce, with a warning that it contains a bomb that will definitely explode at some unrevealed time. Who would be drawn by the charm of owning such a luxurious suicide car? The unequivocal response would be, “No sane person would even look at it.” But all of us own such a vehicle and are obsessed by it. We call it our body, and we go overboard to display our fondness for it.
Empirical evidence and intellectual introspection confirm that one day our body will decay and disappear, but still we aren’t able to look beyond it. Without qualms, everyone agrees that life is as temporary as a bubble in the ocean. But we shrug off any such discussion or contemplation, pretending that our bubble will never burst.
We whip our imagination and make elaborate plans for our future. We spend time amassing wealth, enticing the opposite sex, and struggling hard to carve a niche for ourselves in society. We try hard to enjoy as hard as possible. As one corporate slogan puts it, “Work hard and party hard.” But just as a whiff of delicate wind destroys a house of cards, powerful time shatters all our dreams and desires. Bhagavad-gita (2.18) confirms the futility of the material body: “The material body of the indestructible, immeasurable, and eternal living entity is sure to come to an end.”
Most of us do not muster the courage to think beyond this life, because we have no knowledge beyond it. However, a plethora of information is available in the Vedic literature that describes a life without miseries, fear, anxieties, and, most important, death. Vedic books are the words of God, so they are timeless, and the facts they state are eternal truths. This priceless literature does not just poignantly talk about the ephemeral body, but it reveals the secret that we do not become extinct with the extinction of the body. It further explicates that we are not this body but we are souls.
The Ageless Soul
Just as a car starts functioning and moving when the driver sits inside and operates it, our body becomes active once the soul enters it. When the driver leaves, the car stops. Similarly, when the soul leaves the body, the body stops functioning and drops dead. Krishna defines a wise person as one who laments neither for the living nor for the dead (Gita 2.11).
Krishna describes the attributes of the soul.
For the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time. . . . He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain. . . . (Gita 2.20)
The soul can never be cut to pieces by any weapon, nor burned by fire, nor moistened by water, nor withered by the wind. (2.23) As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, the soul similarly accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones. (2.22)
The above revelation should be a wakeup call for all of us. As we now know that the soul is timeless and is never annihilated, we should channel all our energy to protect our eternal soul. Vedic books inform us that we originally resided happily in the spiritual world, but like spoiled brats we refused to appreciate the love and warmth of God and our fellow spiritual citizens, and so we were sent to this reformatory house, the material world. We are here because of our past misdeeds, but we have an opportunity to correct ourselves and reclaim the citizenship of the spiritual world. Krishna , the Supreme Personality of Godhead, isn’t like an insensitive jailer of this material world; He is our father and is ever ready to awaken our dormant love for Him. He eagerly wants us to reform and return to Him.
The Soul’s Journey
As uncontaminated rainwater gets sullied upon touching the ground, the intrinsically pure soul gets covered with impurities upon entering the material world. The soul’s subtle covering of mind, intelligence, and false ego decides the soul’s destiny. The first body the soul gets after leaving the spiritual world is that of a human being. In the human form of life the soul has the privilege to rectify mistakes and become utterly pure. If that happens, then the subtle coverings of the soul get removed and the soul travels back to the spiritual world. If the soul misuses the human form of life and instead of endeavoring for salvation resorts to sensual pleasure, then the soul gets entangled in this world and stays here until regaining its original purity.
The soul occupies new bodies based on activities done and desires nurtured in the present life. Human beings who give in to animalistic propensities, like eating the flesh of animals, indulging in illicit sex, or remaining unclothed, acquire the body of a beast, an insect, a reptile, a bird, or a plant in the next life. But persons who perform good deeds, give charity, live a regulated life, are nonviolent, honest, and kindhearted, get promoted to heavenly planets, where there is tremendous scope for corporal pleasure. But even in the higher planets one is despondent, because the fright of old age, disease, death, and rebirth in lower species exists there too.
Returning to The Spiritual World
As long as the soul flits around the material world, it remains diseased. The only cure is to flush out the accumulated impurities of the heart, which have made us spiritually blind, and thus qualify to return to God’s kingdom. Being benevolent, God takes trouble to redeem the lost souls. To persuade us to return to His kingdom, He comes to this world in His original form as Lord Krishna or Lord Caitanya and as incarnations such as Lord Rama, or He sends His messengers like Narada Muni, Ramanujacarya, Madhvacarya, Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura, and His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Lord Krishna and His representatives also leave behind spiritual literature like Bhagavadgita, Srimad-Bhagavatam, and Isopanisad, which categorically explain the importance of leading a God-centered life. To understand the sublime message that echoes throughout these revealed books, we need to hear from self-realized spiritual teachers.
The current age is Kali-yuga. The scriptures predicted that during this era irreligious activities would become prominent and ungodly people would occupy center stage. People living in this period are fickle, unlucky, unintelligent, and lazy in spiritual matters. But the era has one great boon: for spiritual advancement, people need only follow a very simple process, revealed by Lord Caitanya about five hundred years ago. He said that in this age the most potent way to respiritualize our lives is to chant the names of God, especially the mahamantra: Hare Krishna , Hare Krishna , Krishna Krishna , Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Chanting cleanses the heart of all the dust accumulated for millions of lifetimes. It also jogs our memory, thus helping us revive our original spiritual relationship with Krishna . It’s a simple yet powerful process, and anyone can do it.
To ensure our spiritual growth, we must accept favorable activities and reject unfavorable ones.
• Chant the names of Krishna diligently and hear them attentively.
• Associate with likeminded, serious devotees.
• Regularly read books that will take us closer to Krishna .
• Offer food first to Krishna and then take it as His mercy.
• Give up all forms of illicit sex, including pornography and movies that provoke sexual fantasies. Controlling sex desire is of the utmost importance for spiritual growth. Once the taste for devotional life sprouts, sex desire automatically vanishes. The tenth-century Vaisnava saint Yamunacarya wrote, “Since I have been engaged in the transcedental loving service of Krishna , realizing ever-new pleasure in Him, whenever I think of sex pleasure, I spit at the thought, and my lips curl with distaste.”
• We should refrain from committing and encouraging violence. So we should not eat flesh, whether of beasts, birds, or fishes.
• We should also not indulge in gambling or any form of intoxication.
Following the above process will surely guarantee a bright future and help us transcend the material world, where there is danger at every step. If a train we’re in catches fire, sooner or later the fire will consume us, regardless of which class we are seated in. Similarly whether we are rich or poor, successful or unsuccessful, death will devour us one day. So we should immediately take up the process of devotion to God before it becomes too late. No doubt mighty time in the form of death will apprehend us one day, and we should be ready. By holding Krishna ’s hand, we can cross over to our eternal home, where everyone is eagerly waiting to embrace us.
Purushottam Kumar is a member of the congregation of ISKCON Kolkata. He works in Tech Mahindra as an associate solution designer.