“For one who has taken his birth, death is certain; and for one who is dead, birth is certain. Therefore, in the unavoidable discharge of your duty, you should not lament.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.27)
“Let’s study the iPhone. It’s a revolutionary piece of technology. Before it was released, I never saw many people carrying the same technological device. Maybe many people had the iPod, which was the music player made by the same company, but phones were always varied. Then suddenly so many people had the exact same model of phone. This wasn’t the cheapest option by any means. It didn’t have the best service provider, either. And yet people in droves rushed to the stores to purchase them. When a new model comes out, there is a long line just to get into the store. Therefore let us study this phenomenon. Perhaps we can extend our research to the iPad, which had the single greatest launch in terms of sales for any technological device.”
“Let’s study vitamins. Everyone is taking them these days. Do they actually work? Which vitamin supplements are necessary and which aren’t? Is it better to take the supplements or just eat the foods containing those vitamins? Are there any significant health benefits to taking these vitamins? Will people actually avoid cancer and other diseases? We’ll get an experiment set up and monitor the results. Then we’ll report our findings.”
“Let’s do a study on people who do studies. What motivates them? Why do they feel the need to observe others and do a psychological analysis? Is it so they can feel superior? Do they wish to hover above everyone else from their ivory tower? Let’s study whether or not they have any friends. Perhaps they are unsatisfied with life, so they take pleasure in trying to analyze others, all the while exempting themselves from the analysis.”
We see that there are so many studies undertaken. There is even a study of the mating habits of the Australian rabbit. And yet through it all there are few to zero studies about death. Death takes place for everyone. It is likely the single most important event in one’s life, as it erases everything. The hurricane can destroy your home and destroy everything in it. The boss can fire you and eliminate your current flow of income. The teacher can give you a failing grade and squash your chances of going to the college you want.
Still, none of these forces destroy everything; only death does that. Therefore it must be the most powerful force. Everyone is afraid of it to some degree, as who wants to lose everything? Who wants to separate from their friends and loved ones? Who wants to be forced to leave their surroundings that they like? Who wants to jump on to a train heading towards an undisclosed location?
Death takes place nevertheless, despite one’s ignoring it. It may be the elephant in the room, but at the right time that elephant will strike. For this reason in Sanskrit the word for time is the same as it is for death, kalah. Time destroys everything eventually through what we call death. Time destroys right now, little by little, the body we accepted at the time of birth. Therefore death is the complement to birth; when there is birth, there must be death.
Of course the main reason that death does not get studied is that one cannot see what is going on. You can see the effects of a new technological gadget. You can observe what happens when people eat a certain food. You can see how different animals behave. You can’t see, however, what changes when a person suddenly goes from living to dying. There are some studies into the physical differences, as in the weight of the dying person, but there is no way to see exactly what causes the change. Moreover, why can’t the same person who was alive a minute ago come back to life?
Without knowing these things, man’s knowledge is imperfect. With imperfect knowledge, of what use is knowing so many other things? If I don’t know the most important thing, why should I bother with the least important? The validity of this rhetorical question is substantiated by the behavior of the animals. They don’t perform any studies. They are not wise enough to detect patterns for a large population of creatures. They go by what nature gives them. They act on their instincts. Through this limited intelligence they can eat, sleep, mate and defend just fine.
The study into the higher subject matters, which naturally include death, is meant for the sober human being. If a discipline did actually study death, one would have to assign it a higher importance. It is not surprising, therefore, that the most important Vedic work deals with death right at the outset. In the Bhagavad-gita, the wise speaker, Shri Krishna, speaks of the eternality of the soul and how it is different from the body. The magical change we witness at the time of death is merely the exit of the soul from the temporary body. That soul is inexhaustible in its existence. It does not take birth or die. At birth it enters somewhere and at death it leaves to go somewhere else.
“For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.20)
These truths are straightforward enough. They make sense if we think about it too. To those who say that we only get one life to live, then we also only get one childhood. In adulthood that childhood is gone. Was the childhood wasted, then, if it was spent in study? Did the child waste their time going to school? On the other side, if a child didn’t go to school but rather played all day, did they live a successful childhood life?
Of course such questions are silly because in adulthood the same individual is still alive. The childhood was merely a period of their life. That period is gone forever, however. There is no way to get the childhood body back. There is no way to reclaim that innocence. And yet just because it is gone it doesn’t mean that the individual ceases to be. So the eternality of the soul is easily understood in this comparison. The soul continues to exist into old age, and it will continue after that in the next body, which is subsequent to death.
I know that death will come. From reading the Bhagavad-gita, I know that I will take birth again after death. The question that remains is where that next birth will occur. Do I have a say in where I go? Again, the example of the present life can be used to answer the question. Do I have a say in where I go today? Do I choose where to eat and where to work? I do, and so I can do the same with the next life. The key determining factor is consciousness, another point made by Shri Krishna.
“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 8.6)
Since Krishna discusses these most important topics, providing the only real study of birth and death, He is the wisest person. Not surprisingly, being conscious of Him means going to Him. Actually, being conscious of anything leads to that thing’s association. If I am conscious of eating all the time, I will get a body in the next life that will allow me to eat all the time. If I am conscious of earning a lot of money, in the next life I get a body suitable for business.
These bodies lead again to death, thereby repeating the cycle. A body that associates with Krishna, however, does not take birth again. Krishna’s body and spirit are identical. In His land there is no such thing as birth and death. Time exists, but it has no ability to destroy. It instead constantly creates new opportunities for association with Krishna, who is God in His personal form. In Krishna’s land, there is no need for costly studies. There is only constant enjoyment, bringing back the childhood-like innocence but in its purified form. All of this can come from the quick study of death and much more found in the Bhagavad-gita, the most valuable work for human society.
Upon new gadget’s release,
Variety in ownership to cease.
Study of this phenomenon let’s do,
Take on studies and vitamins too.
But why interest in death not to lend?
For rich and poor alike destined end.
Shri Krishna tackles death and much more,
No more rebirth when His vision in mind to store.