“A living entity is as eternal as the Supreme Lord, but due to his forgetfulness he is put into this material nature and transmigrates from one body to another, and when the body is destroyed, he thinks that he is also destroyed.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.29.39 Purport)
In the Ramayana Shri Ramachandra says that for the mature human being there is no greater fear than death. He likens it to the ripened fruit that hangs off the tree. In the beginning, the fruit looks forward to the destiny of full growth. The focus is more on future changes than the end to everything. Yet once maturity is reached, there is no other fate than to fall down.
“Just as the ripened fruit has no other fear than falling, the man who has taken birth has no other fear than death.” (Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 105.17)
The human being’s journey through life is similar to the fruit. In the beginning there is discovery. Natural instincts handle the issue of survival. No one has to teach the newborn how to suck milk from the mother’s breast. Just point the child in the right direction and everything will take care of itself. The newborn gradually discovers how to crawl, walk and talk. This underlying intelligence is provided by a link to a much higher being. That being is the most intelligent, and through His relationship to the children He passes on some of that intelligence.
sarvasya cāhaṁ hṛdi sanniviṣṭo
mattaḥ smṛtir jñānam apohanaṁ ca
vedaiś ca sarvair aham eva vedyo
vedānta-kṛd veda-vid eva cāham
“I am seated in everyone’s heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge and forgetfulness. By all the Vedas am I to be known; indeed I am the compiler of Vedanta, and I am the knower of the Vedas.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 15.15)
With enough maturity in the discovery process, there comes the realization of eventual death. This information is not easy to cope with. After all, who wants to have their work get erased? After years of struggle and perseverance, you have to give everything up. And you have no choice in the matter. No one does. Death can happen at any time. It can take place for any reason. Good health is not enough to safeguard against exiting the body. Neither a sturdy home nor a tolerable climate can fully prevent death.
The inevitable end of life is terrifying only because of ignorance. In fact, the living entity has died before. In order to take birth there must have been death. In other words, in order to accept something now, previously something had to be rejected. This only makes sense. If I’m wearing new clothes today, it means that yesterday’s clothes were taken off. Birth and death are like this.
vāsāṁsi jīrṇāni yathā vihāya
navāni gṛhṇāti naro ‘parāṇi
tathā śarīrāṇi vihāya jīrṇāny
anyāni saṁyāti navāni dehī
“As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, similarly, the soul accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.22)
In addition to there being previous death for the living entity, nothing will terminate the existence going forward. There is eternality in spirit. This is evidenced by the continued existence through the many changes in the journey through life. Just because we can’t remember every one of those changes doesn’t mean they don’t happen. In looking at a picture taken twenty years ago, I have no memory of the incident. I have no recollection of what I was thinking, why I was wearing those clothes, and where I was. Yet that time and place happened, and I was alive. I am still alive today, which means that the identifying force within, the spirit soul, persists through the changes.
As the spiritual living entity is eternal, so is the storehouse of all spirit. Therefore I am forgetful of two important things. Fortunately, remembering the origin of spirit takes care of both. If I know God, then I will know myself. How does this work? I am a sample of God. I can be godlike, but never Him completely. If I could be Him, I would never fear death. I would never have to discover everything if I was all-knowing. He states in the Bhagavad-gita that both knowledge and forgetfulness come from Him.
Why would He make us forgetful? Isn’t that a mean trick?
Just as when watching a film we intentionally forget that the people on the screen are paid actors, in the journey through birth and death there is the initial desire of forgetfulness of God. Without this forgetfulness, the journey wouldn’t take place. And the choice for that journey is made in ignorance; it is the wrong decision.
Knowledge is the way out. Not knowledge of mechanics, thermodynamics, astrophysics, or culinary arts. The knowledge is of God, who is described as Bhagavan in Sanskrit. He is a personality who possesses the opulences of beauty, wealth, strength, fame, wisdom and renunciation to the fullest degree. He is the most attractive being, earning Him the name Krishna. He acts in so many ways, both indirectly and directly. His glories know no end. The praising of those glories is like a never-ending, beautiful song playing on the radio.
The spiritual master is the receiver who helps us to tune to the right station. He represents God and reveals Him to us, but only if we are sincere. Understanding the Supreme Lord Krishna helps us to understand our nature as well. And that knowledge removes all fear, as the mercy offered by Krishna is just as eternal as the existence of the living entity.
Mature human being death to fear,
Of previous life from ignorance not clear.
From my nature and God to forget,
Feet into ocean of rebirth set.
Not much knowledge for relief required,
Just into higher nature of Lord inquire.
Through Him your eternality know,
In devotion towards Him you’ll go.