“In Bhagavad-gita the Lord points out that a person who is serious about advancement in spiritual consciousness should always consider the four pangs of birth, death, disease and old age. The materialist advances in many ways, but he is unable to stop these four principles of suffering inherent in material existence.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 3.31.23 Purport)
- “The car is making a weird noise. It happens when you’re sitting idle, like at a stoplight. When you drive, it’s okay. Everything else seems to be alright. Accompanying this noise is shaking. If I have the air conditioning on, then the car might even stop altogether. We need to get this fixed. That noise has to stop.”
- “The roof has a leak. We noticed it last night, while it was raining. We were able to place buckets on the floor to collect the water, but that is only a short-term solution. The more time goes by, the bigger the leak will get. We need to stop it from getting worse. Please call a roofing expert as soon as possible.”
- “The storage room in the house is getting too cluttered. We need to empty it out. There are so many things in there that we don’t need. I can’t even make heads or tails out of what is already there. It’s a giant mess. We also have to stop putting new things in there. This will be a time-consuming task, but it will be worth the effort.”
These are but a few examples of the tasks in daily life meant to stop things that we don’t like. The human mind seems like it is too consumed each day with responsibilities. The burden never ends, for as soon as you fix one problem, another arises. The Bhagavad-gita mentions four bigger problems which should take higher priority.
Here is an interesting question to answer. Does starting a new business stop birth, old age, disease and death? Seems like a weird thing to ask, for who actually thinks of stopping these four things? There is the saying that only two things in life are guaranteed: death and taxes. No matter how much you complain about them, taxes will always be there. You can try to lobby the government to lower them, but in a democracy the easiest way to get elected is to promise to give away money. The largesse must have a funding source; hence the increased tax burden.
Death is also assured. There is nothing we can do about it. As a coping mechanism, the common mentality is to enjoy as much as possible, keeping the bad aspects of life out of the mind. Why worry so much over death when it is bound to happen? Why not buy a new car instead? Why not start a new business to feed your passion?
With respect to the four miserable aspects of life mentioned in the Bhagavad-gita, there is a way to stop them going forward. Although death will happen in this life for sure, it doesn’t have to happen again in the future. That future death is paired with the subsequent birth. The next guaranteed death arrives through old age and disease. As soon as there is birth there is death, and in between there will be old age and disease.
jātasya hi dhruvo mṛtyur
dhruvaṁ janma mṛtasya ca
tasmād aparihārye ‘rthe
na tvaṁ śocitum arhasi
“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)
As all the miseries of life come after birth, the best way to stop them is to prevent the next birth. This can happen through consciousness, as whatever state of mind we have at the time of death that state we attain in the next life without fail. This is also mentioned in the Bhagavad-gita.
yaṁ yaṁ vāpi smaran bhāvaṁ
tyajaty ante kalevaram
taṁ tam evaiti kaunteya
“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.6)
This truth applies to all living things. Shri Krishna does not say that only the Hindus go through this reincarnation. The process of old age is one kind of evidence for reincarnation right now. The spirit soul is the constant, while what it assumes as a covering changes as time winds.
Nobody prefers old age and nobody wants to get a disease. Yet these happen as soon as there is birth. The wise person tries to end birth and death by being completely spiritually conscious at the time of death. The way to do that is to not be focused on the temporary body at all. The common misconception here is that being spiritual means completely ignoring daily activities. If you are spiritual then how can you work? How can you do normal things and still have a pure consciousness?
There is a concept known as yukta-vairagya. Yukta is linking and vairagya is renouncing. Basically you act to maintain the body, but you remain renounced at the same time. As an example, just because a car is a product of the material nature, you don’t reject it outright. If you can use it to advance your consciousness of the spiritual, you do. How is this possible? Well, you can drive your car to a place that teaches about the spirit soul. Just as we drive the car to the supermarket to feed ourselves, we can use it to feed our knowledge of the spiritual side of life.
anta-kāle ca mām eva
smaran muktvā kalevaram
yaḥ prayāti sa mad-bhāvaṁ
yāti nāsty atra saṁśayaḥ
“And whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.5)
Future birth and death stop for one who is conscious of Krishna at the time of death. This is one of the most important lessons to take from the Bhagavad-gita. Krishna is the source of the material and spiritual worlds. It is through His magic that the material nature operates. That nature doesn’t have to be our home forever. One who makes it a priority to be conscious of Krishna puts an end to the four biggest problems in life.
Mind riddled with daily chores,
But bigger problems of count four.
Old age, disease, death and birth,
Wise person giving these priority first.
Attachment to the material release,
But not from using objects cease.
Yukta-vairagya, to Krishna be devoted,
Then after death to His nature promoted.