“O Emperor, now I am separated from my friend and dearmost well-wisher, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and therefore my heart appears to be void of everything. In His absence I have been defeated by a number of infidel cowherd men while I was guarding the bodies of all the wives of Krishna.” (Arjuna, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.15.20)
सो ऽहं नृपेन्द्र रहितः पुरुषोत्तमेन
सख्या प्रियेण सुहृदा हृदयेन शून्यः
अध्वन्य् उरुक्रम-परिग्रहम् अङ्ग रक्षन्
गोपैर् असद्भिर् अबलेव विनिर्जितो ऽस्मि
so ‘haṁ nṛpendra rahitaḥ puruṣottamena
sakhyā priyeṇa suhṛdā hṛdayena śūnyaḥ
adhvany urukrama-parigraham aṅga rakṣan
gopair asadbhir abaleva vinirjito ‘smi
It goes in a cycle. A microcosm of the general pattern of life, where the paired events of birth and death have the accompanying contradictory emotions of hope and despair. Birth brings almost unlimited potential. The newborn can turn out to be anything. They have opportunities in front of them. The right instruction and proper association can make adulthood very auspicious. A chance to accumulate meritorious credits, sukriti, to pay dividends at some point in the future.
At the time of death everything is lost. No more winning. No more chance at redemption, since there is nothing left to do. Whatever was going to be experienced after birth happened already. On to another place, in a different body, existing in a different time period.
In between it is sometimes seen that a person earns a strong reputation through accomplishments and achievements. An almost mythology builds around them, where others expect excellence based simply on the presence.
If such a person should subsequently fail, it is a surprise. After all, they succeeded so many times in the past. They were labeled, “the greatest of all time,” in their particular area of expertise. How, then, could they suddenly lose?
From studying Vedic literature we see that some of the most amazing people to ever have graced this earth met an end that wouldn’t be considered good, positive, auspicious or whatever the preferred term to describe a desired condition.
1. Sita Devi
The daughter of King Janaka was pious since birth. She learned the principles of dharma from her family, who were often visited by brahmanas. These are like saintly people who publicly identify as capable of providing valuable instruction.
Then later she married Shri Rama, the prince of Ayodhya. The dedication to dharma in her was the perfect match for the qualities of her husband. She went to live in a family with three mothers-in-law, but there was no issue.
She struggled during a particular period of fourteen years. She endured tremendous hardships due to the wicked deeds of a person ruling over the territory of Lanka. Yet everything ended well, as she was reunited with Rama. The two returned to Ayodhya, where Rama was crowned the new king.
The princess who deserved everything had an unfortunate end to life. She was intentionally renounced by her husband due to issues of properly governing the kingdom and maintaining the dedication to dharma in the dynasty. She was blameless throughout, yet the less intelligent found fault in Rama due to her.
He was the patriarch of an important family. The grandfather to both the Kurus and the Pandavas, he was respected by so many people. Known as a great devotee of the Supreme Lord, Bhishma was practically unbeatable in battle.
When the great Bharata War came to pass, he ended up on the side of the Kurus. He succumbed to the arrows of the fighter Arjuna from the Pandava side. Though he spoke sound words of advice to the incoming administration of Yudhishthira, Bhishma was still lying on the battlefield at the time of death. He was defeated and ready to depart for the next life.
He was Shri Krishna’s cousin and friend. This means that he had the direct favor of the Divine. Though every person has this inside of their heart in the merciful incarnation known as Supersoul, Arjuna had the full manifestation in front of him. Krishna was the chariot driver who did more than follow directions on where to turn.
In a conversation that became famous as the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna counseled Arjuna on all aspects of life. The skilled fighter for the Pandava side was so capable that victory was the greater concern. Arjuna was worried about what would happen to the people fighting for the Kurus. What would be gained by their defeat?
Such a noble warrior met a seemingly inauspicious end, as well. Years later, after Shri Krishna had returned to the spiritual world, Arjuna failed to defend Krishna’s queens against rogue attackers. These men were much less capable than those who Arjuna faced in the Bharata War, but the Divine support was no longer with him.
While these events seem to highlight a kind of unfairness to life, in truth material abilities are guaranteed to diminish. This is concomitant with the death process itself, which is the shedding of the body. No one’s abilities remain in their full form throughout life, as those abilities are tied to a perishable body.
The stories told above are under the material analysis. In truth the devotee of Bhagavan never meets an inauspicious end. Sita Devi maintained connection to her husband throughout. She is the goddess of fortune, after all, so she can never be truly separated from the Supreme Lord, who is her husband.
मैत्रः करुण एव च
सन्तुष्टः सततं योगी
यो मद्-भक्तः स मे प्रियः
maitraḥ karuṇa eva ca
santuṣṭaḥ satataṁ yogī
yo mad-bhaktaḥ sa me priyaḥ
“One who is not envious but who is a kind friend to all living entities, who does not think himself a proprietor, who is free from false ego and equal both in happiness and distress, who is always satisfied and engaged in devotional service with determination and whose mind and intelligence are in agreement with Me-he is very dear to Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 12.13-14)
Bhishmadeva’s quitting of the body is celebrated in the Shrimad Bhagavatam. He was directly conscious of Krishna, who was standing before him. Arjuna, too, during the time of defeat remembered Krishna and His favor. Thus the consciousness was always pure, whether in victory or defeat. This is one of the qualities of a person dear to Krishna, as He describes in the Bhagavad-gita.
Bereft of husband at life’s end,
Alone in ashrama to spend.
Arjuna by rogues defeated,
Whereas prior in victory seated.
Bhishma defeated on battlefield lay,
Covered by arrows of enemy spray.
But in truth auspiciousness remaining,
Since connection to Krishna maintaining.
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