“After many births and deaths, he who is actually in knowledge surrenders unto Me, knowing Me to be the cause of all causes and all that is. Such a great soul is very rare.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 7.19)
बहूनां जन्मनाम् अन्ते
ज्ञानवान् मां प्रपद्यते
वासुदेवः सर्वम् इति
स महात्मा सु-दुर्लभः
bahūnāṁ janmanām ante
jñānavān māṁ prapadyate
vāsudevaḥ sarvam iti
sa mahātmā su-durlabhaḥ
“This topic came up recently with the passing of a well-known broadcaster. Amidst the heaps of praise, there was also significant lamentation. One source is the age at which this person left the world. People consider the death to be tragic because others are known to live ten or twenty years longer.
“This person had their faculties still with them. They were at the top of their field. It was just that a debilitating disease crept up and took them from this world way too soon. There is speculation that if the person had changed this or that about their lifestyle, maybe they would have lived longer.
“I was wondering about the perspective from shastra. Is there anything relating to longevity? Is it a tragedy if a person lives for say fifty years instead of seventy? Is that considered bad karma or something?”
His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada reveals that it is not necessarily how long you live but what you actually accomplish in the time that you are here. The ideal example in this regard is Shri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.
Though He is identical with the Supreme Lord, in Mahaprabhu’s earthly pastimes there was the normal interaction with others. There was attachment formed and the common sadness that comes with separation. Mahaprabhu was not here for even fifty years, and one might consider it a great tragedy that He left the world so soon.
In truth, those years He was here were filled with bliss and joy. They were so instructive to society as a whole that the legacy lives on to this day. Mahaprabhu is still teaching the vital message of chanting the holy names of Hari as a way of life: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
By comparison, the tree lives for a long time. It can stay in one place for thousands of years. Does any rational person long to take birth in such a form? Is their life’s ambition to be sent straight to the body of a tree in the next life, so that they can flex their muscles in the ability to outlast the living entities around them?
जातस्य हि ध्रुवो मृत्युर्
ध्रुवं जन्म मृतस्य च
तस्माद् अपरिहार्ये ऽर्थे
न त्वं शोचितुम् अर्हसि
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)
Shri Krishna confirms in Bhagavad-gita that as soon as you take birth, you are already dying. The end is inevitable. Whether you last for fifty years or one hundred, the outcome is the same. Once the individual reaches the end, what is the point in lamenting over the past, which cannot be changed?
By comparison, there is a unique opportunity with this human birth in particular. It is said that after many such cycles of appearance and disappearance does the individual soul come to a proper understanding of the Almighty in His all-attractive form of Krishna. Such a realized soul is rare.
The time is now. This is our opportunity. Let us make the most of being alive at this very moment. No one knows for sure how many days they have left in this rollercoaster ride of existence. The soul will move on after death, and through knowing Krishna we can influence the nature of the next birth. Namely, we can guarantee it will be in the spiritual world, which is free of birth and death.
Mahaprabhu showing the way,
Though not many years to stay.
Lamenting that so soon gone,
But why the past to dwell upon?
Instead the impact consider,
How through sound to deliver.
That many the truth to see,
And from illusion to free.