“Day after day countless living entities in this world go to the kingdom of death. Still, those who remain aspire for a permanent situation here. What could be more amazing than this?” (Maharaja Yudhishthira speaking to Yamaraja, Mahabharata, Vana-parva, 313.116)
अहन्य् अहनि भूतानि
शेषाः स्थावरम् इच्छन्ति
किम् आश्चर्यम् अतः परम्
ahany ahani bhūtāni
śeṣāḥ sthāvaram icchanti
kim āścaryam ataḥ param
“When looking back on the life of someone recently departed, I notice that so much of the time involved survival. In youth, they were busy learning. Advancing through the grades in school, hoping for a bright future. Admission into a good college, followed by a rewarding career. This is the basic success track, the foundation for starting a family and so forth.
“At least that is how it is in the modern day. In the past, people would get married first. They didn’t have time to think about advancement, which was not guaranteed. You had people supporting a family of six and more on a basic job. Less amenities, but also less requirements to maintain a simple living.
“If so much time is spent on survival, and we know that survival is not guaranteed, isn’t everything a waste of time? I know that Maharaja Yudhishthira mentions how he thinks the most amazing thing is people trying to find a permanent situation in a world where they have visibly witnessed the departure of people coming before them.
“At the same time, what else are people supposed to do? They are living right now. They are in the moment. Are they supposed to sit around and wait until the end? Should they spend their days in the depths of depression, knowing that everyone around them will soon be gone forever? I don’t see any alternative to at least trying to make the short stay in this world worthwhile.”
Despite being temporary and destined for destruction, shastra tags the human birth as most auspicious. That means I have the greatest benefit in being born a human, with its accompanying abilities to think rationally, to reason, to contemplate the future, to have a say in the final outcome. The advanced potential for intelligence is not a curse.
Rather, to be born as something like a Rakshasa is inauspicious. A form where you only concentrate on sense gratification, on living in the moment, on enjoying eating, sleeping, and mating – that is terribly harmful in the long-term.
This is because everything will end. The sole focus on sense gratification will have meant nothing once the departure takes place. Whether I ate an entire pizza pie for dinner last week or I survived on a juice diet will not matter once the body is left behind. The body is not me; it is not who I am.
नात्य्-अश्नतस् ऽतु योगो ऽस्ति
न चैकान्तम् अनश्नतः
जाग्रतो नैव चार्जुन
nāty-aśnatas ‘tu yogo ‘sti
na caikāntam anaśnataḥ
jāgrato naiva cārjuna
“There is no possibility of one’s becoming a yogi, O Arjuna, if one eats too much, or eats too little, sleeps too much or does not sleep enough.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 6.16)
Shri Krishna explains that the transcendentalist places limits on eating and sleeping. They don’t go in either extreme. They are satisfied with sleeping as much as is required to stay alert throughout the day. They eat as much as necessary to keep body and soul together, albeit temporarily.
The routine maintenance, the activities which bear resemblance to interest in the permanent, should accompany genuine spiritual life. The chance for spiritual life is the real boon of the human birth. I can ask the difficult questions. I can study the past. I can accept input from those who have come before me. I can pass on the same wisdom to future generations.
For the life lived in dharma, every moment from the recently concluded lifetime is worthwhile. Those years in school helped to form a foundation of education necessary for assimilating the culture of sanatana-dharma. That house I worked so hard to build was used to worship the Almighty on a daily basis, in a routine that gathered numerical strength.
Those relationships I formed helped me to see the amazing animating spark inside of every living being. Others helped to further strengthen my resolve along the path of righteousness. If it wasn’t for the strong criticism and bitter experiences, akin to the fire to warn the hand against danger, I may never have found the correct path in life.
बिगरी जनम अनेक की सुधरै अबहीं आजु |
होहि राम को नाम जपु तुलसी तजि कुसमाजु ||
bigarī janama aneka kī sudharai abahīṃ āju |
hohi rāma ko nāma japu tulasī taji kusamāju ||
“The many past births you spoiled can be rectified right now, today, if you start chanting Shri Rama’s holy name and renounce bad association, says Tulsi.” (Dohavali, 22)
While we cannot revisit the past and change events that already occurred, Goswami Tulsidas explains that we can correct the mistakes we have made. Everything washes away in an instant, if we stay attached to the holy name of the Lord and renounce bad association. Whatever I did to help find and sustain that connection in consciousness was worthwhile and also worth celebrating from the concluded life: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
When a spiritual consciousness demonstrating,
Then just concluded life worth celebrating.
Successful the now departed,
Used potential from which started.
For the Supreme Lord to find,
And to always keep in mind.
Even past mistakes now corrected,
Since towards Vaikuntha directed.