“Maharaja Parikshit knew that the curse of the brahmana’s son upon him was unjustified, as everyone else knew, but he did not want to counteract it because he knew also that the age of Kali had begun and that the first symptom of the age, namely degradation of the highly talented brahmana community, had also begun. He did not want to interfere with the current of the time, but he prepared himself to meet death very cheerfully and very properly. Being fortunate, he got at least seven days to prepare himself to meet death, and so he properly utilized the time in the association of Shukadeva Gosvami, the great saint and devotee of the Lord.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Shrimad Bhagavatam, 1.12.2 Purport)
Friend1: The story of the end of life for King Parikshit is sort of iconic.
Friend2: What do you mean?
Friend1: It is the gold standard in terms of an example to follow. It flows with the teaching from Shri Krishna about the impact a leader can make:
यद्यदाचरति श्रेष्ठस्तत्तदेवेतरो जनः ।
स यत्प्रमाणं कुरुते लोकस्तदनुवर्तते ॥
yad yad ācarati śreṣṭhas
tat tad evetaro janaḥ
sa yat pramāṇaṁ kurute
lokas tad anuvartate
“Whatever action is performed by a great man, common men follow in his footsteps. And whatever standards he sets by exemplary acts, all the world pursues.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 3.21)
Friend2: You could say that all the world pursues that example in the sense of the Vedic tradition.
Friend1: It is the ideal way to die. If you are fortunate to learn of the time of death, give or take a few weeks or months, here and there, then there is a certain path which is ideal.
Friend2: Parikshit was a king. By choosing to hear Bhagavata Purana, he showed full and complete renunciation.
Friend1: There was a lot to renounce. I think it is easier for a poor person to suppress material desires. This is because they have little experience with opulence.
Friend2: Whereas Parikshit had everything available to him. He could have spent the last seven days enjoying his favorite dishes, mixing with beautiful women, summoning guests to the court to sing his glories, and so forth.
Friend1: His decision benefitted countless generations. When we hear Bhagavata Purana, it is like we are in the company of those great souls, Shukadeva and Parikshit.
Friend2: Think of that for a moment. You are transported back in time, to sit next to a dying man. Yet the material is enlivening.
Friend1: I believe Shrila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Gosvami says that a person who is alive can preach the glories of the Supreme Personality of Godhead.
Friend2: The conversation between Shukadeva and Parikshit is the embodiment of true living.
Friend1: All taking place while the vitality is waning.
Friend2: In terms of the time remaining in the world.
Friend1: Is that the basic recommendation for every person?
Friend2: In what sense?
Friend1: That they should spend the remaining days hearing about the Supreme Personality of Godhead?
Friend2: We should spend all of our time thinking about God. That is the true boon of the human birth. That is the purpose to our existence. It is our defining characteristic, dharma.
मन्-मना भव मद्-भक्तो
मद्-याजी मां नमस्कुरु
माम् एवैष्यसि युक्त्वैवम्
man-manā bhava mad-bhakto
mad-yājī māṁ namaskuru
mām evaiṣyasi yuktvaivam
“Engage your mind always in thinking of Me, offer obeisances and worship Me. Being completely absorbed in Me, surely you will come to Me.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.34)
Friend1: Okay, but how do we handle daily responsibilities? Parikshit relinquished control to others. That is the meaning to renunciation.
Friend2: Bhagavad-gita is the user guide, in this case. You have the bow-warrior Arjuna trying to decide between work and renunciation.
Friend1: Right, but if we don’t know how much time we have left, what is the proper course of action? The child could use this as an excuse to forego education. Do you see what I mean?
Friend2: You can connect with God and work at the same time. You can follow the example of Parikshit at any stage of life.
Friend1: Okay, but isn’t focused remembrance more effective? Isn’t it better to sit down and contemplate the entire time? Don’t prescribed duties get in the way?
Friend2: They have the potential to, but the world must go on. You have to eat. You have to sleep. You have to provide for yourself and your dependents. We cannot get around responsibilities. We cannot use devotion as an excuse to escape unwanted experiences or undesirable burdens.
Friend1: Right, but there is also the sense of urgency. Parikshit had seven days left. We don’t know how many days we have left. The sands of time might be running low. Why should I risk getting distracted?
Friend2: That is why the acharya provides a routine. They give a way of life that promotes the devotional culture, to ensure the proper consciousness. They show a roadmap wherein the entire day has a connection to Bhagavan, with the foundation of chanting the holy names: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Sands of time running low,
Exact moment to know.
So Parikshit sitting down to hear,
Bhagavata Purana without fear.
But others not fortunate as such,
Burdened by daily troubles much.
Acharya guiding the way,
Where transcendence every day.