Part of a monk’s remit is to comfort the distressed. On one such occasion, we were driving to a funeral. We entered the crematorium gates, located the chapel, and parked in the first available bay. As the vehicle inched into place, we saw before us an ocean of gravestones. At that moment, almost prophetically, the satnav declared, “You have reached your final destination.” Today the GPS was bringing home the truth!
Try as we may to avoid it, death is constantly knocking at our doorstep. Fast-forwarding a few years, we can anticipate that we’ll grieve for loved ones, endure the devastation and emptiness of loss, and become personally weakened by the assault of old age and infirmity. All such experiences prepare us for our own inevitable exit. Despite this, we live in a society where death is sterilised, sanitised and carefully sealed off from public view. Statistics indicate that 72% of people die without writing a will. Maybe they thought it wouldn’t happen to them, or perhaps they just didn’t want to think about it. Despite our denial and defiance, time and tide wait for no man.
In Chapter Eight Krishna discusses this inconvenient truth. Most people focus on living before dying. They draw up a ‘bucket list’ of aspirations to pursue before time runs out - swim with the dolphins, visit the seven wonders, do a bungee jump and learn an exotic language. In our limited time on earth, people make plans to explore, discover, and experience as much as possible. And why not?
While there’s no harm in excitement and adventure, Krishna reveals a deeper quest in the journey of life: to die before we die. To experience life in its truest beauty, we have to defeat the enemies within our own hearts - lust, anger, greed, envy, pride, and the multitude of material desires entrenched within us. Such qualities make our lives miserable, no matter how well the externals pan out. Furthermore, without this purification and cleansing, we’ll be forced to re-enter the temporal realm after our final breath – to go through the trials and tribulations of the material world all over again.
Nelson Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years. Shortly after his release, when someone offered him a copy of the Bhagavad-Gita, Mandela informed him that he had read it already. When asked what he learnt from his reading, the revolutionary politician smiled and replied: “The Bhagavad-Gita taught me that if I didn’t overcome my bitterness, hatred and anger towards my perpetrators, though walking free from my cell, I’d still be very much imprisoned.”
We’re held captive by the materialistic mindset and qualities present within our own being. To die before you die, means to break free of these invisible chains and live a life of freedom, here and beyond. The world needs more personalities who have embraced such saintliness. Nobody feels qualified, it won’t be easy, and there will never be an ideal time. Along with all the dynamic plans to navigate the world around us, we could also consider the adventure of the ‘inside job.’ We say, we’ll do it one day, although ‘one day’ is not a day of the week. ‘One day,’ Krishna reminds us, could be one day too late.
“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, O son of Kunti, that state he will attain without fail.” (Bhagavad-Gita 8.6)
8.6 – What determines one’s destination after death.
8.12 – Yoga withdraws one from materialistic entanglement, but how can that be achieved in today’s climate?