“If one adopts the principles enunciated in Bhagavad-gita, he can make his life perfect and make a perfect solution to all the problems of life which arise out of the transient nature of material existence.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, Introduction)
As soon as you introduce the property of transience, you get problems. For starters, since the objects in question are temporary in their manifestation, once this property is known fear will follow. Take a house for example. You purchase the house and then live comfortably within it, but you know that it can deteriorate. If you don’t keep up with the mortgage payments or if you don’t take care of the needed repairs on time, the comfortable dwelling can quickly become a thing of the past. The greatest fear of all is death, which is spared for no one. Since life is full of problems, the tendency towards looking for solutions is as natural as eating when you’re hungry. If you’re already looking for answers, why not head straight for the guidebook that in the beginning addresses life’s most difficult questions. From there find not only the solution to birth and death but also the tools necessary for dealing with any derived problem that should arise.
“Just as the ripened fruit has no other fear than falling, the man who has taken birth has no other fear than death.” (Lord Rama, Valmiki Ramayana, Ayodhya Kand, 105.17)
As the famous prince of the Raghu dynasty and divine incarnation of Godhead once said, for a mature human being there is no other fear than death. That fact puts everything into the right perspective. The fear over losing health insurance relates to death. The fear over becoming destitute, of having no money to provide for basic necessities, also is tied to death. This fear is prevalent in the mature human being and not so much in the child because of the difference in intelligence. The child has yet to be disappointed by life, and they haven’t learned that everything within it is temporary. The adult may have achieved all of their childhood dreams and still had to deal with so many problems thereafter. Therefore once there is maturity, the human being knows that they have nowhere left to go but down.
The fear of death is not just personal either. Often times it extends to family members. This is actually a very nice sentiment, revealing some of the properties of the essence of identity that are mentioned in the conversation documented in that famous guidebook. During economic downturns polling companies will try to get a pulse on the nation’s thoughts of the economy. A common answer given to questions about one’s personal financial situation is: “I’m doing okay, but I’m worried about my neighbor. I’m worried about the country. It seems like there are no jobs anywhere.” Though the human being knows that their destiny is death, somehow they tend to pity others, even those who are in better off positions.
Emotions like these consumed a hesitant warrior on the eve of a giant battle. Fortunately for him, his problems were solved by the one person who can remove all distresses. The warrior Arjuna was more than capable of doing away with his enemy; what he lacked was the desire to fight. He knew that he was in the right with respect to raising hostilities, but if following the righteous path meant killing so many well-wishers and family members on the opposing side, Arjuna would rather be wrong.
Lord Krishna, Arjuna’s chariot driver at the time, stepped in and dealt with this all-encompassing problem. Arjuna was worried about death, and not even his own. He was worried about what would happen to the opposing members should they perish in battle. In this way the talk that followed between Krishna and Arjuna became the most applicable guidebook, as its starting premise is something missed through mental speculation.
In any problem, the solution is found through proper knowledge of the relevant parties. Proper knowledge addresses the inner properties of the situation, knowing how the different entities operate. If there is a misidentification, how can a proper solution be found? Sure, we can consult a guidebook on how to fix our wireless internet connection or properly bake a cake, but these are small problems. The fact that everything around us is temporary ensures that little problems will never go away. Having to fill up gasoline is a tiny nuisance. Drive enough back and forth to work and eventually you’ll have to break your routine and head to the gas station for a fill up. Many of the problems occur at regular intervals. They are deemed problems because they are unwanted inconveniences of life.
Krishna did not start off dealing with smaller problems. He did not wish to dwell on Arjuna’s hesitancy or his misdirected affection for his family members right away. These were indeed the external causes to his decision to refrain from fighting, which introduced a new problem, but at the root of the issue was a misidentification. Arjuna was seeing something that is temporary and taking it to be permanent. The body is not our identity; the soul is. We know that the body is temporary because it changes all the time. We even know that it goes away at the end of life, like the fruit that falls off the tree. If death is already destined to happen, why should one lament it when following religious principles?
Let’s say that I have an iPad filled with movies and books. I know that if I watch a few movies, one after another, pretty soon the device will lose battery strength. A low battery indicates a problem, which is solved by a recharge. Should I be travelling on a trip where power outlets are not readily available, once the recharge is required, I can no longer use the device. Does this mean that I shouldn’t watch a single movie? If that is the case, why have the device? The battery will be drained regardless, so utilizing the device for its intended purpose is the much better course of action. We don’t despise the car because it will run out of gasoline if we drive it enough.
In a similar manner, the body is already destined for death, so lamenting over this fact was not wise for Arjuna. Whether he fought or didn’t fight, those family members would have to perish. By abiding by Krishna’s orders, which were not made up on the spot and which had been followed for thousands of years even at this time, Arjuna would not be doing anything wrong. He was a fighter by occupation, so it was his duty to protect the innocent. If he wasn’t up for the job, who would protect the property of the helpless citizens relying on the stronger government forces?
The route of solving smaller problems first is unfortunately taken by governments as well. Famous politicians often believe that the government’s duty is to solve problems, when in fact its primary role is to defend property and life. Yet what are the distressed citizens to do? In a society where the information of the proper identification of the individual is absent, the real problems of life, namely birth, death, old age and disease, will never be solved. Without a solution to the death problem, there will be constant fear and hesitation. The poor person worries about food and clothing and the rich man is concerned with maintaining his standard of living up until the time of death. In either case there is fearing, which indicates that there are problems no matter where you are in life.
Krishna rightly revealed to Arjuna that the soul never dies, nor does it take birth. It is eternal. The consciousness of the living entity at the time of death determines the next destination. Therefore following the original guidebook that is the Vedas - which are explained nicely by the saints and by Krishna Himself in works like the Bhagavad-gita - leads to a proper consciousness at the time of death. Something temporary is the cause of distress, while something permanent is in line with the properties of the soul. Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and His internal energy are permanent, while the external energy of material nature is temporary. Identify with nature and you’ll be in constant trouble. Identify with spirit and you’ll have the tools to solve even trivial problems.
How does this work exactly? How does connecting with Krishna solve the problem of finding a job or putting food on the table? The Lord’s ultimate advice to Arjuna was to always think of Him and follow the duties prescribed for his order with detachment. “Don’t worry about the outcome; just follow God, thinking of Him in a loving mood.” This advice would serve Arjuna well, for he was firmly convinced of it by the teachings presented by Krishna, which would later on be known as the Bhagavad-gita, a work to be studied by scholars, inquisitive minds, and sincere spiritualists alike.
By knowing that I am spirit and that Krishna is Supreme Spirit, if I regularly chant His names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, I stand a good chance of thinking about Him at the time of death. Krishna is eternal and lives in a permanent abode. A consciousness fixed on Him leads the individual to a residence in that imperishable home, where the only problem is: “How can I serve Krishna more?”
Through regular chanting in the discipline known as bhakti-yoga, or devotional service, the foremost desire of the individual is to stay connected with Krishna. The Lord bears the burden for success in this endeavor, and since He is Achyuta [one who never falls down], He never denies any sincere soul the success they deserve. The problems in life are automatically solved because from within as the chaitya guru and from without as the spiritual master Krishna gives hints on how to find the conditions ideal for continuing in devotion. With a purified consciousness, a commonly employed solution to problems is to just abandon the activity. Another method is to look for situations which bring as little distractions as possible. In Arjuna’s case, he took on the great burden of fighting in a war, but he was unattached to the result. As the supreme director standing right in front of him, Krishna made sure that Arjuna would emerge victorious, keeping his consciousness pure the whole time.
Find a solution to the root of all problems and you will have a way of dealing with the many issues that arise in a temporary existence. Birth and death are unavoidable for aspects of life that are temporary, but with a mind focused on the proper aim, detachment becomes rather easy to invoke. Association with the body is life’s biggest problem and connecting with Shri Krishna in a bond of love is the only solution.
Anger, sadness, depression and strife.
Form the many problems of life.
Try to initially tackle just the smaller,
In hopes that will address the larger.
But there is a better, more direct route,
Tackle issues of birth and death at their root.
Hesitant warrior Arjuna’s mind in a stir.
Went to his friend Shri Krishna for answers.
What followed was the most sacred talk,
Became Bhagavad-gita, path to success chalked.