“All created beings are unmanifest in their beginning, manifest in their interim state, and unmanifest again when they are annihilated. So what need is there for lamentation?” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.28)
There are many reasons to read the Bhagavad-gita, the Song of God sung on the battlefield of Kurukshetra some five thousand years ago. As revealed by the singer Himself, the same words were previously delivered many eons prior, at the beginning of creation. Therefore the Gita and its essential teachings are timeless, proving to be valuable in any time period and to any class of men. What’s more is that the primary fear, the root cause of distress, is addressed by this great work, proving that from a single set of teachings all other problems can be solved simultaneously.
What is that primary fear? What is the one thing that we worry about the most? Not surprisingly, it is death. Even if we have come to grips with our own eventual passing, there is still concern over the separation from friends and family members. “How will I live without them? I can’t believe that one day I will never see them again. ‘Never’ is such a frightening concept. Why can’t I have their association forever?” We know that this sadness is widespread based on the reaction to the passing of famous people, which also reveals how there is a lack of knowledge of the afterlife.
If true knowledge of the soul existed, there would be no reason to overly lament the passing of someone else. In reality, the lamentation is for ourselves, for we are now bereft of the departed’s company. But they continue to live on, as the spirit soul cannot be cut up, made wet, burned, or destroyed in any way.
“The soul can never be cut into pieces by any weapon, nor can he be burned by fire, nor moistened by water, nor withered by the wind.” (Lord Krishna, Bg. 2.23)
There are many reasons to be averse to religious doctrines. For starters, so many religions are now organized and thus riddled with the common problems of politics, infighting, and the desire for personal aggrandizement, all of which are antithetical to a system of discipline aimed at connecting with the highest power. There is also the perceived notion that by hearing about and following religious dictates, one’s life will be stripped of fun. “No more sex life. No more eating meat. No more getting drunk. That all equals no fun.”
But if we look at the Gita, we see that the starting point is the primary fear in every person. Thus the teachings that follow the initial inquiries from the perplexed warrior are applicable to every single person. In one sense the Gita doesn’t have to be considered a religious text, as it presents the information of the spirit soul and its travels in a scientific way. There are methods of redress that can be adopted, with a starting hypothesis declared, and the worker can see for themselves with the results of the experiments whether or not the principles presented are valid.
The speaker of the Gita is the oldest and wisest person. He has knowledge of every single past incident, so He knows that the principles of sanatana-dharma, or the eternal occupation of man, never fail when properly implemented. He can also see into the future, so there is no need for Him to observe any future results to experiments. On the battlefield that day, He presented His spotless knowledge in a manner that was suitable to the listener in the immediate vicinity. In the process the information was also shared with countless future generations who would study the text under the guidance of a bona fide spiritual master.
So what was the initial premise? What was the problem that sparked the talk? Arjuna was the leading fighter for a group of brothers known as the Pandavas. They had the rightful claim to the throne of Hastinapura, but their cousins unjustly usurped control. Now a war was to settle the matter, and right before hostilities were to start, Arjuna grew hesitant. He wasn’t worried about losing. It was just the opposite in fact; he was afraid of what would happen if his side won. So many people would die, and Arjuna wouldn’t like that. He didn’t want to live without the company of his well-wishers and relatives fighting for the other side, especially if he was the cause of their demise.
Do Arjuna’s sentiments sound familiar? If they are alive today, are we not worried about the day when we will lose the association of our parents? Are we not afraid of losing a loved one either through a disease or a tragic accident? The answers Krishna gave to Arjuna allow for the individual spirit soul to be knowledgeable in its activities, and with that sword of knowledge one can slash away the ropes of doubt and illusion, which bind one in a trap of fear.
What were Krishna’s primary instructions? Through a carefully presented series of verses, the Gita speaks of the spirit soul and how it is ageless. That soul existed prior to the present manifestation of the body and it will exist beyond the current form. The soul is the essence of identity, and its disposition is what matters most, not where the body is currently situated. This holds true for the individual and also for every other person, including people for whom we hold affection.
The person must act, however, and to know how to act one should follow the bona fide religious principles as they are presented by sadhu, shastra, and guru. The sadhu is the saintly man, who is devoted to the lotus feet of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Shastra is scripture; it has the recorded instructions of the Supreme Lord and His representatives. The guru is the embodiment of devotion to God. He teaches by both precept and example. He can teach the humble student the meaning to the verses of shastra and how to practically apply the principles in everyday life.
After hearing from Krishna and accepting the information through discrimination, Arjuna decided to fight ahead, casting aside his previous doubt. Does this mean that Arjuna suddenly became callous to life and death? Did he discard his affection for his family members? If he did, isn’t the Gita kind of cold in its teaching? What is the difference, then, between a person who follows Krishna’s teachings and one who is so low in their moral standards that they kill other people at random, having no concern for them?
“The Blessed Lord said: While speaking learned words, you are mourning for what is not worthy of grief. Those who are wise lament neither for the living nor the dead.” (Bg. 2.11)
The ultimate lesson of the Gita is to follow Krishna’s instructions, for He is the Supreme Lord. The vague concept of God is the same Krishna but without the features painted. There are incarnations and expansions of Krishna as well, which show off even more features, as many as the living entity can enumerate. Since Krishna is the fountainhead of all energies, following His word, showing love to Him, is actually the only way to have universal brotherhood. The only way to properly love all of God’s creation is to first serve the original creator.
This means that instead of losing his affection for his family members, Arjuna actually learned to love them more. But his affection was no longer based off temporary features belonging to a perishable body. Arjuna knew that everyone is a spirit soul and that by following occupational duties with detachment there is no sin incurred with action. Also, only the bodies of the other soldiers would be destroyed; their souls would continue to live on. Thus with this perfect combination of knowledge Arjuna could continue on without carrying the burden of the primary fear in man.
That same level of detachment comes to one who follows devotion to Krishna. The wise chariot-driver who enlightened Arjuna on that day can be reached through His holy names, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare”, which are non-different from Him. Chanting and hearing are the bedrock of bhakti-yoga, or devotional service. That discipline transcends sectarian boundaries and religious institutions. Devotion to God is the inherent occupation of the soul and from it the fears we regularly encounter today can vanish, creating a legitimate loving sentiment that extends to all creatures.
The greatest fear is that life will end,
Then creates other fears when it extends.
Even if with my own mortality I have come to grips,
How will I survive when close friends their bodies quit?
Arjuna thought just like this, fate of others to dwell upon,
To dispel his doubts, Shri Krishna sung transcendental song.
Known as Bhagavad-gita, at start deals with end of life,
Then solves other issues, anger, vengeance and strife.
Like Arjuna from the principles of bhakti don’t deviate,
In the process primary fear of life eliminate.