“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.” (Bhagavad-gita, 2.11)Download this episode (right click and save)
aśocyān anvaśocas tvaṁ
prajñā-vādāṁś ca bhāṣase
gatāsūn agatāsūṁś ca
“Heaven is a fairytale. There is no such thing as the afterlife. People made this stuff up as a way to cope with the difficulties of life. Some need a way to stand above. What better way to put someone down than to tell them they are going to suffer in hell forever? I don’t buy any of it.”
Indeed, dogmatic insistence and fear of eternal damnation aren’t really the best ways to persuade others to join your side. After all, anyone can make a claim about something that no one will consciously experience. “The future will be like this. After death, things will be like that.” Each person is as much an authority on the issue as the next.
Genuine spiritual life does bring lasting benefits. The Sanskrit word is shreyas. This is the long-term interest. At the same time, there is short-term interest to consider; preyas. Every person has self-interest, svartha, that they would like to have satisfied. Spiritual life does not neglect the short term or the needs of the individual. It can do many things for me.
1. A clear understanding of life and death
This is the most puzzling issue. We take birth, we form attachments, and then we lose things. The loved ones who took care of us in our youth one day vanish from our sight forever. Why does this happen? Where do they go? Dealing with the loss of a loved one is likely the most difficult experience in life.
In the Bhagavad-gita, Shri Krishna provides clarity on the issue. He says that the wise lament neither for the living nor the dead. We lament for the living who are considered to be destitute. “Look at that poor guy. He must be suffering. Isn’t it a shame what that woman is going through?” A wise messenger from a long time back helped a newly-turned widow cope with the loss of her husband by explaining that each person in this world has a body like a bubble, ready to burst at any moment.
"Whom are you lamenting for when you yourself are pitiable? Why do you pity the poor when you yourself have now been made poor? While in this body that is like a bubble, how can anyone look at anyone else as being worthy of lamentation?" (Hanuman speaking to Tara, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 21.3)
The body is different from the individual. Birth is the event of accepting a new body and death is the time of completely relinquishing the body. In between that same body changes constantly. This is the reason to not lament for a living person. The departed has simply moved on to some other place, to accept a new body. A person who understands these things has a huge advantage in the journey through life.
2. A calming of desires
Vedic culture recommends tapasya, which is austerity. This is not to punish. Rather, it is a way to have a better life. The idea is that the more you can control desires, the better off you’ll be. The natural tendency goes in the opposite direction. Satisfy every sense urge as soon as it arises. Don’t torture yourself.
samudram āpaḥ praviśanti yadvat
tadvat kāmā yaṁ praviśanti sarve
sa śāntim āpnoti na kāma-kāmī
“A person who is not disturbed by the incessant flow of desires - that enter like rivers into the ocean which is ever being filled but is always still - can alone achieve peace, and not the man who strives to satisfy such desires.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 2.70)
Shri Krishna says that unless you can control this flow of desires, you cannot achieve peace. By extension, we take this to mean that only through following some sort of austerity rooted in spiritual life is there a chance at lasting happiness in this world. Every person is searching for peace, from the poor to the wealthy, the young to the old.
3. Steadiness in an endeavor
Aside from the incessant flow of desires acting as a huge distraction to the mind, there is the issue of satisfaction. The human being jumps from one thing to another because everything they try fails to provide lasting satisfaction. Genuine spiritual life is different. You know when you are on the right track when you are able to stick with the process for a long time and not get bored.
The Bhagavad-gita again provides clarity on the issue. The distressed warrior Arjuna was ready to give up before the battle even began. He thought his side was going to win, and he didn’t want to deal with the consequences to that victory. The wise teacher Krishna helped Arjuna to remain steady, to keep attention to duty. The secret was to satisfy the obligations while remaining conscious of Krishna. In other words, in spiritual life a person can stay steady along the path, even in the midst of the greatest distractions.
4. Determination to please someone else
The Sanskrit word dharma reveals something hidden and valuable about the individual. We see glimpses of this secret in the way humans behave with their fellow man. Take the example of a famous actor who has fallen. They have gone down the dark road of substance abuse. It has almost ruined them. When they emerge clean and sober at an awards ceremony, everyone cheers. They say only nice things.
This is because it is in the soul’s nature to please. The individual is happiest when serving. This comes from the dharma of the soul, its essential characteristic. That characteristic is rooted in spiritual life, as the soul is quintessential spirit. Following the words of Shri Krishna, a person learns how to please the highest person, Purushottama. When done properly, through the via medium of the spiritual master, Purushottama becomes so happy, as He looks for sincerity more than ability and quantity of offerings. That determination then carries the servant forward, giving them tremendous enthusiasm to look for more ways to please.
Ananda-mayo ‘bhyasat. The spirit soul is by nature blissful. That bliss is always there, but when accepting a material body the true nature gets covered up. The degree of the covering depends on the type of body. We can think of it like different kinds of lampshades.
The human body has the least amount of covering. That covering can be gradually removed through spiritual life, which is also known as dharma. By following the eternal dharma a person feels bliss; this is the ultimate purpose. Going in we may want wealth, removal of distress, answers to certain questions, or more information about the Absolute, but through progressing in the path these desires eventually go away.
This explains why there are different kinds of yoga, such as karma, jnana and hatha. Once the desires within each respective system go away completely, the individual merges into bhakti-yoga. That eternal and original engagement brings bliss, from start to finish. You and I are blissful by nature, and the first step in reaching that position again is following genuine spiritual life.
Not just for afterlife sitting,
Benefits even before body quitting.
Understanding of birth and death presenting,
Neither for the living nor the dead lamenting.
Steadiness in pursuit going,
Eagerness to serve growing.
When spiritual life following real,
Bliss the ultimate purpose to feel.