THE ART OF LIVING AND LEAVING
By Gauranga Darshan Das
“We can learn from the examples of great souls who lived by upholding virtuous principles and left behind their own extraordinary accomplishments, teachings, legacies, and personal examples.”
“Life is a preparation and death is an examination,” is an often heard saying. A fact of life is that everyone who had entered a body in this world has to leave it one day. The time duration between one’s birth and death is what we call ‘life.’ Lord Krsna says that the consciousness with which one leaves the body decides his or her next destination. Living a principle centered life in this world leads one to leave this world to enter a better world. Apart from attaining a wonderful destination, such a person also leaves behind a legacy and his good example for many others to follow. Srimad-Bhagavatam teaches us ‘how to live’ in this world and ‘how to leave’ this world, through various exemplary personalities.
Art Of Living
A human being learns to live based on the knowledge he or she attains from various sources. One’s family, upbringing, association and surroundings shape up one’s thoughts, values and aspirations. However, the rare human life is specially bestowed with higher intelligence and discrimination power. Thus scriptures advise a human being to live life according to noble values with God consciousness, while doing the needful for one’s survival in this world through honest means. Such living sets a right example and inspires others.
yamair akamair niyamais capy anindaya
nirihaya dvandva-titiksaya ca
A candidate for spiritual advancement needs to be nonviolent, follow in the footsteps of great acaryas, always remember the nectarean pastimes of the Supreme Lord, follow regulative principles without material desire and should not blaspheme others. A devotee should lead a simple life and not be disturbed by the duality of opposing elements, but learn to tolerate them. (SB 4.22.24)
Art Of Inquiring
Relevant inquiries in life make one’s life fruitful and getting fitting answers to them mould one’s life in appropriate direction. King Pariksit ruled his citizens following the footsteps of his glorious grandfathers. He even challenged Kali and established a Krsna conscious kingdom. Ordained by the Supreme will, he was cursed by a brahmana boy to die in seven days. Seeing this curse as a blessing in disguise, he retired from the political responsibilities and sat on the bank of the Ganges to fast until death. He inquired from the great sages who assembled there, “What is the duty of a person in life in all circumstances? And that of a person who is about to die?” Sukadeva Gosvami arrived there as if called for and enlightened Pariksit Maharaja on this topic by speaking the magnum opus literature Srimad-Bhagavatam.
Practically the whole Bhagavatam deals with these two inquiries of Pariksit – “How to live? How to leave?” Every human being should ask such relevant questions in life. In essence, Sukadeva Gosvami replied that one should hear about Krsna, chant His glories and remember Him in all circumstances, for such devotional service is the topmost beneficial activity for the humanity. Lord Krsna, after His disappearance in this word, has again descended in the form of the Bhagavatam through the discussion between Pariksit and Sukadeva Gosvami. This Bhagavatam acts as a transcendental torchlight to show illumination to the misdirected civilization of the Kali-yuga. Having heard the Bhagavatam for seven days, Pariksit left this world and went back to Godhead.
Leaving Behind Attachments
Responsibility shouldn’t lead to undue attachment and detachment doesn’t mean irresponsibility. The Bhagavatam narrates stories of several saintly kings, also known as rajarsis, who ruled the earth religiously taking care of the citizens’ physical and spiritual needs. And when an able successor is ready to take charge of the political responsibilities, despite their great influence, followers, accomplishments and unexcelled facilities, these kings are detached and mature enough to leave behind all of them for a higher purpose. Thus they would promptly retire at the right time to dedicate the rest of their lives in devotional service unto the Supreme Lord Krsna.
For instance, King Yudhistira ruled the kingdom religiously and responsibly as per the knowledge he received from Bhismadeva and Lord Krsna. He raised his grandson Pariksit with suitable training and entrusted to him the kingdom, before retiring. Several other saintly kings like Priyavrata, Uttanapada, Dhruva, Prthu, Pracetas, Bharata and Pariksit himself also depict similar examples of leaving behind one’s material attachments at the right time. They had glorious departures from this world to eventually enter into the spiritual world.
Leaving Without Bewilderment
Death is inevitable for any born person. Just as a student who wouldn’t study well throughout the academic year cannot expect good results in the final exam or a good career, a person who lives whimsically throughout one’s lifetime cannot expect a good destination in the next life. Thus one’s leaving this world depends on one’s living in this world. At the time of death, one’s power of remembrance is slackened due to derangement of bodily membranes. For a common man, it is very difficult to remember things as they are at the time of death, but by the grace of the Supreme Lord and His bona fide devotees, the spiritual masters, a sincere practitioner of Bhakti-yoga can remember Krsna without difficulty and thus attain His lotus feet.
syat sambhramo ‘nta-kale ‘pi
Those who have dedicated their lives to the transcendental topics of the Personality of Godhead and who are constantly engaged in remembering His lotus feet, do not run the risk of having misconceptions even at the last moment of their lives. (SB 1.18.4)
Once there was a great fight between the demigods and the demons. Vrtrasura terrified the demigods with his unparalleled power, and they anxiously approached Lord Visnu for solution. Visnu told them that Vrtrasura can be killed by a thunderbolt weapon (vajra) made with the bones of the great sage Dadhici.
When requested by the demigods, selfless Dadhici understood their predicament and the order of Visnu and prepared himself to give up his body to restore balance in the universal administrative system. Without any bewilderment, he entered into deep meditation on the Supreme Lord’s lotus feet and left his body without even perceiving that his body was being separated from himself.
Vrtrasura was king Citraketu, a great devotee of Lord Sankarsana, in his previous life. Due to the curse of Mother Parvati he became a demon, but his devotion only increased. Being aware that his death is ordained by Visnu he prepared himself without any bewilderment, and fought dutifully with Indra in the battle. In fact, his only agenda and ecstasy in life is to be killed by the thunderbolt in the hands of Indra. Vrtrasura chastised Indra for his earlier despicable disposition and inspired him to fight keeping faith on the Lord’s words. He then offered heartfelt prayers to the Supreme Lord even on the battlefield. When his both arms were cut by Indra, as he had no other means to continue fight, he just swallowed Indra. Considering the fight complete from his side, he entered into deep meditation on Lord Sankarsana. Indra came out of Vrtrasura’s body and took one year to cut the stiff neck of Vrtrasura who was absorbed in devotional trance.
Both Dadhici and Vrtrasura were great devotees of the Lord. Lord Visnu personally ordained their death. Knowing this didn’t bewilder them, but they gratefully accepted the Lord’s decision and left their bodies in deep devotion and meditation on the Lord only to reach His lotus feet. For great devotees, leaving body is no reason for bewilderment as they are always sure that the Supreme Lord is their ultimate well-wisher and destination.
Leaving Behind A Spiritual Path
A gentleman makes one’s own life successful by following a genuine path and leaves his path of success for many others to follows. Many saints and devotees of the Lord performed unalloyed devotional service throughout their lives and prescribed methods of training people in general in the spiritual path. An acarya’s duty is to find the means by which devotees may render service to the Supreme Lord Krsna and thus go back to Godhead. Rupa Gosvami, for example wrote many wonderful books like Bhakti-rasamrta-sindhu. An acarya gives the suitable method for crossing the ocean of nescience by accepting the boat of the Lord’s lotus feet, and if this method is strictly followed, the followers will ultimately reach the spiritual destination, by the grace of the Lord. This method is called acarya-sampradaya.
svayam samuttirya sudustaram dyuman
bhavarnavam bhimam adabhra-sauhrdah
bhavat-padambhoruha-navam atra te
nidhaya yatah sad-anugraho bhavan
The Supreme Lord is always ready to fulfill the desire of His devotees and therefore He is known as a desire tree [vancha-kalpataru]. When acaryas completely take shelter under His lotus feet in order to cross the fierce ocean of nescience, they leave behind on earth the method by which they cross, and because the Lord is very merciful to the other devotees, He accepts this method to help them. (SB 10.2.31)
Leaving Behind Life Teachings
Sometimes, even a glorious person may not be recognized by the people of this world and may even be misunderstood circumstantially during his life time. But the world often will realize his brilliance towards the end of his life or after his departure. Such a person who sticks to his spiritual values despite the odds in life is acknowledged and exalted by God personally, for his unshakable sincerity. His life and realizations serve as great teachings to the people of this world.
Bhismadeva, the illustrious grandsire of the Kuru dynasty, was a life-long celibate and a great devotee of Lord Krsna. He loved the righteous sons of King Pandu and as an affectionate grandfather he protected them in various ways. Although being valiant, vastly learned and dedicated to devotional service, Bhisma had to fight on the wrong side against the virtuous Pandavas. It is because Lord Krsna wanted to teach the world through Bhisma that vice cannot conquer virtue regardless of who tries to execute it. And Bhisma played his humble part in the Lord’s higher plan.
However, Krsna wanted to glorify His devotee Bhisma before his departure. When Yudhistira was overwhelmed with the guilt of causing so much massacre to enthrone himself as a king, no one including Krsna and Vyasadeva could pacify him. However it is Bhisma who counseled the most knowledgeable Yudhistira, in the presence of several eminent personalities from all over the universe including Parasurama, Sukadeva Gosvami and others. He instructed Yudhistira on the dharmas of charity, liberation, rulers, women and devotional service.
Having enlightened his grandson, Bhisma withdrew all his senses from external objects and focused completely on the form of Lord Krsna as Partha-sarathi. He praised Krsna in various ways, offered his fervent prayers and while meditating on the Lord’s form, he departed at an auspicious time. Bhisma’s long life of successes and struggles, his teachings to Yudhistira and his complete absorption in Krsna before leaving this world constitute great instructions for the devotees.
Leaving Behind Personal Example
Determination, dedication and devotion in one’s personality impress others. And if a child exhibits these qualities that’s even more awestrucking. Being genuinely regretful of one’s mistakes and honestly grateful to one’s well-wishers is natural for a sincere person and such an example inspires everyone.
Little five-year-old Dhruva was tormented by the harsh words of his stepmother Suruci. Upon being inspired by his own mother Suniti, and instructed by the great sage Narada Muni, Dhruva worshipped Lord Vasudeva with an ambitious desire to attain a position superior to even Brahma. Within six months he attained the darsana of Lord Visnu who gave him benedictions. However, Dhruva’s heart had been transformed by his sincere practice of bhakti and the Lord’s darsana and he regretted for worshipping the Lord with a material desire.
Dhruva set an unparalleled example of determination in devotional service at such a young age. His example depicts that anyone, even a child, even with material desires can worship the Supreme Lord and become an object of His mercy. The Lord and His bhakti will purify one’s selfish materially motivated intentions.
As ordained by the Lord, Dhruva ruled the earth for thirty-six thousand years and retired. Eventually Vaikuntha airplane came to take Dhruva to the abode of the Supreme Lord. Although about to go to the Lord’s abode, Dhruva humbly offered his respects to the sages there before boarding the airplane. However, he wasn’t willing to go without his mother Suniti who first inspired him to worship Krsna. His heart was filled with gratitude towards his mother. Then he was shown another Vaikuntha airplane in which his mother Suniti was also going back to Godhead. Thus Dhruva went to the Lord’s abode. His personal example gives us lessons on determination, sincere repentance, respect and gratitude in bhakti.
Leaving Behind A Legacy
Srila Prabhupada, the founder-acarya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, dedicated his life to fulfill the instruction of his spiritual master Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakura to preach the message of Lord Caitanya in English. At the age of seventy, he travelled to America and started a worldwide spiritual movement. He traveled the globe fourteen times and preached the message of Krsna Consciousness and inspired millions of followers in Krsna-bhakti. He translated the most important Vaisnava literatures into English and wrote several books that guide the humanity on spiritual path. The literatures he left behind are translated into various languages and are distributed all over the world. Even in his last days, lying on bed physically inactive, he translated Srimad-Bhagavatam giving his profound devotional purports. He left behind a legacy that is being continued by his sincere followers whose hearts were touched by his warmth and spiritual depth.
Thus several great souls lived in this world by upholding virtuous principles, left behind in this world their own extraordinary accomplishments, teachings, legacies and personal examples, and departed to the spiritual realm to serve the Supreme Lord eternally. Human life is a rare gift. To utilize it effectively, one may derive inspiration from such role model personalities and learn the art of living and the art of leaving.
Gauranga Darshan Das, a disciple of His Holiness Radhanath Swami, is dean of the Bhaktivedanta Vidyapitha (www.vidyapitha.in) at ISKCON Govardhan Eco Village (GEV), outside Mumbai. He has written study guides, including Bhagavata Subodhini and Caitanya Subodhini, and teaches Bhagavatam courses at several places in India. He also oversees the deity worship at GEV.