In light of so much terrorism these days and the constant threat of war, many people would probably agree with the Vedic literature’s statement that this world is frought with “danger at every step.” When asked to comment upon a recent terrorist skyjacking, one American expressed his fear of air travel: “With terrorists everywhere, I wouldn’t fly out of this country for anything.”
Dangers abound in today’s fast-paced world, and the familiar shelters of home and family can collapse around one with sudden and staggering swiftness. As a relative of one sky jacking victim attested, “We’re in a state of shock to think that terrorism could reach down into a small town in Illinois. This makes you realize how small the world is nowadays.”
Considering our precarious position in a dangerous world, it isn’t surprising that many people seek an escape. And among escapes, sex and intoxication are proverbial favorites. As one rock fan asserted, “When we constantly hear that the U.S. and the Soviet Union have enough missiles to blow up the world fifty times over, listening to ‘Relax’ by Frankie Goes to Hollywood seems a whole lot better than dying.” This response to the problems of material life calls to mind the case of the rabbit, which closes its eyes when faced with death. But trying to forget our problems by resorting to sense gratification can actually bring death closer—through drug overdose, AIDS, and other tragedies of sex and drug indulgence.
“But,” somebody might ask, “what about those of us who do not abuse drugs or chase after sex? Don’t our homes and families protect us from many dangers you mentioned?” The Statistical Abstract of the United States says no.
In America between 1971 and 1980, more catastrophic accidents (defined as those in which five or more persons were killed) took place due to fires and explosions in the home than occurred in motor vehicles and airplanes. More than twice as many people suffered nonfatal injuries at home than at work, and more than five times as many people incurred such injuries at home than on the highway. Thus, even in the relative peace and quiet of one’s home, unobtrusive dangers abound.
Nevertheless, the view persists that “a man’s home is his castle,” and some seek to make their “castles” bastions against all calamity. Consider the case of the late Howard Hughes. To escape death via germs, pollution, radiation, and the world outside in general, Hughes holed himself up in a hermetically sealed hotel suite in Las Vegas and had his servants carefully sterilize literally everything he touched. Unfortunately, his precautions went in vain, which, of course, should come as no surprise. Nobody can escape death, for we are living in martya-loka, “the world of death.”
Certainly many laudable efforts are being made by sober-minded social planners to combat the disturbances created by the irresponsible proliferation of nuclear weapons, the neglect of common-sense safety standards, international terrorism, and so on. But we should not lose sight of the fundamental limitations of these measures against inevitable disease, old age, and death. These measures are superficial at best and do not touch the most fundamental problem of mortal existence. Moreover, we see that even a country as powerful and wealthy as the United States cannot protect its citizens from the activities of a relatively small number of political extremists.
This helplessness symbolizes our more far-reaching helplessness at counteracting old age, disease, and death. Therefore, after facing the bitter truths of mortal suffering and death, some individuals seek a more radical solution: suicide.
On the surface, suicide seems to provide a truly fundamental escape from extreme suffering. By simply taking one’s own life, one can apparently avoid intolerable mental and physical agonies. Certain existentialist philosophers even consider suicide the one great human freedom. But according to the Vedic literature, suicide solves none of the problems of living in this material world. This is because the suicide victim must again take a mortal birth. And because suicide is inherently sinful, that birth inevitably places the unfortunate victim in even more dire circumstances than he previously faced. Thus, instead of escaping from his unbearable ordeal or reducing it, the suicide victim merely compounds it. To actually escape the dangers of material life, one must understand the origin of those dangers: accepting the material body to be oneself.
Within the heart of every living entity in this material world dwells the spirit soul. To know oneself to be not the material body but the spirit soul is to become liberated from temporary happiness and distress and to enjoy eternal bliss in full knowledge of one’s relationship with Krsna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. The process for acquiring this knowledge is given in the Vedic literature. By practicing bhakti-yoga, we can prepare ourselves to go to the eternal, spiritual world at the end of this life. Even during this life we can become free from the fears and anxieties that always accompany material consciousness. Only by becoming fully conscious of our eternal relationship with Krsna will we gain ultimate security from the fear of old age, disease, and death.
Great sages such as Bhismadeva and Maharaja Pariksit could, because of their spiritual realization, face death with perfect equanimity and mental composure. By following in their footsteps, we too can attain spiritual perfection.
So, when confronted by death, we need not feel undue anxiety or panic and abandon our duties. Rather, we should simply inquire into this process of Krsna consciousness and make our lives successful. This is a sure process for anyone who sincerely desires to acquire ultimate safety and security for oneself and others in this mortal world, As the Srimad-Bhagavatam states: “For one who has accepted the boat of the lotus feet of the Lord, who is the shelter of the cosmic manifestation and is famous as Mukunda, the giver of liberation, the ocean of the material world is like the water contained in a calf s hoof-print. The spiritual world of Vaikuntha, the place where there are no miseries, is his goal, not the place where there is danger at every step of life.”—SDG