Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #20 – Trust No Future However Pleasant

May 20th, 2019

It’s quite a relaxing ride. I’m in the passenger seat answering mail on my phone as we cruise down the scenic Palisades Parkway on our way to the city. I receive a call. It’s Pradyumna. We exchange many thoughts. He laments that more people do not take advantage of his advanced Sanskrit class. He is going through the various commentaries on the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam to train students how to understand the depth of our philosophy, something he is uniquely qualified to do. He laments that more devotees in the city are not taking advantage of what he is giving: “I may not be here for long. Who knows — a few years, a few months, or even twenty minutes.” As soon as he says twenty minutes — zoom! A deer darts in front of our car. Al quickly swerves to the left and misses the deer by a hair. He then swerves to the right, barely steadying the car back in our lane.

 

Al has a small PT Cruiser. If we had hit the deer the car would have been totaled at best; at worst the deer would have crashed through the windshield. Who can say what destiny holds? I can’t help but see the synchronicity between Pradyumna’s call and the deer immediately tempting our fate. I read it as, “Take care of what is important now, for the future cannot be trusted.”

 

Such thoughts have already been on my mind. I am already past sixty-eight. When in the world did that happen? How long can one put off what one should and can do now? But it is not just a matter of one’s age. The message, the urgency, is for all. It’s a theme that seems to be re-occurring.

 

I began reading the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam again from the beginning about a month ago, and I kept on running into that message of urgency. I was struck by the answer to the question by King Parīkṣit upon which the whole text is constructed: “What is the duty of man who is about to die?” His answer: “Your question is most glorious for it is most relevant and beneficial for everyone.” The import of Śukadeva’s answer is clear. Such a question is relevant to everyone as impending doom is universal. It can strike anyone anytime, so who can say who is the person who is about to die? The inquiry is thus glorious because no one can put off such inquiries for the future, which therefore requires an immediate solution.

 

When what one is reading and experiencing in life synchronize, the message should not be taken lightly. Of course, I am a monk (sannyāsi), and renunciation is my station in life, so I have specific duties, but the urgency of self-realization does not mean sannyāsa. Everyone one has responsibilities according to their station in life and responsibilities in their spiritual practices according to their level of advancement. We all need to be wary of habits of rationalization or lethargy that put off for the future what we should and can do now. That includes, of course, a specific and appropriate spiritual practice. Our availability to God’s will in all aspects of one’s life is what bhakti means. That depth of surrender is the challenge of life and what we all need to confront now.

 

I was discussing with a friend how this tendency to put off things until the future is symptomatic of the lower modes of nature. He related an interesting story that highlights this unfortunate psychology:

 

A person was visiting some friends who were perfect hosts. Every day they would feed him a sumptuous feast. He felt challenged. The food was delicious and served with so much love, but he was gaining weight, and it wasn’t good for his health. He thought of a brilliant idea to help him control himself. He immediately went to his room and put a sign above his head on the ceiling that read “Tomorrow I will fast”. Sure enough, when he woke up the next morning the first thing he saw was the sign. He therefore vowed that tomorrow he would fast. He was thus able to somehow feel good about his sincerity and determination and be assured that he would never have to regulate himself at the same time.

 

I loved the story. It’s so true. How foolish! We make vows for the future to feel good about ourselves, but that is usually all we achieve because things almost never happen unless we do them now. I think the famous American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow summed it up so succinctly in his famous line, “Trust no future however pleasant”.[1] Sādhus take heed!

 

 

 


[1] From the poem “A Psalm of Life”.

 

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