Monday Morning Greetings 2019 #48 – Fear of Death

December 2nd, 2019

As you get older and your peers start leaving the world, death naturally becomes more of a reality. We suffer when we lose anything, and death is the loss of everything. The prospect of death therefore strikes fear into most. How can we be fearless, not just in our last moments, but also while living, knowing that sooner or later it will all end?

 

One of our greatest fears is uncertainty at what rests at our next destination. Even when traveling we may fret over not being sure of the accommodation and reception that awaits us, what to speak of our uncertainty about what awaits us after this life. How can we remain equipoised and fearless when, for almost all of us, except for those who are self-realized, our future identity will not conform to what we relate to now, nor will it include the attachments we have in relationship to that identity?

 

In a sense, the general solution is clear. Whether we are riddled with fear or we feel peaceful and assured in the face of death, it all depends on the identity we are embracing, and there are only two basic options: we can identify with the present body or we can identify with our soul.

 

Identification with the body is a temporary designation. Based on our past activities and desires our consciousness is delimited by the false ego (ahaṅkāra) to fit a particular field of activities for this life, which are designated at birth by race, nationality, family, and gender. As we grow, our superficial bodily identity is further fortified by our acquired proclivities and attachments. As that identification is spurred by the false ego (ahaṅkāra), which changes according to our karma life after life, one who embraces the body as their core identity will be increasingly fearful of losing everything at death, including their present identity.

 

The other option is to identify with the soul, which is eternally a conscious particle of the universal supreme consciousness, by constitution naturally meant to serve that which it is part of. To the extent we therefore realize and embrace our intrinsic, devotional identity, we will not fear the end of the body, for our soul identity will endure.

 

Fearlessness thus comes naturally in the practice of Krishna consciousness as long as we are focused on the process of transforming our identity from a self-centered focus on the body to a devotional focus on the soul. We can’t, however, take the process for granted. One must be conscientious to realize that succumbing to the attachments connected to the body, meaning those beyond what we need to keep the body and soul together, will only increase bodily identification and consequent fear, despite accepting the general tenets of bhakti-yoga. Identity comes by attachment. Therefore, unless we are becoming attached to Krishna by sufficiently hearing His pastimes and chanting His name, we won’t develop a yearning for a relationship with Him and the consequent deep identity as His servant will not awaken. We will then remain, to one extent or another, either mired in fear or ignorance of reality.

 

I sense this may feel a bit preachy. I want to assure my readers that when I speak very strongly, I am mostly preaching to myself. The whole process of Krishna consciousness is about transformation of identity, which is based on developing our relationship with Krishna. I must be especially vigilant not to feed my material identity, but to nourish my relationship with Krishna, otherwise the future is just fear, or worse — ignorance. I can’t hide my head in the sand anymore. If not now, when?

 

“My dear King, if you want to be fearless in meeting your death next week (for actually everyone is afraid at the point of death), then you must immediately begin the process of hearing and chanting and remembering God.” (Paraphrase of Śukadeva Gosvāmī’s instruction to Mahārāja Parīkṣit, The Nectar of Devotion, chapter 2)

 

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