Monday Morning Greetings 2022 #25 – Die to Live

June 20th, 2022

Die to Live[1]


Last Saturday I met my swami friend, Kadamba Kanana Maharaja. He was chanting and dancing enthusiastically at the Ratha-yātrā festival for hours and hours, but his prognosis is not good. His cancer has metastasized. He will leave soon for Vrindavan to prepare for the final journey. Our prayers are with him.


Naturally that got me thinking about death, but I felt foolish: Why do I need someone dying to get me thinking about death? What can be a starker fact of life? Such obliviousness is especially unbecoming for me, a sannyāsi, a monk.


The whole idea about the renounced order is that it is a stage of life where one is supposed to “die to live”, an interesting paradox that highlights why it is so inappropriate for a sannyāsi to lose that sense of the ever-present world of death. This becomes clear when one understands what death really is.


Death, or the phrase “die” as used in the paradox, does not refer to the point where the body no longer has life, because the end of the body is not the end of life for the eternal soul. Rather, “die” signifies the real part of us that is meant to die, the ego—the misidentification of the eternal self as the body, which subjects us to the terrifying but illusory threat of non-existence commonly called death. A monk must therefore keep himself aware of bodily death to maintain the inspiration for the continuous dissolution of the pernicious ego, the ultimate cause of death. Why then when a friend has a terminal disease should it have been an epiphany for this monk?


One point here still needs to be clarified. Although the traditional sannyāsa method of dissipating the ego by the abject renunciation of all bodily desires and identification is not for everyone, the awareness of death and the inspiration it gives to transcend the false concept of the self is for all spiritual aspirants. Only the tact or method of doing so, may vary. For bhaktas, instead of abject renunciation, we starve the ego by neglecting the impulses of selfishness through full dedication to our duties and service to Krishna. This type of ego death is described in a beautiful Eleventh Canto commentary where the tapasya (austerity) for a Vaiṣṇava is described:


Tapaḥ, or ‘austerity,’ means that despite the irrational impulses of the mind one should remain fixed in executing his proper duty in life.”[2]


This may seem to be a gentler ego death than merciless renunciation, but it is not easy, no matter what one’s station in life is, to have the integrity to live by what’s right rather than just what we, the concocted self, want—especially if one adds a commitment to the practices and mission ordained by a spiritual preceptor. But what choice do any of us have in facing the reality of “death”, but to begin in some way the practice of dying to live.



[1] “Die to Live” is an expression that Śrīla Bhakti Rakṣaka Śrīdhara Mahārāja borrowed from the German philosopher Georg Hegel to describe how when the ego is dissolved our eternal nature remains.

[2] Bhag. 11.3.24, purport


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