FOR ONE WHO IS BORN, DEATH IS INEVITABLE
Bhagwan Shri Krishna tells Arjun, ‘जातस्य हि घ्रुवो मृत्युर्घ्रुवं जन्म मृतस्य च । तस्माद् अपरिहार्येर्थे न त्वं शोचितुम् अर्हसि ॥’ – ‘Jãtasya hi dhruvo mrutyur dhruvam janma mrutasya cha; Tasmãd aparihãryerthe na tvam shochitum arhasi’ – ‘For one who is born, death is inevitable. And for one who has died, birth too is inevitable. This fact is unavoidable, and thus it does not call for your sorrow’ (Gita 2.27).
Change is the one thing that is unchangeable about nature. Birth means creation, and creation means change. That is, change from one stage of existence to another. Death means destruction. And destruction too means change. Again, from one stage of existence to another. Birth and death, or creation and destruction, are thus two aspects of change. For instance, clay in its original state is distributed in various forms in the ground. A potter’s efforts, however, brings the clay together and unites it to form a specific shape. And thus we see the birth of a pot. Years later, this same pot is discarded. From the smallest particle to the millions of universes, everything in creation undergoes such change in the form of birth and death. This cycle stems from maya’s unending dance of destruction, which is inspired by God himself.
As soon as a person is born, death slowly and steadily approaches, just as the sun begins its move towards the western horizon as soon as it rises. If the sun rises it must set, and if it sets it must rise. Forecasters thus list the times of both sunrise and sunset, rather than listing either one of the two alone.
Flowers blossom with the inevitability that they will wither. Clothes and jewellery too are made with the certainty that they will one day become worn out. Buildings are created with an understanding that they will one day have to be rebuilt. Nothing has been created to this day that has been able to keep away from being deteriorated by the wheel of change.
Just look around and you’ll notice that you are surrounded by a sea of change. In fact, in your home, what was once new is now old. In the same way, that which appears new right now will become old one day. Clothes, glasses, shoes, utensils – after a certain amount of time, these all have to be replaced. New and old are simply words that represent different states of change. Change is seen, sometimes in the form of something new, and at other times in the form of the old. It is easy to comprehend when it is seen in the form of the new becoming old. However, something old transforming into something new is a concept that is a little more difficult to grasp, although it is just as true.
This process of transformation which takes place in the world, also occurs in our bodies, for the human body too is part of creation. Our bodies are constantly changing, and that’s why there’s no exact date or time when childhood ends and youth begins, or when youth ends and old age begins. It’s a continual process, a constant flow that cannot be stopped. It is due to the slow and steady, tortoise-like pace of time, which always outruns the hare. This fearful reality of large-scale destruction is quite difficult to grasp. Nonetheless, shastras like the Bhagavad Gita help us to understand its intricacies and implications on life.
‘Jãtasya hi dhruvo mrutyuhu.’ The word mrutyuhu means death. The words dhruva and hi both mean definite. Bhagwan Krishna uses two words where he could have used just one. But by repeating himself, he makes himself absolutely clear that there is no way around death, that death is absolutely inevitable.
Change is an inherent characteristic of the world; it is unrealistic to expect it to remain constant. Based on this trait, in Sanskrit, two words are often used to refer to the world – jagat and sansar. Jagat comes from the verb gacchha, which means ‘that which goes’, and sansar comes from the verb sru, which means ‘that which flows’. These words suggest that movement, or change, is an unavoidable part of creation. It is integral to the very nature of the world.
Bhagwan Shri Ramchandraji expresses this principle to his younger brother, Bharat, when he says, ‘सर्वे क्षयान्ता निचयाः पतनान्ताः समुत्व्छ्रयाः । संयोगा विप्रयोगान्ता मरणान्तं च जीवितम्॥’ – ‘Sarve kshyãntã nichayãhã patanãntãhã samuchchhrayãhã, sanyogã viprayogãntã maranãntam cha jeevitam’ – ‘Whatever is seen to have come together will all end in separation. All elevations end in degradation. All worldly unions end in separation. All final state of life is death’ (Ramayan, Ayodhyakand, 105-16).
Similar words of wisdom can be found in the Mahabharat as well (Mahabharat, Rajdharma, 27.29).
One who sees the world in such a way is known to have an understanding of nashvantpanu (the perishable nature) of the world.
By saying ‘Jãtasya hi dhruvo mrutyur dhruvam janma mrutasya cha’, Shri Krishna Bhagwan thus teaches Arjun to look at the world with an understanding of its nashvantpanu. He then goes a step further to teach Arjun another important life lesson.
WHY GRIEVE FOR THE INEVITABLE?
Shri Krishna says, ‘तस्माद् अपरिहार्येर्थे न त्वं शोचितुम् अर्हसि॥’ – ‘Tasmãd aparihãryerthe na tvam shochitum arhasi’ – ‘And so it is not becoming for you to grieve over that which is bound to happen’ (Gita 2.27).
That which we cannot change is known as apariharya. That is, it is something which has to be accepted. Summer heat, for instance, can be called apariharya. There is simply no way it can be chased away. The same goes for rain as well. Once it starts raining, there is nothing we can do to stop it. Volcanic eruptions, earthquakes and tornadoes – all such natural phenomena are apariharya, for nothing we do or say can ever stop them. It is not befitting to lament over that which is apariharya. The quicker we accept reality, the better off we are. Just imagine a person who becomes distressed about rain or heat. Or a person riding on camelback complaining about bumps. Of what use is such complaining?
Most people are terribly afraid of death. Some consider even just hearing the word ‘death’ to be a bad omen. Mere talk of death makes people uneasy. Why? Because people are ignorant of the world’s true nature, which dictates that death is inevitable. But reality should not be feared and should be accepted as it is. For, ignoring or denying a principle because of fear does not make that principle any less true. In the end, even those who live in denial have to suffer the consequences of such reality.
Whether it is accepted or not, one who is born will one day die. How long can one run from death? How long can one hide? Death’s ways are distinctive and unfathomable. No matter where we are or who we are, death will come and find us.
Just think of Ravan and Abhimanyu. The stories of their deaths are legendary. Ravan was the villain who kidnapped Sita and then fought against Bhagwan Ram. The Ramayan describes that to avoid death Ravan performed difficult austerities and chanted the Vedic mantras meant to save a person from death. And Abhimanyu, whose story is in the Mahabharat, wore a bracelet his grandmother Kunti had tied around his wrist. The bracelet was supposed to make him immortal. Yet Ravan and Abhimanyu both eventually found themselves engulfed in death’s cold embrace.
No matter how hard we try to escape, death is certain. It is an unavoidable reality. Perhaps that is why one poet has said, “Why shed tears for those who have died? Those who shed tears themselves too will one day die. They will all be blown away like gourds at the mouth of a cannon.”
Bhagwan Swaminarayan was Parabrahman Purushottam Narayan himself, yet for the sake of his devotees, he expressed how firmly he held this view of death described in the Gita. He says in the Vachanamrut, “I have constant awareness of these five thoughts: first, I am certainly going to die and leave this body; it is imminent. In fact, I firmly feel, ‘I am going to die at this second, at this very moment. Such awareness remains in times of happiness and distress, pleasure and displeasure, in fact, amidst all activities” (Gadhada III 30).
The Gita thus explains to us that death is apariharya – unavoidable – and so it should not cause fear or distress. Rather, it should be understood and accepted as reality. This type of knowledge is yet another aspect of sankhya jnan.
Not to grieve over circumstances that are unchangeable is a powerful concept – one that can work miracles. It often happens, for instance, that we disagree with the attitude or behaviour of someone close to us, whether it be at school, at work or in the home. Such disagreement often leads to conflict. We may have tried sincerely to come to a compromise more than once, but to no avail. We should try to accept the circumstances, then, as apariharya. Remembering this teaching of the Gita will take away our grief and help us feel at ease, provided that we have tried our best.
Now, let us take a look at sankhya jnan from another perspective.
Sadhu Bhadreshdas, Ph. D., D.Litt.
Translated by: Sadhu Paramvivekdas