It Was Only a Test

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Author: 
Karnamrita Das

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From my youth during the 60’s I remember tests of the Emergency Broadcasting System on TV, where the regular programing was interrupted. A certain symbol was flashed on the screen with a jarring sound to wake you up and get your attention. After a few minutes, we were told that that this was only a test. If there had been a real emergency we would have been given appropriate instructions—like to go to bomb shelter or something. I thought about this idea of tests and being prepared—or not—for personal emergencies in relationship to my wife and my current illness of about a week now.

I have been thinking that this flu, or whatever respiratory infection it is, is only a test, not a nuclear attack, or earthquake—something that may cause death (which is like our lifetime’s final exam—because our consciousness, attachments, and good or bad actions determine our next birth). If I am still alive, that means I have more time left to be Krishna conscious or to go deeper into my spiritual path. No, our illness likely isn’t life threatening, though still plenty miserable. However, at some point in the near future, we will have to move on and out of our current bodily apartment—we are renters here, not owners. Had I died yesterday, save some special arrangement, I would be taking birth again still full of anarthas (unwanted mentalities or habits) and petty desires.
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So my lack of spiritual standing is sobering, but mainly when confronted with the possibility of my death at this moment—which is one reason we are meant to keep death—or the temporariness of our body—before our eyes! Otherwise, hey, I could live another 20 or 30 years, so no worries Mate, still plenty of time for spiritual progress, mañana! Could I use this as a new lease on the remaining days of my life? That would be a great outcome of feeling crappy. Still, I have to choose that outcome, as we tend to forget, getting absorbed in our regular life, job, and family. Being convinced that spiritual advancement is the only true advancement is why we are supposed to read and think about the bhakti philosophy in such books as the Bhagavad Gita, Shrimad Bhagavatam, and Chaitanya Charitamrita,etc., and hear from those with realization about their spiritual nature.

Am I, or any of us, actually ready to leave our life behind and what we have built up over so many years? I suppose we could say that at this moment most of us don’t feel sufficiently spiritually absorbed, or mentally prepared, to accept our death. If we aren’t prepared, we may feel complacency is natural, but that limbo state isn’t desirable for spiritual progress. As it is said, there isn’t much difference between a rut and a grave, so if we are stuck, we can still pray for spiritual inspiration and strength, and try to find someone who isn’t stuck who can inspire us to rise up! Doing nothing only leads to more of the same. Personally, I know I could be way better prepared than I am…comfortable, mediocre me, so it will be good to visualize the following!

Imagine right now, you only have minute to live, and you begin to feel faint, gagging for air, and fall over in slow motion, your mind blank, as you hit the floor with a sickening thud!. You could have done this before, but it is still a good exercise. Indulge me here!
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Imagine hovering above your body, and thinking something like: “Whoa, I thought I was supposed to live a lot longer than this—I’m way too young, and I don’t look like a dead person. Hmmmmm, really, me…now?...well what about my family—who will take care of them…and all the things on my “to do” list? Why couldn’t I have died surrounded by devotees praying for me, friends and family cheering me on, and everyone chanting the holy name?"

Seeing your crumbled body, you think how unceremonious it all seems. "But wait," you think, "If I have to die now, maybe I could have a bit more time to prepare—you know, like Ajamila in Shrimad Bhagavatam, or Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol,” or in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life,”?

You hear an answer: “Nope, game over. This was your time Dude. Let’s do the life review now!”
Experiencing your life with emotional and spiritual maturity, you feel disappointed that it was such a mixed life, spiritually speaking. You call out: “I was such mediocre devotee. Why couldn’t I have been more serious?”

My answer: “Good question then, and now.”

But it was only a test, right? So wake up and smell the decaf, or the roses. You have another chance to reset your life.

And we have time to become fixed on the goal—at least after the football playoffs and Super bowl. Damn, something always comes up, and then you die in some way you weren’t expecting! Something’s got to change. The choice is ours. The time is now!
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A friend, upon reading a version of the above, sent me this comment: “When I've been seriously ill I've resolved to change my ways and become more serious in Krishna consciousness. But when the illness passed so did my resolve.”

Here was my response which will be a fitting way to end this blog:

Yeah, the idea of being stuck in old habits and not changing even in the middle of an illness is exactly the challenge I am speaking of in my post—though for me, it isn't so much of a radical change but of refining my spiritual practices and doing everything more deliberately, consciously, prayerfully, and remembering why I am doing it—and all those unproductive days as a devotee that I wasted, let me only think of those times as an impetus to do better, not useless lamentation and lethargy! For me, acting prayerfully really helps my feeling of connectedness to Krishna and remembering my dependence on him. Small refinements can make a huge difference toward going beyond mindlessness or being on automatic pilot in bhakti. All the right ingredients are there and just need a bit of polish and more heart. When I do that I feel more reciprocation, and it helps that praying to Krishna for his assistance is one of my favorite activities, and is natural, even for mediocre me.

Therefore, please don’t be resigned to being a half-baked devotee. Pray to get into the flow of bhakti, and find inspirational association. Think of your consciousness now, and ask why it will be different in 10 or 20 years, or whenever you have to leave your body behind? What are you willing to do differently? For example, you could create a devotee group where you support one another in your practice of Krishna consciousness—it is very powerful to read, chant, and pray together, and to be confidential friends.

Some other appropriate sayings, “If you always do what you have always done, you will always get what you have always gotten.” “Krishna helps those who help themselves.” “Step into the light rather than curse the darkness!” Everything begins with a desire, in this case to change, and rise to our potential moment by moment, one step at a time, believing that with spiritual help, anything is possible. Even praying for the desire to have the desire is a good beginning! What's the alternative?
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