Die Before Dying—Move Before Moving: Parts 1 & 2

Karnamrita Das

(this blog is recorded on the full blog page: quick time player is needed; works best with Firefox or Explorer; if you are using Google Chrome it will automatically play, so if you don't want to listen, mute your speakers.)

Part 1[Republished from June 16th, 2015]

Devotee: “Hey! Haribol! How are you? I noticed that you haven’t written any new blogs on Krishna.com in quite a while. What have you been up to?”

Karnamrita: “I am good, thanks. Krishna is very kind! For the last two months I have taken a full time job, so I have been recycling, or reposting, my older blogs, which don’t usually don’t get read.”

D: Really, I thought you were retired?”

K: “I wouldn’t consider myself “retired” or tired, but it’s true that I haven’t worked a regular job in many years. My focus has been on my spiritual practices and writing. However, my new “job” over the last two months has been preparing our house for selling. In other words I have been repairing, painting, cleaning, getting rid of stuff, organizing or straightening what we have kept, making our house spiritually neutral, and doing a great deal of landscaping and gardening. While the lion’s share of the work is done thanks to my hiring a devotee neighbor, there are still many small actions that I continue to complete on a daily basis.”

D: “Organizing and getting rid of things. Hmmmm…that is really difficult for me. What was that like for you?”

K: “You are a person like me in this regard. Listen, when we first began taking down our devotional pictures and deciding which ones to keep or give away, along with filling up bags of unnecessary accumulated stuff— to either give to charity or throw away—I actually felt like I was dying.

Devotee: “How so? Sounds intense!”

Karnamrita: “It was very intense, and it revealed much about me, and the spiritual work I have left to do! To better describe it, my feeling was like losing myself, or spiritually we could say, my created identity, or conventional egoic self—as contrasted to the soul’s identity. I was a bit overwhelmed at first, feeling depleted and unfocused, until I was also able to step back and process what I was going through. I had to go beyond just spiritual theory and what I thought I “knew” to understand that the reality that conditioned life is about identifying with the body, and those things the body identifies with, such as home, possessions, relationships, family, occupation, etc. Or we could say, everything I think of as “mine,” which define my sense of “I.” I’m not claiming to be a realized person, but at least at that time, I was able to separate myself from the (my) things that I had even unknowingly absorbed as part of my physical identity. And much of this was just unusable junk! This is something like the process of dying and it reminded me of two experiences I have had.”

D: “Wow! Fascinating! What were those two experiences?”

K: “Well, the first experience was being with my mom when she died. I wrote a great deal about this in 2010, before, during and after her physical death.”

Devotee: “Yeah, I remember reading those blogs—seems like there was about 2 months’ worth.

Karnamrita: “I believe it was about 12 blogs in May and June of 2010. I was staying in my mom’s house and visiting her during the day. So much of her life history was in that house—from accumulated possessions to her childhood pictures and her husband’s family history and mementos (he died twenty years earlier). She, like me, was a “collector” who tended to keep things. At first it was interesting to see pictures of her I had never seen before and look around the house, but later I felt overwhelmed at the sheer volume of stuff that had to be gone through, cleaned up, given away, or made into garbage.

When she was alive in the hospice, she was very concerned that her things were being taken care of, and didn’t like me looking at her childhood pictures. But then her best friend reminded her that she was never going home again, and was soon to die, and my mom would say, “O,” with a look of dejection. She kept forgetting why she was in the hospital, but was wondering when she was going home—she was 87 and not in good health.

D: “Dementia?”

K: “I guess so. It was sad, yet in some ways it served me, because she forgot whatever differences we had due to my becoming a devotee and dealing with her very fanatically. I was happy that we reconciled our relationship in a congenial and loving way—you could say she died before dying, as I’ll get to. Anyway, when she experienced biological death [for the soul is eternal] her home and everything in it, that had been so much a part of her, became someone else’s headache to sort out. The house and its contents were the same, but their meaning rested entirely with a living person or soul who had invested their feelings and attachments in them. This was a very dramatic experience for me—literally overnight everything changed—from great value to garbage! How tenuous is our relationship to our body and everything material, which are constantly changing!

Part 2

Thus, in my recent sadness at giving things up, I was reminded of my feelings with my mom, and the insight that I didn’t want to leave my possessions for someone else to worry about when my soul moves on. I also thought of Bhakti-tirtha Maharaja’s book, “Die Before Dying,” where he shares his preparation for death (he had cancer and was in the last months of his physical existence). His book is filled with mature insights about the temporary nature of life and the fleeting goals we seek for satisfaction.http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=a9_sc_1?rh=i%3Aaps%2Ck%3Adie+before+dying+by+swami&keywords=die+before+dying+by+swami&ie=UTF8&qid=1434478528

D: “I read that book years ago and really appreciated it. One of the chapters has the same title as the book, Die Before Dying. There he often repeats the sentence, ‘After all, death is to remove everything false and secondary.’ His phrase sounds like you what might have felt in getting rid of stuff.”

K: “Exactly!

D: “Seems like a subject we have to continually revisit, since we tend to forget about death and our preparation for it.”

K: “Yes, that is one of my realizations from being with my mom as she died. Thinking of the subject of his book reminded me of my second relevant experience when I was trained as a hospice volunteer in a very progressive organization, Compassion in Action.” The founder, Dannion Brinkley, had three near death experiences, two by being struck by lightning. As a result of going through three life reviews where he was clinically dead, he gained a great understanding of what is important in life, and how what we give to others, either good or bad, comes back to us with interest. From the bhakti view, he didn’t receive the whole picture, yet he has many perspectives that are useful for everyone.

“For example, he experienced that during the life review (which both Hindu and Buddhist text speak about), every significant event in one’s past is experienced from the soul level which enables understanding of the larger ramifications, or what he called the “ripple effect” of karma. The ripple effect of our actions means that any action we perform, with either positive emotions, like love and compassion, or negative emotions, such as fear or hatred, affect many others in along chain. This idea is a good understanding of karma and I would add that unresolved life issues, or karmic interactions with others, have to be resolved in future lives. In his near death experiences he realized that he had many unresolved issue with people, and for what he did, or didn’t do, or say.

“Years later he thought of helping hospice patients get their affairs in order by being at peace with their relationships and their actions or inactions. This is like having a life review before the life review, or to die before dying, which I correlated with the subject of Bhakti-tirtha Maharaja’s book. In fact, one of Dannion’s important recommendations is that during every interaction with others, you should think, this is the life review, so we can question, ‘What am I giving to this person— emotionally, mentally, physically?’ We could also add, ‘What is my intention and purpose here, and am I helping or hindering this person’s life?’ When I can remember to do this, I have found this a very useful meditation.

“In Bhakti-tirtha Maharaja’s book he includes the idea of making peace with our past and forgiving or seeking forgiveness from others, but adds to it. Additionally, he wrote that to die before dying, means to live with the understanding of the temporary nature of life, and to live with gratitude for the many facilities and opportunities we all have for spiritual practice, and whatever helps us be peaceful and fulfilled while we pursing the life of pure devotion.”

Devotee: “Thanks for sharing all this with me. I am going to have to read his book again. You’ve reminded me of many things, and how I have to be more focused on my spiritual practices. I have been a bit lax for quite a while.

Karnamrita: “I still have my ups and downs, and by speaking to you, I’ve reminded myself that I must continually practice to “Die Before Dying,” or to let go of whatever doesn't help my spiritual progress. This is one reason it’s so important to share our reflections and realizations about Krishna and the shortcomings of a life with no spiritual objective—repetition is the mother of learning. It’s so easy to get caught up in life and loose the spiritual urgency we first had. We all have to stay connected, serve, and spend time with those devotees who are enthusiastic in bhakti, and have a taste for hearing, chanting, and remembering about Krishna, and in serving their guru and Lord Gauranga, and for all the bhakti practices. Any type of consciousness can be contagious—for good or naught. Thus, we have to always pray to make spiritual advancement and to never become complacent.”

Devotee: “Hare Krishna!”

Karnamrita: “Hare Krishna!”