How are we to see Krishna’s hand amidst tragic, premature death of devotees?
Question: How are we to see Krishna’s hand when sincere, dedicated devotees depart prematurely in tragic circumstances?
Short Answer: Krishna as death is kindly freeing those devotes from all that is material to enable them to focus undistracted on the spiritual.
Death can seem cruel when it takes away a dear one. The Bhagavad-gita may seem to add to the bewilderment when it asserts (10.34) that the death which steals away everything is a manifestation of Krishna. Why would Krishna, who is the well wisher of everyone, want to steal anything from anyone?
The Gita prepares us for this discomforting assertion by first broadening our philosophical perspective of life. Many people see life as having only one dimension: the material. Within this unidimensional materialist perspective of life, death seems to be the ultimate disaster: the total irrevocable termination of our identity and destiny. Gita wisdom expands our horizons by informing us that our existence is two-dimensional: material and spiritual. We are spiritual souls residing temporarily in material bodies. In fact, Gita wisdom goes further to inform us that our real life is only spiritual: a life of eternal love and joy in relationship with Krishna. We actually have nothing to do with the material sphere where we presently reside. When contrasted with our ecstatic eternal life in the spiritual realm, the material sphere is seen as a mere distraction – and a miserable distraction at that. Gita wisdom exhorts us to enthrone the ambition of returning back to Krishna in the spiritual realm as the supreme goal of our life.
As seekers who are striving towards this goal, we act on both the spiritual and material levels. At the spiritual level, we try to refine our consciousness by constantly remembering Krishna and increasing our attraction to him. At the material level, we act to utilize the material in service of the spiritual. Nonetheless, the material always has the potential to tempt and mislead us away from Krishna. Whatever attachments we have to the material are hazardous distractions on our spiritual journey. Throughout our lives as seekers, we struggle to protect ourselves from these allurements. Krishna helps us in our struggles by periodically showing us the insubstantiality of the material through the distresses and disasters that characterize material existence. Krishna offers us the greatest help in this struggle through his manifestation as death. Krishna as death takes away the material to leave us with the spiritual, undistracted.
For those who have lived in forgetfulness of him, Krishna as death appears to take away their everything; they as naked souls have to go to the next life with nothing except the burden of their karma. But for those who have been cultivating devotion, Krishna as death takes away everything that may have caused forgetfulness of Krishna. They as souls have nothing to distract them from their devotion.
This in fact is the vision with which Vyasadeva in the Mahabharata consoles Yudhishthira who was grieving the untimely death of Abhimanyu. Vyasadeva says, “No enjoyment in this world would be able to entice Abhimanyu away from where he has now gone, O King. He shines like a god in a splendid new body. We should grieve for those still living rather than those who have attained such an end.”
Thus, for devotees, death is a transition that takes them from the arena of distraction to the arena beyond distraction. To our finite material vision, it may appear that this transition takes place gracefully for some devotees; they may depart while being surrounded by other devotees chanting and praying for them. To our finite material vision, it may appear that this transition happens in a dreadful way for some other devotees; they may depart in a tragic airplane crash. But our finite material vision doesn’t show us how Krishna is lovingly and expertly doing whatever it takes to clear off the residual distractions of those devotees and enable them to come closer to him, undistracted.
That’s why we need saintly vision, as revealed by our acharyas like Srila Vyasadeva, Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura and Srila Prabhupada,, to see Krishna’s loving hand even in such tragedies. Death takes away all that is false so that devotees are left only with that which is real, supremely, sublimely, sweetly real: Krishna.