Fear – the positive
Prahlada azhwar beautifully shows the practices of devotion in the form of nine steps in Srimad Bhagavatam. They are Shravanam, Kirtanam, Vishnosmaranam, Padasevanam, Archanam, Vandanam, Dasyam, Sakhyam and Athmanivedanam.
Well, it is true that bhakti will grow when we do these with absolute faith. At the same time, we should also have vairagyam– dispassion while doing bhakti – our devotional practices. At least a little bit of vairagyam is needed; if we do not have that vairagyam, our bhakti will not transform into prema bhakti pure experiential love for Bhagavan, but instead there is a great possibility that it will remain as bhakti for the purpose of worldly desires only.
While doing bhakti for the purpose of attaining Bhagavan, the worldly challenges, desires, fame, etc. that we experience, will destabilize the bhakti which should be purely directed towards realization of Bhagavan. If we need vairagyam, how will it come? Is it something that is found in a store! No, but it is possible for us to enhance the vairagyam within us.
Those who have worldly desires will wish to always listen to and speak about auspicious and ‘positive’ things. Let them have that wish; there is no harm. But just because they have the wish, will it come true? Worldly life is a mixture of joy and sorrow. If vairagyam has to grow, we should not look at the ‘positives’ of worldly life, but instead focus only on its faults. However, if we focus only on the faults but do not involve ourselves in bhakti, we will end up with panic / anxiety. While seeing the faults of worldly life, we should also fervently grow our sadhana – spiritual practices.
Just like how we go often on pilgrimage, to temples and places that give us joy, we should also frequently visit places like cancer hospitals or homes for mentally challenged special children. We should contemplate often on death, accidents, misery, deception and the like. Such contemplation will remind us the impermanence and evanescence of life. In this short timewe should make efforts towards realizing the Supreme Truth – this thought should strengthen intensely; but it is not enough if that intention only strengthens, we should also show it by increasing our Nama japa.
Bhagavan says in the Gita:
इन्द्रियार्थेषु वैराग्यमनहंकार एव च | जन्ममृत्युजराव्याधिदु:खदोषानुदर्शनम् ||
Indifference to the objects of the senses and freedom from the sense of ‘I’, perception of the misery and evil in birth, death, old age and sickness (13:9)
गुणानेतानतीत्य त्रीन्देही देहसमुद्भवान् | जन्ममृत्युजरादु:खैर्विमुक्तोऽमृतमश्रुते ||
Having transcended these three gunas arising entirely from the body, the embodied, the freed from the suffering of birth, death and age, attain immortality. (14:20)
When we experience sorrows such as misery, mishaps, disease, etc. in life, we should use this as an opportunity to involve ourselves more in Nama japa. If we observe closely, the intensity of japa and prayer that do when we are in difficulty, is seldom possible on happy days, why, even on ordinary days.
Perhaps that’s why Kunti Devi also prays to Bhagavan, ‘to bless her with more and more challenges in life’
Among all fears, the fear of death is the one that is most important for sadhaks. Just as the fear of poverty can be got rid of by saving money, and the fear of disease can be overcome with medicine, whatever fears we have can certainly be overcome by thinking about and finding a solution for the issue. But how and with what can we get rid of the fear of death? The fear of death can be overcome only by liberation – Mukti. Mukti is the only medicine for the fear of death. That’s why Bhagavan Ramana Maharshi says that those who get the fear of death are indeed the fortunate ones!
– M. K. Ramanujam