Question: Understanding we are eternal spirits travelling in human bodies and death is not the end of our existence, how do you regard your loved ones and cope when they are sick or dying? Will you meet up again and how do you regard them while travelling with them? How do you establish and maintain relationships to loved ones while on the mortal plane and cope with them passing? Is it that we just hang out together through ups and downs and are all part of God and reunite with God? Where does the personal part fit?
In the Bhagavad-gita, the conversation between Krishna and His friend Arjuna, spoken 5000 years ago, Krishna tells Arjuna that all souls have always existed and will always continue to exist as individual souls. This is the meaning of the word eternal.
Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these Kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be.
The living beings are said to be Krishna’s superior (spiritual) energy, and although they emanate from Krishna, their emanation or creation is beyond time. Though we have come from Krishna, and our existence depends on Him, both Krishna and the living beings have always existed. This is different to all we experience in the material world, and is therefore beyond our full comprehension.
In the material world, which is subject to the laws of time, everything has a beginning and an end, but in the spiritual world, everything is timeless, or eternal – the Sanskrit word for this is “sat.” And we all come from the spiritual world. Just as the sunshine emanates from the sun, all energies emanate from Krishna. And as long as we have the sun, we also have its energy, the sunshine. Though the sunshine is dependent on the sun, both exist simultaneously.
Elsewhere in the Bhagavad-gita, Krishna states:
For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.
The Vedic scriptures also describe that the soul is eternally an individual person – our individuality and personality are not just a result of our having a material body in the material world. Individuality and personality also exist – in their perfect form – in the spiritual world.
All great spiritual teachers of all religious faiths teach that the goal of religion and spiritual practice is to develop love for the Supreme Soul. Jesus said:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments.
[New Testament: Matthew 22:37-40. Mark 12:30-31]
The same message is taught by Krishna in Bhagavad-gita:
And of all yogis, he who always abides (lives or dwells) in Me with great faith, worshiping Me in transcendental loving service, is most intimately united with Me in yoga, and is the highest of all.
The word yoga refers to the union of the individual soul with the Supreme Soul. And what is this union? It is the union of two persons who love each other. It is not that we merge into the Supreme Soul and lose our individual identity. It is a union of love. Just as we refer to marriage as a “blessed union” – this does not mean that the wife becomes the husband or vice versa, or that they cease to exist as individuals. In fact, for there to be love, there must be two. Love is a reciprocation, an exchange, a relationship between two people. And this union of the individual soul with Krishna is the perfection of love and the perfection of relationship.
The name “Krishna” means “the All-Attractive One.” Krishna is the Supreme Person, and He has all attractive features in fullness. He has all knowledge, all beauty, all strength, all wealth, all fame and all renunciation and humility and all kindness. He is the most loving and the most lovable of all beings. Whatever we find attractive in other people in the material world – the knowledge of a wise person, the beauty of an actor or model, the strength and skill of a great athlete, the wealth of a rich person, the fame of a great celebrity, or the kindness and compassion of a great humanitarian or healer – all of these attractive features that draw us to others are there because we are all children of the Supreme Lord. And we have His attractive features to a tiny degree, but He has them in fullness. He is the reservoir of all attractive qualities.
Understanding that we have existed for all eternity, where were we before we came to this material world? What did we do? What is our purpose for existing? We have all come from the spiritual world – we are fallen angels if you like – and we all have a perfect and eternal loving relationship with the Supreme Soul, with Krishna, the All-Attractive One. And rendering loving service, reciprocating with Krishna in a perfect loving relationship is our purpose for existing. It is our eternal nature and purpose to be in a loving relationship with God. He is our dear-most friend. Everyone has an eternal soul-mate. His name is Krishna.
When the soul enters the material world, we forget our eternal loving relationship with Krishna, and lifetime after lifetime we become attached to other individual souls. We are all looking for the perfect person, for Krishna, but forgetting our relationship with Him, we look for perfect loving relationships with the souls we meet in the material world. The analogy is given in Vedic teachings that life is like a stream. We are all flowing along this stream of life, and sometimes we meet someone and become attached – just like two sticks that join together as they float downstream. Eventually those two sticks will hit a rock or branch and separate. And in a similar fashion, two souls who have become attached to each other in the material world will also be separated. Perhaps one person stops loving the other or meets someone else, and the relationship ends. And if there is attachment, there will also be suffering. Or the one we love dies, or we die and have to leave our partner behind. So, this is the great problem of living in the material world – we continually become attached to others and then experience the pain of separation.
The Buddhists recognise that attachment is the cause of suffering, so their solution is “don’t become attached!” Renounce everything and everyone and go off alone and spend the rest of your life in silent meditation. Merge with the void and cease to exist forever. But realistically, who can do that? Everyone needs friends, everyone needs loving relationships because love is the nature of the soul. We all exist to have a perfect loving relationship. But we keep directing that loving propensity towards other souls rather than the Supreme Soul. And firstly, no other individual soul is perfect enough to satisfy our craving for perfect love for all eternity. And secondly, all material relationships are temporary and therefore cause us pain.
So, the goal of life is to redevelop our long-lost loving relationship with Krishna, our dear-most friend. And by our reviving our love for Krishna, we will return to the spiritual world where we will live eternally in a state of complete bliss and knowledge. Does this mean that we can’t or won’t love others? No. On the contrary, seeing all others as Krishna’s children, as our dear brothers and sisters, our love for others will increase and become perfect. A saintly person loves all living beings and sees them all as children of the Supreme. Not just our family members or friends, but also those from other countries, cultures, religions – even those from other species of life.
It is natural to care for our partners, family members and friends, because such caring is a quality of the soul in a purified state of consciousness. But if our love is first and foremost directed at the Supreme Soul, then we will be fully satisfied in our need for love. And though we will experience sadness in the pain, suffering or death of a loved one, we will not be devastated because our love for Krishna will not be affected. And in spiritual knowledge, we know that the soul we are loving will continue to exist.
And we can learn how to help our loved ones to leave their bodies in spiritual consciousness and return to the spiritual world. No more suffering of birth, death, disease and old age. Are our material relationships eternal? No, they are temporary. If two souls become very attached, they may be reincarnated together for a few lifetimes, but eventually this attachment will be broken because no individual soul can satisfy our craving for the Perfect Person. But If I make my relationship with Krishna, my relationships with other souls who are on the same path are eternal, especially if those relationships are with others who share an eternal relationship with the same spiritual master.