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IN A TIME OF GRIEF – A Teaching on the Sacred Value of Grieving

By Garuḍa Dāsa, PhD

In a time of grief, it is natural for many of those in the Krishna Bhakti tradition to turn to the Bhagavad Gītā. Its beautiful verses on the eternal nature of the soul, the ātman, certainly deliver great solace. Indeed, the very first verse in which Bhagavān Śrī Krishna commences his teaching, he offers Arjuna these soothing words:

na tv evāhaṁ jātu nāsaṁ, na tvam neme janādhipāḥ

na caiva na bhaviṣyāmaḥ, sarve vayam ataḥ param

Never, truly,

have I ever not existed—

nor you, nor these kings

who protect the people,

And never

shall any of us

ever cease to be,

now or forevermore. 2.12

Krishna assures the reader not only of the eternal nature of the self but also its indestructible qualities in the following words:

na jāyate mriyate vā kadācin

nāyaṁ bhūtvā bhavitā vā na bhūyaḥ

ajo nityaḥ śāśvato ’yaṁ purāṇo

na hanyate hanyamāne śarīre

It does not take birth,

nor does it ever die.

Such a being has never

come into being,

nor shall it ever

come to be.

It is unborn, eternal,

everlasting,

and primeval.

It is not slain

when the body is slain. 2.20

The idea of death is just a euphemism, according to the Gītā, because it applies only to the body. And further, that there is no dying for the soul, as the body is merely exchanged for another, like changing into new clothes after discarding the old ones:

vāsāṁsi jīrṇāni yathā vihāya

navāni gṛhṇāti naro ’parāṇi

tathā śarīrāṇi vihāya jīrṇāny

anyāni saṁyāti navāni dehī

When abandoning

worn-out garments,

A person acquires

different new ones;

So abandoning

worn-out bodily frames,

The embodied comes

together with other new ones. 2.22

But a further reading into the Gītā may be disconcerting when reading Krishna’s words for Arjuna regarding his state of grief. Krishna tells Arjuna not grieve after Arjuna confides in Krishna that his grief is so very intense and devestating. It is significant that the Gītā’s teaching begins with Arjuna’s devastating and debilitating grief (BG, Chapter 1, verses 25 through 47), and then several more verses into following chapter. Arjuna is acutely aware of his state of despair, feels it deeply, and then speaks very frankly about his grief (BG, Chapter 2, verse 8), only to find later that Krishna almost admonishes him for grieving. Early on in the Gītā, Krishna urges Arjuna not to grieve (especially in BG, Chapter 2, verses 25-27, and 30). Krishna requests Arjuna to “cast off his grief” in a final attempt to specifically address Arjuna’s grief (see Chapter 3, verse 30).

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