When trained runners perceive the finish line in the distance, they don’t slow down or decide that now is the time for a much-needed water break. Instead, they run even faster than they were running for the entirety of the race, only slowing down when they are well past the finish line. Athletes who finish strong typically needed to:
1). Train steadily in the months and weeks leading up to the race.
2). Maintain a sustainable, yet challenging pace during the race. If they run too slowly, they won’t make their target time. If they run too quickly, they will burnout early and either not complete the race or finish much slower than expected.
3). Have the goal of a strong finish in mindeven at the start of the race.
Though we often don’t wish to contemplate it, when we consider the end of our lives, we may want to ask ourselves this question: How do we want to finish our life?
Don’t you want the strongest, best possible finish? If so, how do you even accomplish that? Just as the runner needed the three conditions above to be met, so do we require three conditions of spiritual life to be met in order to have a strong finish to our present life, giving us a strong start to our next birth.
1). We need to set out on our spiritual journey early in life and then train steadily with our daily spiritual practices.
As soon as we begin to pose the questions, “Who am I? What is the point of life? Why is there suffering in the world?” we have set out on our spiritual path, for the answers to these questions belong to the realm of the transcendental. If we ask these questions early in life, that is intelligence, but if we actively seek out answers to these questions, that is applied intelligence.
Where can we turn for a clue as to what our proper spiritual journey and path should look like?
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna, the Supreme, is speaking to His dear friend, Arjuna about very practical topics of life that we all grapple with: happiness, peace, suffering, dharma (duty), karma (action and reaction), death, etc. He very logically describes to Arjuna the yoga system, which is actually the spiritual science of realizing our spiritual nature and yoking back to Krishna, the Supreme Being and our source. At the end of the Gita, which is at once philosophical and practical, the answer is clear: Bhakti Yoga, or the yoga of devotion, is the most direct route to attaining self-realization, finding lasting happiness, and uncovering our relationship with Krishna. The answer revealed, our spiritual training can now begin.
In the Gita, we learn that we are not these material bodies, but rather the spirit soul that animates the body. So it serves us (the realus) to spiritualize the otherwise material aspects of our lives by gradually shifting our focus from material goals and objectives to spiritual pursuits. In essence, we are shifting our emphasis from the temporary (material) to the eternal (spiritual). We do this by remaining conscious of who we really are (pure spirit) and by remaining conscious of the Supreme Being from Whom all things emanate: Krsna, while still carrying out all the usual activities of our daily existence (school, career, family, etc.).
Sound a little difficult? Perhaps at first, but the core practice of Bhakti Yoga helps us to direct our restless minds.
In Bhakti Yoga, we practice mantra meditation and chant the following Maha Mantra:
Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare
Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare
This Mantra, which is purifying because it contains the Names of the Supreme, is essentially a supplication for service: devotional service rendered to the Supreme. Chanting meditation is a daily practice in Bhakti Yoga. It disciplines the mind, focuses it on Transcendence, and begins the process of uncovering our relationship with the Supreme.
2). With a daily practice (chanting) and goal (connecting to the Supreme) in mind, our training may now proceed at a steady pace.
It’s advised that we don’t move too quickly in devotional life, as this will lead to a kind of burnout. Instead, we gradually incorporate spirituality into our lives. For instance, we can try chanting the Maha Mantrawhile walking to class, during long car rides, between work meetings, or while cooking food and notice the difference in our consciousness. When we’re ready, we may find that we wish to practice in a more disciplined manner. Maybe we chant four focused rounds in a quiet room before heading out to class.
We can fit in spiritual life when and where it’s convenient for us at the beginning. But while we don’t wish to move too quickly in spiritual life, we also don’t wish to move too slowly. Once we know of the importance of spiritual life, it behooves us to prioritize it. We don’t know when the end of our lives will come, but we want to be ready for that time when it does arrive.
Worried about what devotional service itself might entail? Devotional service to the Supreme doesn’t entail giving up our occupation to live as a solitary monk in some off-grid location. In spiritual life, we don’t really have to give anything up (except for things which are harmful to ourselves and other living entities). Instead, we simply add spiritual life into our lives at a gradual pace. This means that if we’re a student, we carry out our school duties to the best of our ability, making them an offering to Krishna. If we’re an engineer or a doctor or a web designer, we employ our talents to make an honest living and offer the result of our work to the Supreme. And we give back to the Supreme which can entail some service with a temple or bhakti project. Why?
Bhakti Yoga is about serving. Here yogis distribute vegetarian meals
that have been offered first to Krishna and then distributed to the hungry.
Everything emanates from the Supreme. We cannot offer Krishna anything that does not already belong to Him, but the very act of offering our activities to Him establishes a relationship with Him and transforms from duty to love over time. Remember that connecting to the Supreme is the end goal of the practice of Bhakti Yoga.
O conquerer of wealth [Arjuna], there is no Truth superior to Me. Everything rests upon Me, as pearls are strung on a thread. [Bhagavad Gita 7.7]
Set your goal
- Have the goal of remembering Krishna at the end of this life.
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says:
And whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt. (BG 8.5)
When we don’t set goals, we can’t reach them. In the Gita, Krishna promises that one who remembers Him at the time of death will return to Him. What we think about, focus on, and make our priority throughout our life is what we will think about at the time of death. If we’re very career-driven throughout our lives, then at the end, we may lament that we didn’t progress further or hold a higher office. If we’re fame-driven, we may lament that we didn’t make a bigger name for ourselves.
However, if we can sustain our spiritual practice throughout our lives at a maintainable pace, then we can focus on what is really important at the time of death: returning back to our spiritual source. Why is death so important a time? It is a time of transition. And Krishna mentions in the Gitathat our consciousness at the time of death carries us on to our next destination (with the results of our action, or karma, and our own desires factored).
Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail. (BG 8.6)
If we keep these three spiritual conditions in mind and try to challenge ourselves spiritually throughout our lives, then we will have a strong finish at the end. Plus, there’s one added benefit in spiritual life that doesn’t apply in material life. If you don’t finish your half-marathon, you won’t pick up where you left off in the next race. However, in the Gita, Krishna promises that wherever we leave off in this life spiritually is the point at which we’ll start in the next life. Whatever we gain, we take with us. Now that sounds like a good bargain!
In this endeavor there is no loss or diminution, and a little advancement on this path can protect one from the most dangerous type of fear. (BG 2.40)