For devotees, death is not destruction – it is union
Sometimes people ask, “Devotees and nondevotees both have to die – what difference does the practice of devotional service make?”
Yes, both devotees and nondevotees have to undergo the event of death, but the practice of devotional service makes a huge difference in the quality of life before death and after it too.
The Bhagavad-gita (11.28-29) compares the death of nondevotees to the flight of moths into a fire and the death of devotees to the flow of rivers into an ocean.
Vedanta Deshika, a prominent Gita commentator in the Sri Vaishnava tradition, unpacks the import of these two metaphors. Just as a moth’s flight into a fire doesn’t benefit anyone, nondevotees by their death don’t benefit anyone. But just a river’s flow towards an ocean irrigates all the landmasses through which it flows, devotees’ journey through life benefits those whose life-paths cross with theirs – the actions and the words of devotees enrich others with spiritual wisdom and inspiration. Further, when a moth flies into a fire, it is utterly destroyed with its body reduced to ashes. Similarly, for nondevotees their death implies the utter destruction of all that they consider valuable in their life – their possessions, their relations and even their very bodies with which they misidentify. In contrast, when a river flows into an ocean, the water that comprises the river continues to exist; there’s no change in the essential quality of the water – it now exists united with a larger body of water. Similarly, for devotees, death doesn’t cause any change in the essential quality of their existence. Prior to death, they lived for serving Krishna; and even after death, they continue to serve Krishna, the difference after death being that they are now freed from the limitations of matter and united in immortal love with the infinite.
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