When it requires courage to be afraid
Imagine a group of children playing in an epidemic-struck area without knowing about the disease. When a child gets infected, falls sick and dies, the remaining children pause their play momentarily, but then get back to playing as if nothing happened. Any child who becomes apprehensive and asks questions about what’s happening and why is immediately silenced by the other children with the pejorative label “coward.”
Like these children, people are busy playing games – physical games, video games, sexual games, political games or corporate games. When someone dies, others pause temporarily for a condolence meeting, but soon return to their games as if nothing happened.A few intelligent people question apprehensively why one by one everyone is being devoured by death. But they are immediately silenced by an uproar of disapproval that ranges from empty exhortations, “Just forget it and enjoy,” through dismissive suppressions, “Why are you such a spoilsport?” to unconcealed intimidation, “What a pessimist! A coward like you deserves to be thrown out of the game meant for brave people like us.”
In the face of such ridicule, we need courage to continue to be afraid. Death is fearful enough, but even more fearful is the widespread denial of death. Why? Because such denial leaves us with no chance to explore any cures for the epidemic of death. That’s why fear of the denial is desirable, even essential. The courage to be afraid is the sign of intelligence. And this courage can lead us to the cure of the epidemic of death if it prompts us to seek spiritual knowledge, practice devotional service and thereby reinstate ourselves in our real identity as immortal souls. No wonder then that the Bhagavad-gita (13.09) declares that the ability to contemplate death is a key element of knowledge.
“Humility; pridelessness; nonviolence; tolerance; simplicity; approaching a bona ﬁde spiritual master; cleanliness; steadiness; self-control; renunciation of the objects of sense gratiﬁcation; absence of false ego; the perception of the evil of birth, death, old age and disease; detachment; freedom from entanglement with children, wife, home and the rest; even-mindedness amid pleasant and unpleasant events; constant and unalloyed devotion to Me; aspiring to live in a solitary place; detachment from the general mass of people; accepting the importance of self-realization; and philosophical search for the Absolute Truth – all these I declare to be knowledge, and besides this whatever there may be is ignorance.”