How do atheists deal with the idea of death?

Recently, a college friend of mine was diagnosed with an incurable cancer.His doctors told him he would only live for a year. The family panicked and consulted a variety of doctors and healers from various alternative areas of medicine. They turned to astrologers, prayed to demigods in temples, and even questioned a mystical tantric. Many people keep telling them that there may be a cure they haven’t tried yet.

I was sad denuncating my friend’s illness.I wanted to help him in his crisis and suggested the process of Krishna consciousness to sing and hear Krishna’s holy names. But I couldn’t convince him that he had to face reality in various treatments and prepare for his next life. I was unhappy to see that even his eighty-year-old father was not interested in the spiritual dimension of life and only wanted to save his son.

Death, the greatest miracle

I remembered the observation of a friend devotee: “You can be admitted to the best hospital, treated by the best doctors, given the best medication, but if he has to die, he can’t date Mr. Death.”

The philosophical writings of Vedic India compare the inevitability of death with the inevitable visit of a man who will one day catch us.If Mr. Death strikes, a rich man cannot bribe him to leave; a beautiful lady cannot charm him to excuse her; a strong man cannot wrestle him to submit; a wise man cannot defeat him in a debate. Mr. Death brings us all without exceptions.

In the ancient Mahabharata epic, King Yudhishthira is asked what is the greatest miracle in the world.The wise king replies, “Every day thousands are sent to the places of death. But the living live their lives as if death would never happen to them.” These words of wisdom helped me to understand my friend’s stubborn aversion to Krishna’s consciousness and her refusal to accept the inevitability of death.

First Lessons in Spiritual Life

One of the first lessons I learned in spiritual life is the inevitability of death.Friends in college ridiculed me for appropriateing the fatalistic philosophy depicted in the ISKCON teachings. Because of their taunt, we wonder if the Hare Krishnas are only pessimistic, but I quickly realized that acceptance of the inevitable reality of death characterizes us with an inner power and calmness. The Hare Krishnas learned to see the world and its fleeting promises in a free-standing way.

A follower of Krishna faces tragedies, including death, with grace and dignity.Nevertheless, devotees do not ignore their physical conditions and do not try to avoid death. A spiritualist takes care of the body with the desire to serve God and others. Since the goal is service and not physical maintenance, the devotee is already detached during the care of the body and ready to face an inevitable death.

Lessons of the Vedas

The Vedic tradition declares that our existence does not end with death.We are not our temporary body, but the eternal soul that lives in us. When the body dies, the soul lives on, even though it is in a different state. By cultivating krishna consciousness, we nourish the soul and our consciousness surpasses minor material aspirations. We learn to live on the spiritual level of reality and to connect with God Krishna through spiritual practices. Listening and singing of God’s holy name helps us gain spiritual happiness that helps us overcome material happiness and suffering. Listening and singing also guarantees us a divine journey after death.

Vedic literature gives many examples of people whose lives teach us how to prepare for death.The Srimad-Bhagavatam begins with the inquest of King Parikshit on the duty of a person on the verge of death. Cursed to die in seven days, the king happily accepted his fate; he could now immerse his consciousness in memory of the Supreme Lord without distraction. King Khatvanga, another exemplary man, learned that he had only a moment to give up all his wealth and welcome death.

Srila Prabhupada’s vocation

Srila Prabhupada taught that life is a preparation for a trial: death.The time of death tests all our valued values and principles, as well as our attachment to our bodies and to people and things connected to our bodies. A follower of Krishna leads a life focused on service to God and performs his worldly duties with maturity, knowing that the unpleasant vicissitudes of this world can always bring an end. Even if the devotee leads a long life, time in the form of illness, age or death threatens to take away all possessions and positions of the devotee. But because they have invested their consciousness in remembering and loving from God, they are willing to meet Lord’s death joyfully.

Srila Prabhupada often quoted a verse from the Srimad Bhagavatam (10.14.58), which states this in this material

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