By Vishakha Devi Dasi
“From the viewpoint of eternity, a life span of five thousand years is the same as that of five years: both are a flash, both temporary.”
Two summers ago when the Reforestation Department of the Sequoia National Park in California gave away excess baby Sequoia trees, I got four and planted them on our nine-acre property in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. Sequoias don’t produce useful things like fruits or flowers. They simply live—for thousands of years. And they grow—hundreds of feet high.
Sometimes I’d sit next to my favorite of the four – foot-high trees, quietly chanting the names of God -Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. And I’d think how this sapling’s parent or grandparent was present when Lord Krishna was on earth five thousand years ago, and when Lord Caitanya was here five hundred years ago.
Over the next few months, as the baby tree took root, spread its graceful limbs, and grew, my thoughts shifted to where I would be as the tree reached its full height and girth. A few decades from now, when my body would become decrepit and useless, this tree would still be in its childhood. And when I, the soul, would leave this body to enter a new one—who knows what type of body or where?—my memory of this nine-acre plot, my house, my family, and my Sequoias would all be left behind. Yet this tree would be right there, growing silently century after century. And century after century I’d be passing from one body to another, from one universe to another, in body after body. Both types of embodiment—the tree’s and my imagined future ones—seemed futile. (At least the giant Sequoia, though, would be providing shelter for birds and animals. Who knows what I’d be doing?)
What attracted me to this tree over the hundreds of others that decorate our property? Its extraordinary ability to survive. I realized that although I hear and use the word eternal often, its actual import is alien to me; otherwise, why would I be impressed with a life span of a mere five thousand years? From the viewpoint of eternity, a life span of five thousand years is the same as that of five years: both are a flash, both temporary. Either way, the body disintegrates and the soul moves on.
Longevity attracts me because I’m an eternal spiritual being, an imperishable soul. In my natural state I don’t transmigrate. So, since I’m not meant to be helplessly, traumatically dragged from one body to another, I crave permanence in this life. But I don’t really want the permanence of a giant Sequoia. Although by comparison to mine, the length of its life is awe-inspiring, to stand in one place, immobile and incommunicative, would be awful. I’m not meant for that.
I’m meant to serve Krishna, without interruption and without motivation. By such devotional service I’ll rejoin Him eternally in His eternal home in a blissful, eternal, spiritual body.
Unfortunately, my present service to God is both interrupted and motivated. So I don’t qualify to regain an eternal body. I’m stuck with temporary ones unavoidably accompanied by birth and death.
My attitude reminds me of that of my two-year-old, who blithely answers “no” to the most reasonable requests: “Sit down and eat your dinner.” “No.” “Let’s put your shoes on.” “No.” And so forth. “No” to her is an easy answer that saves her the trouble of stopping whatever she’s doing to do something else—even something better.
Similarly, when Krishna says, “Give up sense gratification and follow Me,” I respond with her mentality: “No.” “Always think of Me.” “No.” And so forth.
Now if I could get out of the two-year-old stage and enter the stage of cooperation and surrender to the Lord, I could, conceivably, avoid having to take more material bodies after this one is finished. And even if I’m not completely successful, whatever advancement I make will stay with me as I transmigrate from body to body. If in some future body I continue to advance, I’ll be adding to the progress I’ve already made. So even if finishing up this temporary-body business in this lifetime is a long shot, it’s one that’s supremely worthwhile.
Srila Prabhupada explains, “One should be captivated by this information. He should desire to transfer himself to that eternal world and extricate himself from this false reflection of reality. For one who is too much attached to this material world, it is very difficult to cut that attachment, but if he takes to Krishna consciousness there is a chance of gradually becoming detached. One has to associate himself with devotees, those who are in Krishna consciousness. One should search out a society dedicated to Krishna consciousness and learn how to discharge devotional service. In this way he can cut off his attachment to the material world.” (Bhagavad-gita 15.6, purport)
Since the Sequoias are on our property, we can protect them from being cut. And the attachments and rebellions that have grown up in my mind I can cut down, especially by learning from the examples of my godbrothers and godsisters. By their inspiration, one day I may be qualified for a body that outlives even innumerable giant Sequoias.