I have a friend whose mother was declared terminally sick. He asked for my advice as to what should be done. He was heavily attached to his mother and was taking good care of her. My immediate reaction was to advice him to do all kinds of spiritual activities, like chanting from scriptures, listening to devotional bhajans.
After having given such a well meaning advice, I began to meditate on the practicality of it. Would I do whatever I have recommended if someone so close to me was so sick and beyond cure ? I immediately realised that I wouldn’t do so unless I had a taste for these things from my earlier practices or were convinced about them. A person who is desperately sick would need relief first and not just activities which are very difficult to do in the first place, unless persuaded to do so.
So what can be done in such a situation ? The answer can be found in the Bhagavad-Geeta. Human beings have three main duties to perform in their lives. The first duty is towards their material bodies (3.8). Our bodies need proper looking after in the matter of eating, sleeping, work and recreation (6.16-17). The next duty is towards our subtle minds, which must be made peaceful, no matter what (6.3). And the last and foremost duty is towards our spiritual souls (18.66). These three duties are not mutually exclusive, that is they all are important. However, in case of any conflict, the duty towards the soul would supersede the other two duties.
So coming back to the advice I had given to my friend, everyone whether sick or healthy must look after one’s body as best as possible. After all, this is the vehicle given to us for what we need to do in our lives (18.61). The next thing is to shun whatever disturbs one’s peace of mind, which would include various attachments. Attachments in any case have strongly been frowned upon by Lord Krishna in these verses (2.64, 3.34, 15.5 and 18.27). What about attachment to God? That is special and desirable because it is the need of the soul. All other attachments whether related to the body or to the mind are to be given up if they come in the way of our three duties.
In short, one needs to check each act in the light of these three duties. Does the act hurt the body in any way ? Even the great personalities suffered immensely when they neglected their duties towards their bodies. After all, who made the laws applicable to these bodies ? God did. And, therefore flouting such rules shall surely invite punishment. Next, does the mind get disturbed if we go ahead with whatever we have planned or are doing? Does the activity help in advancing towards God, becoming dear to him? There are pleasures in God-related activities also once one becomes proficient in them. And, only they would advance us, not any material gain or pleasure. Faith in God also is the biggest factor in making the mind peaceful.
So let us do as many soul-related activities, like hearing about God, speaking about God, remembering God, praising God, serving Him, being subservient or dependent upon Him, worshipping Him, interacting with devotees of God and being totally surrendered to God, while we take care of our bodies and minds as best as possible. These efforts may get us liberation. Why not try for it ? What more can one lose once the body is being taken away ?