The Psychology behind Asaucham
by Pt Jaya Tirtha Charan dasa

Paradoxically the scenario we find ourselves in at this time is the most sensitive, and yet the most opportune for hearing the philosophy of Krishna consciousness.

We’re hurting, missing loved one’s and need to find genuine resolve.

I hope you don’t find this too long winded, as it comes to you from some years of experience in dealing with these matters as a priest, and counselor, and one who has lost many close and dear ones.

As you may know the entire structure of our philosophy is designed to help revert us wandering jiva souls back to our constitutional position as eternal servants of the Lord at each and every conjunction or maturational point of our conditioned sojourn here.

The purpose being to open our eyes to who we are, who those around us are, what is our purpose in being here, and what is our goal taking it that we’re disjointed eternal servants of Krishna away from our spiritual homeland. At each of these junctions of conditioned life (birth, childhood, growth, youth, bi-product stage – marriage) teleological free will is given for us to resolve the situation or for us to remain here in the world, caught with what is for some another unresolved issue.

Irrespective of who we are, or what we’re doing at this time, to progress on the path back to Godhead a change of heart must take place. As eternal spiritual beings in a temporary situation we’re out of sync’. Most of us have had countless births here, each time having family, friends and so on. During these times we form all kinds of attachments, some good some not so good. How we react, to those things which present themselves often has more of an impact than that of an event in itself. Srila Prabhupad would use the example of a knife, in the hands of an expert surgeon it can do the greatest good, or in the hand of a maniac it can bring the greatest harm, so we cannot blame or thank the knife. Similarly the lessons we learn are in direct relation to how we react to incidences that happen in our lives, that we are destined to have to undergo, the results of which leave impressions on us which we carry with us. According to our individual natures’, karmas, and realization we interact in the world, and as a result we find ourselves taking shelter in various directives.

That’s like an overview of the process.

Dealing with the changes at those junctions determines how we move on, and the level of enlightenment by which we do it. The Vedik culture has a support system for such events that we call asaucham.

In that way the process of following the asaucham period is not some dry ritual or imposition upon us. It very is practical, dynamic and resolving.

Having said that, if we are spiritual beings then some might question why are we mourning someone who has passed on, and that is a fair question. The fact is, as devotees, and understanding the nature of the soul as eternal, we do not lament for the passing of the jiva, but for the association that we are now bereft of. That is why we need to come together and appreciate that we have strength in our mutual love and eternal bond with our fellow devotees. However, due to the bodily temporal situation there has to be closure, and resolve.

Loving family members have interacted and cared for their daughter/son/mother/father et al. So much personal sacrifice has been done. Prabhupad often glorified devotees parents for doing such a nice job in bringing them up, to help them/us come to Krishna consciousness.

Ordinarily many of us would find it an unlikely option to even be in the same room as each other due to material birth, background, nature, education, and interests. But here you see devotees, and that needs to be emphasised, devotees who have been through all walks of life, and become purified by coming in contact with the lotus eyed Lord, even the family members are devotees in the broadest sense, devoted to their loved one. So we’re all devotees here, and these relationships are not ordinary. Rather we understand from our philosophy that anything spiritual is ongoing and thus, by definition eternal.

The system we’re undergoing is for preservation of our spiritual status, and thus not ordinary. Let’s try to understand what is happening here, and by so doing accept the help of the great Acharyas, the previous spiritual masters, who themselves have traversed this path.

It’s such a tragedy for someone to lose a family member or friend, or guru who they have just known a few short years. It’s difficult, and for the devotee to lose such a devotional inspiration, an intimate friend, and confidant, it may seem difficult to go on. Many doubts, fears, so many things may present themselves. Especially in the first few days after a dear one has passed on, the emotions are heightened and the survivors are traumatized into various degrees of shock, and disbelief, which are natural mechanisms to protect the bereaved from intense reactions.

It’s to be noted that in this initial phase survivors often feel lost, dazed and confused. Shortness of breath, tightness in the chest and throat, nausea, and a feeling of emptiness in the gut are common. As the awareness of loss takes hold from the initial shock, sometimes survivors experience further symptoms of denial: maybe they got the wrong name, wrong person, wrong information, ...they couldn’t have gone, etc.

Even in the pre-occupational absorption in thoughts of the departed there may be bouts of anger toward the person, toward providence, and even toward God. These are irrational times; consequently such things are not taken seriously as offensive.

Due to the variables among different classes of individuals and communities (Brahmin, kshatriya, vaishya and shudra), according to their nature and philosophical ability to understand and respond to what has happened, the scripture gives estimated time lapses for initial recovery. It makes sense, and with help from our "Joint Family" you/we can do things properly with full attention to detail, that otherwise, with so much to have to deal with anyway, might not be done. Although this may be a practical time period, it is not legislative of a set recovery time as often one will experience grieving sometimes 6 months or longer.

I remember when my father passed on, at first I doubted it, and was forced to come to terms with it. He was a good man, good provider, looked after us, and gave everything, working three jobs simultaneously. I never wanted for anything, so it seemed. Good a man as he was, he couldn’t keep me on the straight and narrow. It was only after finding Srila Prabhupad and adopting his life-style that my life truly changed for the better, so when Srila Prabhupad passed on in 1977 the shock, you can imagine, was unparalleled. So many of us struggled to come to terms with what had happened, most of us had no idea of what to do, and were lost thinking it all finished.

Today in some ways we are so fortunate in that we have mature Godbrothers and Godsisters to help us in such times, who are experienced beyond material qualifications in helping us through such traumatic times - this is our Joint Family, of spiritual uncles, aunts, nephews and nieces, brothers and sisters, Krishna parishad, Krishna's devotees.

The structure behind what we’re doing here is that through honest grieving multiple things come to the surface; our love for the departed, and also how much they loved us, and gave to us. As survivors we often mentally go over and over the things we’d done together and the pain and grief becomes intolerably intense. Desperation, thoughts of how we can go on without him/her/them preoccupy our thoughts to such a degree that insomnia, fatigue and loss of appetite are common, some have even died from such intense separation - as we remember from our devotional history; Maharaj Dasarath, Hadai Pandit, father of Lord Nityananda.

To begin the healing, the natural mechanism of remembering and discussing in conversation with others the things one did together, and all the treasured good that the departed gave to us is very important. The little things, much of what we took for granted. This is a natural part of the healthy transition from the initial grieving phase through to practical healing.

Relapses into denial are also common, (and natural); where survivors still hope against hope that their loved ones are still alive as they remember them. Sometimes, survivors may hear a voice of the departed, or see their face before them (not only in dreams, but also in waking), or feel their presence in familiar places they’d shared. Even calling out of the person’s name is not uncommon….. All of these are quite natural, and it’s good for us to know that we’re all undergoing similar symptoms of loss.

As these feelings are allowed to surface and are sympathetically dealt with in the association of fellow god-brothers, god-sisters, friends, family members and so on, one can tangibly perceive a change evolving. Things move from being centred about me and my loss as we become more philosophically liberated by good association.

During this final phase one comes to terms with what has tragically happened through the support of the Joint family or extended family of friends and well wishers – of like minded, soft hearted and sensitive souls. We begin to use the philosophy to resume daily activities and look toward the future. When memories of the departed come to us, they bring fond feelings mingled with sadness, rather than sharp pain and longing.

For instance, a devotee still misses their beloved Guru, god-brother, god-sister, friend or family member, but one knows that life must go on, and now reflects on how that person who we loved so dearly would want us to act in the world.

Often this brings a seriousness and strength to please and share with others as we go to the much needed closure, of acceptance of what has happened. Having dealt with our great loss we have made a tangible resolve leading us to gradual recovery.

Of course we know the bitter-sweet taste will remain. Srila Prabhupad wrote the following to his dear disciple undergoing a similar trauma:

“So on one side we have to be very sorry if our dear friends are taken away from this world, and on the other side we should be satisfied that a pure devotee is never lost. He gets another good chance to cultivate Krishna Consciousness, or if one is advanced he goes back to Home, back to Godhead. But even if it is taken that a devotee is not mature, we should be confident that he will take birth in a rich or devotional family. ….So let us pray for the departed souls that they may be engaged again in Krishna's service.” (Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. 15th November 1971. Letter to Patita Uddharna dasa regarding the death of Jananirvas dasa, Delhi)

In this regard, for ordinary persons engaged in the karmic world of fruitive exchange, there are so many obligations that need to be fulfilled. Certain ceremonies or Shraddhas are required to enable the soul to move on. But according to scripture and the examples of Srila Advaita Acharya, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and Haridas Thakur (Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupad. Srimad Bhagavatam 4:21:41 purport) better than ritual offerings into the fire at this time, is that of glorifying the Lord and His devotees, invoking the favour of the devotees toward the departed by feeding the devotees Krishna prasadam.

As we remember, year after year, on the Tirubhav mahotsav (disappearance day anniversary) the wonderful qualities and activities of the Vaishnavas, we all grow from strength to strength. Sharing and reflecting back with appreciation and gratitude on how their short time with us so affected and bettered our quality of life and understanding of our relationship with the Lord and His devotees.

So it’s no accident that we follow a Vaishnava Calendar full of such wonderful devotional examples to share, it is part of the wholesome structure of Vaishnava culture. Even in the modern times we have experience of devotees who, quite rightly so, have risen to near Sainthood:- Jayananda prabhu, Puri prabhu, Gour Govinda maharaj, Mother Gauri, Tribhuvanath prabhu, George Harrison prabhu, …..So many. Now we add Tamal Krishna maharaj, and Vrindavanesvari mataji to that hall of fame.

The most amazing thing is, that by our soul searching into how we will ever go on without such souls, the resolve is that in fact we are never without them.

This to me is part of the meaning that: “Vaishnavas never die, when living still in sound………..”

We may look in this place or that for a leader, a Messiah and guide, as so many of us do, but factually they are all around us. Unfortunately familiarity makes us contemptuous and we regretfully miss out in appreciating the great souls who walk among us, often until it’s too late.

At this time let us learn some serious lessons, take heed from the great personal sacrifice these devotees have made, and then in their fine and saintly example let’s extend that, to see the potential in everyone, adorned with the wonderful attributes each and every one of you has.

Let us ponder as we go through our daily life, as events unfold, "What would ...................want me to do in such a situation?"  and in that way go on.

In the future, performance of these rites of passage for each and every one of us will be done, and the glories of the exalted, simple hearted devotees, who paid the price, who crossed the line, who made their commitment to the Lord will be sung.

Such and such prabhu for his dedication to …….this mataji for her welcoming motherly simplicity, another for…….. well, just look around the room, so many wonderful devotees. There’s no question of this being exclusive to one ashram or even gender.

Such wonderful personifications of devotional Vaishnava culture are not limited to any material designation. A pure or purified devotee can come from anywhere, and so often does.

As for me, sadly I reflect and see myself as unworthy, foolishly proud and impure personality, who stands before you, yet now, even though a little late have some understanding of the influence potential and inspiration of those whose association we now lament.

Let us utilise their great example, their life struggles, their over coming challenges, their gifts of love and their inspirational teaching, let us utilise all those examples as we reflect on the impact their association made on our lives. Let it be then, keeping their association, we may go on from that point, in loving appreciation and fulfill their desires by the positive and tangible way we go on from now.

Oh Vaishnava Thakur (and Thakurani) please bless us that we may become as you have become, a credit to Guru, to Krishna, and to the Vaishnava community.

I humbly beg to remain at your lotus like feet, reformed and ready to go on.

Yhs, Jaya Tirtha Charan dasa