Grief is understood as not just sadness but a very great sadness, especially at the death of someone or a great loss. In some cases, it can deeply affect how one lives their life from that point.

In the ancient Sanskrit language, one of the words they use is śocaḥ which not only means grief or sorrow but can also be used to describe burning or a flame.

In this talk, we explore how in many cases grief has arisen out of an unrealistic expectation, like holding on to the false hope that I and others who are dear to me will never die. Yet death (or things/situations coming to an end) is the only thing that you can dependably rely on that will happen in “life”.

The ancient Vedic texts address what is the natural course of things and the crucial knowledge that we, the spiritual beings, residing within the body, never die. We exist eternally..

Some of the verses I quoted:

Just as the fruits and flowers of a tree in due course of time undergo six changes — birth, existence, growth, transformation, dwindling and then death — the material body, which is obtained by the spirit soul under different circumstances, undergoes similar changes. However, there are no such changes for the spirit soul. Bhāgavata Purāṇa 7.7.18

Bhagavān Śrī Kṛṣṇa said: While speaking learned words, you are mourning for what is not worthy of grief. Those who are wise lament neither for the living nor the dead. – Bhagavad-gītā 2.11

It is said that the soul is invisible, inconceivable, immutable, and unchangeable. Knowing this, you should not grieve for the body. – Bhagavad-gītā 2.25

O descendant of Bharata, he who dwells in the body is eternal and can never be slain. Therefore you need not grieve for any creature.  – Bhagavad-gītā 2.30

Yet there is another unmanifest nature, which is eternal and is transcendental to this manifested and unmanifested matter. It is supreme and is never annihilated. When all in this world is annihilated, that part remains as it is. – Bhagavad-gītā 8.20

Aum Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya.


So, the topic, Navigating Grief With Spirituality; it’s quite an extraordinary idea that you can navigate your way through the experience of grief by cultivating a more spiritual outlook on life and the events of life.

So, when we use grief here I’m talking about it in the gravest sense. I’m not just talking about some sadness, but a very deep and great sadness that alters your life. And when some people have this experience it’s like sometimes there is great difficulty in getting on with life. Sometimes people become almost immobilized in many areas of their life as a result of this grief. So, it’s not just the idea of sadness, but something much more grave that has a far deeper impact on people’s life.

In Sanskrit, the ancient language used in the ancient Vedic teachings that arose out of India, in the language that is used, they have two words that address the state of grief. One of them is śocaḥ and the other one is śuca The word śocaḥ doesn’t just speak to great sadness or grief, it’s also used sometimes to describe a flame or fire, and it’s very appropriate because when it is—when we understand it in this way, we’re talking about something that that burns us. It is like a fire of grief and painfulness that we experience within our heart and mind.

I’ll post this talk online, and I was looking at a photograph that I’ll use on the front slate; and it’s a black and white photograph from the Korean War. And we have three or four soldiers in the picture, and they’re obviously on the front line. And one of these soldiers is a young man, a very young man, who had just witnessed the very violent death of his very intimate and close friend. And he was so utterly devastated by the situation that he was in, it was almost like he was an infant, and he’s curled up against a little bit older man, who is cradling him and holding his head. And when you look at that picture it like, it really tears at your heart, because it really captures the idea of what we’re trying to address tonight, which is this deep grief that almost—it’s like it shatters one’s life.

Now I’m going to present some ideas that people might find quite different, and because they may be quite different, they can potentially be disturbing; and I kindly ask you that if there is anything I talk about that you find deeply disturbing, don’t just instantly react or close down, but actually be patient and try to listen to what is being presented. What I’m going to present is not my idea. It doesn’t come from me. These are very, very ancient teachings and very ancient truths that have deep wisdom and actually can heal people and help people to live much better lives.

We live in an extraordinary time, where the value systems that much of humanity embraced over the past few thousand years has sort of all of a sudden become abandoned, and in that, people are more untethered. Untethered means like a boat that’s—its moorings have been cut. Now it’s drifted away from the beach or the dock, and now it’s at the mercy of the waves and the wind. And that is something that is actually becoming increasingly pervasive in society, particularly over the last 50 years.

And of course, the result of it is not good; and that’s borne out by the massive increase in depression, in unhappiness, in mental disturbance, in addiction to drugs, legal and illegal, that have come to dominate the world, the rise in suicidal thought and acts that, when you look at the statistics, particularly over the last 10 years, the rise is just like unbelievable. And it’s very sad and disappointing. It’s heartbreaking.

And the problem is that people don’t try to consider, well, maybe there’s something wrong with the direction that we’ve taken. Maybe there is something wrong in how we have abandoned ancient wisdom and thought and ideas that actually help people through, I mean, extraordinarily difficult times.

So, first thing I’m going to raise is that we live in a time when there is a huge pressure to buy into unrealistic ideas to seek perfection in this world and in relationships that’s actually not real. The nature of the world is that it is very imperfect, but we are constantly fed images and ideas and we’re cultivating expectations—it’s like, (how long ago was that?) like 60 years ago, entertainment was maybe gathering around the radio in the evening and listening to some comedy show or a news broadcast and then maybe some sort of soap opera. And you didn’t do it for very long, and then you kind of switched off, and everybody went read a book or the kids played, and they got on with stuff, and then they went to bed. And it’s now, everybody’s just glued to the devices which are delivering content that is highly addictive and is really altering people’s value systems and how they think about the world.

There is a very ancient formula that is taught by almost all spiritual teachers, religious leaders, in the world, and this idea is that ignorance equals pain. And the idea being that if I’m feeling pain in my life, suffering in my life, it will invariably be because I have adopted something that is fundamentally untrue. And when I adopt something that is fundamentally unsound, untrue, I am living in an ignorant way. I’m not living with eyes wide open. I have cultivated and developed false expectations from the world, from relationships.

So one of these great realities of life, which is—people really don’t like to talk about and to consider—and that is the reality of death, that death—and when I say death, I don’t just mean the death of the body. It can be a relationship, a situation, an attachment to what I consider a home. You know, with all these catastrophic floods and things that went on this year and last year, and so many’s home—you know, people had lived and built their lives and everything, and then all of a sudden, when they experienced like once in a century or once in half a century sort of a rainfall, and then all of a sudden you’ve got houses swept away, communities destroyed.

And so, when I say unrealistic expectation, it means that you’ve perhaps adopted the idea that we are safe and we are secure here, and everything is going to last forever, and everything is going to be wonderful. But the reality is that with or without any form of climate change you do get cyclical things like floods, massive torrential downpours, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions. And just because we haven’t experienced it perhaps in our life yet personally, doesn’t mean it’s not going to happen. And if I’m not realistic about things, then when something happens, it’s like the rug got pulled out from underneath me. I don’t just have the experience of losing something that was dear to me, but this foundation of where I thought something was permanent and was going to last forever, which is actually more painful when that becomes absolutely shattered.

Are you guys okay with this? This is a pretty serious topic. We okay?

So, when I use the word death here, I’m not just talking about death of—as people experience it, friends, relatives, whatever, I’m talking also about things coming to an end, that idea. The reality is that the only thing that’s reliably dependable is death. That’s where it all ends. The journey that we have through life, it ends in that place. But we never want to talk about it, we want to turn away from it. And somebody brings it up—“Oh, you’re so morbid. Stop talking about it. It freaks me out. I don’t want to hear about it.” That’s kind of like, I’m going to close my eyes and block my ear, nyahnyahnyahnyah, make noise so I don’t hear what you’re saying, so it won’t be true.

And it’s kind of like, well, there is a great need to be very grounded in life, and to understand and accept these types of realities. And I promise you this, I promise you this: if you live a life that is grounded in reality, even the idea of the impermanence of relationships and that a time will come when we will part, if you are grounded in that appreciation, the way in which you live, the way in which you deal with those that are close to you, will be different. It will actually be better.

If people—I mean isn’t it a common thing that when somebody that’s close to me dies, then I have all these regrets: I should have been kinder, I should have done, I shouldn’t have spoke like that on this occasion, I shouldn’t have dealt with them like that, if only I had have known.

It’s kind of like, why didn’t you know? It’s like you should know. This is reality. And if we embrace this reality it can actually help us become more dignified, compassionate, more tolerant, and live in a more healthy and also happy life.

I remember a couple of, few years ago, there was a woman that reached out to me. She was from up in Asia. She had seen some of my talks online. And she was almost paralysed with fear that her parents will die. And she had become so immersed and constantly thinking of this. And it was making her so she couldn’t sleep, her life was unbalanced, she was constantly crying. I mean it was becoming obsessive in constantly ruminating on it. And it’s sort of like, well, it shouldn’t really be that tragic. And I’ll explain what I mean by that shortly.

One of the very ancient texts that we use in the study of Vedic, or yogic, wisdom, there is a verse that describes the six states of being that all living beings experience. And this verse, this very ancient verse, it says:

“Just as fruits and flowers of a tree in due course of time undergo six changes – that is, birth, existence, growth, transformation, dwindling and then death –”

So, maybe I’ll just touch on some of those things. Everybody experiences birth, and then the experience of existence, beginning to grow as a child, and then the body grows into maturity, and then there is transformation which includes actually a concept of reproduction, but then the body beginning to go through transformation also in the form of of aging. And then you reach a prime, and then after that it is downhill all the way. Sorry. Age is not “just a number,” it is a reality! And you go through a process of a dwindling of the organism, and then finally, death.

So I’ll read from the beginning again:

“Just as the fruits and flowers of a tree in due course of time undergo six changes – birth, existence, growth, transformation, dwindling and then death – the material body, which is obtained by the spirit soul under different circumstances, undergoes similar changes. However, there is no such changes for the spiritual soul.”

And this is just like a really extraordinary idea: the foundation of practically all suffering and unhappiness in the world is the fact that we are disconnected from our true spiritual identity as being an eternal spiritual being.

This body which I am residing in is not me. It is a garment. It is something that I am using. I am neither the gross physical body nor am I the mind. I am an eternal spiritual being, having a temporary material experience. And just like it is described here, these six transformations, this natural process, your body will go through those changes, but the spiritual being within does not. You are eternal, and you remain forever an eternal being.

For the soul there is neither birth nor death. Death is the body. When the spiritual being, when you, when the person leaves the body, the body now manifests its real nature, which is it’s dead. When there is a presence of the spiritual being within the body it lends consciousness to the body, and the body appears alive and to have personality, but as soon as the person leaves then we see it in in a different state.

I always advise people—because for me it’s been transformative, these two things: being present at as many births as you can. It’s such an extraordinary thing to witness and to be privileged to be part of. It’s extraordinary. It’s also a great privilege to be able to sit with someone who is leaving this world and to, not provide false comfort, but actual spiritual comfort, to help them cross this threshold, to leave behind the body.

But unfortunately, we live in a world where almost everybody falsely thinks of the body as being the self. The different labels attached to my body, male, female, transgender, whatever, the idea of a racial identity or a group identity, a national identity, a certain type of expression like, “Oh, I’m an artist,” “I’m a musician,”  “Oh, I’m an engineer,” “I’m a plumber,” all of these designations related to the body are not designations of the spiritual being. They are all left behind when the person leaves the body.

The cultivation of this spiritual idea, where one can actually come to experience and connect very deeply with my actual spiritual identity and begin to perceive this world and other beings, my own self, completely differently, is the foundation of spiritual life; the recognition and the deep appreciation of our spiritual being, our spiritual identity. And it is rare, because unfortunately, in this world almost everybody is completely lost in the identity, the false identity of the body as being the self. And this is a source of massive misery and unhappiness.

So, it’s not—when we talk about these things, don’t misunderstand and think that we are being cold-hearted and not being sensitive to people suffering. It’s just the opposite. What motivates me to speak about this truth and to try and share it, is precisely because of the great suffering that goes hand in hand with material life, with existence within the body. And the problem is, for me, is it’s unnecessary. It’s unnecessary for people to be lost in this type of tremendous suffering and the grief that comes from adopting not such a good appreciation of the reality of life.

As they say, there is a Biblical saying, “and the truth shall set you free.” It’s difficult to appreciate how profound that idea and that truth is, but if we can embrace truth, real truth, deep and spiritual truth, eternal truth, absolute truth, one can be—it’s not that you won’t, suddenly—your body’s not going to die. No, you know it is, and you can embrace it. It’s not that you won’t be sad when somebody that you’re close to has to experience what is called death. No, there’s going to be some sadness there, obviously, and that’s not unhealthy, that’s not abnormal. That’s normal, and that’s healthy.

It’s good if you can build relationships where you care about someone. That’s so much better than living a self-centred life where you don’t give a crap about anybody. You’re just living for yourself, and just taking wherever you can take. To have a relationship where you care about somebody, it also involves in the idea of a giving of yourself, not just the idea of taking. You become more generous of heart, you give of your time, you practice tolerance, you demonstrate patience.

And in building a relationship with someone, when you become separated due to the event of death, it’s not like you don’t feel sad. Of course, you’re going to be sad. But you are not incapacitated. You are not driven to the depths of grieving to the point where you can’t even get on with your life and do what you need to do.

Part of the cultivation of spiritual understanding is to appreciate and understand “What is the purpose of my life? What purpose does it serve, or should it serve?” And the spiritual teachers tell us that the human form of life is the most amazing gift because you have facility, you have a faculty that makes it so you can question, “Who am I truly? Why am I here? What is life actually for?” And we understand that this journey, this seeking to answer those questions is the journey of self-realization, the journey of coming to experience this awakening of who you truly are as an eternal spiritual being.

So, there is a very—another ancient text. It was actually recorded 5,000 years ago. It’s called the Bhagavad-gita, which literally means the Song of God. It’s a very beautiful and astonishing text. Parts of it are quite difficult for people because it sometimes has—contains topics and ideas that many people in the Western world have never encountered, and so it sometimes can be a little bit disorienting. But what I’d like to do is just read a few verses from that because it’s very pointed in relation to the topic that we’re discussing.

This was a conversation on a battlefield where Sri Krishna spoke with a great warrior prince, his name was Arjuna, and they were—There was this huge, unbelievably huge array of military might of two great armies that were coming to do battle. And in that, there was actually a division of a great dynasty where many family members were on one side, and a whole bunch of other family members were on the other side. And they were having—they’re ready to go with this great battle, and Arjuna asked that his chariot be drawn between the battle lines so he could see who was facing off in this battle, and then return.

And then he just went into shock because he realized how fratricidal this battle was going to be, where relatives were going to be subjected to killing each other, and it’s like, “Over what!? Over what!?” And he became so overwhelmed that he actually began to break down. And even though he was fearless in battle, he was a great warrior, suddenly, he was overwhelmed by what he experienced. And he said he was just shaking, and he couldn’t even hold his bow, which was his weapon of choice. And he couldn’t even stand, he had to sit down because he was going to faint. And he spoke about why he shouldn’t engage in this great and terrible act.

And Sri Krishna spoke to him. Arjuna had put forward a number of ideas that were all connected to the idea of the body as being the self, that this is who you are, you are the material body.

And He states: “While speaking learned words, you are mourning for what is not worthy of grief. Those who are wise lament neither for the living nor for the dead.”

And that’s just like, wow! Is that heartless or what? And it’s absolutely not heartless! This is deeply compassionate. That when a person becomes overly invested in the false idea of the body as being who we are, our identity, then it leads to different types of choices and actions in life that are not in our eternal interest.

Speaking a little further on:

“It is said that the soul is invisible, inconceivable, immutable, and unchanging, and knowing this you should not grieve for the body. O descendant of Bharata, he who dwells in the body is eternal and can never be slain. Therefore you need not grieve for any creature.”

I’ll just relate one experience that I’ve had one time. I had a friend in India from—he was a Muslim guy, and we were connected with the same company which was a Malaysian company, and I was doing real estate and stuff in India.

(Is there a cold draft along there? I think, I think there’s a window open just behind that curtain over there. [Organiser: inaudible, she was hot.] Oh, okay. [Organisers: Everybody…  just let us know if people cold] Should we open the door a little, get a bit more air flow in here maybe. Yeah)

So, I—he was such a nice person. He became very interested in meditation and the spiritual practices, and him and his wife and family became vegetarian, which was quite unusual. And we had a meeting, and I had flown into Mumbai for this meeting. And he said, “Before going to the meeting, can we go a little earlier and pass by the hospital. My father’s in hospital.” I said, “Sure, let’s do that.” So, we went by the hospital.

And in the hospital he introduced me to his father and mother, who I had not met. The mother was very intelligent. She was a university professor in mathematics and statistics, I think. And he had one other brother, who was flying in from South Africa. And so I—he introduced me, so I sat by the father and greeted him.

And then the doctor came to the door. And when the doctor came in, I saw everybody look, and so they all kind of got up and went over to the doctor who led them out into the corridor. And the father was there. So I wanted to see what was going on, if I could be of some help. I excused myself and went out. And the doctor revealed that the father had stage four cancer, and there was no chance for any of the treatments that they could provide would make any difference whatsoever.

And the doctor advised, the best thing is that we can engage in management of pain, but it’s better if he’s in a familiar surroundings. It’s probably better if he goes home, and we arrange for some care in the home environment.

And then after the doctor left, the mum was saying, “Oh, we can’t tell your father. We can’t tell him this. He’s deathly afraid of cancer, and he’s just going to freak out, and we can’t tell him.” And they made that decision.

And I called my friend aside, and I told him, “You absolutely can’t do this to your father. He’s not like an animal. He needs to know what is happening. And at this very important part of life, which we all need to learn how to face, he may want to seek forgiveness for things that he may have said or done; there are others who may want to seek forgiveness from him; and it’s really, really important to settle a lot of these things, so that a person can move on in a more peaceful state.” So I said, “If you do this, I’ll be really, really upset with you.”

And so, he went out and talked to his mother and his brother who had just arrived, and they had a very animated conversation for about 20 minutes, raised voices and everything. And finally, they agreed, and they came back in, and they said, “Okay, we agree. We’ll tell him.” So, then I asked, “So which one of you are going to talk to him?” And they all started looking at each other and trying to get each other to do it. And nobody wanted to do it.

And to me that was heartbreaking, that we don’t even know how to deal with the most common and expected thing in life, which is death—don’t know how to deal with it! And I had just met this family. My friend, I knew for a long time, but the family I just met 45 minutes before. And so they asked me, “Can you please speak to him?” And I was like what, me! They said they don’t know what to do, and “Please, I think you know best how to deal with the situation.”

So, I saw that there was no real option, and reluctantly I accepted that responsibility. So, I went and sat on the chair next to the bed, and I held the father’s hand. And I said, “No doubt you just saw the doctor come in, and everybody went and had a conversation?” And he said, “Yes” And I said, “Well, the news is not good,” that, “The prognosis is quite serious, your medical situation is very serious.” And then I said to him, “But don’t worry, you’re not going to die.” And you should have seen the mother: she was like, “What!?!” What am I saying?! And so, I told him, “Your body is going to die, but you are not. You are an eternal being. It is going to be this time, which is natural for all of us, where you are going to have to leave behind this body, but there is nothing to be fearful of. You are an eternal spiritual being; you will be fine. Don’t be disturbed by this.”

And because they are, you know, their religious tradition is as Muslim, so I told him, “It’s going to be best that you go home, and the doctors can help with any pain management that may arise because of the nature of the disease, but what you need to do now is anybody that you want to speak to and settle things or clear things, you need to do this early, somewhat urgently. Don’t waste time not doing this. And then in a restful place you have to begin letting go of things. This is time to really let go. Have somebody read to you passages of the Quran,” which—I mean there are many beautiful and quite enlightened passages there. Many people are unaware of this.

And they have a tradition where they have 99 names of God or Allah. And I said, “It would be in your interest to spend time simply being absorbed in these spiritual sounds. They are going to really help you, and they are going to be like a boat. The only thing that you can bring with you when it is time for you to leave is these spiritual sounds, and they are like a boat that carry you across an ocean to a shore of safety”.

He shed some tears, but he wasn’t afraid, and squeezing my hand, he thanked me. He said, “I thank you very, very much. I really thank you for what you have given me here.”

And I’m instantly reflected on that verse that we had read out, that the cultivation of spiritual knowledge can save one even from the most dangerous form of fear. And more than anything else, feel good exercises and everything—I’m not saying don’t do those kinds of things, but if you can cultivate knowledge of your spiritual being and connect more deeply with your spiritual being, then you will be of great help to others who are faced with the inevitability of an end to this journey in this particular body. And you yourself, while feeling sadness, definitely, will not experience grief to the point that it immobilizes you.

This is a huge subject, and like I said, there will be some things that people may be hearing that are sort of like, they’re going to struggle with a little bit, and it’s okay. We don’t have to resolve everything at this moment.

This has been streamed and you can see it on their Waikato Meditation Facebook, but I’ll also post it on my website. And I would encourage you, from time to time, to revisit this talk and to consider it, each time a little bit more deeply.

But the thing that will be transformative for you in actually really changing the way that you are thinking, perhaps, and the way that you are—have been conditioned to see things, is this meditative process, the chanting of these spiritual sounds. More than anything, it clears away the debris and the dust and cobwebs in the mind and heart. It’s like the dissipating fog, when you’re stuck in the middle of a really bad fog, and you can hardly see three feet in front of you, and you’re trying to drive down the road, and it’s kind of like, whoa, it’s pretty scary. But as the sun begins to shine then gradually it begins to dissipate the fog, and gradually it lifts, and you’re able to see now a substantial distance.

This is the impact of this form of meditation. It will actually gradually, bit by bit, completely change the way you look at yourself, the way that you look at others, and the way that you look at the world, and the way that you will be seeing things will be founded on a far more spiritual foundation. And it’s such a relief. One can be relieved of so much of the weight that comes from material life.

So, I’m going to lead you in a short kirtan, and when that’s done during the— (they have a dinner? Yeah? No? Yeah.) during dinner, if you want to ask any questions, please feel free, and I will do my best to answer them appropriately. Okay. Thank you very, very much.


So, I’m going to chant the mantra, this one [pointing], Aum Hari Aum