Spiritual Lessons From Flying
From Back to Godhead
By Suvarna Radhika Devi Dasi
I leaned back in my seat and closed my eyes. My flight was circling over Delhi, waiting for permission to land. My thoughts flashed through the entire process of flying from purchasing the ticket till reaching my destination. Some facet of Krishna consciousness seemed present at every step.
We are careful when we do this checking all the available flights and then choosing the most convenient one. We make reservations days in advance so we get the best rates. After booking the ticket, we double-check all the details: the flight number, the date and time of departure, the destination, etc.
Shouldn’t we exercise the same kind of caution on our spiritual journey? There are many teachers and many paths we can follow. We need to ask, do all roads lead to the same goal? Well, do all flights take you to the same city? No, all flights go to different destinations, and similarly different spiritual paths lead you to different goals. Should we select a spiritual path because it is convenient or easy to practice? Do we take a flight to some other destination just because it’s cheaper than where we actually want to go? Before selecting a spiritual path we need to carefully study its scriptures and observe the lives of its successful practitioners. But even more than that, we must actually know the right goal, for without a proper destination, the entire process of flying becomes useless. The ultimate goal of the human form of life is to love Krishna, and the process is bhakti, rendering devotional service to Him.
Let us compare the different stages of a flight journey to different situations in life.
The Check-in Process
Everyone at this point is alert, especially the airport staff. The baggage scanning, the identity checks, the full-body scan every individual must endure this to prevent a terrorist hijacking that could cause harm to the passengers and likely divert the flight and take it to some unknown destination. Like a terrorist, the binding illusory energy, Maya, will always try to divert us from our goal to become Krishna conscious. She will present constant stream of images to the mind material objects meant to attract us in the shape of forms, sounds, tastes, smells, and tactile experiences each of which will promise us enjoyment. But these temporary enjoyments simply distract us from Krishna. So like the airport staff, we too must remain alert while we are checking in for our spiritual flight, constantly scanning the images filling our minds and rejecting all harmful ones. It helps when practicing this kind of vigilance to avoid television, the internet, mundane music, and prohibited food, because these things increase our base qualities like lust, greed, anger, pride, envy, and the tendency to be illusioned. Instead, we should receive images that remind us of Krishna pastimes, divine message, glories, and mercy. To strengthen our will power it is important to chant His holy names attentively, regularly read and hear the philosophy of Krishna consciousness, and to follow prescribed spiritual disciplines. These practices build a secure fortress around the mind so the terrorist of illusion cannot penetrate.
The Waiting Room
After check-in we wait, sometimes for hours. Flights are often delayed (at least that seems true of the ones I take). The airline staff works hard to ensure that flights run smoothly, but fog, bad weather, air traffic congestion, and the delay of other incoming flights cause delays. This reminds me of life. We try so hard to make things run smoothly, but they are rarely the way we want them to be. There are always factors beyond our control. God makes the world like this to remind us, “You are not the controller; I am.” Our tendency to control material nature eventually makes us unhappy. We must learn to surrender to the Supreme Controller, Krishna, and gratefully accept the situations He puts us in. In every situation we should simply try our best to continue our services and keep moving closer to Him.
On the Plane
We fasten our seat belts, and the plane takes off. Most passengers then fall asleep. Consider this: We are in a small, enclosed space about 35,000 feet above sea level, moving at hundreds of kilometers per hour with no gear to pull if anything goes wrong. And millions of things can go wrong, right? A technical snag in any of the devices keeping that heavy machine afloat could result in our certain death. Yet there we are peacefully sleeping! We shouldn’t have put ourselves in such a dangerous situation in the first place! But since we have, why doesn’t it worry us? Because we have faith in the pilot, in the crew, and in the maintenance staff. We have total faith in the efficiency of the airline. We firmly believe that this flight will not explode in midair and the pilot will take us to our destination. So we sleep, secure in our faith. But did we speak to these people before boarding the flight? Did we interview the pilot or check his credentials? Did we interrogate any of the flight maintenance staff? How can we trust them? Are we foolish? Is our faith blind? No. We have faith in the whole flight process. We know that thousands of planes fly around the world daily and that the number of accidents is miniscule. The entire airline industry follows a set of strict protocols, and every single flight that takes off and lands proves that the process works.
In the same way, we need to put faith in the process of Krishna consciousness. We haven’t seen or spoken to Krishna, nor have we personally met the person who wrote the scriptures. But we must believe in them because we have been assured the process works. Krishna consciousness has transformed the lives of countless people, helping so many to overcome their conditioning, give up their bad habits, and lead pure, loving lives. And this is not a one-off thing, a recent development. It is a timeless process, affecting people the world over. Anyone who gives up sinful habits and starts chanting Hare Krishna proves by his example that the process works. Faith in Krishna and the scriptures is not blind. It is only as blind as the faith we put in the airline staff. All we need to do is focus on deepening our faith and practicing the process. Our spiritual flight is bound to land.
The Passage of Time
There is one more aspect of spirituality that matches taking a flight. There we are on the plane, looking out the window, watching the fluffy white clouds float by. The flight attendants are charming, and give us what we want with a smile. To pass the time we read or nap or chat with our neighbor. Then the attendant announces, “Kindly prepare for landing.” Then we wonder, “Oh, two hours has already passed? I didn’t even notice!”
Time is ticking and death fast approaching an inevitable, unstoppable force. We cannot afford to be complacent. We cannot be distracted by the false sense of happiness we sometimes feel. We must take up spiritual practice seriously and urgently so we can remember Krishna at the time of death. Otherwise we will find ourselves lying on our deathbed, looking back at yet another fruitless life, where we have achieved only temporary material successes and failures. We may think, “Sixty years have passed and I didn’t even notice!”
My flight finally landed. We were rolling down the runway. People were stretching and unbuckling their seatbelts. Then the flight attendant announced, “Do not unfasten your seat belts until the plane comes to a complete stop.” My thoughts flashed back to that fatal Dubai-Mangalore flight that crashed after the plane had landed. Just when everybody thought they had arrived safely and were planning their ongoing journey, “KaBoom!” The end.
Spiritual life is also like that. We cannot afford to be complacent ever. We have to practice till our last breath. If we think, “This much is enough,” it is our foolishness. Keep striving, never forgetting the goal of life.
I got down from the plane and collected my bag. As I walked out of the airport I offered a silent prayer to Krishna: “Thank you for these realizations, O Lord. Help me to apply them in my life so my spiritual plane will some day one day land at Your lotus feet.”