In the evening of her life, bedridden with severe arthritis, my mother frequently chanted a Vedic mantra, praying to God to separate her from life just as a mature fruit separates from the tree, painlessly.
Hers was the typical Hindu approach to crises: It accepts the tragedy as the will of God, it accepts the tragedy as a fruit of previous karma, and it sees an opportunity for redemption by acting with fortitude and righteousness.
The first approach is devotional. In Bhagavad-Gita, Lord Krishna says that whatever happens in the world happens as the will of God.
Therefore, one should surrender to God and accept fate with equanimity.
Yogananda Parmahansa, in "Autobiography of a Yogi," found solace in the Divine Mother when his earthly mother died: "It is I who have watched over thee, life after life, in the tenderness of many mothers. See in my gaze the lost beautiful eyes thou seekest!"
Does this mean that Hindus are fatalistic? No, Hindu scriptures urge one to strive constantly awake, arise, aspire, and achieve is a constant refrain in the Vedas and Upanishads, but if one does not achieve the desired results, one should not become unduly distressed.
Whereas to work is man's right and duty, the Lord, depending upon one's previous actions or karma, determines the fruits of actions.
Whereas this karmic justice is cold and without recourse in philosophical Hinduism, popular versions of Hinduism allow for divine intercession through worship of the family deity, chanting of Vedic mantras around sacred fire, samkirtan, chanting the name of the Lord, making a pilgrimage to a consecrated shrine, or seeking the direct intervention of a guru.
Gurus act as spiritual counselors at these times. Some people turn to gemology, palmistry, and astrology to find remedies and solutions.
Inasmuch as these measures help in coping with stress, they serve a useful purpose, even if the measures are irrational.
Friends and relatives also provide informal support by visiting the family and offering their services, such as bringing food or taking care of children. There is no system of confession in Hinduism, but many gurus, monks, and swamis give an ear to the devotees, thereby reducing their pain.
Because the process is not anonymous, people who commit acts that are considered taboo in the Hindu community, such as marital infidelity, have difficulty in unloading their burdens of guilt and shame.
Individuals with mental health problems find it more difficult to find support than those with physical ailments, because mental health problems are generally considered to be flaws of character or the result of a lapse in a family's child-rearing style.
There is an urgent need in the United States for the Hindu community to provide some form of spiritual counseling and family support to its members in times of crisis. The community should identify a few key members to perform this function, or the priests should be trained to provide such services, confidentially and non- judgmentally.
The Hindu approach to death is guided almost entirely by Bhagavad-Gita, which teaches that death is a change of clothes by the soul in its eternal journey. The real self is not body, but soul. And nothing can destroy the soul.
This Hindu belief in reincarnation gives a vicarious feeling of eternity. The grieving find solace in the fact that the person they knew would continue to exist, albeit in a different form.
The community really comes together at wakes. People forget their differences and go to pay their last visit to the departed and offer condolences to the family. Death is supposed to be the final event in relationships, and one is supposed to forget past grudges.