I am currently a postgraduate student in Mathematics and will be going to do Ph.D soon. I have noticed that when I am engrossed in a mathematical problem, I seem to forget everything else. I also want to win over my greatest fear - death - and make death happen to me when I wish. I have found out that for this the spiritual path is the only path which calls for complete devotion to Him. However, due to my passion in Mathematics, this complete devotion seems to be impossible. What can I do?
—S. Roy, India
Dear S. Roy,
It’s good to have passion for your outward dharma (or duty). Without that, you would spend most hours of your life in an activity that has no appeal. That might change your view on death, but only from fearing it to longing for it as relief from dreary tedium.
On the other hand, if you have passion only for your outward calling, what will you have at the end of life? Everything physical and intellectual gets left behind at death. That’s ample reason to fear death because your one and only passion would be taken from you.
It is much healthier—in all ways—to see that devotion to math is perfectly compatible with devotion to God. See math as a pathway not only to intellectual or artistic enjoyment and accomplishment but also to God. It certainly was for great souls like Pythagoras and Swami Rama Tirtha.
How can you do that? When you feel delight in or passion for math, offer that feeling back to its Source—God—with gratitude and devotion. After all, God gave you mathematics, as well as everything else. Do math in partnership with God. Ask Him/Her to help you see the right questions to ask, as well as the solutions. Share with Spirit your triumphs and blockages. You’ll not only grow closer to God that way; you’ll also be a much better mathematician. And you’ll have a lot more fun than if your experience of math were confined to the human intellect.
When I began my spiritual quest, I regretted the years that I dedicated to math. (I have a Ph.D. in Mathematics.) One day I learned that the ancient Greek mathematician, Pythagoras, was not only a great mathematician, but also a spiritual guru, and he insisted that his disciples study math. Why? Because math teaches one how to concentrate on non-material realities, and God is certainly one of those. I realized, “It wasn’t a waste of time after all!”
So follow your passion for math, but see it as a doorway to greater experiences. And don’t bother trying to choose your time of death. Use the gifts that God has given you with grateful devotion. Focus on discovering who and what you really are, so when death comes to you, you will pass the true “final exam,” and enter into the blissful world of Spirit. That exam will not entail solving a problem of Galois or Hilbert; it will be God asking, “How much have you loved Me?”
P.S. When you go to graduate school, study the professors who are devoted only to math. Has it brought them happiness? Has it made them the kind of person you want to be? You’ll find some answers in that.