The earlier in life we take to spiritual practices, the better are the chances of success in our struggle against the mind. In his famous hymn Bhajagovindam Sri Sankara admonishes an old man indulging in intricacies of Sanskrit grammar: "When death is drawing near, rules of grammar are of no avail. Worship the Lord! Worship the Lord!" Having come to this impermanent, joyless world, worship Me, teaches Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita (9.33).
We conclude the subject "Time and Spiritual Life" with an inspiring incident from the Bhagavata. King Parikshit was the son of Abhimanyu, who was born to Arjuna and Subhadra. Once while hunting in a dense forest Parikshit felt very thirsty. Looking for water to quench his thirst, he came across a sage who was in deep meditation, oblivious of the external world. Unaware of the exalted spiritual state of the sage, Parikshit asked him for water several times, but there was no response from him. Angry and offended by the sage's apparent indifference, Parikshit, seeing a dead snake nearby, lifted it with his bow, placed it around the sage's neck, and went his way. When the young son of the sage, himself a pure soul, learned of this insult to his father, he declared: "My father is innocent. The one who has insulted him will die of snake-bite in seven days."
Hearing about the curse, Parikshit at first trembled. But since the blood of the noble Pandavas flowed in his veins, he realized his mistake. He immediately renounced his kingdom, retired to the bank of the Ganges, took a vow of fasting, and focused his mind on God. Knowing that he had come, hundreds of ascetics, yogis, and holy persons gathered at the bank of the holy river. The king bowed at their feet, and said with folded hands: "May the great holy men and the sacred Ganges accept me as one who has devoted his mind to the supreme Lord. In whatever births I may have in the future, may I again find delight in the holy name of the Lord and be associated with those who depend upon Him."
The great Shukadeva, the ever-free, born-perfect soul, soon came that way. Prostrating before him, Parikshit prayed: "O revered sage, we have been blessed by your holy company. Please teach me how to attain God and how to worship and contemplate Him." Shukadeva became pleased at the king's sincere and earnest request, and taught him the way to enlightenment.
The curse proved true and Parikshit died of snake-bite, but death had lost its sting for him ever since he began to fix his mind on God on hearing that his days were numbered.