Any nineteen-year-old would be excited about travelling overseas. But the reality of travelling makes me want to run the other way, when I think of completing travel documents, lugging around heavy baggage, and suffering jet lag. I also have a habit of misplacing my passport, and worse yet, I have a pre-existing medical condition.
Now, if you’ve ever tried to get travel insurance you may be aware of this term. “A pre-existing medical condition” literally refers to a health problem that has been a part of your life prior to your planning your trip. Because the cost of a visit to the hospital outside of your own country can cost more than your round-trip ticket, one of your friends decided to get travel insurance for his most recent trip. But after looking at one scheme after the next, drudging through one policy after another, he realised that 95 percent of insurance companies didn’t want much to do with him in light of my, lo and behold, “pre-existing medical condition.” One company’s policy stated that if a person is aware of a medical condition, then they themselves should be prudent enough to be prepared and bring along necessary medication or medical equipment prior to travel, or not travel at all. It took some personal self-restraint not to explode at my flickering computer screen—wasn’t I being careful by getting insured for my condition? Finally, after scrolling through several policies, I picked the best one and was happy to be done with my search, but the ordeal did make me consider what real insurance is and whether I could actually find it.
The word “insurance” refers to the difficult job of safeguarding against unexpected calamities like fire, car crashes, plane crashes, heart attacks, floods, tornadoes and death.
No doubt, everyone everywhere is getting insured—it’s a profitable business around the globe. You can get travel insurance, life insurance, accidental death insurance, health insurance, home insurance, car insurance, property insurance, terrorism insurance, pet insurance, terminal illness insurance, kidnap and ransom insurance, alien abductions insurance…, and so on.
At its root, however, insurance contains the nonchalant little word: sure. A quick glance at the dictionary will tell you that sure can mean: free from doubts to the reliability, character, action etc. of something; convinced, fully persuaded, or positive; assured or certain beyond question; unfailing; never disappointing expectations; never missing, slipping, etc.
Certainly, no sane person can apply terms like “never missing” or “unfailing” to anything in this world of matter, because of the temporary nature of our possessions, our relationships, and of the changing world around us. For example, although people may take all precautions against illness, they may be killed within a moment, in some freak accident. A placid ocean with only the gentlest of waves can become a wild fury just by one rocky movement of the earth. Someone may even achieve huge fame, only to be haunted by a lonely personal life. In the classic handbook of self-realisation, Bhagavad-gita, Krishna aptly supplies more fitting terms to describe the nature of this material world: temporary, and full of miseries. Knowing there are miseries immediately makes me want to protect myself from them, but knowing they are temporary makes me wonder, what’s the point? Yet, even if I do protect myself once or twice from these miseries, fleeting as they may be, how can I be sure that they won’t keep coming back?
What’s more, with all this insurance, we are not able to make a dent in compensating for the real problems of life: birth, death, old age, and disease. Sure, you may be insured for any one of these four things, but real “insurance” would mean that there will be no more ordeal. In the spiritual reality, a complete reimbursement doesn’t just indicate a payback for dire losses if it fits under the policy conditions—it’s actually an ultimate solution to the entire material condition.
World-renowned master of bhakti-yoga, Srila Prabhupada, states “…as human beings we are not meant for simply solving economic problems on a tottering platform but for solving all the problems of the material life into which we have been placed by the laws of nature.” (Sri Isopanisad, Mantra 3 commentary.)
In the spirit of this statement, the concept of insurance creates something like a placebo effect for our agitated minds: because it’s there, you think nothing will go wrong, and if it does, you have backup. But the intelligent inquirer will think about what this backup really means if we all end up having to face death anyway. There must be a way of life that provides guaranteed insurance till the end and beyond, and only then can we invest our time in searching for it. This way of life is described in the Bhagavadgita by Krishna, who spoke the highest knowledge on spiritual insurance on a battlefield—a place where you’d truly beg for some kind of insurance.
“In this endeavor there is no loss or diminution, and a little advancement on this path can protect one from the most dangerous type of fear.” (Bhagavad-gita, 2.40).