By His Divine Grace B. S. Tirtha Maharaj
The fear of death haunts many people. So they want to escape death and avoid facing it or even thinking about it. Unless and until one develops real love for the Supreme Lord Krishna, a human being cannot avoid or escape death. Like animals, humans too have to take birth repeatedly and die. The transcendental love for God, in the form of the Supreme Lord Krishna, is the real love. Once a person cultivates love for the Supreme Lord Krishna in this birth he/she becomes liberated and after leaving this body lives eternally in the spiritual abode by continuing the loving service to the lord.
This is confirmed by the Supreme Lord Krishna in the Gita (15.6) yat gatva na nivartante tad dhama parmam mama, having attained that abode of mine, they do not return to this world. Here is a real life story that confirms this truth.
During the last summer at dusk on a sultry Monday, a young man in his late twenties literally barged into my room where I was chanting my twenty first round of ‘Hare Krishna’ maha mantra on my beads. From his dress, he looked a typical commercial sector executive in Mumbai. “Will you kindly initiate me into the chanting of Hare Krishna maha mantra Swamiji?” asked the young visitor even before I could offer him a seat. I glanced at him, and by now, he was sitting on the floor. I was trying to gauge the reason for his request for initiation into the spiritual practice because I wondered about this sudden request by a stranger.Was it due to an emotional outburst or was it based on philosophical conviction? I was trying to assess.
Curious why this man had come to me for spiritual initiation, I said, “It is not normally for a person of your status and stature to opt for a spiritual life. How come you have developed interest at this stage?” Sensing my curiosity, the visitor introduced himself properly. He started a long story, “In my early childhood I saw my grand parents die. Later, I also witnessed the death of my parents. After some months, I participated in the funeral ceremony of my elder sister. Soon after, I was informed of my brother’s passing away. All these happened suddenly and unexpectedly within a few years with brief intervals. Before I could recover from one tragedy, another hit me. These disasters left a horrendous impact on my young mind.
Death is the cruelest misfortune that does not spare anyone. Death makes no distinction and in most cases, it is painful and shocking. After seeing so many dear ones vanishing into thin oblivion, never to be seen again, the message of death always created in me an unprecedented panic of hideous proportions. At the same time, a strong desire arose in me to defeat death. I said to myself, ‘I want to live.” As I entered my teenage years, I was present at a crematorium tragically observing my uncle’s body being consumed by flames in the presence of all my family members. I was wondering why no one is making an attempt stop it, to check the cruel hands of death. Some one in the funeral group said, “There is nothing as sure as death.” I tried my best to not to permit this unpleasant statement to penetrate into the recess of my heart, but it, nevertheless, did.
This rather permeated my whole self. “No, I don’t want to die, I want to live!” I shouted. My outburst got lost in the incomprehensible cacophony that prevailed in the mourning crowd. Later one evening, when I returned home from my school, I saw there was an eerie silence. Once again, the news was negative. The impact of the news of death of some close relative numbed my mind. It was a sheer torture for me and hardly could anyone could ease my sad feelings. There arose an insatiable urge to explore an unquenchable thirst and constantly increasing curiosity coupled with innate motivation to learn and unravel the mystery of death. News of death always traumatised me. Hearing the news, the relatives and friends simply mourn, place wreaths on the dead bodies, and express some platitudes in appreciation of the deceased.
They mechanically utter a few words of consolation to the close relatives and dutifully attend the services conducted in memory of the departed as a mere formality. Nothing more. My mind rebelled and revolted against the indifference exhibited by the people around. As I gradually became an adolescent, the tragedy centered around death and left an indelible imprint on my mind during formative years. It still remains powerful. Once I was commuting in an overcrowded suburban train in Mumbai. Suddenly the speeding train came to a screeching halt. Somebody announced that a passenger standing at the open doorstep fell off the train due to his loose grip and died instantly. No one can escape the vicious grip of death. It proves its unrestricted capability to strike anyone anywhere. Amidst all uncertainties, the only certainty is death, I now realized. I saw the arrival of an ambulance and the removal of the dead body of the person who boarded the train with me just a few minutes ago.
Although I was in tears, no one besides me seemed to be affected. There was a pronounced indifference. Being saved from any inordinate delay due to the sad accident,my copassengers, on the contrary, heaved a sigh of relief when the train moved on, but my thoughts refused to. By now, as a fully grown up young man, with buoyant optimism that someone must be able to challenge death, I flipped through science journals, diligently perused daily newspapers carefully avoiding the obituary columns, studied with interest many overseas periodicals and concentrated with unfailing regularity on ‘Research and Development’ magazines. But different studies of such voluminous writings with a meticulous mind only pathetically revealed to me that many men of great intellect as well as research scientists are simply wasting their time. The taxpayers money in is spent on some useless topics of this temporal world of uncertainties. They are the least interested in detailed research about death which can imperceptibly deal a sudden blow on them and put a stop to their current foolish and fanciful endeavours. I understand that all these fools are only interested in ephemeral projects and not in the eternal enlightenment.
As I grew up, I saw the various media prominently projecting news of death.
● Nine killed in a car bomb blast
● Earthquakes claim 5100 lives
● Boat capsizes and 252 feared drowned.
● Building collapses, 81 instantly dead
● 112 burnt alive in communal clash
● A major air-crash- all passengers and the crew killed
● 210 lost lives in train accident
● A whole village wiped out in flood
● 30 people declared dead due to food poisoning
● 6 picnickers drowned
● 22 killed in police firing so far.
● 63 mercilessly massacred by terrorists.
This apart, due to personal rivalry and religious hostility, once I personally happened to see dead bodies strewn around street corners. I was prepared to learn but had no one to teach me. I was looking for directions but had no guide. I was groping in darkness but no one to show me light. One day, I saw BHAGAVAT GITA lying on a book shelf. It seemed unattended since the time the shelf was installed, it suddenly attracted my attention. I pulled it out of the shelf as irreverently as I would, any novel. I started gave it a cursory glance and lo! I found one of the important characters of this book Arjuna, five thousand years ago, was in a similar predicament like me. Before he started to fight the battle of ‘Kurukshetra’, Arjuna suddenly realized that the death of all his kith and kin on both sides was inevitable.
The very thought scared him. Although a great warrior belonging to Kshatriya clan known for a sense of imperturbability even in the midst of a grave crisis, Arjuna was shaken out of his existence. Just after reading a couple of pages about Arjuna’s urge to run away from the battlefield, I impatiently shoved the book back on to the shelf as indifferently as I had picked it up. Recently, I was passing through a narrow side street in south Mumbai, when I was hurriedly taking a turn near a temple. Walking very close, I heard through loudspeakers someone saying, “You shall never die”. I could not move any further. I stood still. “You can conquer death”, the voice roared. I could not believe this. Conquering death? Is there a way? I was more stunned than surprised. The speech was emanating from the temple, I made sure. The excruciating experience that I went through all these years literally pushed me toward the temple threshold.
The next moment, I found myself sitting with the rest of the motely crowd on the floor surrounding an elderly person in saffron robe sitting on a slightly raised platform. In front of him at some distance, there were elegantly dressed, aesthetically decorated deities of Shri Radha and Shri Krishna. The temple hall looked pleasant and inviting with fragrance of jasmine flowers and the aroma of incense sticks. I looked at the speaker. His face was completely serene reflecting the composure of his mind. There was Vaishnava clay marking on his broad forehead. I never came across such a face shining brilliantly in my entire life. His very presence had such a purifying effect that I was instantly relieved of the pain in my heart. He continued with his discourse, ‘na mriyate kadachit’ will never die at anytime. These words were just like honey pouring into my ears. ‘Nityah’ eternal and ‘Shashvatah’ everlasting, he emphatically expressed. Needless to say these words gladdened my heart further. Alas! At least here is someone who has challenged death. He knows the method, I said to myself.
Swamiji quoted various instances where people defied death. At the last moment, at the time of death, Ajamila chanted the Holy Name of the Supreme Lord Narayana when the servants of Yama, the superintendent of death, came to take him away forcefully. At that very moment, a confidential associate of the Lord appeared and forbade them from doing so. Ajamila was saved from death. Then he also spoke of a saintly king called ‘Khatvanga’ who having assisted demigod Indra of heavens in his battle against demons successfully, wanting to return to his kingdom on the planet earth, came to know from Indra that only a few moments of his life were left. Immediately chanting the Holy Name of Supreme Lord Shri Krishna, the saintly king returned to the spiritual abode, Shri Vaikuntha. He also explained in great details about the incident of the ‘curse to die’ of Parikshit Maharaja and that he was finally advised while concluding seven days narration of Shrimad Bhagavatam by his spiritual teacher Shrila Shukadeva. Swamiji’s rhetorical gesture was very forceful and impressive. He said, tvam tu rajan marisyeti pasu-buddhim imam jahi na jatah prag abhuto dya deha-vat tvam na nanksyasi
“O King, give up the animal mentality of thinking, “I am going to die”. Unlike the body, you have not taken birth. There was not a time in the past when you did not exist, and you are not about to be destroyed”. It is only the animals who become scared of death. Hence they have intense spirit in them for self-defence. This is because they have no spiritual conception. They have absolutely no idea beyond the gross physical bodies they possess. You are not an animal. You should be free from this anxiety. Swamiji explained further citing verses from the second chapter of Gita.(2.11, 12, 13 & 2.22)
asocyan anvasocas tvam prajna vadams ca bhasase gatasun agatasums ca nanusocanti panditah) na tv evaham jatu nasam na tvam name janadhipah na caiva na bhavisyamah sarve vayam atah param dehino smin yatha dehe kaumaram yauvanam jara tatha dehantara- praptir dhiras tatra na muhyati vasamsi jirnani yatha vihaya navani grhnati naro parani tatha sarirani vihaya jirnany anyani samyati navani dehi
“The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: While speaking wise words, you are mourning for what is not worthy of grief. Those who are wise lament neither for the living nor for the dead. Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings; nor in the future shall any of us cease to be. As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A sober person is not bewildered by such a change. As a person puts on new garments, giving up old ones, the soul similarly accepts new material bodies, giving up the old and useless ones. Arjuna, try to understand this, thus spoke Krishna,” said the Swamiji in his thundering voice. It reminded me immediately about the book ‘Gita’ lying in my book-shelf. Swamiji was speaking from this book. He further continued, “You should all read Gita at least.” Then he spoke about the glory of Gita.(12.5.2)
sarvopanisado gavo, dogdha gopalanandanah partho vatsah sudhir bhokta, dugdham gitamrtam mahat
“The crest-jewels of the Vedas, the Upanishads, are like a cow, and the milker of the cow is Lord Shri Krishna, the son of Nanda Maharaja. Arjuna is the calf, the nectar of the Gita is the milk, and the virtuous devotees are the drinkers and enjoyers of the milk.” While concluding, Swamiji spoke with anguish about the current social trend of general apathy towards spiritual learning and how that is ruining the whole human society. In India, it is generally seen that people in their seventies suffering from rheumatic pain and gout trouble often express a desire to visit far flung holy places. After a couple of cataract operations, many senior citizens suddenly develop desire to have ‘darshan’ of deities in temples situated at distant sites of pilgrimage. Persons who are paralytic and bed ridden show misplaced enthusiasm for spiritual initiation at a time when their minds suffer from dementia.
Such old and infirm people tend to become religious because they can see death coming nearer every day. What is the use of taking to religion when one is afflicted with physical debility and mental derangement? Spiritual pursuits, on the contrary, demand agile physique and a clear mind. It is astonishing as to how such an attitude came to prevail for a very long time in India which boasts of spiritual supremacy over the rest of the world by the virtue of having nurtured and nourished a civilization based on the teachings of the Vedas, an ageless scripture of India. It is all the more amazing when we view this from the worldly perspective. These days we see boys aged six or seven practising cricket batting and bowling. Children of this age group attempt to learn swimming and bicycle riding, among other sports, pastimes and hobbies. But when it comes to adopting a religious way of life or taking to devotional service to God, we prefer ripe old age of invalidity.
What a paradox! In Shrimad Bhagavatam, it is said, ‘kaumara achared prajyah..’, spiritual practices in terms of devotional service to Shri Vishnu or Shri Krishna should be imparted to one in the early childhood, that is because the child’s mind is uncontaminated by the subject matters of this physical world and free from craving for any material enjoyment due to undeveloped physical senses. We often come across people saying, “We shall take to bhakti or any spiritual practices after we fulfill our family obligations and duties”. This never happens. Even if it does in some cases, whatever they do at the tail end of their lives will be nothing more than a mere formality. This tendency of according the least priority to regular and meaningful spiritual practices is widely prevalent.
Many people entertain a wrong notion that making perfunctory visits to temples on important festive occasions in itself constitutes devotion. Thus the discourse came to an end. Kirtans began. I rushed back home. That very night I started reading the Gita. In just seven days I finished the entire scripture thoroughly assimilating the essence of the teachings. I became fully convinced that I am not the physical body but an eternal spirit soul part and parcel of Krishna and to attain the eternal residence in the spiritual planet ‘Krishna Loka’ and this should be the only goal of life. To achieve this, one should be able remember Krishna at the time of death. The only positive method to ensure this remembrance is to chant the Holy Names of the Supreme Lord on a regular basis as concluded by the eighteen thousandth verse of Shrimad Bhagavatam (12.13.23) “.
Nama sankritanam yasya sarva-papa pranasanam Pranamo duhkha-samanas tam namami Harim param
“I offer my respectful obeisances to the Supreme Lord, Hari; the congregational chanting of whose holy names destroys all sinful reactions, and the offering obeisances unto who relieves all material suffering.” Thus he ended his narration. On the next Janamasthmi festival, I initiated him into chanting of Hari Nama as well as Gayatri Mantra as he was eligible for this.With his new name, he became known as Vraja Vallabha Dasa. He started chanting one hundred thousand Holy Names daily. On the following Radha Asthmi festival, I expected to him visit us, but I was told that he never turned up. I personally telephoned him the next day only to be told by his brother that Vraja Vallabha Dasa left his body on Radha Asthmi due to a massive heart attack and that he was chanting at the time of leaving his body. What a glorious death! We are sure he has now joined the group of cowherd boys in the eternal abode of Krishna Loka to directly engage in transcendental loving service of the Supreme Lord. He wanted to live. He lives for ever. He died only to live eternally.