One Simple Question
Death. What impressions do we conjure up in our heads when we think about it? Unpleasant. Ghastly. Horrific. Disease. Old age. Unfair. Not happening soon. Not to me.
We certainly see death on a daily basis: Gun violence, slaughter farms, terrorism, deforestation, and powerful devastating natural disasters. Although we are well-versed in the laws of nature, most of us choose to ignore the subject of death and the reality of our own eventual demise. Or if we do acknowledge it, we tend to have a negative, depressing and pessimistic outlook on it. No one ever has anything positive to say about dying and no one is looking forward to it.
Well, no one except for a handful of exceptional souls who know precisely what death entails. They have experienced first hand what happens at death. Not only that, they experience death every day, while living. We generally call these extraordinary people, saints, mystics, spiritual gurus, or perfect living Masters. Their names are irrelevant; what truly matters is learning from these realized souls.
There is a simple and interesting, albeit possibly depressing question that we all should spend time thinking about. It is interesting because it applies to each of us differently. More important, this is probably the most critical issue we will ever come across. The answer practically determines where we are headed after death, and working towards the right answer could lead us to eternal bliss. On the other hand, ignoring this question could lead us back into more suffering and pain.
The question is: At the time of your death, when you are taking in your last breath, what will your final thought be?
Regrets? Accomplishments? Promises made? Pending tasks? The love of your life? Money owed? Money to be collected? Your will? Children and grandchildren?
As we have all experienced, we have little or no control over our thoughts. They are random, sporadic, and often not even logical. However, our final thoughts are critically important. They determine the direction nature will take. Part of nature’s role is to fulfil every pending desire, hope, dream and aspiration that we have. The time of death is the critical point where we could either go back into the world and fulfil these pent-up desires or, if we are spiritually inclined and have a genuine yearning to merge back to our origin, to follow our Guru.
This is where the perfect living Masters can help us. By teaching us the proven method they have personally used, they are able to reach out and pull us up to their level. By teaching us the art of meditation, they show us how to first calm the mind and make it motionless. With our mind constantly running throughout the day, it is impossible to see what lies deeper, within us. Our perception of reality is thus shallow, superficial and clouded. Maharaj Charan Singh would often say that to see one’s reflection in a pond, the water must be absolutely still. A slight disturbance could create a long-lasting ripple effect.
Although the process of stilling the mind sounds simple enough, it is a long and challenging process.
Stilling the wild mind and withdrawing the attention from the body and concentrating it at the eye focus is a slow affair. Concentrating the attention at the eye focus is like the crawl of an ant on a wall. It climbs to fall and falls to rise and to climb again. With perseverance it succeeds and does not fall again.
Maharaj Sawan Singh, Spiritual Gems
Only upon stilling the mind are we able to truly go within and experience the ultimate reality.
In 1933, an American living in Dera, Dr Julian Johnson, wrote a fascinating letter to his friends in the West. Being a disciple of a great mystic, Maharaj Sawan Singh, he produced an extraordinary account of what he had learnt as a disciple. What follows is merely an excerpt, but the entire letter deserves to be read in its entirety, as it is truly remarkable. Discussing the process of leaving the body at death, he writes:
The mind is often compared to a monkey hopping around. But it must be brought to a standstill, to absolute rest at the given centre. In due time, if the process is complete, the individual spirit current or substance is slowly withdrawn from the body, first from the lower extremities which become feelingless, and then from the rest of the body. The process is identical with that which takes place at the time of death, only this is voluntary, while that of death is involuntary. The whole spiritual being gathers at the given centre, or focus, its powers increasing because of the concentration. Eventually he is able to pierce the veil that intervenes – which in reality is “not thicker than the wing of a butterfly” – and then he opens what is called the tenth door and steps out into a new world. The body remains in the position in which he left it, quite senseless, but unharmed by the process. He can return to it at will. He may remain out of it for hours, or even weeks and months. The life processes slow down almost to a standstill, but the body remains in perfect health until the owner is ready to return to it. In all this the student is neither asleep nor unconscious – not for a moment. In fact, the reverse takes place. He is superconscious. He knows all that is going on in and around him and vastly more than he ever knew before.
With a Great Master in India
The one thing we can deduce from this letter is that without practising and becoming proficient in this process, it is all talk. It is all speculation; it is just theory. And all the talk, speculation and theory in the world will not cut it. It will not take us very far, and it certainly will not help us gain control over our mind.
So coming back to our original question of where our thoughts will be when we die, the answer is simple. It depends. It depends on our state of mind. If we have worked hard throughout our life and followed our Master’s teachings, our life will have a very pleasant ending. If, however, we have been ignorant, and all we have done is eat, drink and be merry, well then, all we can hope to do is to efficiently utilize the time we have left. The choice is ours.