A Death to End All Deaths
Many faiths recognize the significance of the coming to earth of a “son of God”, the plight of “sinful man”, and the need for help at the critical time of our death. For example, in Chapter Eight of the Bhagavad Gita, Lord Krishna says to Arjuna:
And whosever at the time of death leaves his body
And departs remembering Me alone,
He attains My being; there is no doubt about this.
Whosoever leaves his body thinking of any being
At the final moment, to that being alone does he attain, O Arjuna,
Because of his constant thought of that being.
Therefore, at all times remember Me and fight.
With your mind and understanding absorbed in Me,
You will surely come to Me.
In setting out to address the existential dilemma facing Arjuna – should he battle with members of his own family to combat evil or should he refrain from fighting, out of family loyalty and to avoid bloodshed? – Lord Krishna addresses humanity’s ultimate question about the purpose of life and proceeds to outline three paths for liberating the soul. In the preceding verse, Lord Krishna explains how to achieve immortality when the angel of death comes knocking. Thus, he impresses upon Arjuna the importance of meditating daily in order to redirect his attention inwards and develop his concentration so that it is focused entirely upon Krishna. If Arjuna achieves this whilst living, he will not panic at the time of his death but will, instead, automatically turn his attention to Lord Krishna. By retaining his focus on Krishna when dying, Arjuna’s soul will merge with Krishna and thereby attain liberation from the karmic wheel of life and death.
Our attachments bring us back
The importance of meditation is exemplified in a fable featured in Tales of the Mystic East about a man who kept putting off his meditation. In the fable, whenever Kabir Sahib went out walking, he would come across a man sitting in his fields. “Sir, instead of sitting idly in your fields,” Kabir would say to the man, “you could spend your time more effectively in meditation and thus improve yourself.” But the man would always reply, “Oh no! I am far too busy!”
One day, without any warning, the man died. Since he had been greatly attached to one of the cows he looked after, the man’s final thoughts turned to his favourite cow. As Kabir walked by the empty field a few months later, he enquired after the man. Learning that he had died, Kabir turned his attention inwards and saw that the man had been reincarnated as the calf of his favourite cow. “Ah, that is indeed a great pity,” Kabir said. “Poor man, his life was wasted. Even a few moments of love for the Lord would have started to end his imprisonment here.”
Rehearsing the process of dying
All saints come to the world on a mission of mercy. They may be born in the East or West, in any country, caste or creed – it makes no difference. Imparting the same eternal message of God-realization, all mystics teach their disciples the technique of ‘dying while living’. Hence, in the first of his four letters to the Corinthians, Saint Paul wrote, “I die daily.” Similarly, by impressing upon Arjuna that daily meditation will counteract his fear during the process of dying, Lord Krishna is also indicating that meditation is a way of rehearsing for death. Maharaj Charan Singh makes the same point in Die to Live:
Why should death be terrible when we are trying to experience that same death every day? Unless we start preparing ourselves for that time, death is terrible and painful. But when we sit in meditation every day, it means we are preparing ourselves.
As well as preparing ourselves for death, the saints say that meditation brings about our spiritual awakening in which we become alive to the Lord but dead (i.e., detached) to the world. Some of us may become sufficiently advanced in our practice to realize the mysteries of the truth within. Guru Nanak put it like this:
If you die while living, you will know all,
And experience the Lord’s grace within.
Such a one, O Nanak, attains true esteem,
And recognizes the Lord within all beings.
The chances are, however, that most of us will spend our lifetime trying to reach the eye centre. But this itself is a sign of the immeasurable grace bestowed upon us by the Lord. Were it not for him, we would neither meet the Master nor follow a spiritual path. By his grace, we make the effort to attend to our meditation. And it is by his grace we fulfill the purpose of life and, returning home, become one with our Father forever.
O Nanak, when the Lord is merciful to someone,
He brings him in contact with a Satguru;
Such a one, through the Guru’s grace,
Dies while living,
And never faces death again.