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Death, in the context of Krishna-Attainment
Author Acharya Prashant
Acharya Prashant
17 min
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अन्तकाले च मामेव स्मरन्मुक्त्वा कलेवरम् |

य: प्रयाति स मद्भावं याति नास्त्यत्र संशय: || 5||

anta-kāle cha mām eva smaran muktvā kalevaram

yaḥ prayāti sa mad-bhāvaṁ yāti nāstyatra sanśhayaḥ

At the time of death, anyone who departs by giving up the body while thinking of Me alone, he attains My state. There is no doubt about this.

~ Chapter 8, Verse 5

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यं यं वापि स्मरन्भावं त्यजत्यन्ते कलेवरम् |

तं तमेवैति कौन्तेय सदा तद्भावभावित: || 6||

yaṁ yaṁ vāpi smaran bhāvaṁ tyajatyante kalevaram

taṁ tam evaiti kaunteya sadā tad-bhāva-bhāvitaḥ

O son of Kunti, thinking of any entity whichever it may be one gives up the body at the end, he attains that very one, having been always engrossed in its thought.

~ Chapter 8, Verse 6

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Questioner (Q): These verses mention about the thought one has at the time of leaving the body and how this thought determines how and where one goes. What is implied by that, and what is its importance in my day-to-day life?

Acharya Prashant (AP): Good you asked that.

Remember who is talking here. Sri Krishna is talking. I had just said that every word has its meaning colored by the one who is using that word. In that sense, even though words appear to have objective meanings listed in the dictionary, really no word has any objective meaning. Not only do we use words as we are, we also mean words as we are.

Now, the verses here say that “if at the time of death you are thinking of Me, Arjuna, then you will attain Liberation and will not come back to this world”. To take the point further, the next verse says that “the one that you keep thinking of is the one that you get related to in your next birth”. This probably confuses the reader a bit, and therefore they have raised a question.

We have to investigate the meaning of the word ‘death’. When Shri Krishna says ‘death’, what does he mean? Is Shri Krishna looking at himself as a body? No. There is no way the author of these lines takes himself as a corporal being. Is Shri Krishna referring to himself as merely the Ātmān here? Well, yes and no. He does refer to himself as the Ātmān here, but the role that he is playing is not of Ātmān but of Avatar. Had he been merely the non-doer, Supreme Truth, then he would not have been found mortally present on the battlefield instructing Arjuna. So, discount these two and see what you are left with.

The body Krishna is not; therefore, when Krishna says, ‘body’, he is not referring to physical death.

Ātmān does not die ever; therefore, when Krishna uses the word ‘death’, he cannot refer to Ātmān. The word ‘death’ does not apply to Ātmān at all.

Therefore, when Shri Krishna says ‘death’, what exactly does he mean? Whose death? He is talking of the death of the mind. The mind is the matter, the subject that Sri Krishna is referring to here. The entire Bhagavad Gita is addressing the mind. Shri Krishna is not talking to Arjuna the man; he is speaking to Arjuna the mind that is occupied in all kinds of useless things—attachments, memories, hesitations.

So, when Shri Krishna says ‘death’, what he means is the death of the mind. He refers to the subtle death; not the gross death of the body that seems to occur only once in the lifetime or at the end of a lifetime. The body seems to meet only one death and that one death is final, even though when you look at the body microscopically, then you find that body too is going through a process of continuous death. Death is not an event even at the level of the body; death is a process. But leave that aside.

In the dimension of the mind, what is death? In the dimension of mind, death is something that is continuously happening, because the mind is at no moment what it was in the previous moment. Continuously stuff is happening here (pointing at head); things are changing here.

So, what is it that Shri Krishna means? He is saying, “If you are with Me this moment, then that will enable you to be with Me the next moment. That’s my blessing to you. On the other hand, if you are not with Me in the mental sense, if you are mentally not with Me in this moment, then the next moment you will find yourself having slipped further away from Me. That does not mean that at the next moment it would be impossible for you to return to Me; only difficult, more difficult. Be with Me, and the next moment you will find yourself again in my lap. Drift away from Me, and then the next moment, as you open your eyes, you will find yourself at a great distance from Me. From there, you still can come to Me. That next moment is your rebirth, but that will require a lot of doing and discipline. Instead of subjecting yourself to that kind of effort a bit later, why don’t you be with Me right now? If you must think, Arjuna, think with Me as the foundation of the thought. You don’t have to think of Me; I cannot be the object of your thought, but let Me be the purpose of your thought.”

Do you get these two? When you think of something, then you are thinking of that thing, but you never think of something for the sake of that thing. You always think of something for the sake of something else, right? Why do you think of a pizza? For the sake of your taste buds. Shri Krishna is saying, “Think of whatever you want to think; let the object be according to your choice or the situation, but think with Me as the purpose of the thought.”

Who is Shri Krishna? Completion itself, perfection itself.

Think of every matter so that you can come to completion.

Think in a way that brings you to completion, whatever be the matter.

So, if I am thinking, for example, of that wall, then my purpose in entertaining that thought has to be to come to a certain contentment or completion using that wall as the object. I know it sounds outrageous—how can one use a wall to come to contentment? But then, don’t we use the wall for all kinds of stupid things? Have you not seen mankind raise walls very unnecessarily?

We do keep thinking of stuff. The question is, what is it that we are thinking of the stuff for? All objects of thought are permissible; the question is, what are you thinking of that thing for?

You might be thinking of money. Alright. What do you think of that money for?

You might be thinking of a man or a woman. Alright, fine, good—but what are you thinking of that person for? Are you thinking of that person in a way, with the intention that that person will bring you to contentment?

That is what is meant by keeping Krishna in thought; that is the purpose of these two verses.

When Shri Krishna says, “Think of Me,” Shri Krishna is obviously not to be objectified. Is Shri Krishna a handkerchief, a piece of wood, some idol in a temple? Some stone, a fabulous piece of architecture? What is Shri Krishna? How will you think of Shri Krishna? He is beyond thought, right? Therefore, what does it mean to keep thinking of Shri Krishna? It means you can think of whatever you want to think, but think in a way that brings thought to completion; think in a way that brings the thinker to contentment. That is what is meant by always thinking of Shri Krishna.

You don’t have to literally think of Shri Krishna, so many people make that mistake. In fact, there are entire movements dedicated to cultivating thoughts of Shri Krishna the person. They say, “Shri Krishna is a beautiful personality and you have to be thinking of Him!” and they actually do that! They think of Shri Krishna as some kind of a human form, close their eyes and visualize. This is stupid! This is not at all what Shri Krishna meant. You cannot think of Shri Krishna; you have to think of the world. Whatever you think of will be the worldly thing, but think of it in a way that takes you to Contentment, Peace, Truth, Completion. These four words that we just mentioned, they refer to Krishna.

Therefore, being devoted to Krishna does not forbid thinking of this object or that object. In fact, spirituality or Adhyātma is not at all about narrowing down the scope of your thought. The spiritual man would be a great thinker: he would have the entire sky available as the expanse to think. The space of his thought would be as unlimited as possible.

Then what is the difference between the thinking man and the spiritual man? Just one difference: the thinking man often thinks for the sake of thinking; the spiritual man thinks for the sake of liberation from thinking. Do you get the difference?

So, think a lot. The question is, what is your objective, what are you thinking for? Are you thinking because you derive some kind of pleasure from being a thinker? And there is a lot of pleasure in being a thinker, right? “I am a thinker.” What you are thinking? Lost in thought, as they say, brooding! Pensive! It kind of strokes the ego. “Who are you?” “I am a thinker!”

The spiritual man thinks equally deeply, probably even more deeply than the so-called intellectual thinker, but he knows fully well that thought is not the end of thought. The end of thought has to be to carry you to a state where the thought is not even needed. And in that state where you do not need thought, you do not need thought because now you are free of the problem that the thought was trying to resolve. That point where you do not even need thought is the Krishna-point. Do you get this? Don’t think of Krishna; think of a closure. Have that as your goal. When you have that as your goal, then you can call it as Krishna-thinking or Krishna-consciousness. Is that clear?

Here, the way the concept has been explained to Arjuna, I am compelled to feel that Shri Krishna does not think of Arjuna as a very capable student. Shri Krishna has almost been forced to dilute the concept or narrate the concept in a not so subtle form. And that is understandable. Look at all the tantrums that Arjuna has been throwing till this point, look at the way he has been raising questions. And some of his questions are even quite petulant, insolent. At some point he tells Krishna, “Krishna, do not try to misguide me.” So, I do not really see an absolutely dedicated disciple here.

Obviously, you have to empathize with Arjuna. Look at the situation: he has been called upon to murder his own relatives! It is understandable if his head is spinning a little bit right now. Therefore, this is not the occasion when Shri Krishna can deliver the subtlest of concepts to him. Hence, he, at least here in these few verses, is speaking a language that is a little coarse. That does not mean that Shri Krishna is delivering a coarse concept; that merely means that that is the requirement of the listener in front of him. Arjuna does not seem to be in a position to understand and enjoy subtle things at this moment. It’s a battlefield. It’s not a classroom.

But these verses have been often misinterpreted to cause a lot of confusion. People take them literally and start believing that, irrespective of the kind of life they have led, if they somehow utter the name of Krishna in the moment of their death, then they will be liberated or they will be reborn in a pious way or in a nice, happy, and wealthy family. That kind of a belief must be dispelled!

Shri Krishna is talking of the mind. And if Shri Krishna is to be remembered, then that remembrance has to be constant remembrance. The mind comes and goes away every moment. Getting it? So just as the movement of mental activity is continuous, similarly the remembrance of Shri Krishna has to be continuous. Let us not deceive ourselves by thinking that we can live and think as we please through the 80 years of our lives, and then suddenly in the moment of death, we can compensate for all our stupidities by just once uttering the name of Krishna. That is not going to happen! You require constant vigilance. ‘Constant’ is the word.

तस्मात्सर्वेषु कालेषु मामनुस्मर युध्य च |

मय्यर्पितमनोबुद्धिर्मामेवैष्यस्यसंशयम् || 7||

tasmāt sarveṣhu kāleṣhu mām anusmara yudhya cha

mayyarpita-mano-buddhir mām evaiṣhyasyasanśhayam

Think of Me at all times. Therefore, think of Me at all times and fight; there is no doubt that by dedicating your mind and intellect to Me, you will attain Me alone.

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Verse 7 now. “Therefore, Arjuna, think of Me at all times and fight.” Shri Krishna is unstoppable here. Again he says, “Think of Me at all times. Therefore, think of Me at all times and fight; there is no doubt that by dedicating your mind and intellect to Me, you will attain Me alone.”

The second line helps us, clarifies a lot. First line says, “Think of Me at all times and fight,” and we are almost led into believing that Shri Krishna is saying, “Think of me, the man,” right? “Think of me, the son of Yashoda.”

No, that’s not what he is saying. Look at the next line: “There is no doubt that by dedicating your mind and intellect to Me you will attain Me alone.”

“Dedicate your mind to Me; let Me be the target; let Me be the objective in everything that you do.” I will have to repeat some of the stuff that I have already said, but I will do that.

Whenever we do something, we do it for a purpose. Let the purpose be Krishna; the doing cannot be Krishna. The doing might just be purchasing oranges from the market—where is Krishna in this? Unless you want to believe that one of the oranges is divine or something. And there are people who do that: “you know, that particular orange, that is not orange, that is Korange (Krishna-orange)!” No, none of that! All your daily dealings will obviously involve dealing with the mortal world. Sometimes you are buying oranges, the next moment you are just… peeling the oranges (laughter), then putting the stuff in a juicer, then sipping the juice. I mean, is that not what daily life is all about?

What else we do? We don’t scale Mount Everest every day, or do we? What we call as daily life is just this, right? Enter the washroom, pick up the soap, apply it. Right? There is no water in the shower, fight with somebody, then come out, and “why are my clothes not ironed?!” Reach the office with already a destroyed mood, create nuisance... I mean, that’s what daily life is.

Shri Krishna is saying, “No! Always remember what every moment is there for. The purpose, the purpose, the purpose, I have to be the purpose. If you are fighting with someone, Arjuna, fight it for Me and ask yourself, are you fighting for your petty own little ego or you are fighting for Me? I am the Immeasurable. If you must fight, fight for the Immeasurable.”

And there would be times when fighting is unavoidable, so do fight. The question is, what are you fighting for?

What are these oranges for? What are you going to do with oranges?

You dedicate them to the Krishna idol? No! Obviously the oranges are going to your stomach.

But then, what is your strength, your bodily vigor for? What you require this body for? You must require this body for Liberation. And then even in the moment of buying, purchasing oranges, you are still remembering Krishna.

That does not mean that Krishna has to be in your thought. But if you are purchasing oranges for the sake of your body, your body has to exist for the sake of Liberation. Are you getting it? That is what meant by constant remembrance of Krishna. That is the actual meaning of Krishna consciousness. It is about opening your eyes. It is not about looking hither and thither and saying, “Oh! That is Krishna, and that is Krishna, and that is Krishna.” Krishna is not so cheap; being omnipresent is something extremely subtle. Krishna is indeed omnipresent, but not in the way that you start saying, “Oh! This is Krishna, that is Krishna, the bird is Krishna and the bird dropping too is Krishna.” Very childish, all this!

“There is no doubt that by dedicating your mind and intellect to Me, you will attain Me alone.”

Obviously, if you are doing something for the sake of Krishna, that means you are doing something for, let’s say, Peace. And if you are doing something for the sake of Peace, and you do it diligently and honestly, then you will attain? Peace! And that is what is meant by saying “that by dedicating your mind and intellect to me you will attain Me alone”.

Work for the sake of Peace, and Peace would be what you get. Work for the sake of pettiness and nonsense and nonsense will be what you get.

That does not mean that if you are constantly remembering Krishna in a mental way—imagining, visualizing, picturizing—then a god called Krishna will descend from heaven in front of you and bless you and you will be reduced to tears like the modern Sudama. These are very churlish fantasies.

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