By Ananda Vrindavanesvari Devi
In downtown San Antonio there is a large blackboard on the side of a building that reads “Before I Die…”. Beneath the heading there are spaces for people to fill in the blank – Before I die I want to ___________.
Death is surely the great milestone of our life. It hovers close by, although we do our best to forget about it because of fear and pain. And so, even though we hear of others dying daily, we somehow think we will never die. Or that it won’t happen to us for a long time. When it does come close to home, when a near or dear one moves on, we are affected by it. A relationship is suddenly cut. It’s over and we are left with grief and memories.
For most, death means the end of life completely. But those in the practice of Bhakti know it’s just the end of the body, not the end of life. Not the end of me, the soul, the consciousness. The Gita explains it is is just like taking off one set of clothes and putting on another. Or moving from one house to another. One place to the next. Death is a change, an end of something but always a beginning of another.
When asked what is the definition of old, one may say – someone close to death. In that sense we can’t really tell who is “old”, as anyone can die at any moment. We never know when our existence in this life will be over. It’s like a drop of water on a leaf – our position in this body, in this world, is so tenuous.
A question about impending death was the catalyst of the great philosophical treatise the Srimad-Bhagavatam. A good and noble king, Maharaja Pariksit, was informed he had 7 days before his death. He gathered the wisest men around him and asked them – What is the best thing I can do to prepare for death?
That’s how he would have filled in the blank. Before I die I want to … find out how I can best be ready for that moment.
They told him – just hear about Krishna. This is the most important relationship you have to work on at this time. No need for anything more for the body – now bring the soul forth, bring the spiritual to the front, immerse yourself in this most important relationship and there you will discover your true and original self. This is a golden opportunity.
Who sees death as an opportunity? But for one in Krishna consciousness it is. It is the moment we can step out of the cycle of birth and death (samsara) that has us captured since time immemorial. it is that moment between one body and other where we can grasp the hand of Krishna and be pulled out of the ocean of material energy.
The Gita teaches that wherever our mind is at the time of death, that will determine our next destination. Better not leave that to chance as our mind is undependable. In a split second it goes off on any emotion, both good and bad. Before we die, therefore, we need to practice what state of mind we want to be in at the time of death. That’s the practice of Bhakti. If our heart is filled with affection for Krishna, then at that critical moment we will call out to Krishna, and place our heart, and therefore our mind there. Love conquers all, especially the mind. If we love Krishna, that is where we will go for shelter. And that is where we will go at the time of, and after, death.
So, what do we want before we die? Things that will help us die well. Start making your list today and fill in the blanks.