The easy way out
The attainment of liberation (moksha) is very simple in principle–and in practice, as well. Perhaps it is its simplicity that keeps people from managing it. However it may be, Krishna explains the whole matter in a very simple manner: “At the hour of death, he who dies remembering Me, having relinquished the body, goes to My state of being. In this matter there is no doubt” (8:5).
This is quite straightforward and easy to understand. The moment of death is perhaps the most important moment in our life, equalled only by the moment of birth. Dr. Morris Netherton, formulator of the Netherton Method of Past Life Recall, has found that the most significant factors in our life can be either birth or death trauma. The same would be true of positive experience during birth or death, which is why in India sacred mantras are recited during both times–at least by the spiritually intelligent. In this way the individual both comes into incarnation and leaves it accompanied by the remembrance of God. In a few verses we will see that the way to fix our consciousness in God will be the repetition of Om.
The spiritual teaching of the Gita is never a matter of “shut up and accept what I tell you.” So Krishna explains to us how it is that if we are intent on the remembrance of God at the time of death we will go to God.
“Moreover, whatever state of being [bhavam] he remembers when he gives up the body at the end, he invariably goes to that state of being, transformed into that state of being” (8:6).
All translators I know of have translated this verse to mean that whatever we think of at death, we will go to that thing, to whatever world in which it exists. The conclusion is then that if we remember God in life we will go to God at the time of death. Sounds, simple, easy, and certainly noble. But it is not true, as no simplistic formula is ever true. Sargeant alone, as far as I know, translates this verse correctly.
It is not who or what we merely think of intellectually that determines our after-death state, but the state of mind and being, the bhava, that we are in at the time of death. A Brief Sanskrit Glossary defines bhava in this way: “Subjective state of being (existence); attitude of mind; mental attitude or feeling; state of realization in the heart or mind.” In short, it is our state of consciousness, and that is a matter of evolution, of buddhi yoga. Religiosity and holy thinking fail utterly; it is the level of consciousness that alone means anything.
When we die, we gather up all the subtle energies that comprise our astral and causal bodies–energies that ultimately are seen to be intelligent thought-force. Then we leave the body through the gate (chakra) that corresponds to the dominant vibration of our life and thought. If our awareness has been on lower things we will depart through a lower gate and go to a low astral world. If we have been spiritually mediocre (the ignorant call it being “balanced” or “following the middle way”) we will go to a middling world. But those who have made their minds and bodies vibrate to Divinity through authentic spiritual practice, tapasya, will leave through the higher centers. Those who have been united with God even in life will go forth to merge into Brahman forever.
Some people pay attention to the first part of this verse only, and think that they will cheat the law of karma which operates mentally as well as physically. They think that if at the moment of their death they will say a few mantras, then off they go to liberation (or at least heaven) no matter how they have lived their lives. Others, not quite so crass, decide that after having lived in a materialistic and spiritually heedless manner they will get religious during the last few years of their life and then be sure to be in the right state of mind and being as they die. But there is no cheating or cutting corners. What we sow that we reap–nothing else.
The outspoken Ajann Chah, a meditation master of the Thai Buddhist forest tradition, said that many people pester their grandmother at the moment of death, calling out: “Say ‘Buddho [Buddha],’ grandma, say ‘Buddho’!” “Let grandma alone and let her die in peace!” said Ajahn Chah. “She did not say ‘Buddho’ during life, so she will not say ‘Buddho’ during death.” Sri Ramakrishna said that even at the moment of death a miser will say: “O! look how much oil you are wasting in the lamp! Turn it down.” He also said that you can teach a parrot to constantly say “Radha-Krishna,” but if you pull its tail feathers it will only squawk. In the same way, when death pulls our tail feathers we revert to our swabhava, our real state of mind and consciousness.
The lesson we must learn
There is a lesson here for all of us. As Jesus said: “Lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven,” in the realms of higher consciousness, “for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also,” (Matthew 6:20, 21) even at the time of death.
“Therefore at all times remember Me and fight with your mind and intellect fixed on Me. Without doubt you shall come to Me. With a mind disciplined by the practice of yoga, which does not turn to anything else, to the divine supreme Spirit he goes, meditating on Him” (8:7, 8). This is the necessary bhava we must cultivate at all times, fighting the battle of life in the conditions and situations dictated by our karma.
We are not going to heaven–we are going to God. And we do not just believe in God, we intend to unite with God. So Krishna further says: “He who meditates on the ancient seer, the ruler, smaller than the atom, Who is the supporter of all, Whose form is unthinkable, and who is effulgent like the sun, beyond darkness; at the hour of death, with unmoving mind, endowed with devotion and with the power of yoga, having made the vital breath [prana] enter between the two eyebrows, he reaches this divine supreme Spirit” (8:9, 10).
One of the gates to higher worlds is the “third eye” between the eyebrows. During meditation the yogi sometimes finds his awareness drawn spontaneously to that point. It is the same at the time of death. The purified and divinely-oriented life force (prana) automatically exits through that gate and goes to God, bearing us upward, even as the Egyptians pictured the freed soul flying in a spirit-boat to the sun.
There is more: “That which those who know the Vedas call the Imperishable, which the ascetics, free from passion [raga], enter, desiring which they practice brahmacharya, that path I shall explain to you briefly” (8:11). To die right takes a lifetime of purification and preparation. Only those can enter into God whose bonds of desire are broken. To this end they constantly practice brahmacharya–control of the senses and mind, which includes chastity/celibacy.
“Closing all the gates of the body, and confining the mind in the heart, having placed his vital breath [prana] in the head, established in yoga concentration, uttering Om, the single-syllable Brahman, meditating on Me, he who goes forth, renouncing the body, goes to the supreme goal” (8:12, 13).
It is important to remember here that “heart” means the core of our consciousness, and not the physical heart–or “heart chakra.” Even more important, Krishna is not referring to some kind of strenuous breathing exercise, but rather, the natural and automatic rising of the life-fore into the higher centers of the brain that occurs when we inwardly repeat Om with attention.
If we do this throughout our life it will be done by us in death. As the upanishads say: “Om is Brahman. Om is all this. He who utters Om with the intention ‘I shall attain Brahman’ does verily attain Brahman” (Taittiriya Upanishad 1.8.1). “What world does he who meditates on Om until the end of his life, win by That? If he meditates on the Supreme Being with the Syllable Om, he becomes one with the Light, he is led to the world of Brahman Who is higher than the highest life, That Which is tranquil, unaging, immortal, fearless, and supreme” (Prashna Upanishad 5:1, 5, 7). “This is the bridge to immortality. May you be successful in crossing over to the farther shore of darkness” (Mundaka Upanishad 2.2.6).
Krishna then recaps all he has said in this section with these words: “He who thinks of Me constantly, whose mind does not ever go elsewhere, for him, the yogi who is constantly devoted [nityayuktasya–constantly disciplined or yoked], I am easy to reach. Approaching Me, those whose souls are great, who have gone to the supreme perfection, do not incur rebirth, that impermanent abode of suffering. Up to Brahma’s [the Creator–not Brahman] realm of being, the worlds are subject to successive rebirths, but he who reaches Me is not reborn” (8:14-16).
Read the next article in the Bhagavad Gita for Awakening: Day, Night, and the Two Paths
Bhagavad Gita for Awakening links:
- The Battlefield of the Mind
- On the Field of Dharma
- Taking Stock
- The Smile of Krishna
- Birth and Death–The Great Illusions
- Experiencing the Unreal
- The Unreal and the Real
- The Body and the Spirit
- Know the Atman!
- Practical Self-Knowledge
- Perspective on Birth and Death
- The Wonder of the Atman
- The Indestructible Self
- “Happy the Warrior”
- Buddhi Yoga
- Religiosity Versus Religion
- Perspective on Scriptures
- How Not To Act
- How To Act
- Right Perspective
- Wisdom About the Wise
- Wisdom About Both the Foolish and the Wise
- The Way of Peace
- Calming the Storm
- First Steps in Karma Yoga
- From the Beginning to the End
- The Real “Doers”
- Our Spiritual Marching Orders
- Freedom From Karma
- In the Grip of the Monster
- Devotee and Friend
- The Eternal Being
- The Path
- Caste and Karma
- Action–Divine and Human
- The Mystery of Action and Inaction
- The Wise in Action
- Sacrificial Offerings
- The Worship of Brahman
- Action–Renounced and Performed
- Freedom (Moksha)
- The Brahman-Knower
- The Goal of Karma Yoga
- Getting There
- The Yogi’s Retreat
- The Yogi’s Inner and Outer Life
- Union With Brahman
- The Yogi’s Future
- Success in Yoga
- The Net and Its Weaver
- Those Who Seek God
- Those Who Worship God and the Gods
- The Veil in the Mind
- The Big Picture
- The Sure Way To Realize God
- Day, Night, and the Two Paths
- The Supreme Knowledge
- Universal Being
- Maya–Its Dupes and Its Knowers
- Worshipping the One
- Going To God
- Wisdom and Knowing
- Going To The Source
- From Hearing To Seeing
- The Wisdom of Devotion
- Right Conduct
- The Field and Its Knower
- Interaction of Purusha and Prakriti
- Seeing the One Within the All
- The Three Gunas
- The Cosmic Tree
- The All-pervading Reality
- The Divine and the Demonic
- Faith and the Three Gunas
- Food and the Three Gunas
- Religion and the Three Gunas
- Tapasya and the Three Gunas
- Charity and the Three Gunas
- Sannyasa and Tyaga
- Deeper Insights On Action
- Knowledge, Action, Doer, and the Three Gunas
- The Three Gunas: Intellect and Firmness
- The Three Kinds of Happiness
- The Great Devotee
- The Final Words
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Read the Maharshi Gita, an arrangement of verses of the Bhagavad Gita made by Sri Ramana Maharshi that gives an overview of the essential message of the Gita.
Read The Bhagavad Gita (arranged in verses for singing) by Abbot George Burke (Swami Nirmalananda Giri).
Read about the meanings of unfamiliar terms in A Brief Sanskrit Glossary