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” (Bhagavad Gita 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.
Sanatana Dharma 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” (Bhagavad Gita 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.
State of consciousness
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” (Bhagavad Gita 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.
More from the Bhagavad Gita:
- The Bhagavad Gita (arranged in verses for singing) — The text of the Gita posted at this page is arranged according to the meter of the original Sanskrit text so it can be sung–as it is done every morning in most of the ashrams of India.