“Mystics who are advanced in yoga practice can arrange the time and place to leave the body. Others have no control – if by accident they leave at an auspicious moment, then they will not return to the cycle of birth and death, but if not, then there is every possibility that they will have to return. However, for the pure devotee in Krishna consciousness, there is no fear of returning, whether he leaves the body at an auspicious or inauspicious moment, by accident or arrangement.” (Shrila Prabhupada, Bhagavad-gita, 8.24 Purport)
Friend-One: I know that consciousness is important.
Friend-Two: It’s everything. It can make or break you. Krishna says in the Bhagavad-gita that the mind is the friend of the living entity, but it can be his enemy as well.
ātmaiva hy ātmano bandhur
ātmaiva ripur ātmanaḥ
F1: Right. And that’s with respect to while you’re living. Consciousness is even more important while you’re dying.
F2: Sort of like the whole life flashing before your eyes concept. Whatever state of being you remember while quitting your body, that state you will attain in the next life without fail. This too is attributed to Krishna [Bg. 8.6].
F1: Along those lines, I got to thinking about something. It’s in regards to the expert mystics, yogis if you will.
F1: From recorded history I see that certain people can choose their time of death. I’m not talking about suicide here. With their advanced yoga practice, they can basically decide when they want to move on.
F2: That’s absolutely possible. There is no doubt about it. Some people have witnessed it firsthand. The yogi tells them that they’re leaving and then it happens.
F1: Okay, so I think this has relevance in Krishna consciousness, bhakti-yoga. If it’s indeed possible to choose the time of death, why not make that the aim? Why isn’t everyone instructed along this path?
F2: That’s a good question.
F1: Thanks for the compliment, but I’m actually looking for an answer.
F2: Krishna describes which times are auspicious and which are inauspicious as far as quitting the body. He says that those who know the Absolute, Brahman, pass away during the six months that the sun is headed north, during the fortnight of the moon.
F1: I remember reading something like that. If you pass away at the wrong time, you have to take birth again.
F1: I’ll ask you again. Why aren’t the devotees interested in this? Why not make this life fruitful by ensuring it is the last one?
F2: You mentioned a key word there: interested. This kind of passing is known as mukti, or liberation. The devotees are so advanced that they’re not even concerned with rebirth.
F1: Why not? Are they not afraid of maya, or illusion? Why risk taking birth in a land of duality?
F2: Birth or death, you have to be somewhere. The soul lives on. That is the foundation of Vedanta philosophy. That’s what makes sanatana-dharma a way of life instead of merely a religion. There is much more to it than blind faith. The difference between matter and spirit is a science. That science has inviolable laws, such as the eternality and imperishability of spirit.
F1: I could take the other side of the argument. If spirit exists forever, why worry about maya, or illusion?
F2: The issue is happiness or pleasure. Mukti is great if you are mired in duality. Liberation means freeing yourself from love and hate, attachment and aversion, hot and cold, and the like. It is a great reward to seek, no doubt. But something should come after liberation. The devotees already get that. They receive it before death. To them, life or death does not matter so much.
F1: What role does consciousness play here? Isn’t that important, whether you’re living or dying?
F2: That’s the whole point. His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada nicely translates bhakti-yoga as “Krishna consciousness.” You’re always thinking of God. Whether you have the ability to leave your body on demand or not is a side issue. It’s an ancillary benefit of an existence in yoga. The idea is that you put full faith in Krishna to determine your situation. He takes care of the devotee. He gives to them what they lack and preserves what they have.
ananyāś cintayanto māṁ
ye janāḥ paryupāsate
yoga-kṣemaṁ vahāmy aham
“But those who worship Me with devotion, meditating on My transcendental form – to them I carry what they lack and preserve what they have.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 9.22)
The way He does this is by sometimes removing them from situations. In other times He keeps them where they are.
F1: I see. Here’s something to consider, though. The yogis who can leave their bodies whenever they want, won’t they think themselves superior to the devotees? Won’t the bhaktas seem weaker since they lack this ability?
F2: A good rule to follow is that whenever you’re in doubt, look to Shri Hanuman. He has this ability that the yogis are so fond of. He can leave whenever he wants. Yet he stays here. Do you know why?
F2: Because he wants to spread the glories of Shri Rama, who is the same Krishna. Hanuman wants to remain on earth for as long as Rama’s glories continue to be sung. This means that he is not after liberation. He is not concerned with keeping the right consciousness at the time of death. Dying during the proper positioning of the sun and merging into the light of Brahman are not so important to him. And he’s the greatest authority, if you ask me. No one can touch Hanuman. I’ll follow his example over anyone else’s.
Dying at right place and setting,
Then boon of liberation getting.
Advanced yogis this ability possess,
But by devotees not so much stressed.
Living or dying to them the same,
Since their shelter the holy name.
Through Hanuman remove your doubt,
See that desire for liberation he’s without.