“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, that state he will attain without fail.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.6)
यं यं वापि स्मरन् भावं
त्यजत्य् अन्ते कलेवरम्
तं तम् एवैति कौन्तेय
yaṁ yaṁ vāpi smaran bhāvaṁ
tyajaty ante kalevaram
taṁ tam evaiti kaunteya
Reincarnation. Transmigration of the soul. The changing of bodies. Moving from one destination to another. Today in the residence of a tree, capable of standing for years but not moving. Tomorrow in the form of a fish, living in the water. The potential is there to live in the air, even, such as with the birds.
Shri Krishna provides a brief overview of the process in the Bhagavad-gita. The soul cannot be extinguished. The event which commonly causes lamentation, death, is actually the exit of the soul from the body. Nothing more, nothing less. Like moving from one apartment to another, the past collection of elements gets left behind, ready to merge back into the material energy.
Further questions naturally arise. What determines the next residence? Is there a way to influence the travel? Krishna provides the answers. The simplest explanation is consciousness. Whatever state of being a person has in their mind at the time of quitting the body, they reach that state in the next life.
This is similar to the concept of life flashing before your eyes. In a split second significant moments from the past appear in something like the fastest playing movie ever produced.
1. An aborted landing of a flight
You knew the weather was going to be bad. That was in the forecast. Still, nothing significant enough to cause cancellation of the flight. And for the majority of the journey there was nothing. The captain left the “fasten seatbelt” sign on from the beginning, but it turned out to be unnecessary.
The problems started during the approach to the destination. Lots of shaking. Turbulence like you have never experienced prior, but at least there was a descent taking place. Only one problem. Shortly thereafter the plane starts heading back up. It feels as if the aircraft is absorbing blows from a hostile enemy. A quick motion to the left, another to the right, up and down, the jabs don’t stop.
After finding some calm airspace, the captain makes an announcement. That period of distress just moments prior was the process of an aborted landing. The rainfall was so strong that the operators could not see the runway. They are going to circle around the area for a while and try again.
Something like coming up for air after being underwater, the plane is ready to make the descent. Of course the turbulence is the same the second time around. You can’t help but get nervous. A panic attack setting in. Life flashing before your eyes, promises made to the higher deities, a vow to be a better person moving forward. Eventually, there is the safe landing, but an experience you will surely never forget.
2. An emergency evacuation of a building
Just your typical Monday at the office. These days are the toughest in the week because you are accustomed to the rest and relaxation from the preceding two days. It takes a while to get the momentum in productivity back, but the cycle is the same every week.
Shortly after lunch time, there is a strong movement in the floor. You work in a tall building, and your particular company has just moved to the twelfth floor. Maybe it was a quick and harmless earthquake. Perhaps an electrical explosion outside. You are concerned enough to message one of your friends and make a joke that you are thinking about getting up and running out of the building.
You wait it out, as everyone else seems to be calm. Around ten minutes later an announcement on the PA system says that everyone should evacuate the building. Uh oh! What is going on? This is the same city that saw people intentionally fly planes into buildings in the past, so you can’t help but suspect the worst.
Nevertheless, you are pretty calm: at first. Just take the elevator down to the ground floor. Only problem is that the elevator is packed. Everyone then heads for the stairwell. Okay, a lot of people there too, but at least they are going in the same direction.
The panic sets in quickly thereafter. The movement stops. Everyone is stuck in the stairwell. No idea what is going on down below. You start to feel dizzy and light-headed. It seems as if the body itself will shut down due to the nervousness.
Someone up above was looking out for you, as the door behind you opens up. It’s more people evacuating, but this time from the eleventh floor. You decide to take the opportunity to step out of the stairwell. Maybe just get some air. Reassess the situation. You then think of trying the elevator again, though the entire floor is empty.
Amazingly, the elevator arrives almost instantly. No other riders, and you take it down to the lobby level and quickly leave the building thereafter. You have escaped the situation, but can’t help thinking back to the trauma in the stairwell, where life flashed before you. The incident is on the news; a helicopter had crashed into the roof of the building. No major damage, but still an experience never to forget.
The idea from Vedic teachings is that something similar will occur at the time of death. The consciousness will be based on the cumulative experiences. The best end, therefore, would be to have the Supreme Lord on the consciousness. Remember Him and that will actually put an end to the cycle of birth and death.
अन्त-काले च माम् एव
स्मरन् मुक्त्वा कलेवरम्
यः प्रयाति स मद्-भावं
याति नास्त्य् अत्र संशयः
anta-kāle ca mām eva
smaran muktvā kalevaram
yaḥ prayāti sa mad-bhāvaṁ
yāti nāsty atra saṁśayaḥ
“And whoever, at the time of death, quits his body, remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.” (Lord Krishna, Bhagavad-gita, 8.5)
Seems like a promise that can only be validated in the afterlife, but glimpses of deathlessness are available in the present lifetime. That consciousness has the same benefit no matter when it is established. This means that right now I can remember Shri Krishna and His transcendental glories. Doing so purifies the consciousness and keeps it in an always-prepared situation to travel to the next destination, which is then guaranteed to be auspicious.
To safer airspace resorted,
When plane landing aborted.
Building evacuated now in a jam,
When too many in stairwell to cram.
Due to helicopter on roof crashing,
From moment of panic life flashing.
Same principle to death to extend,
Krishna consciousness best place to send.
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