“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)
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
“Consciousness is everything.” That sums up the philosophy so old that no one can accurately point to its inception. The origin is in someone who is without an origin, anadi. He is also without end, ananta. He empowers certain individuals to carry the torch forward inside of each creation, such as with Lord Brahma diving into the water.
What you remember at the time of death is the state you attain in the next birth. Time is continuous. The living being is steady in this line. The meaning is that you can choose an arbitrary point in the timeline of infinity and be assured that the individual existed in some capacity.
The best completion to the lifecycle is to think of the origin while quitting the body. This is much easier said than done, particularly due to the unpredictable nature of death. Kala can strike at any moment, and sometimes it gives no prior warning.
In rare cases the Supreme Lord arranges a special kind of departure. Many purposes are served simultaneously, not the least of which is a concrete example of the proof of the means of liberation.
He was actually a gatekeeper in the highest heaven. This is beyond the planets of birth and death. The spiritual sky. The imperishable realm. The unmanifest place. He had a specific role, which reveals that liberation is not merely a stateless existence free of the pains rooted in duality.
The gatekeeper got cursed to appear in the material world and remain in an inauspicious form. He subsequently played the role of Daitya to perfection. He was such a bad character that only Vishnu could stop him. The Supreme Lord arrived as the half-man/half-lion incarnation and did away with Hiranyakashipu, who had no choice but to be liberated due to the consciousness at the time of death.
This devotee in the form of a bird had the misfortune of losing a conflict against the wicked Ravana. It was hardly a fight. How would a bird survive the violent swaying of twenty arms skilled in battle? Jatayu was trying to stop the abduction of Sita Devi, the goddess of fortune.
Mortally wounded, he ended up seeing Sita’s husband just prior to quitting the body. He gazed upon the beautiful, moonlike face of Shri Rama, the person for whom the efforts were dedicated. Jatayu had the greatest victory attached to what would normally be considered a defeat.
The person on the other side would get liberation, as well. He was one of the gatekeepers in Vaikuntha. Cursed to appear as the ten-headed Ravana for a variety of reasons, only Vishnu as Rama could defeat him. The action upon which the final battle was predicated was Ravana’s stealing of Sita. This was done against dharma and all standards of human decency. Ravana met his match on the battlefield, and the final blow was one of Rama’s amazing arrows.
A passing similar to Jatayu’s, Bhishma was lying on the battlefield defeated. His body filled with arrows, he was remembering Narayana. The Supreme Lord was on the scene as Krishna, who played the role of charioteer to the bow-warrior Arjuna. Bhishma was fighting on a different side, and he had previously received the boon of being able to leave this world at his choosing. He chose the best way, remembering Krishna.
These events further substantiate the claim that real religion should be more than just faith. Not something you accept today and reject tomorrow, dharma is tied to the existence itself. As a religious system, it is a way of living for meeting the highest objective, purushartha. Everything gets tested at the end, and someone who has the pure consciousness focused on Krishna in the days leading up is better equipped to maintain that consciousness moving forward: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
Maintained while forward moving,
When pure consciousness choosing.
So that to remember at the end,
And into liberation to send.
Where activity infinitely extended,
Like for Jatayu who Sita defended.
Or Bhishma with arrows in body filled,
And even demons by Vishnu killed.
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