“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
“I know that an important verse from the Bhagavad-gita is the one with the promise of liberation through thinking of Krishna at the time of death. Anta-kale, the end. Remembering Him alone. Nothing else. No attachment to the temporary. No focus on this objective or that. No holding onto a glimmer of hope of living an extra few years in order to enjoy the senses.
“All the verses from the sacred text, passed down in the parampara system and preserved in the original Sanskrit language, are important, but this one has tremendous practical value, both in the immediate and long term durations.
“One thing to consider is the context. We are sent to a battlefield where two massive armies have gathered. Arjuna is the leading warrior for one side, and he is hesitant to commence hostilities. Krishna begins as the charioteer, but He seamlessly shifts into the role of guru, which is not unfamiliar to Him.
“Isn’t it possible that the promise of liberation through thinking of Krishna only applies to Arjuna? The warrior needed encouragement, after all. War is an uncertain business. Krishna is giving assurance. ‘Proceed and you will not have an issue. Just think of me. Even if you die, everything will be alright.’”
The truth is that the setting of the battlefield was not necessary. Bhagavan happens to possess the most artistic mind. He understands irony, subtlety, nuance, contrast, the dynamics of emotion and so forth.
What better place to present the timeless Vedanta wisdom than a battlefield? What is typically understood to be inaction associated with renounced ascetics, spiritual life thrives in someone fully engaged in work.
War gives a clear reminder of a condition that is actually a constant. It is always the case that death can strike at any moment. The same danger that Arjuna faced is the situation for every single person.
शोच्या शोचसि कं शोच्यं दीनं दीनाऽनुकम्पसे।
कस्य कोवाऽनुशोच्योऽस्ति देहेऽस्मिन् बुद्बुदोपमे।।
śocyā śocasi kaṃ śocyaṃ dīnaṃ dīnā’nukampase।
kasya kovā’nuśocyo’sti dehe’smin budbudopame
“Whom are you lamenting for when you yourself are pitiable? Why do you pity the poor when you yourself have now been made poor? While in this body that is like a bubble, how can anyone look at anyone else as being worthy of lamentation?” (Hanuman speaking to Tara, Valmiki Ramayana, Kishkindha Kand, 21.3)
In youth we don’t consider the frailty, but Shri Hanuman compares the body to a bubble. Like the ones that rise from the surface of the ocean, they can burst at any moment. Sometimes without external cause. The immediate reason may not be known, but kala is always at work. It has yet to be defeated.
1. Outside of war
Anta-kale can take place away from the battlefield. Krishna’s instruction would hold just as much value were it delivered to Arjuna in a more peaceful setting. The battlefield has added significance since we tend to be amazed at victory which occurs in difficult circumstances.
The television networks do feature stories of athletes and celebrities who rose from poverty into stardom. They are not as much interested in those people who grew up in comfortable surroundings, with supportive family members. The difficulties of growing up make the turn into good fortune seem more unlikely.
2. Living at home with family
You could be living the exact same day, year after year, and think that everything will remain that way into the future. The reality is that the living entity, purusha, is not the doer. They think they exert complete influence over outcomes, but nature must first agree.
3. Walking in the park
Arjuna was on a battlefield full of soldiers with weapons at the ready. One wrong move and a targeted strike from a swiftly coursing arrow can take you out. Be on guard at all times.
Yet the same danger of imminent death is present in a more peaceful setting like a park. You could slip and fall and badly hurt yourself. Something within the body might go wrong. The forces of nature could decide at that moment to present a vivid example of an adhidaivika category of misery.
In rare circumstances, such as with Maharaja Parikshit, the individual gets advance warning of anta-kale. Usually we don’t know, so the better option is to think of Krishna right now, today. This is an enjoyable experience; it does not need to be forced. The sound of His name is identical to Him, so we can realize His full protection without having to wait until the end: Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
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