Yogi and mystic, Sadhguru, looks at the dying process and how maintaining awareness at the moment of death can be a means of spiritual growth. He also explains how some of the traditions in Indian culture surrounding the moment of death evolved.
Questioner: In the Bhagavad Gita it says that whatever state of being one remembers during the dying process, he will attain that state, being absorbed in its thought. Is it so Sadhguru? Can we use the moment of death to create pleasantness in whatver comes later?
Sadhguru: Yes, it is that simple. But… There is a very beautiful story. Wherever he went, Sage Narada only said “Narayana, Narayana.” Narada had a passport for all the three worlds – he freely traveled everywhere. One day, he saw a farmer plowing his land in a state of ecstasy and bliss. Narada was eager to find out what the secret of his bliss was. When he approached the farmer to talk to him, the farmer did not even notice him, so engrossed he was in plowing his land. At noon time, he took a break from his work and went to eat under a tree. He opened the container with whatever little food he had and just said “Narayana, Narayana, Narayana” and started eating. The farmer wanted to share the meal with him, but because of the caste system, Narada would not eat with him. Narada inquired, “What is the source of your bliss?” The farmer said, “Every day, Narayana appears in his true form to me. That is the source of my bliss.” Narada asked him, “What sadhana do you do?” The farmer said, “I don’t know anything. I’m an ignorant, illiterate man. It is just that when I wake up in the morning, I say ‘Narayana’ three times. When I start my work, I say ‘Narayana’ three times. When I end my work, I say ‘Narayana’ three times. When I eat, I say ‘Narayana’ three times. When I go to bed, I say ‘Narayana’ three times.” Narada calculated how many times in 24 hours he himself was saying ‘Narayana.’ It ran into millions. But still, if he wanted to see Narayana, he had to go all the way to Vaikuntha, which was a long journey. But to this farmer, who just said “Narayana” three times, before eating, before plowing and whatever else, Narayana came right there. Narada thought this is not fair, it must be some kind of a mistake.
Immediately, he made his journey to Vaikuntha and asked Vishnu, “I say your name all the time, but you don’t appear for me. I have to come and see you. But to this farmer, you appear every day and he is living in ecstasy!” Vishnu looked at Narada, asked Lakshmi to get a vessel filled to the brim with oil, and told Narada, “First, there is an errand to be done. Please take this vessel full of oil to Bhuloka without spilling a drop, leave it there, and come back. We will answer the question later.” Narada took the vessel with oil, went to Bhuloka, left it there, and came back. “Now, answer my question.” Vishnu asked, “When you were carrying this vessel full of oil, how many times did you utter ‘Narayana?’” Narada said, “How could I say ‘Narayana’ at that time? You said not a drop should spill, so I had to pay attention to that. But coming back, I’ve said many ‘Narayanas.’” Vishnu said, “That is the whole thing. This farmer’s life is like carrying a vessel full of oil that may spill any moment. He has to earn his food; he has to do so many things. In spite of that, he is saying ‘Narayana.’ When you carried the oil in this vessel, not once did you utter ‘Narayana.’ When you have nothing to do, it is easy.”
Using the dying process
When the moment of death comes, it takes something to be aware enough to say what you want to say. Most people die in unawareness. In this culture, if someone is dying, they will always start a chant like “Ram naam satya hai,” “Aum Namah Shivaya,” or whatever they know, because they want the dying one to utter a god’s name or somehow become aware in the last moment. You don’t even have to say anything. If you can maintain your awareness in the moment you are shifting from one dimension of life to another, from the physical to the beyond, that is mukti. But to come to awareness in that moment, you must practice awareness for a lifetime. Or you must be in the presence of someone who can make that happen for you. In that context, Krishna said that if you can think of him in the moment of death, he will be there and ensure that you pass.
Here, he talks about an inner reality – the yoga of attaining the Absolute. When it comes to attaining the Absolute, if you do the right things, it is 100% sure that it will work, because the only ingredient is you – nothing else but you. So he could say with absolute certainty, “If you do this, I will take care of it.” When it comes to outer realities, he would never have said such a thing, because he knew life – external realities are subject to so many factors.
If you can maintain your awareness in the moment of transition from the physical to the beyond, you can attain. This is why for most people, the moment of realization and the moment of leaving the body are the same. If the awareness comes when you are leaving the body, anyway you will leave it. But even if it is not yet time to leave your body, but your awareness rises to such a peak where you and your body are clearly separated, you most probably will not have the necessary capability to hang on to the body, unless you are in situations where certain control mechanisms are in place that ensure you will not slip out of the body.
The moment of death and future births
One more aspect is, if you have a certain thought at the moment of death, it becomes the quality of your future birth. We must create an atmosphere of peacefulness and wellbeing for people during the dying process because whatever is the dominant factor in their mind and emotions in the last moment will become the quality of their future lives. That is the reason why in this culture, we always said you should not die among your family. People used to go to the forest to die – this is Vanaprastha. Even emperor Dhritarashtra, his queen Gandhari, and Kunti went into the forest after the Kurukshetra war, with just Sanjaya as an assistant. They had all become old, so they went to the forest to die there, rather than in the palace. Though Dhritarashtra was blind and stupid in many ways, that much awareness was there, which is missing in the world today. Now that her children had become emperors, Kunti, who had suffered all kinds of hardship in her life, could have enjoyed the palace, but she also decided to go and die in the forest.
So they went into the forest and climbed up a very steep hill. There was a forest fire. Since they were old, they could not run or fight the forest fire, so they just decided to offer themselves to the fire. So Dhritarashtra told Sanjaya, “You have served me very well till now, but you are still a young man – go away. The three of us will give ourselves to the fire.” Sanjaya refused to leave them, and all four got burnt in the forest fire.
If you die among the family, you will die with a huge sense of attachment, which, in the future, will not bring wellbeing. You know that in India, even today, people go to Kashi to die, because it is a holy place. They want to die in the grace of Shiva. They don’t want to die with their family throwing their emotions at them.
Time to pay back the loan
Death is the only certainty in life. If you lived your life well, death is not at all a bad thing. If when you were alive, every moment, there was hesitation, fear, hatred, anger, it means you never lived. If when death comes, you want to live, that is no good. After all, what is death? You are shedding the body. The body is a loan you took from Mother Earth. If you take let’s say 10 million loan from the bank, and let’s say in the next 50 years, you made these 10 million into 10 billion, if your banker comes to reclaim the loan, you will pay him joyously with interest. You will treat him and give him gifts. But suppose you squandered these 10 million and lost everything, if the banker comes, terror arises within you. You will try to hide. So many tricks you will try to play. Similarly, the Earth gave you this loan. If you have made this into a blessed life, if you really put it to absolute use and you lived in great sweetness within yourself, then, when Mother Earth says it is time to pay back the loan, you will joyfully pay it back. And there is no interest. For one who joyfully pays back the loan, it is over, because when you are joyful, being aware comes naturally. When you are aware, you are on the path of liberation. Definitely, the last moment’s quality will become a major quality of your future lives – if you wish to have future lives. If you want dissolution into the Ultimate, if you want to become one with it, then there is no future life. People have been telling me, “Sadhguru, don’t use this negative terminology – it scares us. We are going to dissolve and become nothing?” We could say instead, “When you attain mukti, you will become everything.”
Editor’s Note: Sadhguru offers Isha Kriya, a free, online guided meditation that helps bring health and wellbeing. Daily practice of this simple yet effective 12-minute process can transform one’s life.