Death is an event after which a living body no longer has the features of life. Nobody has seen what it is that escapes from the living body during this radical transformation. That is why death is shrouded in mystery. It is commonly asserted without any evidence, but with great conviction, that the time of death is fixed right at the time of birth, and that nothing can be done to change it. It is also commonly believed, with some evidence but far less conviction, that a person can delay or hasten his death if he strongly wants it. Benefitting apparently from a strong will to live and confidence in self-healing, patients with incurable cancers often defy all statistics and live much longer than expected. More commonly, patients sometimes live for a few weeks after all hope is lost as if merely to reach a milestone such as a birthday or a child’s wedding. Still more commonly, patients go steadily downhill in spite of all treatment once they have lost the will to live. Science now has some partial but plausible explanations for these phenomena. The spiritual explanation provided by the Mother is that a person does not die till he gives his consent, may be only for “the hundredth part of a second”. As She says, there is always something in the person which, out of fatigue or disgust, says: “Well, Ah! Let it be finished, so much the better”.
There is an interesting verse in the Gita, which says that anyone who remembers God at the time of death (antakale) goes straight to Him (8:5). The verse brings to mind Mahatma Gandhi, whose last words were ‘He Ram’. One might say, Gandhi ji was lucky, and wish to be as lucky as him. But soon after that verse, the Gita asks Arjuna to remember God all the time (sarveshukaleshu), even while fighting in the war (8:7). Therein lies the catch. Only if a person has been remembering God all his life, will he be able to remember him during the last few moments of life. Behind Gandhi ji’s saying ‘He Ram’ at the end of his life was a lifetime of homework. He had been reciting the name of Ram all his life. That is why it was so natural for him to remember God as he fell after being hit by the assassin’s bullet. The next question that arises is, why God wants that we should remember Him all the time. Is God so egoistic that our remembering him satisfies His vanity? To understand this, let us digress a little, and think of a young boy who has just started smoking. He smokes either when nobody is watching, or when he is with his close friends. He is particularly careful not to smoke when his parents are around. Suppose he is smoking, and suddenly he finds his father or teacher coming – his immediate reaction is to throw and hide the cigarette in a desperate bid to escape detection. In short, we do not want to be seen doing something bad when a person whom we respect or fear is watching us. We, however, forget that even when we think nobody is watching us, God is. If God, whom we respect (and often also fear) the most, is always watching us, we should be never doing anything bad. But still we do, because we are not conscious of God watching us. Now, let us return to the question of remembering God. If we will remember God all the time, we will be conscious of God’s presence all the time. That is all what remembering God all the time really means: it does not mean that we should stop all work and just keep reciting His name mechanically. If we are conscious of God’s presence all the time, we will not do anything bad. If we do not do anything bad, we will grow spiritually. Spiritual growth is the purpose of life. Hence, when God wants us to remember Him all the time, it is because He loves us, and wants us not to squander our lives on evil deeds. He wants us to live a meaningful life, a life of purpose. If we have lived a good and meaningful life by being conscious of God’s presence all the time, we are sure to think of Him also at the time of Death, and we deserve to walk into His arms after we die.
The body is subject to aging and decay. Like any machine, it cannot go on working for ever. Therefore death is a physical necessity. Death is also a spiritual necessity. The goal of life is spiritual growth, and most of us are unable to complete the journey of spiritual growth in a lifetime. Beyond a point, our body is too worn out to continue with this journey. We should be happy that death provides us a mechanism by which we are sure to get rid of this body, and get a brand new body to continue the journey further. How can we be reborn unless we are ready to die? Death not only clears the way for another opportunity to take a few more steps on our spiritual journey, it also helps us grow in this life. If we were assured of physical immortality, very few of us would be motivated to grow spiritually. A sinful life can be so engaging, so absorbing, and so entertaining, that it would not leave us any time, incentive or energy to live a better life. The certainty of death is a powerful force that restrains evil and encourages good deeds. That is why a person may grow spiritually more during the last few years of life than in the preceding several decades. This happens particularly when a person gets a few years to live after the diagnosis of an incurable disease like cancer. Not only does such a person himself experience accelerated spiritual growth, even those who are taking care of him go through a similar experience. However, the hope that we might get another opportunity to continue our spiritual journey does not mean that we postpone spiritual growth to the next life. Till this body lasts, we should make use of each of the innumerable opportunities for spiritual growth that we are sure to get in the present life. As the Mother has said, “One must never wish for death. … One must never be afraid to die.”
(From a work in progress: Timeless Wisdom in Small Doses)