Afterlife : The Moment Of Death According To Hindu Cosmology
According to the Hindu Cosmology, death is a systematic process in which the period just preceding the moment we actually die is crucial. This is when the messengers of Yamaraja, the king of death, arrive. Those who have surrendered themselves and all their desires, thoughts, feelings, losses, and achievements to the Divine, however, are visited by messengers of the Divine Being. These are a breed apart from the messengers of the king of death.
With the exception of these blessed ones, every dying person must obey the command of Yamaraja’s messengers. We must leave the body behind whether we want to or not, and if we try to cling to the body out of fear, attachment, and desire, nature joins forces with death’s messengers and evicts us. Then,accompanied by the messengers, we arrive at a broad river inhabited by all manner of creatures-crocodiles, fish, dolphins, sharks, and even cows. This river has many different crossing points. and the messengers drop us at one without consulting us. They remain on the bank and we have to cross the river on our own.
The river is deep, and when we swim across it we have to confront the creatures who dwell there. Anything can happen-the water may he clean or it may be contaminated; we may get caught in the current or be chased by a crocodile; we may begin to drown and then be suddenly pushed back to the surface by a friendly fish; perhaps the next moment a shark rips away a chunk of flesh. We may notice our friends or our enemies swimming or drowning near us. If we are lucky, the messengers drop us at crossings where there are special cows,intelligent animals who are expert swimmers. They offer their tail as a rope and pull us safely across the river.
Whether our crossing has been easy or difficult,we meet the messengers again on the other shore, and they take us to the city of the king of death, where we are met by his bookkeeper.If our karmic records are clear and straightforward, we are assigned to either heaven or hell .Should our records be complex, or should we dispute them, we are brought to the chamber where Yamaraja sits on his throne.Without either mercy or cruelty and unaffected by sentiment, he looks at our karmic records and weighs the pros and cons. Then he decides where we should go, and his decision is final.
We are then led to specific areas of heaven or hell, some better and some worse. The length of our stay is determined by our karmas. Either by tasting heavenly pleasures or by going through hellish pain, the karmas that brought us here are eventually exhausted. Then we are sent back to the earthly realm to begin life all over again.
The yogis interpret this scenario symbolically.According to their experiences, the messengers of the king of death represent the forces of time. These forces are punctual-time cannot be untimely-and once they have arrived, we cannot avoid feeling their presence. We also know the meaning of their coming: it is time to leave the body and move on.
Desire. worry, insecurity. fear, disease, and old age set the stage for the messengers, but long before they actually arrive we harbor the fear of death at both the conscious and unconscious levels. When death actually comes, these feelings intensify. Those of us who do not willingly accept the message that our time in this body is over,die miserably.
There is no alternative to this message, but a strong attachment to our bodies, our families, our friends, and our possessions impels us to cling to life, and this creates a deep sense of fear.Throughout life we have filled our mind with the idea that the objects of the world and the people we love are integral to our existence;now,combined with our fear of the unknown,our fear of losing our relationship and possessions intensifies.Death itself is not painful – it is the fear of loss and the fear of the unknown that torment our mind.
The moment death’s messengers,the forces of time,arrive our life forces (prana) recognizes them.Disregarding our desires and wishes,it obeys their command and gradually withdraws from the body,brain and the conscious mind.As it does our limbs,organs,nervous system and brain begin to lose their ability to function.Filled with fear and confusion,we desperately attempt to hold on, channeling all our reserve energy to cling to life-but we fail.The connection between the life-force,the body and the conscious mind is severed,this is the moment of death.
When a dying person tries to cling to life,the process of death is accompanied by internal chaos.There is a tug-of-war as the life forces begins to abandon the body,while the individual tries to pull it back.But death will out : in the midst of the commotion,the pranic force ineluctably continues to withdraw from the system of energy channels.
These energy channels or nadis,meet a various sites in the body.Where three or more nadis comes together,they form a wheel of energy,or chakra.There are ten principle chakras: muladhara at the base of the spine,svadhisthana in the pelvic region,manipura at the navel center,anahata at the heart region,vishuddha at the throat,ajna at the centre between the eyebrows,and vhrikuti,trikuti and sahasrara,all of which are above the ajna chakra.All ten chakras are also centers of consciousness and functions like gates.If the gates are open,the pranic forces traveling through the nadis can leave the body through them. But at the time of death nine of the ten gates are shut.Our karmas play a crucial role in this,Influencing the blocking and unblocking of our energy channels until only the gate through which the prana will finally exit remains open; the unconscious mind and the soul will leave by that same gate.
The relationship between prana and the mind (which includes the senses) is like the relationship between a queen bee and the workers. The workers swarm around the queen;if she leaves the hive, they follow. In the same way, the mind and senses follow the prana as it abandons the nadis and their corresponding limbs and organs; they exit the body by the gate through which the queen departed.
Those who lack non-attachment and those who are not fully established in a systematic and authentic spiritual practice are totally at the mercy of their karmas.And since these karmas are contaminated by attachments and a host of other emotions such as desire, fear, hatred, jealousy, and greed, the pranic forces and consciousness are naturally inclined to move toward the lower chakras at the time of death. If we do not understand how karma binds us to the body and how the pranic forces keep the body alive, we are terrified in the face of death.We refuse to leave voluntarily when the messengers of the king of death arrive- but nature kicks us out anyway. Its too late to chose a desirable gate,and we are swept in to the unknown.
When the pranic force is gone,the body is lifeless and the afterlife journey begins.We arrive at the river of the mind.Its name is vaitarani,literally “that can be crossed only by skillful swimmers,”for this river is the repository of our karmas,and its crossing is an inner journey.We cannot escape the contents of our mind during this journey.Problems and worries that entangled us during our life time ensnare us even more completely now,because in life we had family,friends,teachers,therapists,and-most importantly- our own conscious mind and intellect to help us manage our problem.Now all these are gone and we are alone with the contents of our unconscious.
Furthermore,while we residents of the earthly plane,events and experiences took place in sequence-We experienced and perceived only one thing at a time.But the unconscious mind does not follow the laws of time,space and causation ,and we engulfed by it.
Anger,hatred,jealousy,greed,attachment,desire,attraction,repulsion,kindness,cruelty,compassion,self-respect,guilt,and a host of other emotion assail us simultaneously with no discernible cause and in no detectable order.We sink,float,caught in the current,confront a crocodile,swim easily for a while,inhale contaminated water,or get a push from a friendly dolphin in what seems to be a completely random and chaotic fashion.
The messengers of the king of death are neutral,they understand the law of karma and operate in perfect conformity with it.They drop us the exact crossing point of the river where we belong.One section of the river is the repository of our active virtuous deeds; That is where the special cows reside.If we are fortunate enough to be deposited there,these intelligent and expert swimmers offer us their tails and pull us across the river.(The Sanskrit word for “cow” is ‘go’-which is also word for “senses” and “ray of light”).These cows are charity selfless service,self-restraint,and spiritual practices that remove the darkness of ignorance.They come to the rescue of those who have risen above their sense cravings as well as those who have been touched by spiritual light and thus have enlightened their inner world.In such cases they come forward and pull us safely,to the other shore of the river of mind.
On the other hand, if our mind has been complicated and confused and we have thereby accumulated complicated and confused samskaras, we are deposited at a crossing point where we will conform and struggle with our samskaras. But sooner or later, comfortably or painfully, we arrive at the other shore,having gained some kind of understanding about ourselves. Now another struggle ensues, this one marked by denial and acceptance, guilt and consolation, While it is going on, we see all of our deeds and acknowledge their consequences as well as our responsibility for them. Now we see ourselves clearly; there is no escape from whatever we are.
Next we arrive at the capital city of the king of death. This is Samyamani Puri, the city of the inner controller–conscience. And here we meet the king’s bookkeeper, Chitra Gupta. Chitra means “picture” or “reflection of various forms”; gupta means “hidden or mysterious .Thus Chitra Gupta is the voice of our heart, the one who resides hidden in all the forms and shapes we assume throughout life, the one who witnesses our thoughts, speech, and actions. Nothing escapes death’s bookkeeper. Since we have by now acknowledged our deeds,their consequences, and our responsibility for them,Chitra Gupta simply confirms this recognition and assigns us either to heaven or to hell on the basis of our karmas.
But if we managed to perfect the art of killing our conscience while we were alive, ignoring the voice of our heart and learning to live comfortably with self-deception, the subtle impressions of this self-deception will cause us to argue with our conscience.If that happens the book-keeper brings us to the court of the king of death,Yamaraja,the representative of the immortal within us.He is the foremost teacher and the guru of Nachiketa (The fully prepared student who is totally dedicated to acquiring spiritual knowledge).Yamaraja is at once the kindest and also the most wrathful of beings.His brilliance eclipses a billion suns,and in this face of this dazzling light,truth alone can stand.Our self-deception vanishes and we are bound to got to our rightful place.