Death - a great spiritual teacher, indeed!
by Swami Prasad Sharma
(Panaji, Goa, India)
Death - a great spiritual teacher, indeed!
In the morning of the 4th of July 1977 I was waiting for someone on the roadside. For the last few days my sleep had been reduced to only four hours, because in the early morning hours I used to lay awake thinking about different aspects of whatever was happening in the world. At that particular morning at 9 AM standing at the roadside I was thinking of a boy who wants to become an engineer, but his father insists on his becoming a doctor because of a comparatively better scope money-wise, prestige-wise, etc. Forcibly he is admitted to a medical course in which he has no interest and is expelled after a year or two, having failed his examinations.
To the son his whole life has become useless. In my mind I tried to find out who is responsible for such a calamity in life. Usually people will blame the father who forced the son against his own interest. But people who are a little wiser will say that God as Head of the world is responsible. With the support of this view I blamed God with intense anger, considering Him responsible for all the calamities and happenings on Earth. At this point I received a terrible stroke and I heard a thundering voice explode: “His Karmas (actions) are responsible if not of this life then of a previous life.” I immediately concluded that God is blameless and it is up to the individual to take up the challenges. Like a drunkard I was blaming God, who is blameless.
All this happened within no time, practically. The next moment I was wondering that I had not fallen to the ground. My heart was beating to such an extent that it seemed it would burst. Only the previous day I had purchased a diary in which I had written four simple remedies to avoid tension, anxiety or fear which, if they remain for a long time, may lead to a heart attack. These remedies were:
• Drink two glasses of cold water (20°C).
• Try to keep calm and quiet.
• Sing some devotional or even a movie song.
• Divert the attention from the cause.
I rushed to a nearby hotel and drank two glasses of water, listened to a radio song and picked up a newspaper. It took nearly 10 minutes for my heart to return to its normal condition. Then I started a series of hearty thanksgivings to God. I wrote in the diary: “I am most thankful to You for this unusual experience but if this happens a second time I (my body) won’t remain alive.” This was immediately followed by a God intoxication, in which I was seeing downwards for up to 2 meters while walking. It was a most blissful state. Thoughts of superior wisdom started pouring in my mind and at times it was difficult to cope with noting them all down. I felt like a stenographer taking notes from the boss. At the top of each page of my diary I wrote that “I” should not be used, except when referring to the past. Many simple sayings, of which the exact origin is not even known, carry such wonderful meanings when intuition or the concentration of the mind is being increased. At some places I recorded: “Thou art dwelling in the living and non-living.” “Thou art the force behind cyclones, waves, atoms, etc.” “Thou art present in each particle.”
Regarding the shape of God I thought that man may claim God to be in a human shape. Similar claims must be within the mind of animals and plants also. Since He is the cause of everybody/everything, the conclusion was that God is shapeless (formless). The soul is like water that takes different shapes according to the container in which it is poured. I also concluded that God is dwelling in His creation.
Soon I felt an inner urge to read a famous Hindu scripture, the Srimad Bhagavad Gita, thoroughly, to confirm what I wrote or felt directly. In the Gita I wanted particularly to read the portion in the end, published by the Gita Press as an appendix: “Peace of mind through renouncement while in the family”, because I was a family man with three kids. As I was completely absorbed in writing and thinking I was forgetting my physical care. This necessitated me to bring my family from my native place, 2000 km away. On the 8th of July 1977 I started home and reached my hometown on the third day by train. In the following 10 days I didn’t feel sleepy at all and sometimes only a 10-minute rest was very refreshing.
I realised that the life of man is a game of Kabaddi. Five virtues, namely, strength, wisdom, education, patience and kindness are on one side while on the other side are the five vices: lust, anger, pride, miserliness and attachment. The life of man is at stake if any of his virtues comes into the grip of the opposite vices. However, when one falls at the last stage of kindness, because of attachment, the Almighty brings him back to his original condition by removing the cause of attachment. Attaining the five virtues and the absence of the five vices gives eternal peace of mind, that is to say the final release of all bonds which are the cause of rebirth.
With my children I returned to the workplace on the 18th of July. Having been awake for 14 days made my health very bad and heart troubles surfaced. Exhausted by intense thinking my dismal financial condition brought me to the hard ground of the realities of existence. But I hardly cared about such problems, as I was prepared to give away my life even for no obvious reason.
On the 16th of August, I came to know, somehow, that the time of my sure death would be at 12 o’clock in the night of the 20th of August 1977. During the next days I felt at heart the call of approaching death, and finally in the evening of the 20th of August I had my bowels cleaned. At such a crucial time I had no wish to eat anything but somehow I managed to push about a quarter of my diet in my stomach. At 9 PM I tried to consult a doctor nearby but found that the doctor had gone to attend a party and might not be home before 12 at night.
At last I thought: “Let me face it.” I earnestly requested my wife to remain awake till 12 o’clock. Lying on the bed and keeping an alarm watch by the bedside I found at 11:30 PM that my wife was fast asleep. At around 11:45 PM I felt the approach of death. Suddenly I felt that I had no sense of my body except for the breath continuing in the throat. Only the thinking still existed. At this point, due to my attachment to my family, I started arguing with the Lord (Invisible of course) that these children were to become orphans and my wife would have to beg to return to our hometown. What if my life would continue just for the sake of my children? The body had not grown old yet, as I was just 32 years of age. There was no relative nearby to take care of my children.
Suddenly the arguing ceased. It was only when I regained consciousness at 12:05 midnight, that I felt alive again. The joy of witnessing the state of pure consciousness and release from the clutches of death was incomparable with any other achievement. It was the attachment to my family that caused me to argue with God and reject the final release (Moksha). Happily I woke up my wife and told her that there was no cause for anxiety anymore, as the crucial time was over and I had witnessed the true state of the soul. Body consciousness returned to the whole body in the next 10-15 minutes.
Nevertheless, on the following Sundays, particularly, I still felt faint at heart and any news of death or accident made me feel uneasy because it seemed that the time of my death had come. I did not have the courage to recall my two earlier experiences, and when I tried, my hands and feet felt numb. As far as possible I avoided talking about it, but I felt tempted to talk about these experiences none the less. So, there was always this inner struggle to talk or to keep quiet.
Then came the 11th of September 1977, when suddenly I felt the call of death at heart while reading in the library, about 7 km away from my home. I left the library and walking on the road I thought that it was no use keeping this miserable body that succumbs to death: “Why not let it fall while I’m walking on the road? I am not afraid of passing away out of this body. Let the care of my family be taken up by God, whose creation it is.” Lo! The next moment I was feeling completely well, and overjoyed.
These three experiences detached me from my own pride of mind and body and established a relationship with a personal God. Thus I completed the knowledge path and through surrender to God started the path of devotion.