Biographies from the Vedic literature teach us what determines our destination after life in the human form.

Whenever I read or hear about someone’s death, I wonder what that person was thinking of at the moment of passing from the body. Because most people today are ignorant of the science of God, the soul, reincarnation, and so on, they have no idea of the importance of our thoughts during the final moments before death. In fact, those thoughts determine our next destination.

Life in the spiritual world is eternal, whereas life in the material world is transient, entailing a chain of birth and death in 8,400,000 species, including plants, aquatics, reptiles, birds, beasts, and humans. Out of all forms, the human form is the most precious as it offers a splendid opportunity to get out of the miserable cycle of life and death and go back home, back to Godhead, just by remembering Lord Krishna at the time of death. Because human life is fragile and can end in an instant, we must live each moment as if it were the last – because it might well be.

Three Illustrative Histories

The Bhagavata Purana (Srimad- Bhagavatam) and the Visnu Purana relate the story of a saintly king who on being informed that he had only a moment to live made the most of that last moment granted to him. This saintly king, named Khatvanga, was born in the dynasty in which Lord Ramacandra, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, would later appear. King Khatvanga was invincible in battle. Once, at the request of the demigods (devatas), he joined them in a combat against the demons (asuras), and the demigods came out victorious. Being highly pleased, the demigods wanted to reward King Khatvanga by blessing him with material enjoyment. Because he was aware of his prime duty in life, however, he asked the demigods how much longer he would live. He was more anxious to prepare himself for the next life than to accumulate a material benediction from the demigods.

On being informed that he would live for only a moment more, the king immediately left the heavenly kingdom and came down to his home on earth. Using his mental agility, he freed himself at once from all material activities, took shelter of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and achieved eternal liberation in the spiritual world – the supreme destination of human life.

Another saintly king of yore, named Bharata, was a topmost devotee of the Lord. He ruled the earth so competently that this planet, formerly known as Ajanabha-varsa, became known Bharata-varsa after his rule. He was not as fortunate as the saintly King Khatvanga, because he could not recollect the Lord during the last moment of his life. He had renounced his kingdom and was living as a sage in the forest. But when his soul left the body, his mind, instead of being intent upon the Supreme Lord, was absorbed in thought of his beloved pet deer. As a result, he was born as a deer in his next life.

Fortunately bhakti, or devotional service to the Lord, is never lost, and all the devotional service Bharata had performed as a king and as a sage bore fruit. Even though he was in the body of a deer, he was a jati-smara, one who remembers his past birth. He continuously went apart from his companions and was instinctively drawn to grazing near hermitages where sages offered oblations to the Lord and recited Vedic hymns.

After living the usual life span of a deer, he died and was born as a human in a rich brahmana family. In that life he also remembered his past lives, and he lived like a sluggish and weak-witted person just to ward off entanglement in worldly affairs. His thoughts were engrossed in the Supreme Lord, and he attained spiritual perfection.

The Srimad-Bhagavatam and other Vedic books also relate the history of Ajamila, who overcame death by loudly uttering “Narayana” at the last moment of his life. A brahmana by birth, in his early youth Ajamila was good and devout, but he fell from grace by association with a prostitute. He begot ten sons in her womb, and the youngest was named Narayana. At the time of Ajamila’s death, three ugly, fearsome agents of Yamaraja, the king of death, appeared with ropes before him, intending to drag him away to a hellish planet for punishment. Ajamila became extremely terrified. Because of his affection for his son, he called him loudly by name. Thus with tears in his eyes, somehow or other he chanted the holy name of Narayana.

Jada BharatImmediately upon hearing the name of their master from the mouth of the dying Ajamila, four agents of Lord Visnu arrived at the scene. A lengthy debate ensued between the agents of Lord Visnu and those of Yamaraja, and consequently Ajamila was rescued.

The above trilogy confirms that at the time of departure from the body, our mental makeup forms the basis of the next body. In the last moment of his life, King Khatvanga thought of Krishna and got a spiritual body in the spiritual world; King Bharata thought of a deer and got the body of a deer in the material world; and Ajamila, a sinful reprobate, just by calling the name of God inadvertently but without offense, was saved from slipping into hellish conditions.

Teachings of Bhagavad-gita

Some five thousand years ago, at the conjunction of two ages, Lord Krishna , playing as a charioteer for His devotee friend Arjuna, imparted supreme teachings immortalized as the Bhagavad-gita. Arjuna was not the first recipient of this supreme knowledge; Lord Krishna instructed the sun-god 120 million years ago, and hence this knowledge was in vogue in the days of yore. The teachings in verses 8.5 and 8.6 of the Bhagavad-gita signify the utility of remembering Krishna at the last moment of a human life, and the futility of not remembering Him.

anta-kale ca mam eva
smaran muktva kalevaram
yah prayati sa mad-bhavam
yati nasty atra samsayah

“And whoever, at the time of death, quits his body remembering Me alone at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt.” (Gita 8.5) This verse emphasizes the importance of exclusive remembrance of the Supreme Lord at the last moment of life. The Supreme Lord is sac-cid-ananda (eternal existence, knowledge, and bliss), and Krishna guarantees that one who leaves the body remembering Him attains to that same spiritual nature. King Khatvanga, after learning that he would live for only a moment more, immediately transferred himself to earth, and just by remembering the Lord in that very last moment attained the supreme destination. At the time of his anticipated death, Ajamila, just by loudly calling “Narayana” – the name of his son – unintentionally chanted the holy name of the Lord in a helpless condition, and without offense, and thereby not only liberated himself from sinful reactions but also conquered his scheduled death.

A further example is Bhisma, the granduncle of the Pandavas. Being a great devotee of Lord Krishna , and having been blessed to die at the time of his own choosing, he had fallen during the Battle of Kurukshetra. His body riddled with arrows, he was waiting to depart his body at the auspicious occasion of the return of the sun to the northern hemisphere. Merciful Lord Krishna arrived at Bhisma’s side at the last moment of his life, enabling Bhisma to fix his mind and eyes on Him and thereby regain his original position in the spiritual world.

yam yam vapi smaran bhavam
tyajaty ante kalevaram
tam tam evaiti kaunteya
sada tad-bhava-bhavitah

“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, O son of Kunti, that state he will attain without fail.” (Gita 8.6) In this verse the words “state of being” are very significant. If one is engaged in a state of being other than Krishna consciousness in his last moment, he will get a new body in accordance with that engagement, assures Lord Krishna . In his last moment King Bharata was fixed in deer consciousness because he had focused his mind on his pet deer. He was thus transferred into the body of a deer in his next life.

How to Remember Krishna

The Srimad-Bhagavatam (2.1.6) exhorts us to remember the Lord at the end of life: ante narayanasmrtih. One should fix his mind on Lord Krishna and utter “Krishna , Krishna , Krishna ” at the last moment of his life. Better still, one should audibly chant the maha-mantra: Hare Krishna , Hare Krishna , Krishna Krishna , Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. Caitanya Mahaprabhu, who is Krishna Himself, magnanimously propagated the maha-mantra in the current age of Kali. His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada so strongly emphasized the chanting of the Hare Krishna mantra at all stages of life that the International Society of Krishna Consciousness, which he founded, is known as “the Hare Krishna movement” the world over.

Make Your Moments Count

The highest perfection of human life is to remember the Supreme Personality of Godhead, Krishna , at the last moment. Hence, we should mold our life in such a way that we can easily remember the Supreme Lord in all places, in all circumstances, and at all times so that our remembrance of the Lord at the crucial last moment is not impeded.

The moments of our life that have been expended without the flavor of Krishna consciousness are a sheer waste, beyond recoup; but we can salvage the unexpended moments. Blend every remaining moment of your life exclusively with Krishna consciousness. Make every residual moment of your life count by treating it as if it were the last.

Rasa Purusa Dasa, a disciple of His Holiness Gopala Krishna Goswami, is a chartered civil engineer retired from the government of Haryana. Now living in Mumbai, in the late sixties and seventies he was instrumental in the design and construction of the latest sacred Brahma Sarovar at Kurukshetra.