In a previous editorial, I wrote about our unconventional use of the word disappearance when referring to a pure devotee’s death. Recently, I came across another way to refer to death when I read that someone had been “carried off by encephalitis.”
I winced at the thought of a personified disease carrying me off into the afterlife. I was reminded of the terrifying agents of Yamaraja, the lord of death, who arrived to escort the dying Ajamila to the region of the universe reserved for the sinful. Fortunately for Ajamila, he chanted God’s name at the moment of death by calling out to his son named Narayana. On hearing Ajamila invoke the name of their master, the agents of Lord Vishnu rescued him from sure misery in hell and gave him a renewed chance to perfect his life by attaining pure love for Krishna.
We should all be concerned about who or what will be carrying us off at death. Will we depart in comfort or in terror? Srila Prabhupada painted a memorable picture of the two faces of death, one seen by the devotee of the Lord, the other by the nondevotee. He gave the example of the opposite experiences of a kitten carried in the mouth of the mother cat and of a mouse in the same situation: The kitten feels comfort and security; the mouse, utter fear.
Lord Krishna tells us in the Bhagavad-gita that He is death. That’s probably not the image that comes to mind when most of us think of Krishna. But, after all, He is the ultimate controller of everything, so the length of time we spend in any body in countless lives is up to Him. If we use our present life to develop love for Krishna, His embrace when our time comes will be one of infinite comfort.
Of the many diseases and other candidates for carrying us off at death, a leading one today is heart disease. Many of us worry that our hearts might do us in, so we follow our doctor’s advice. But if not heart disease, some other agent of Krishna will do the job. We can’t escape the inevitable. Despite apparently stunning advances in medical technology, we’re not robots with replaceable parts that can just keep us going and going and going.
Because the end of this body will come, we should be concerned primarily with another kind of heart disease: material desire within the heart—the result of which is not just one death, but repeated birth and death in this world. Only when that disease is cured will we escape any chance of death from any cause.
Fortunately, the cure is readily available. We need only devotedly hear about Krishna from the revealed scriptures through the medium of His pure devotees.
At the beginning of the Tenth Canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam, King Parikshit, nearing the end of his last days, encourages Shukadeva Goswami to continue speaking about Krishna. Topics about Krishna, he says, are bhava-aushadha—”the right medicine for the material disease.” By “material disease” he means the unnatural condition of the spirit soul in the material sphere. Even if we may be momentarily free of any specific bodily ailment, the body itself is a symptom of our unhealthy situation. Only “the killer of the soul,” Parikshit says, will give up hearing topics of Krishna, the final cure for all that ails us.