than the day of one's birth."
- Ecclesiastes 7:1
“At the moment of death one’s thoughts are weighed as it were.
One cannot think of anything but that which has been strongest in one’s mind throughout one’s life. For this reason, invoking the presence of
the Divine is so important, while one still has control over one’s mind.”
- Anandamayi Ma, Vrindaban, 28 January 1962
“At the time of death understanding does not remain. At that time it is most probable that the mind will recall that which has been the life's habit. . . .”
- Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, Jagad Guru Shankaracharya,
Shri Shankaracharya Upadesh, Amrita Kana 11 of 108
"When life leaves the body, it is the breath leaving, like transcending.
For one who has been accustomed to this experience (of transcending)
for many years (of meditation), the transition is easy, painless, and blissful,
not catastrophic. Dropping the body is like letting a bird out of its cage.”
- Maharishi, March 23, 1992
The Enlightened Transition
Preparation for a Peaceful Passing - Preparation for death is a lifetime undertaking. Peace of mind, a clear conscience, and non-attachment to the body are the prerequisits for an easy transition. The room where the passing soul lies should be treated like a shrine room with silent prayer, meditation and/or quiet, gentle Vedic recitation. Bhagavad Gita, Vishnu Sahasranam, Shiva Sahasranam, Sama Veda, Srimad Bhagavatam, and Gandharva Veda are all valuable. A ghee lamp, flowers and rudraksha beads also will help to sanctify the room. See Section 6 - Costs and Materials for the most cherished traditional offerings.
The Final Moment in the Body - With head pointed to the north and feet to the south, drip Ganges water into the mouth of the dying person. A person should not die craving water (or anything else). If a Shaligrama stone and/or tulsi leaf is available to sanctify the water, this is most fortunate. (Otherwise have tulsi tea available.) See Section 6 - Costs and Materials.
The final thought in this body determines your future life, so everything in the room should be as uplifting as possible. Ensure as few distractions as possible. The body may be sprinkled with Ganges water and adorned with Tulsi or Rudraksha beads. At the time of death photos of Devatas should be turned away and mirrors should be covered.
Always assume that the departing soul is aware of the environment, even if the body does not respond. For this reason it is imperative that only positive remarks be spoken. In the final moments, Silence is Golden. Let the passing soul begin the journey in silence, if possible. If your loved one is seeking some support, you might whisper that she/he is about to begin the most wonderful adventure. All the love and support that she/he has had here on earth will be with him or her in even greater amounts as she/he journeys beyond this world. Always reassure.
Remember; everything has been preprogrammed. The deepest impressions in the mind will structure the reality after death. The memories of the most meaningful experiences will surface foremost among one’s final thoughts.
The challenge is to let go of this world gracefully. Don’t hold onto the body. Just dive into the experience - like diving into a wave as it approaches the shore. Go with the innocence of a child, as Jesus advised. “Verily I say unto you, unless you are converted, and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18: 4,5)
The ideal is to go with a clear and innocent conscience. For this reason, while you are alive and well, scriptures recommend to embrace meditation above all else. Associate with saintly company. Live as generously and charitably as possible. Avoid dwelling on faults; that only strengthens them. Instead, nourish self and others at every opportunity to pave the way for the most noble thoughts to arise at the last moment.
The Joy of Death
Krishna explains the fine details of how the soul leaves the body in Chapter 8 of the Bhagavad Gita.
He who gives up his body at the time of death and departs thinking of Me alone comes to My Being; there is no doubt about this.
Whatever object one remembers at the time of death, when one gives up the body, O Son of Kunti, that very same object one attains.
Therefore hold Me deep in the mind at all times, and fight. When the mind and intellect are surrendered to Me, thou shalt come to Me alone, without doubt.
The mind not wandering elsewhere, being established in the practice of yoga (union), arrives at the Transcendent Divine, O Partha, by the process of transcending all thoughts in deep meditation. (“Anuchintan”)
The all-wise, the ancient, the ruler, subtler than the subtlest, the sustainer of all, whose form is inconceivable, self-effulgent like the sun, beyond the darkness,
At the time of departure, by the steady mind, full with devotion, and also by the strength of yoga, having drawn the life force to the middle of the eyebrows, he reaches to that Transcendent Divine Purusha.
That which the knowers of the Vedas call Imperishable, that which is entered by the ascetics free from attachment, and desiring which the life of celibacy is lived, that state I shall briefly describe to thee.
Verses 12 & 13
Having brought under control all the doors (sense organs and organs of action of the body) and having confined the mind within the heart, with the life-breath held in the head, firm in this state of Yoga, reciting Aum, the one-syllabled Brahman, dwelling on Me, he who departs leaving the body, goes to the Transcendent Goal.
In these verses Krishna reveals the steps that naturally occur as the yogi prepares to leave the body. It is important to understand that this is a spontaneous process for the realized soul. There should be no strain.
1. The organs of the body come under control of the mind.
2. The mind settles within the heart.
3. The prana (life-breath) rises in the head (between the eyebrows).
4. The Pranava mantra ‘Aum’ comes to mind. *
5. The Almighty Transcendental Being emerges.
6. The soul leaves the body (through the crown of the head).
7. The soul remains established in the Transcendent.
The Royal Exit
Anyone who appreciates Krishna’s description of departing the body in verses 12 and 13, can practice these steps in the days preceding death. With eyes closed, feel the steps of departure by innocently resting the attention in each energy center - first in the heart (Anahata chakra)**, secondly in the throat (Vishuddhi chakra - where tonsils/adenoids are . . . or were), third in the Ajnya chakra between the eyes (pineal gland), forth in the Brahmarandhra chakra at the crown of the head.
But remember, the experience of these energy centers is completely innocent; there is nothing to do. As Anandamayi Ma said, “Do not search for the Self for this would be like trying to see your retina with your eye. You are the Self.” Just be aware.
Having reached Me, these great souls do not obtain rebirth, the abode of sorrow, impermanent, for they have attained the Transcendent.
The unmanifested is said to be the Imperishable. That is spoken of as the Transcendent goal, having attained which no one returns. That is My supreme abode.
These verses are essential to understand who Krishna is. He is the voice of the Absolute, Eternal, Indestructible Field of Pure Consciousness at the source of all creation. Krishna emphasizes throughout the Gita that His true nature is imperishable, unmanifest, formless, eternal, immortal. One must be established in That reality at the time of death.
For one who passes away with mind fixed on God or Guru or fixed in Eternal Bliss Consciousness, nothing more is needed. That soul goes to the highest heights automatically. The departed soul needs no more support. He or she is drawn to the highest bliss by the purity of his or her life. Nevertheless, even enlightened saints observe these funeral rites, so there is never any harm - and always great benefit for everyone in observing these rituals.
What To Do
For the sake of assisting others on the path to the next life, it is important to record the date and time of death in order to calculate the prevailing lunar day of departure. Most of the Vedic Shraddh ceremonies are with reference to the tithi (lunar day) of transition.
Do not rush to move the body. On the contrary, it is ideal to maintain the body with the head pointing north for several hours after death. This is a delicate time. For several hours after death the five pranas depart from the body. This process should not be disturbed, if possible. Sprinkle the body with Ganges water. Keep a ghee lamp (or candle) lit by the head and fresh flowers around the bed. Burn pure incense or anoint the body/clothes with essential oils. See Section 6 - Costs and Materials.
This is the time for prayer and meditation in a settled shrine-like environment. When you are not meditating with the body, play Vedic recitation. Also Bhagavad Gita Chapter 2, Kathopanishad Chapter 1, or Ishavasyopanishad are excellent passages to read. Hospitals will respect the wishes of family and friends to observe silent meditation in the room for many hours after death. No one will pressure you to move the body until you are ready.
Some traditions observe the following practices to protect the body from unwanted environmental influences:
1. Wash the body with a sponge or wash cloth.
2. Sprinkle the body with turmeric water, and anoint with essential oils. See Section 6 - Costs and Materials for the most cherished traditional offerings.
3. Gently tie the big toes together with white string,
4. Gently tie the thumbs together with white string with hands over the chest,
5. Hold the mouth closed by wrapping a white cloth under the chin and around the head, tying it on the crown of the head.
6. Wrap the whole body in clean, white cloth.
7. Place body in casket lying on 5 to 7 pieces of kusha grass. Tips of the kusha grass should face south. Head of deceased should now face south while awaiting cremation.
8. Chandan (sandalwood), Kumkum, Bhasma (holy ash), and Tilak may be applied to the forehead of the deceased. The Kartaa attending to the deceased should not wear tilak.
9. Garland the deceased with a tulsi mala, or other flowers. See Section 6 - Costs and Materials.
If at home, a nurse can come and pronounce the body dead. Funeral parlors will provide home pick-up before cremating the body. Never transport a body by yourself without a permit or medical permission. It is illegal in most states. A death certificate, signed by a doctor must be filed before any other permits are granted. No state requires embalming. It is an unnecessary expense. The local coroner or medical examiner can provide a ‘permit-to-cremate’ for a nominal fee.
* The pranava mantra “AUM” is widely misunderstood as a mantra for general meditation. In fact, it is not a suitable mantra for most family people. It is a mantra for sanyasis who have renounced the world - and for special pujas. It is not a mantra for householders to use in their daily life. It is a mantra for sanyasis who have symbolically offered their body on a funeral pyre. It is also a mantra for yogis to invoke on their death bed. Householders who meditate on the pranava mantra will reap the predicted results: including loss of worldly ties, loss of friends, family, and wealth. If you want to meditate properly, contact a certified meditation teacher, who has complete knowledge of the effects of the mantras. Selection of mantras for meditation is an exact science - not for chance experimentation. See Chapter 8 - Transcending.
** Start with the heart. The heart is regarded as the source of all love and all virtue, the seat of the higher Self. The Anahata chakra in the heart is pictured as a six-sided star (‘Star of David’), which is formed by two overlapping triangles; one triangle points upwards and the other points down. The six points of the star integrate the three lower chakras (Muladhara, Swadishthana, and Manipuraka) and the three upper chakras (Vishuddhi, Agnya, and Brahmarandhra).
The upward triangle is the symbol of Purusha. The downward triangle is the symbol of Prakriti (the yoni). The heart chakra unites Purusha and Prakriti - the union of infinite silence with infinite rulership of nature. The point in the middle of the star binds the two. Every devata is extolled as dwelling in the heart, such as in verse 23 of Aditya Hridaya stotram: “Salutations to the Lord who abides in the heart of all beings, keeping awake when they are asleep.” And in Katha Upanishad: “Purusha is established deep inside the heart (of everyone), in a space the size of one’s thumb. That is the innermost Self, Pure Consciousness.” - Katha Upanishad 2.3.17 (and Shvetaashvatara Upanishad 3.13)
One who is destined for enlightenment may leave the body during the daylight of the Devas. This is described in the Bhagavad Gita, Ch 8, v24, where Lord Krishna says that those who depart with fire during daylight, the bright fortnight of the moon, and during the six months of the northern solstice (January to June), they are protected by the devas and arrive at Brahma loka, the abode of the creator. They who have been intent on Yoga and had the knowledge of Brahman go beyond the possibility of returning to earth. They remain in Brahma loka until the lifespan of Brahma is over, and from there eventually attain to Brahman. . . .”