The most important moment of life is, in a very true sense, its last moment. For death is when we take our final exam. The thought uppermost in the mind at that time will determine whether our future takes us upward, or sideways, or downward: upward, toward greater spiritual clarity and freedom; sideways, toward further involvement in desires and worldly attachments; or (the least fortunate) downward, toward greater darkness, confusion, and ignorance. The Bhagavad Gita, India’ s best-loved scripture, says that if our last thought is of God, it is to Him we will go; if that thought is of family and relatives, it is to them we will go; if the last, lingering thought in the mind is of regret for the mistakes we have made in this life, our direction will be downward toward a lessened ability to pass similar tests in the future; and, finally, if that thought is of attraction to those mistakes, our downward motion will be farther and more rapid.
‘ Those who worship the lower gods go to their gods,’ says the Bhagavad Gita. ‘ Those who worship Me come to Me.’ This is one of the most important statements in that great and timeless scripture.
Although the time when we approach the end of life is when we should make a special effort to prepare ourselves for life’ s final exam, we should remind ourselves throughout life of the impermanence of everything on earth. Someday, whether late or soon, we must all confront that moment. Instead of dreading the inevitable, wouldn’t it be wiser to accept its inevitability? We should embrace it, then, with an attitude’ one that we should hold throughout life’ that affirms, ‘ What comes of itself, let it come; and let it come whenever it comes.’
Foolish indeed is he who lays up for himself treasures here on earth. Money, savings and checking accounts; home; cherished possessions; family members both near and distant; the reputation, and even the fame, for which we may have labored so assiduously; the pleasures and delights of the senses; our fond attachments to things and to people; familiar scenes and localities; the memory of happy parties and good times; our neighbors and acquaintances, both near to us and distant; the skills we’ve patiently honed; the language or languages we’ve spoken; the books we’ve read; the knowledge we’ve acquired and stored assiduously on mental shelves; the fond memories we’ve garnered over the years; dear friends and shared understandings; our unfulfilled hopes; the events on which we now gaze back with nostalgia; the laughter and happy moments; the bright certainties of future fulfillment: All these must be swept away in a moment, as though they had never been.
Has Mozart, relatively little known as he was during his lifetime, realized since his death that the whole world has come to love his music? Does Vincent Van Gogh, who during his lifetime earned hardly fifteen dollars from his great paintings, know now the fabulous worth each one of them has acquired today? How many great men and women of history have become aware, since they lived, of the influence their lives have had on world events? Very few, one suspects. Life is like a tiny puff of wind on a few grains of sand. It may end, moreover, at any moment.
Wouldn’t it be a good practice, even now, to prepare for our final ‘ Day of Reckoning’ ?
Certain practices will help you not only to prepare for that exam, but also to meet your present daily responsibilities most effectively. Such practices will help you also to prepare for what might be called life’ s ‘ intermediary exams.’ An attitude, for example, of non-attachment, so necessary for attaining final freedom after death, will also be a much surer attitude for attaining success in this world than would eager anticipation of success, and excessive dependence on results.
Here, then, are a few practices I recommend:
Make it a point, every night before you fall asleep, to check the feelings in your heart. See whether any burrs of attachment still cling there, affixed by desires you may have developed during the day. If you find any such ‘ burr,’ mentally build a fire and cast that burr into it. Watch with a smile of relief as each burr disintegrates to ashes.
Every time you take a bath, think as you wash, for example, an arm, ‘ This will not be my arm forever. Someday it will be ashes, or dust.’ And then affirm, ‘ This is not what I am, in my true Self! I am Spirit! I am bliss! I am ever free in God!’
Attachment is not only binding: It is also blinding. It stirs up the heart’ s feelings with emotions of fear, hesitation, and confusion. In anything we do, excessive concern for the outcome of that action saps our energy and concentration, both of which are necessary for success in any undertaking. Non-attachment, far from signifying an attitude of indifference, frees one to devote oneself wholeheartedly to whatever project he attempts. If a person can detach himself emotionally from everything he does, he will find himself capable of living completely in the moment. Everything tried, then, will be done more efficiently.
What is non-attachment? It means not accepting anything as truly one’ s own. Everything that you may think of as your own is yours only on loan. When, nightly, you build that mental bonfire that I suggested, cast into it, from your heart, every branch and twig of thought of possessing anything. Try to burst out of the cocoon of self-definitions, of personal associations in life. Tell yourself, ‘ Everything in my life, even my very self, belongs to you, O Lord.’
Non-attachment above all means, in a practical daily sense, the principle of nishkam karma, defined in the Bhagavad Gita as giving to God the fruits of everything one does, and everything to which one even aspires. However, ‘ giving’ is a tricky word. In the sense usually understood, whatever we give, we give away. Don’ t give your life to God in the sense of abandoning to Him all further responsibility for what you do. Act always in a spirit of being committed to what should be, for all that, impersonal duty. Thus, when offering the fruits of an act to God, don’ t relinquish further interest in it, but offer only the outcome to Him, giving Him the final decision in the matter. Meanwhile, share with Him everything you do.
When saying ‘ grace’ before meals, offer your food up to God not in the sense of giving it away: share with Him, rather, your enjoyment of it. When you see something beautiful, share with Him the joy you feel in that beauty. His joy within you will, in time, become your very definition of every experience.
One lifetime passes by so quickly. The wheel of rebirth turns slowly, however, and is studded with nails of sorrow and grief. Many incarnations are required for the soul to pass through this ‘ vale of tears’ ere one attains freedom at last in the Infinite. Meanwhile, the Law of Karma works hand-in-hand with another principle: dwaita, duality. Every fulfillment is sooner or later canceled out by a disappointment; every success, by a failure; every joy, by a sorrow; every ‘ up’ by a corresponding ‘ down.’ Isn’t it ironic, that even after countless incarnations we can never win this game? The sum total of all our striving ends always’ must end’ in that final cipher: ZERO!
Why cling so desperately to what must be lost anyway? All things pass in time. You alone, in your soul-essence, are what remains eternally. Why not live more, from today onward, in your inner Self? All else is only a dream. Life follows life, each one seeming so real’ until the ‘ grim reaper,’ death, comes to end it. Death, too, moreover, wakes us only from that fleeting ‘ dream within a dream’ : it doesn’t wake us from the dream of delusion. Why not make a serious effort, now, to awaken from the eons-long sleep of cosmic delusion? Realize that nothing of this world holds any lasting significance’ not for you; not for anybody.
Old age, and also lingering illness at any age that bears the possibility of death: these are the best times, for those who have been dilatory in their self-preparation, to start ‘ cramming’ for that final exam. At these times, particularly, people may tend to withdraw passively into themselves. In the astral world after death, such a negative withdrawal prior to death produces ‘ postmortem’ passivity. If, owing to your good deeds (especially to whatever meditation you’ve practiced), you are conscious enough to enjoy your astral sojourn, that process of sinking into the death sleep will leave you incapable, even after you’ve re-awakened in the astral world, of making further spiritual progress there. You will enjoy that existence, if your soul rises, but your sojourn there will endure only as long as permitted by your good karma. You will not be able to engage actively enough in that existence to make a positive effort toward spiritual advancement. Or, perhaps, you will simply not feel the incentive to develop further, since life on that plane will seem to you so idyllic, as a temporary visitor, that you will feel no aspiration toward anything higher.
It may be mentioned here, incidentally, that desires for beautiful and uplifting sensory experiences, such as inspiring music and bucolic earthly scenes, can be fulfilled also in the astral realm.
I once read about the near-death experience of a would-be suicide, who (fortunately for her) failed in that attempt. She revived from that experience, but described a very different world from anything like heaven. Until then, she had always enjoyed ‘ rock’ music. During her temporary sojourn in the other world, however, she found herself in a place where the predominant vibration resembled that of rock music. She beheld everyone around her steeped in a self-enclosed darkness and misery. Shafts of loving light from above bestirred one soul or another from time to time. Many, however, had been there in that astral dungeon for a very long time’ centuries, even, judging from the clothing they wore.
This woman, after her revival, devoted herself to traveling about, warning people no longer to indulge their taste for rock music. Any music that projects a low vibration’ not only rock music, but any dance or other music that emphasizes a heavy downbeat, affirms ego-consciousness. Rock ‘ n’ roll, particularly, vibrates with certain lower astral regions. It is easy to see that indulging the taste for it can suck one down after death to heavily ego-affirming regions.
Enjoyment in the higher, beautiful astral realms also may last for many earth years, even for centuries. It depends on a person’ s good karma. When this period of karmic respite ends, however, any latent material desires one has will reawaken in him, and will draw him to be reborn here on earth, or on some other planet in the material universe.
A belief common in some parts of the world is that the soul’ s return to earth can be quite haphazard. One may, according to that belief, be reborn in other-than-human forms: as animals, birds, or even insects. (‘ Don’ t for heaven’ s sake squash that spider: It may have been your mother!’ ) Paramhansa Yogananda, fortunately, declared that the likelihood of coming back as anything other than human is so remote as to be almost discounted, especially by one who is spiritually aware enough to be concerned about this matter. Admittedly, rebirth in a lower form can happen, but it occurs only to those with very heavy materialistic karma. When it does occur, the fall, usually, is only for one lifetime, and involves only a short, not a long step downward in evolution.
Deeper falls are much rarer, and occur only in the case of very hardened sinners. Those who are sufficiently evolved to have lived a heavenly existence before returning to earth are reborn into a good family, whose influence will help to hasten the soul’ s upward evolution.
Every return to human life is, however, fraught with woeful uncertainties. The discriminating person, dreading the danger of any further delay, will do everything he can to break out of his earthly fetters now and forever. Indeed, consider just one danger: Even for reincarnated yogis, there is always the possibility of a karmic detour. Consider, moreover, the time one wastes spiritually while passing through infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and afterward perhaps getting enmeshed in further worldly involvements! These alone are major hazards on the course of life! Sooner or later one’ s good karma draws him back to the spiritual quest, but how soon? or how late? We have every incentive to start as early as possible, while still we inhabit these present bodies, to prepare for our ‘ final exam.’
Throughout life, and particularly in old age or during prolonged illness, but whenever a person feels a special impetus to start ‘ cramming’ for his own exam, he can do certain things to make his present existence spiritually fruitful. From this point on, therefore, I’ m going to address you, the reader, as much as possible in the second person, for my hope is to inspire you to take very personally the thoughts I offer here.
1. Life Review: Go over your life up to the present moment. Concentrate on the happy times, rather than on the sad, since positive expectations will be more likely to attract you to a happy state after death. Still, do not avoid reflecting on the mistakes you may have made. Try, instead, to view those mistakes positively. Bear also in mind the following important points:
a) Feelings of guilt will hinder you from making further progress, acting as affirmations of failure. Cast guilt, therefore, from your heart. You might even say to God frankly, ‘ It’ s You who set up this shadow show! It isn’t entirely my fault that, through inexperience, I didn’t know where the pitfalls lay!’
A certain Catholic saint (I forget her name) had many visions of people ‘ on the other side.’ Often those she saw, unknown to her, were later verified as having actually lived here on earth. What struck me particularly about her visions was the astonishingly large number who had gone to hell, or purgatory, for what seemed to me trivial faults. Some of them had been nuns on earth, living spiritually dedicated lives. How could such devout souls have possibly sunk so low? That saint said it was because they held feelings of guilt. Yet in each case I read about, the guilt was for some surely minor sin, an example being disobedience to a monastic superior! How could such a ‘ sin’ have brought such people of clear spiritual commitment to that low state? The explanation can only be that they’ d been so shamed and shunned for their ‘ sins’ that they died feeling overburdened by this guilt.
I remember a student of Paramhansa Yogananda’ s, Mr. Ernest Brockway, a very dignified gentleman, a retired architect. I visited him in the hospital only days before his death. As he lay helpless, his outward awareness waning, I heard him mutter sadly, ‘ I’ve done many wrong things in my life!’ Later I mentioned those words to my Guru, who responded sadly, ‘ He shouldn’t have said that.’
I have another sad recollection of that hospital episode: a hospital orderly burst briefly into the room, ‘ Is there anything you’ d like, Ernie?’ To me, a friend of the patient, his name was, ‘ Mr. Brockway.’ It appalled me to hear him addressed so familiarly by a virtual stranger. It seems to me, as much so now as it did then, that we should all behave toward one another and toward ourselves as well with dignity. Are we not divine souls, made in God’ s image? Our true status is forever holy.
Confession and final absolution may be a good thing, if they leave the penitent feeling truly released from his sins. What worries me about this death rite is that it may leave some persons reflecting on their past sins, newly brought back to their remembrance, and old familiarity with them reaffirmed, rather than soaring in the feeling of mental release. Indeed, is one not likely to think, afterward, ‘ Did I remember to confess all my sins? And was I, in every case, sufficiently contrite?’ Doing so would make him, again, dwell on negative issues in his past instead of helping him to soar into the inner light.
Surely it is better to make one’ s confession to God, and to ask Him directly for His forgiveness. Even then, I wonder how adequate it is to seek forgiveness. God is stuck with us anyway’ one might say, whether He likes it or not! We are a part of His eternal consciousness. Why not say to God, simply, ‘ Take me as I am, Lord. I know, now, that I want you alone.’
My Guru once scolded a disciple, who then asked him, ‘ But Sir, you will forgive me, won’ t you?’ The Master replied with astonishment, ‘ What else can I do?’
One time, fearing the possibility that the soul may experience eternal destruction, I questioned my Guru on this point. His answer was categorical: ‘ The soul is a part of God. No part of God can ever be destroyed.’ The soul simply cannot be damned either, for all eternity! Our final destiny is immutable: Sooner or later, we must all be saved, even if it takes us aeons.
OF COURSE God forgives you! Your need is only to forgive yourself!
Go over your past mistakes, then, and mentally offer them up to God. Don’ t view them as ‘ sins,’ for they were committed in ignorance of the true state of things. God alone dreamed your existence, and infused into you from the beginning the delusion of ego-identity. View whatever mistakes you’ve committed as having been made by Him, through your own dream-existence!
Here’ s one way to do it: Think of everything that seems to you attractive. Next, withdraw your energy from that attraction, and concentrate inwardly on the superior appeal of soul-bliss. Bliss is the higher, the true alternative to every outward attraction. In soul-bliss, yes, even in the anticipation of it, notice how sensory attractions, by comparison, simply disappear. You will find it relatively easy, at this point in your reflections, to offer up lesser attractions to God.
If you remember having ever hurt anybody, or perhaps having acted unjustly toward him, mentally send him blessings. Visualize him (or her) floating in the ocean of God’ s bliss.
If ever you’ve desecrated your own higher self-image, face that memory frankly, but calmly and dispassionately. Don’ t seek justification for your mistakes. And don’ t beat yourself mentally and emotionally for having done wrong. Rather, say to God, ‘ It was You, Lord, acting through my ignorance. Come fully, now, into that experience. I want to share it with You, that I may understand fully that it was, really, You: Your energy, which I directed wrongly by my folly. I won’ t cling to that folly any longer. I release it! I watch it evaporating in skies of Infinite Bliss! Help me to see the truth: Compared to Your light, my folly has been empty darkness, forever foreign to my true Self.’
If ever you have spoken or acted inconsiderately toward another human being, even perhaps only in haste, recreate that scene in your mind, and then ask God to bless everyone whom you may ever have hurt. Project rays of love and bliss outward from your heart to all who have ever had to bear the brunt of your anger, impatience, unkindness, or cruelty.
If ever you’ve held a negative thought toward anyone, send him blessings to replace those disturbing vibrations. Raise your feelings to a level where you find yourself thinking of that person with kindness. Don’ t imagine it is sufficient merely to forgive him, with the lingering thought that he needs forgiveness. Send him supportive thoughts, rather, and tell him mentally, ‘ It is your job, not mine, to work out whatever problems you have. For my part, I wish you strength, happiness, and wisdom, for we are fellow pilgrims on the long journey to eternal bliss in God, our common Father.’
If in any way you’ve ever cheated anyone or deprived him of his just dues, ask God to bless that person; send him also your own blessings. It might even help both of you to pray that he be reimbursed out of any store of good karma you have accumulated, yourself.
If ever you’ve spoken critically of, or mocked anyone, even mentally, offer him now your heartfelt kindness and good wishes for his eventual wisdom and inner freedom.
If ever you’ve acted in any such way as to cause you embarrassment, laugh happily with God, now, over that moment of folly. Share it with Him as a good joke. Tell Him, ‘ I’ve learned something from that experience. Please though, Lord, don’ t let me make such a fool of myself ever again!’
b) Remember this: Every desire must be fulfilled. My Guru once made that statement to me. I asked him, ‘ Every desire? Even for something so trivial as an ice cream cone?’ His answer surprised me; it was quite definite, delivered without even a smile. ‘ Oh, yes!’ he insisted. Don’ t try, however, to search out every fleeting wish you may have had. (That process might take forever!) Rather, make a sweeping overview of your life, and say, simply, ‘ It is all Yours, Lord. I want only Thee now, nothing but Thee!’
As a new monk at SRF, I heard about a fellow disciple who, at the end of her life, was blessed to be able to linger on consciously for two weeks. That respite gave her the time she needed to review her life carefully, and to let go of everything, mentally. Years later, someone who had known her told me, ‘ I could see her telling herself day after day, ‘ This desire doesn’t matter to me anymore,’ and, ‘ I no longer feel that attachment.’ Every day she looked freer, more centered in the Self. At the moment of death she cried out with deep joy, ‘ Swamiji is here!’ [Swamiji was what the disciples used to call our Guru.] At that point, she left her body.
Go mentally over every desire in your heart, and offer it to God. Think of the higher, spiritual counterpart of the fulfillment promised by that desire. If, for instance, you’ve had a desire for a car, don’ t merely tell yourself, ‘ I won’t be needing a car anymore where I’ m going.’ Say, rather, ‘ Now I will be flying in heavenly freedom through vast skies of eternal bliss!’
If your desire was for, yes, let’ s say it, for an ice cream cone!’ remember these words, addressed to me by Anandamayee Ma (a wonderful woman saint whom I knew in India). Speaking with a radiant smile, as she was giving me a little box of sweetmeats, she said, ‘ Sabsomoy mishti khao‘ Always eat only sweetness!’
If your desire was for a mate, offer that desire up to God and pray for the supreme bliss of eternal union with Him.
If you’ve ever desired to go anywhere or to see anything, tell God, ‘ Let me soar in Infinity, enjoying Thee everywhere, and in everything!’
If your desire was to do something, tell God, ‘ In infinite consciousness, I will accomplish everything!’
Mostly, dwell on happy thoughts. Tell yourself, and tell God, ‘ This life has been a dance in Your bliss. Even the hard tests You’ve sent me have helped me. I’ve learned so much from them; I’ m grateful for all of them; they have given me priceless insights. But now, Lord, I offer everything up to You. It was Your life I lived, not mine. Let me rest eternally, from now on, in Your love.’
2. If you feel any attachments, visualize a cord leading out to them from your heart. With a sharp knife mentally sever that cord, or, if it seems thick, hack at it with an axe. Feel every attachment being cut off, leaving you with the blessing of inner freedom.
3. Dwell on the thought of that freedom: freedom from all delusion, all desire, all attachment, and at last of every self-definition. Above all, if you are able to do so, rid yourself of the thought of any personal, separate, individual identity. You are a ray of God’s light. See your little sense of reality becoming absorbed in His infinite bliss.
4. Listen, when you can, to spiritual recordings, whether of music, of lofty, God-affirming mantras, or of God-reminding thoughts. Listen to someone’ s voice chanting AUM, or reciting selected scriptural passages. Select voices that seem, to you, to express higher consciousness.
5. Dwell on thoughts of God’s eternal love for you, and for all creatures. Dwell more on His forgiveness: on His utter acceptance of you as, through all eternity, His very own.
6. Pray for all beings. Bless them in God’s light. Send them His love. Reflect that everyone on earth, no matter how deeply deluded he may be, is, in his own way, seeking eternal bliss. Reflect also that it is everyone’s destiny to find that bliss, no matter how long a journey it is. All beings, equally, are children of the same one Light, Love, and Bliss that Jesus Christ knew, and Krishna (Christna), and Buddha, and all saints and masters. It is the underlying nature of YOUR OWN, ETERNAL SELF!
Questions and Answers
1.Q. Is the ‘ postmortem passivity’ you mentioned necessarily a bad thing?
A. No, not necessarily bad. It gives souls the rest and respite they need, if that is all they want. If you want to keep on advancing spiritually, however, your consciousness must be fired with determination. It cannot be passive.
2.Q. If someone sinks into a coma, or seems perhaps dead already, might it help him to chant AUM in his presence?
A. Yes, definitely. Chant softly, especially in the right ear. Yogananda said the sense of hearing is the last to go. A person may appear dead, but may not yet have withdrawn completely from the body. By chanting AUM, or by calling to him in the right ear, you may actually bring him back to life.
Yogananda told of two students of his during his early years in America. One of them, a young woman, died, at least apparently. Her brother, also a student of this path, urgently called to her in her right ear: ‘ Sister, come back! I’ m not ready for you to leave me. I need you. Please come back to me!’
A minute or so later she actually opened her eyes. ‘ I heard you calling to me,’ she said, ‘as if from a great distance!’ She continued to live a long time.
3.Q. Is there anything else we can do to help someone who is dying?
A. Yes. Place your finger on his forehead at a point midway between the eyebrows. This is the seat of will power, concentration, and ecstasy in the body. Direct energy through your finger to that point, and try to draw that person’ s energy up in focus there.
At death, people usually sink back passively into unconsciousness. Thus, they leave their bodies, as their soul first entered it, through the medulla oblongata. Next, they pass through what the Greeks called ‘ the waters of Lethe’ : forgetfulness of this life. Remembrance may return to some extent later on, but generally speaking people simply pass on from there to a new life.
Yogananda said also that our loved ones may come to us in dreams. He shared with us an account of the mother of a disciple of his who had died of breast cancer. He sought this soul out in the astral world. As he related to us later, ‘ I saw her being led away by an angel. She was pausing for a moment, admiring a beautiful flower. I called to her, and she turned around. At first she didn’t recognize me. I touched her on the forehead, and then she exclaimed, ‘ I remember! I remember! Oh, I’ ll never forget you again.’ ‘
4.Q. How much effort should be expended toward keeping a dying person alive?
A. It is, of course, right to try to save him. I consider it a wrong, however, to resort to what are termed ‘ heroic efforts’ to save people.
My own father suffered a heart attack one year before his actual death. At that time he was mentally adjusted to the thought of going. He said to me, ‘ I’ve had a good life. I have no regrets. I’m ready to go now, whenever the time arrives.’
The doctors, however, then went to ‘ heroic’ lengths to keep him alive. That last year, alas, was the most unhappy of my father’ s life’ perhaps the only really unhappy time. He could hardly see; his hearing was almost gone; his sense of taste and smell almost vanished. Even his sense of touch was greatly dimmed. How much better it would have been had he died after mentally giving his consent to death!
On the other hand, a friend of mine once asked me, ‘ How much effort should I put forth to remain alive? I feel ready to go at any time.’ I replied, ‘ Think of what a job it is to be reborn and come back again as a baby, then to grow up, and then take who knows how many years before you remember your spiritual aspiration once again, and decide to take that responsibility seriously. Think of the risks involved, also, of further detours and of consequent pain! I suggest that, as long as you feel able to make a spiritual effort, you do your best to stay alive now and keep working toward your salvation.’ Fortunately she took my advice, lived several years thereafter, and found that time important for her spiritual growth.
5.Q. Many people, when they die, are in great pain. The doctors give them pain medication, but as a result the patients, often, are only barely conscious. Is that a good thing, or a bad?
A. I would say that the greater the extent to which a person is able to retain his consciousness, without requiring sedation, the better.
6.Q. What about people who go into a coma before they die? Will they necessarily go out unconsciously?
A. I think it depends primarily on the spiritual effort a person has made during his lifetime. If his effort has been deep and sincere, that final coma will be only temporary, for its cause will be merely physical. As soon as he leaves his body, he will wake up again in his astral form.
7.Q. If desires are what bring us back to be reborn on this plane, is it not a mistake also to desire to know God?
A. Of course not! Uplifting desires cannot hold one down. It is desires for the things of this world that keep one bound. Non-egoic desires are called ‘desireless desires’ ; they help one to free himself from ego-consciousness, lifting him toward freedom in God.
It is bondage to ego that makes one’s desires wrong. They also strengthen one’s overall delusion. Specific desires, moreover, determine to a great extent one’ s next state of existence. As Yogananda put it, ‘ If you die with an attachment to curried food, you may be reborn in India. If as you leave your body you hanker for apple pie, you may be reborn in America.’ He was speaking also, of course, in a spirit of light humor as well as seriously.
I remember seeing a friend eating curry who had often told me he didn’t like it. He explained to me quite seriously, ‘ Master said if we like curry we’ll be reborn in India. I’d like to be reborn there, so by eating I’m trying to overcome my distaste for it.’ I commented, ‘ Such things are determined by many factors. I wouldn’t place so much emphasis on this one factor alone!’
8.Q. What effect does grieving for a departed person have on his soul?
A. Grief is born of attachment. It can hold the soul back and keep it tied to this earthly plane of existence. Try, instead, to help others on their way by sending them blessings and love, that they soar in divine freedom.
9.Q. Will the disciples of a true guru see him on the other side?
A. Our Guru said to a group of us one day, ‘ Those disciples who stick it out to the end, not for just ‘ sticking it out,’ but for the love of God, I myself, or one of the other gurus, will be waiting to welcome them on the other side.’
10.Q. Is it a good thing to donate one’ s bodily organs to help others who are still living?
A. In a somewhat abstract sense it would be, of course, a good thing. Death, however, is a sacred occasion. I myself would not want anyone ‘ mucking about’ with my organs at that time. A dying person’ s consciousness doesn’t withdraw immediately from his body. The fact that his physical organs still have sufficient vitality in them to be useful to someone else means that the life force has not yet fully withdrawn from them.
11.Q. Which is better: cremation, or burial?
A. Generally speaking, cremation is better. In fact, it actually happens occasionally that people return to outward awareness after they’ve been buried. Think of the horror of waking up in your own coffin, underground! The expression, ‘ He would turn over in his grave if he heard that,’ is based on the actual fact that corpses have sometimes been found, on exhumation, to have turned over in their graves.
The mother of Robert E. Lee ‘ died’ temporarily when still a young woman. The coffin in which she’ d been placed was still above ground when she returned to outward consciousness. Beating desperately on the wood, she was heard and hastily rescued. It was, in fact, after that event that she gave birth to Robert.
Cremation helps also in breaking attachment to the body. On the other hand, it is better not to cremate enlightened saints. Their physical bodies retain high vibrations that will help anyone praying to them later at their tombs. My Guru said Lahiri Mahasaya’ s body should not have been cremated, even though he was a householder. (Usually, the bodies of swamis are buried, the rationale being that they’ve been ‘ cremated’ already at the time they took their sannyas vows of renunciation.)
12.Q. I know suicide is considered a sin. Are there any extenuating circumstances when it might be a virtue?
A. Of course there are! A person may sacrifice his life for a high cause, or to save others, or in expiation for some sin he himself has committed. This last rationale, however, should be reserved for persons of spiritual realization. And it depends always on the motivation behind the deed.
13.Q. Can it help those who have died to pray for them?
A. Indeed, yes. It may be good also to pray to them. I recall a time, years ago, when it had been my intention to pray for my departed mother on her birthday. When that day came, however, I suffered a sudden episode of very rapid, irregular heartbeats. I found myself praying to my mother, instead of for her. Help came inwardly, and instantaneously. My mother was a very spiritual woman, but I believe that others who have gone before us may be able to help us also, if we will but ask them.
14.Q. Should one, especially as one grows old, be vigilant about superficial distractions?
A. Yes, certainly so. Many old people waste their days before the television, or playing cards. Television is especially pernicious. I myself never watch it. The thought of all those worldly personalities invading my home and my consciousness with their foolish opinions, attitudes, and vibrations: what an absurd distraction! Yogananda referred to television, in fact, as ‘ satanic.’
In summation, two things will help you especially to prepare for your ‘ final exam’ :
First, try to avoid as much as possible anything that might have a downward, or even a distracting, influence on your mind. Avoid especially things that might draw your thoughts into negative thoughts and emotions, and toward worldly desires.
Second, surround yourself as much as possible with uplifting, God-reminding influences.
If you follow these simple rules, you will pass your exam with ‘ flying colors’ and will find, in doing so, your portal to eternal freedom.