The Bible and the Bhagavad Gita 40: How to Die (Part 2)


The Death of Socrates, by Jacques-Louis David, 1787. From Wikimedia Commons


Those who remember me at the time of death will come to me. Do not doubt this. Whatever occupies the mind at the time of death determines the destination of the dying; always they will tend toward that state of being. Therefore, remember me at all times and fight on. (BG, 8:5-7) 

Last time, I explained why I don’t buy into the idea that “whatever occupies the mind at the time of death determines the destination of the dying.” I said that this philosophy does harm, and it attaches stigma to mental illness and to death by suicide.

But now I want to turn and look at it from the perspective of one who is preparing for death. In many traditions, contemplating one’s own mortality is a spiritual practice. We learn to approach death not with dread, and not even with courage, but with curiosity and acceptance. Saint Francis, in the Canticle of the Sun, even refers to death as a welcomed sister: “Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whom no living man can escape.”

Krishna goes into detail about how one is to accomplish this practice:

Remembering me at the time of death, close down the doors of the senses and place the mind in the heart. Then, while absorbed in meditation, focus all energy upwards toward the head. Repeating in this state the divine name, the syllable Om that represents the changeless Brahman, you will go forth from the body and attain the supreme goal. (BG, 8:12-13).

The idea here is that meditation has become such a natural practice that one can seamlessly transition from a state of meditative ego-death into real death. The energy that flows through our bodies simply departs and goes to be part of the cosmic dance. I am no longer I; I become We.

I should point out again that all of this dialogue is supposedly happening in Arjuna’s chariot, just before battle. There will presumably be many people who aren’t able to die in such a meditative state. Getting an arrow in the throat tends to disrupt mediation!

Still, the ideal in the practice of meditation is that one who is enlightened can maintain this meditative state even while going about daily tasks. A practiced meditator can meditate while doing the dishes. An advanced practitioner can meditate while being in conversation. Perhaps an expert meditator could be at peace in the midst of a battle.

So rather than read this scripture as a metaphysical description of what happens when we die, I read it as an encouragement to become so practiced at meditating that not even death disrupts your practice. Death becomes simply an advanced form of meditation. I read it as an invitation to reflect on our own mortality, to imagine what becomes of our consciousness at the point of death. If we truly see God everywhere, as Krishna repeats frequently, then we will see God even in “Sister Death.”

Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whom no one escapes. Let us not fear, but regard her as trusted family.