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8. How to Face Death

Srila Prabhupada was once asked why the death rate in India was so high. His reply – “The death rate is the same everywhere I go – 100%!” A witty but sobering response. Time and tide wait for no man, and indeed, no man makes it out alive. Throughout the Vedic literatures we find detailed accounts of how great personalities left this world. The final lesson of their life reminds us of how to face the inevitability of death with grace, detachment and spiritual consciousness. While leaving this world, these great personalities leave behind profound teachings and an inspiring example to follow.
In Chapter Eight of the Bhagavad-Gita, Krishna explains how a person’s thoughts at the time of death sum up their consciousness and aspirations cultivated throughout life. Thus, one’s state of mind at the critical moment of departure determines the next life situation - those who remember God at death reach the kingdom of God. One may spend decades at school, but if they’re lazy, inattentive and apathetic in their studies, they won’t pass the final exam. They’ll have to retake. Similarly, the success of life is measured by how well we perform in the final exam; death. How we perform in the final exam is largely dependent on how diligently we prepare ourselves during the course of life. We must live with the end in mind.
The thought of death, though shocking for many, need not be seen as an inconvenient truth, but rather the ultimate meditation to reinstate clarity and perspective into every aspect of our life. Consider the following:
Priority – death reminds us of our priorities; those critical things we have to pursue before time runs out. Knowing we have to leave behind our possessions, positions and profiles, pushes us to invest in our spiritual wealth which remains our eternal asset.
Urgency – death not only reminds us of what is important, but urges us to pursue it now. We’re impelled to overcome procrastination - there’s no point in killing time once you realise that time is actually killing you.
Humility – death fosters a deep sense of humility. Our utter powerlessness in counteracting death helps us realise we’re not in control and higher powers are at work. The annihilation of pride opens doors to heightened spiritual realisation.
Clarity – through the lens of temporality, we perceive everything and everyone we complain about in a new light. We all have the experience of failing to appreciate things until they have gone. In presence we tend to focus on negatives, but in absence we see significant value.
Immunity – in the face of permanent expiry, all of our worries and anxieties pale into insignificance. Life is full of many fears, but our greatest fear is of death, before which all others pale in comparison. Being fearless of death immunises us from fear altogether.
Opportunity – death is a portal to new opportunities, a gateway to our true existence and nature. It’s not something negative or destructive; it is the opposite - hugely life affirming.

“After attaining Me, the great souls, who are yogis in devotion, never return to this temporary world, which is full of miseries, because they have attained the highest perfection.” (Bhagavad-Gita 8.15)

References

8.27 – Those engaged in spiritual life become fearless of death.