08. Sadhana For A Happy Ending Of Life: The Yoga Of Constancy
36. Accumulation Of Good Samskaras1
Human life is full of various samskaras. Innumerable actions are being continually done by us; there is really no end to them. Even if we take a superficial look and count the activities done during twenty four hours of a day—eating, drinking, sitting, walking, working, writing, speaking, reading—they would make a long list. Besides these, in the life there are various dreams, sentiments and perceptions like love and hate, honour and insult, joy and sorrow. All these make their impact on the mind and shape a man’s personality and behaviour. Therefore, if somebody asks me to define life, I would say that life means an aggregate of accumulated samskaras.
Samskaras are good as well as bad, and both of them influence human life. We hardly remember our childhood days. Samskaras from the former births are so completely erased that one wonders whether one had any previous birth at all. When we cannot remember even the childhood days, why talk of previous births? Let us, therefore, leave them aside and think only of this birth. Here also it is not that only those actions which we remember had taken place. Countless activities and the acquisition of information and know-how of a great many things is continually taking place. In the end, most of them get erased leaving behind only a few samskaras. If we try to recollect at bed-time all that we did during the day, we fail to do so. Only the most prominent incidents come back before the mind’s eye. For example, if we had a serious quarrel, we remember only that at night. That quarrel is the only thing in the day that is carried forward from that day in the account book of our life. Important and conspicuous events leave strong impressions; the rest fade away. When we write a diary, we note therein only a few important things. When we review the week, we note even less. While reviewing the month, only the most important happenings during the month are remembered. Many of those happenings too are omitted while reviewing the year. Thus very few things remain in memory, and they form the samskaras. Most of the innumerable actions and much of what we have learnt ultimately fade away leaving only a small residue in the mind. Those actions and the information and know-how have done their work and disappeared. Only a few samskaras remain, and these samskaras are our capital. That is our net gain from the business of living. A trader keeps daily, monthly and annual accounts of income and expenditure and arrives at the figure of profit or loss. It is exactly the same with life. Addition and deletion of samskaras goes on throughout the life, resulting finally in a small net balance. When the end of life comes near, the self begins to think of the gains in life. Looking back, it finds that these gains are few. This does not mean that all that one did and all that one learnt have proved to be futile. They have certainly done their work. There could be thousands of transactions in a trader’s business, but a single final figure of either profit or loss is the net result. If there is a loss, his heart sinks. If there is a profit, he is happy.
We too are in a similar position. If at the time of death the mind craves for food, it is a clear indication of having spent the entire life in indulging the palate. Craving for food is then the only ‘achievement’ in life; it is the only capital that has been accumulated in this life. If a mother thinks of her child at the time of death, it shows that her attachment to her child is the strongest samskara she has acquired in her life; whatever else she did was secondary. In arithmetic there are problems of fractions where addition, subtraction, multiplication and division of big figures ultimately result in a small figure or even zero. Likewise, the entire life of man is an arithmetical exercise wherein addition, subtraction, multiplication and division of numerous samskaras goes on continuously and finally one strong samskara remains. That is the final answer of the equation of life. The thought that arises at the last moment in this life is the essence of the whole of one’s life; it signifies what has been gained in this life.
This essence should be sweet; the last moment should be happy. A person should experience inner peace and fulfillment at the time of death. It is for this that one should endeavour throughout one’s life. All is well that ends well. We should fix the mind on this final answer while solving the problem of life. We should plan the life with this aim in view. In a mathematical exercise, we have to keep the problem in mind and employ the appropriate method to solve it. Our life should be oriented in such a way that, at the last moment we will have the samskara we want. Day and night, our whole attention should be turned in that direction.
37. Living With The Awareness Of Death
The Eighth Chapter puts forward a thesis that the thought uppermost in the mind at the time of death prevails over others in the next birth. When we start on a journey, we carry some provisions with us to sustain us on our journey. The thought uppermost in the mind at the time of death, which is the essence of what has been earned in this life, is the provision with which we start our journey in the next birth. We begin a new day with the previous day’s gains in hand. Death is like a long sleep, after which we begin a new life with the gains of the previous birth. End of this life is the beginning of the next one. Hence one must always be aware of the inevitability of death, while conducting oneself in this life.
This is necessary also to enable us to face the dread of death and find ways and means to counter it. There is a story from the life of Saint Eknath. A gentleman once asked him, “Sir, your life is so simple and pure. Why ours is not so? You never lose your temper or quarrel with anybody. How serene, pure and kind-hearted you are!” Eknath said, “Leave me out for the time being. Let me tell you that I have come to know something about you. You are going to die after seven days.” Who would disbelieve Eknath? Only seven days of life left! The gentleman rushed to his home. He could think of nothing else. He started entrusting his affairs to others and making preparations for the end. He was taken ill and got confined to bed. Six days passed. On the seventh day, Eknath went to him and enquired, “How are you?” The man replied, “Sir, I am about to leave this world.” Eknath asked, “Well, how many sins have you committed in the last six days? How many evil thoughts crossed your mind?” The gentleman replied, “Sir, where was the time for that? Death was always there before my eyes.” Eknath said, “Now you know the reason why the lives of people like me are sinless.” How can the mind entertain evil thoughts when death is standing before you, ready to pounce on you like a tiger? Even for committing sin, the mind has to be relaxed. Constant awareness of death is the means to be free from sin. If death is staring in the face, who can muster up courage to commit sin?
But man always evades the thought of death. The French philosopher Pascal has written a book titled ‘Pensees’ (Thoughts). It contains his stray thoughts. He observes therein that although death is always looking over our shoulders, we continually try to forget it; how to live with the awareness of death in the mind is never our concern. Man detests even the very mention of the word ‘death’. If somebody utters this word while taking meals, he is immediately admonished. Nevertheless, we are continually moving towards death. Once you board a train to Mumbai, it is bound to take you there even if you just keep sitting. The moment we are born, we have booked a ticket to the destination of death. Whether we run or keep sitting, death is bound to come. Whether you think of it or not, you cannot avoid it. Whatever else may be uncertain, death is certain. The sun sets everyday, taking away a portion from our life. Life is continually being gnawed at. It is continually withering away. Still man takes no notice of it. Jnanadeva exclaims, ‘कौतुक दिसतसे’ (How curious!). He wonders how man could be so thoughtless and unperturbed in such a situation. Man is so frightened of death that he cannot even bear the thought of it, and tries to evade it like an ostrich burying its head in the sand. Soldiers going to the front, play, dance or sing or smoke to forget death. Pascal wonders how they lose themselves in eating and drinking, singing and dancing in order to forget death even when they see death everywhere.
We are all like those soldiers. We try to keep a smiling face, apply creams to hide wrinkles, dye our greying hair. We are ceaselessly trying to brush aside the thought of death even though it is just around the corner. We talk about anything but death. Ask a boy who has done his matriculation about his future plans. He will reply, “Don’t ask me now; I have joined college just now.” If you put the same question next year, he will reply, “Let the second year of college pass. I shall think of the future thereafter.” So it goes on. But should not one think of the future in advance? One should plan the next step beforehand; otherwise one will land oneself in a ditch. But the student shirks this task. The education that the poor fellow receives is so full of darkness that he has little idea of what is in store for him. He refuses to visualize the future, since he sees only darkness ahead. But there is no escape from the future; it is bound to catch him by the neck.
The Professor of logic teaches in the college, “Man is mortal. Socrates is a man. Therefore, Socrates is mortal.” Why does he not give his own example? The Professor too is mortal. But he would not say, “All men are mortal. Therefore I, the Professor, am mortal and dear students, you too are mortal.” He gives the example of Socrates, since Socrates is already dead and is not there to protest howsoever we use his name! Students and teachers talk of the mortality of Socrates, but conveniently keep mum about their own. Perhaps they feel that they are fully secure from death.
In this way, people everywhere are continually making deliberate efforts to forget death. But does that ward off death? It makes its presence felt when someone dear to us passes away. But still man does not think of death fearlessly and summon courage to overcome its challenge. A deer chased by a tiger finally gets exhausted, although it is swift and agile. Death in the form of the tiger continues to pursue it. Imagine the condition of that poor creature. It cannot look at the tiger. It closes its eyes and buries its antlers and face in the ground and helplessly waits for death. We too cannot dare to look at death. But howsoever we may try, it is bound to pounce on us.
And when death finally comes, man begins to take stock of what he has in balance at the end of his life. A dull and lazy student in the examination hall just looks here and there and whiles away his time. Dear chap, is Saraswati, the Goddess of knowledge, going to come down from heaven to write answers for you? He keeps the answer-book blank or at best scribbles a few lines and submits it when the time is up. Our condition is no different. But, keeping in mind that life ultimately ends in death, we must constantly practice throughout our life the means by which we can make the last moment pure, sacred and happy. From this very moment, we should be concerned with having the best of the samskaras. But who cares? On the contrary, we are constantly training ourselves in bad ways; we are constantly teaching our sense-organs to behave in a perverse and wayward fashion. The mind must be trained in a different way. It should be led to what is good and should be encouraged to get absorbed in it. The moment we realise that we have erred, we should start taking corrective steps. Once we realise that we have made a mistake, should we go on repeating it? The moment you come to realise your error is the moment of your rebirth. It should mark a new beginning in your life. Look at it as the dawn of your new life. You are now truly awake. Now you should critically examine your life day and night. You should become alert lest you should slip again; lest you should go back to practising bad ways.
A few years ago, I had gone to meet my grandmother. She had grown quite old. She would say, “Vinya, I don’t remember things these days. I go to fetch the ghee but return empty-handed.” But she could vividly describe an incident about her gold ornaments that had occurred fifty years ago. She could not remember what had happened before five minutes, but the strong samskara imprinted on the mind fifty years ago was still fresh. What could the reason be? She must have narrated the incident again and again. Hence it clung to her memory and became a part of her being. I said to myself, “O God! Let grandma not remember her ornaments at least at the time of death!”
38. ‘Ever Absorbed In That’
How could something that is practised day and night not stick to us? Do not delude yourself by the story of Ajamila2. To all appearances he was a sinner, but there was an undercurrent of virtue in his life. It surfaced at the moment of death. Do not, therefore, delude yourself by imagining that you could continue your sinful ways and still the Name of the Lord will be on your lips at the last moment. The mind has to be trained and disciplined by strenuous practice right since childhood. It has to be carefully ensured that good samskaras are imprinted on the mind one-by-one. Never have a careless and casual attitude. Do not ask, for example, why one should always get up early in the morning. If you give free rein to your mind, you are bound to be caught in a snare. Then good samskaras would surely elude you. Just like wealth and knowledge, samskaras have to be acquired bit-by-bit without wasting a moment. Therefore, see to it that the samskara that is imprinted on the mind at every moment is good. If you utter a foul word, a bad samskara will be immediately imprinted on your mind. Every act of ours is like the stroke of a chisel that shapes the block of stone of our life. Even if the day passes off well, evil thoughts surface in dreams. It is not that only recent thoughts surface in dreams; bad samskaras, imprinted on the mind inadvertently, may surface any time. Hence one must be ever vigilant even over little things. A drowning man clutches even at a straw. We are drowning in the ocean of samsara. Utterance of a few good words too can prove to be the life-line to save us. No good deed is ever wasted; it will save you. Therefore, even the slightest of bad samskaras should be prevented. Always strive not to see anything that could leave a bad samskara, never give an ear to abuse and revilement and keep the speech free from foulness. If you are so conscious and alert, you will invariably be rewarded at the last moment. You shall become the master of life and death.
To inculcate good and pure samskaras, one must always ruminate over noble thoughts. Let the hands be busy in doing pure and good deeds. Remembrance of God within and performance of swadharma without, hands engaged in service and vikarma in the mind—all this should continue day in and day out, without any lapse. Look at Gandhiji. He spins every day on his charkha (spinning wheel). He insists that everybody should spin daily. Why? Will it not do if we spin for the cloth we need whenever it suits us? But then that spinning would be a worldly activity done for a practical purpose, whereas there is spirituality in daily spinning. It reflects an urge to do something for the country. That yarn daily links us to Daridranarayan—God in the form of the poor. Daily spinning is an affirmation of one’s fellowship with Daridranarayan.
If a doctor prescribes medicine to be taken daily in particular doses, but we gulp it down all at once, will it serve the purpose? It will be plain stupidity. The body should be restored to health through daily samskara of the medicine. The same holds good for life. Take the example of gradual abhishek3 on the idol of Lord Shiva. It is my favourite illustration. I used to watch it everyday when I was a child. Two buckets of water might be trickling down drop by drop over the idol during twenty four hours. Why not pour two bucketfuls of water all at once on the idol? I got the reply to this at that time itself. Water must not be poured at once; it should trickle down drop by drop uninterruptedly. That is what makes it an act of worship. There should be a continuous flow of the same samskaras twenty four hours a day, every day, every year; even throughout the cycle of births and deaths. Each moment and each hour, each day and each night, each month and each year—even in each birth, the same samskara should be there. The divine stream of good samskaras should flow in this way throughout our lives without interruption. Then only we can reach our destination and hoist our flag there. The stream of samskaras must flow in one single direction only. If the rainwater falling on a hill-top flows down the hill in several different directions, it does not form a river; but if it flows in one single direction, it becomes a stream which gradually grows in size, eventually becoming a river that finally reaches the sea. Water which takes one single direction reaches the sea while that which takes many directions soon dries up and is lost. This also happens in the case of good samskaras. If they come and go, of what use are they? Only when the stream of good samskaras flows continually through life in one single direction, then death will be found to be a source of supreme bliss. A trekker who does not unduly linger in the way, does not yield to the temptations in the way and continues to walk along the path, doggedly reaches the mountain-top, throws down all the load on his back and experiences the fresh breeze blowing there. The joy that he experiences is beyond the imagination of others.
39. ‘Day And Night, The Fight Goes On’
In short, death will be a matter of joy when there is continuous performance of swadharma outside while inwardly the mind is being purified through devotion etc., when the streams of vikarama and karma flow within and without. That is why the Lord says, ‘म्हणूनि सगळा काळ मज आठव झुंज तूं’4 (‘Remember Me all the time and fight’). He also refers to one who is ‘ever absorbed in that’—‘सदा त्यांत चि रंगला ।’5 When love for the Lord pervades your whole being, when your whole life is informed with that love, you will then always rejoice in things sacred. Evil urges and tendencies would never appear before you. Noble resolves and noble thoughts would germinate in the mind and good deeds would follow naturally and effortlessly.
It is true that good deeds become natural when one always remembers the Lord. But the Lord’s command is to keep on striving. Saint Tukaram says, ‘रात्री दिवस आम्हां युध्दाचा प्रसंग ।’ ‘अंतर्बाह्य जग आणि मन ।।’ (‘Day and night, we are required to fight with the world without and the mind within.’) This conflict is going on relentlessly. It is not that you will win every battle. One has to persevere till the end to win the war. It is the final result of the war that counts. During the war we shall succeed and fail many a times. But failure is no cause for dejection. When a stone breaks at the twentieth blow, it does not mean that the previous nineteen blows had been in vain. In fact, they were preparing ground for the success of the twentieth blow.
To feel dejected means to lose faith in God. God is always there to support and protect you. Have faith in Him. To develop self-confidence in a child, the mother lets him wander here and there, but she keeps watch. She does not let him fall. If he starts tottering, she is there to lift him up in her arms. God too is watching you. He holds in His hands the string of your life’s kite. Sometimes He pulls it taut while sometimes He lets it loose; but be assured that He Himself is holding the string in His hands. To teach swimming in a river, one end of a rope is tied to a tree on the bank and the other end is tied to the learner’s waist, and then he is thrown into the water. Trainers are there in the river to take care of him. The novice struggles initially but, in the end, masters the art of swimming. God teaches us the art of living in this way.
40. Uttarayan And Dakshinayan
So, if you continue striving day and night with all the resources of the body and the mind at your command with faith in the Lord, the last moment will be extremely happy. You will have all the gods—that is, divine powers—on your side when the hour of death comes. This has been said at the end of this Chapter using a metaphor. Understand this metaphor properly. If at the time of one’s death fire is burning, the sun is shining, the moon is waxing and there is a beautiful and cloudless sky of Uttarayan (six months of the northern course of the sun), then one unites with the Brahman. But if at that time there is dense smoke, there is darkness within and without, the moon is waning and there is a cloudy and dull sky of Dakshinayan (six months of the southern course of the sun), he again gets caught in the cycle of births and deaths.
This metaphor is puzzling to many. It tells that the grace of the gods of fire (Agni), sun, moon and sky are necessary for a holy death. Fire symbolises karma and yajna—work and sacrifice. The sacrificial fire must be burning even at the time of death. Justice Ranade used to say, “Blessed is the death which comes while one is performing one’s duties. I shall be happy to die while reading, writing or doing something.” This is what the burning of sacrificial fire means. Working till the last breath signifies the grace of Agni, the god of fire. Grace of the sun-god keeps the intellect bright and radiant till the end. Grace of the moon is indicated by the growth of pure and sacred feelings in the heart at the time of death, as the moon is the god of the heart. Sacred feelings like love, devotion, enthusiasm, altruism, compassion etc. should wax and grow to fullness in the mind like the moon in the bright half of the month. The grace of the sky means having the heart completely free from the clouds of attachment. Gandhiji once said, “I am always talking of the spinning wheel. I consider it sacred. But I must not have attachment even to it at the last moment. He who led me to the spinning wheel is fully capable of taking its care. Now the spinning wheel has been taken up by many leading figures. I should now cease to worry about it and be ready to meet the Lord.” Uttarayan thus means freedom of the heart from the clouds of attachment.
If death comes when a man’s body is engaged in service till the last breath, pure sentiments have grown to fullness, there is no trace of attachment in the heart and intellect is sharp and radiant, he becomes one with God. To have such a supremely auspicious end, one must ever be alert and continue to strive day and night. No impure and evil samskara should be permitted in the mind even for a single moment. One must pray constantly to the Lord to have the necessary strength to achieve this. Again and again, one should remember His Name and meditate over His nature and essence.
Samskaras mean the imprints of actions, associations and experiences that remain indelibly engraved on our mind and mould our behaviour, personality and our world-view.
Ajamila led a life full of sin. At the time of death, he called his son Narayan (which is also a name of Lord Vishnu). Lord Vishnu, hearing his name, rushed to Ajamila and redeemed him.
Ceremonial bathing of the Lord's idol. In the temples of Lord Shiva, a pot having a hole at the bottom is hung over the idol of the Lord. It is filled with water. Water trickles down drop by drop on the idol and bathes it uninterruptedly.
'Thinking of whatever state a man in the end casts his mortal frame aside, to that state does he accede, being ever absorbed in the thought thereof'—Gita 8.6