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Re: Remembering our Lord during final moments..

From: Mani Varadarajan (
Date: Wed Aug 15 2001 - 18:40:04 PDT

K. Sadananda writes:
> antakaalecha maam eva smaran muuktvaa kalebaram
> yaH prayaati sa madbhaavam yaati naastya samshayaH||
> in referring to the last moments before death - if one thinks of me 
> they reach me, the parabrahman.  The key words in both sloka-s - 
> antakalepi - the 'api' and antakalecha - 'cha' need to be emphasized. 
> Essentially it points to the fact that 'even' if one thinks of me in 
> the last moments one reaches me.  By emphasizing the word 'even', it 
> stresses as a sufficient condition and not as a necessary
> condition.

Dear Sri Sadananda,

At first glance your interpretation sounds plausible.
However, the deep study of the text done by Sri Ramanuja
and in turn Sri Vedanta Desika have led them on very good
grounds to a different conclusion. After studying these
great scholars' commentaries, I am sure you will agree
that your interpretation must be discarded in favor of
Sri Ramanuja's.

In this matter, the particular sloka you quote above, Gita 8.5, 
is mentioned by Swami Desika as a reply to Arjuna's question in 
the 2nd verse of the same chapter -- "How do these yogis know you
at the time of death?" (prayANa-kAle ca katham jneyo'si?)

The 'ca' ("and") is indicative only of the next answer to
Arjuna's series of doubts. It does not mean "even if one 
thinks of me..." On the contrary, it means that for all
three classes of aspirants -- those who seek the Lord for
material or physical good, those who seek the Lord to
experience the bliss of the individual self, and those
who seek the Lord purely out of love for the Lord -- 
the remembrance of the Lord at one's time of death is
of vital importance and is necessary to all (idam api 
trayANAm sAdhAraNam -- bhAshya on 8.5).

This is very clear in Sri Krishna's teaching in the subsequent
verse that "whatever object one thinks of at the time
one leaves one's body, that nature alone will one attain." 
(yam yam vApi smaran bhAvam tyajaty ante kalevaram |
 tam tam evaiti kaunteya sada tadbhAvabhAvita: ||)
Sri Ramanuja cites the well-known story of Adi Bharata 
(a.k.a. Jada Bharata) as an example. Adi Bharata was a 
great yogi but grew attached to a deer late in life.
As he breathed his last he thought only of the deer
and was reborn as one in his next life.
>From this, we gather that the final recollection 
of the Lord at the time of death is capable only by the 
highest of yogis. To explain, consider what the mature state 
of bhakti-yoga is. It is known as 'para-bhakti', and consists 
of lovingly meditating upon the Lord's form and infinite 
perfections with such a degree of clarity that in the mind of 
the yogi it is like sight itself.  Such meditation in the state 
of para-bhakti is clear and uninterrupted, like a "continuous
flow of oil", as both Sri Ramanuja and Sri Sankara write.
And we all know that we remember best that which we see.
Most of us, not having had a vision of the Lord, have a hard
time visualizing Him in our noisy minds. Even sitting down 
and concentrating without distraction for one minute on
Him is difficult.  How can we contemplate thinking of the
Lord during the final stages of death?

The yogi, obviously, is different from this, and can
visualize the auspicious form of the Lord at will.
To such a yogi, remembering the Lord during one's final 
moment will require far less effort than a non-yogi. In fact,
one can say it is impossible for a non-yogi to have this
final recollection of the Lord through his or her own efforts.

If such a final recollection is a necessary prerequisite
for attaining the Lord, the next question before us is 
what of those who seek the Lord for refuge and place their
burden of protection upon Him. These people have already 
declared their inability to think of Him during their final 
breaths along the lines of Periyalvar, Kulasekhara in the 
mukunda-mAlA, etc.

Swami Desika clarifies this issue in a chapter of Srimad
Rahasya Traya Saaram appropriately entitled "On the Departure 
of the Self" (niryANa-adhikAram).  He describes the despair
felt by many sishyas of Sri Ramanuja during Sri Kuratt-alvan's
final moments, when they observed Sri Ramanuja whispering
the sacred dvaya-mantra into Alvan's ears.  The sishyas
doubted they would be fortunate enough to have the great preceptor
recite the mantra in their ears as they left their body.
Sri Ramanuja, seeing their anguish, consoled them by saying
that what he did was not to complete the surrender of Alvan
(i.e., make sure it was efficacious), but was only to make his 
final moments sweeter, "like putting some sugar candy and
camphor in his mouth."  In other words, helping Alvan remember
the Lord during the his final departure from his body was
not necessary, as Alvan had already sought refuge with the 
Lord. Hearing Sri Ramanuja's gracious words, the sishyas felt 

Swami Desika further clarifies that what this means is
that the person who has found refuge with the Lord need not 
*of their own effort* try to think of the Lord at the last
moment. The Lord Himself, remembering the devotee's earlier
prayer for protection, will manifest Himself in the mind of the
prapanna without any need of effort on the latter's part.
Swami Desika quotes the Lord's words from Saranagati
Gadya, 'kevalam madIya dayayA' -- "purely out of My grace".

So, those of us who have sought refuge in the lotus feet
of Bhagavaan Sriman Narayana need not worry about how 
we will be able to remember Him in our final thoughts.
He Himself will show Himself to us at that time and guide
us along the shining path to moksha.

emberumAnAr, desikan, tiruvaDigaLE saraNam

aDiyEn rAmAnuja dAsan

           - SrImate rAmAnujAya namaH -
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