Consciousness at the critical moment
The soul is eternal. Bodies are dresses that the soul accepts and discards. Each body creates a compelling scenario of existence. In the menagerie of life, the soul identifies with a species, forms relationships, struggles to exist and eke out happiness in a challenging environment. In each body, he forgets that he is the soul and that the body just a perishable dress. His thinking circumscribed within the bodily conception causes future bodies. Lord Krishna indicates that the embodied soul’s mentality is like fragrance in the air. It carries him from one body to the next. “The living entity in the material world carries his different conceptions of life from one body to another as the air carries aromas.” Bhagavad-Gita 15.8.
The human form awarded to the soul is a vital opportunity for him to transcend the bodily conception and realize the spiritual paradigm. The potentiality of acquiring knowledge allows the soul in the human form to awaken to his spiritual reality. He learns the spiritual truth when he submits to the direction of a bonafide spiritual master.
The ultimate spiritual reality is the intimate relationship of the soul with Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Freed of material shackles, if a soul attains the loving devotional state of consciousness, he is empowered to remember the Lord even in a crisis calmly. He then sees death as the Lord kindly come to take him to His eternal home.
He perceives the time of departure as a punctuation mark in eternity. The larger picture of existence beyond the parentheses of birth and death of a body is apparent to him. In that infinite time and space, he can realize his eternal love for the Supreme Personality of Godhead and his complete dependence on Him. He rejoices in his tiny nature overflowing with love for the Lord. Devoid of false pride, he feels no need to put up any appearances. Attaining total selflessness, he desires only to satisfy the Lord. He is riveted on this one desire. He sees every relationship in the context of that loving service. He becomes a tiny co-operator in a vast arrangement oriented to the pleasure of Krishna. The intricate harmony resonates in his heart and fills him with ecstasy. He now acts in complete alignment with the purpose of existence.
This pure consciousness at the time of leaving the body is achieved as a culmination of undeviating remembrance of the Lord in the realization of the His supreme nature (Bhagavad-Gita 8.8- 9). Srila Prabhupada writes. “One’s memory of Kṛṣṇa is revived by chanting the mahāmantra, Hare Kṛṣṇa. By this practice of chanting and hearing the sound vibration of the Supreme Lord, one’s ear, tongue and mind are engaged. This mystic meditation is very easy to practice, and it helps one attain the Supreme Lord.” Bhagavad-Gita 8.8 Purport. Citing the example of a caterpillar Srila Prabhupada teaches of the practice of remembering Krishna. “The caterpillar thinks of becoming a butterfly and so is transformed into a butterfly in the same life. Similarly, if we constantly think of Kṛṣṇa, it is certain that at the end of our lives we shall have the same bodily constitution as Kṛṣṇa.” Bhagavad-Gita 8.8 purport
His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada departed from this world in an exemplary manner. Lying on his bed with an emaciated body, Srila Prabhupada spoke feebly but with perfect clarity and authority purports to verses from the Srimad Bhagavatam. When all aspects of his external body bore the signs of impending death, his consciousness untouched by his condition was fixed as ever on his devotional service to Lord Krishna.
Srila Prabhupada was a pure devotee. He had said that he could never think of a time when he did not remember Krishna. He taught his disciples the intricacies of Krishna Consciousness. The way he left his body is yet another powerful lesson for his followers to prepare for their own passing.