At the moment of death the following things take place. If the person is impious and quite sinful, the messengers of Yamaraja, called the Yamadutas, fierce, horrible looking persons with twisted features, copper red flaming hairs that stand on end, black in complexion and frightening to behold, appear at the deathbed of the person in question and drag him forcibly from his body with ropes and chains. This scene so frightens the person that he literally dies of fright. They then pack up the subtle body of the person in a bag, where they take the soul, now covered only by the subtle body of mind, intelligence and false ego, to the abode of Yamaraja for judgement. He is taken over long stretches of hot, dry sands, and along the way he is insulted in various ways by other horrible creatures and bitten by dogs. He is suffering terribly on this journey and he wishes it would end.
(The movie "Ghost" presented a world that included ghosts, psychic powers, Yamaduta-like evil spirits, and an effulgent heavenly realm.)
However, when it does end he is taken before Yamaraja, the fierce demigod in charge of death and punishing the sinful. He is forced to accept a position of suffering according to his sins in one of the hells which exist at the bottom of the universe, just above the Garbhodaka Ocean. In this hellish region called the Naraka, there are approximately 27 hellish places.
As an example of this a person who has engaged in the slaughter and eating of other innocent animals will enter into Krimibhojana, wherein he will exist as a worm who is eating the tail of another worm as that worm is eating his tail. There are many such hells just according to the crimes committed. One may find the complete description in the last chapters of the 5th canto of the SB.
After such intense and horrible forms of suffering the living being is thrown again into the lower species of life just suited according to his sinful desires in his human life.
However, most persons are not quite that sinful and therefore they may expect a more normal departure from the body. At the time of death, death is denoted as the moment when the spirit soul departs from the material gross body. At that time the soul, covered by the subtle body of mind, intelligence and false ego, leaves the body. The subtle body always travels with the soul wherever he goes within this material world and therefore the living entity has a continuity of material experience throughout his different lifetimes.
Death may come from a variety of causes, but when it actually happens the first thing that a person experiences is total blackness. All is dark, but this lasts only for a moment. The Supersoul, situated right next to the soul, illuminates a hole which appears to the soul to be a light at the end of a tunnel. In fact the darkness which appears is the body but now that it is dead it is devoid of consciousness and now we are seeing it from the inside for the first time.
There are some 118 different passageways through which one might depart from the body. One may only go through one of these at the time of death. These passageways are called nadis, or channels of consciousness. According to Garuda Purana 1.67 death occurs when both main (spine) nadis, Ida and Pingala, are at work. Under normal conditions they switch. One might understand them to be the major nerve channels of channels of energy flow within the body, but the exact medical synonym is not available to us at this time. In any case one will depart from one of these nadis to his next destination. We do know that one who departs from the anus or genital goes to the lower regions, wherein one who departs from the upper portion of the body goes to the higher regions. Those who depart from the top of their skulls, from the hole known as the brahma randhra, the place where the three bones in the skull meet, will attain the regions of Brahman.
The Supersoul illuminates only one of these passageways according to the karma of the soul. He selects the passageway just according to the previous activities of the living entity and as soon as it is illuminated the soul naturally wants to move towards the light. As soon as he is out of the body, he feels relieved of the burden of the material frame and starts to move, naturally drawn towards his next form. At that time he will experience the world from the point of view of the subtle body and will see things much clearer than they are seen through the present body. Just try to imagine how much more beautiful the world must be when seen through spiritual eyes!
He then enters into the womb of a new mother as it is being impregnated by the father and awaits the time until the new body develops itself sufficiently to maintain consciousness. When the embryo is about seven months of age it is sufficiently developed to support consciousness and the baby awakens in his new body and immediately moves, sometimes kicking the mother from within in a vain attempt to get out of the horrible entanglement that he has found himself in.
If he is pious, this horrible condition of having the arms and legs jammed into the chest as one is bent over in the foetal position, causes the soul to pray to the Lord as follows, "O Lord, this condition is terrible. Please save me from this situation and get me out of this womb immediately and I promise to serve You in this lifetime for sure." However, as soon as he takes his birth he becomes too much attached to all the attention and service being rendered him by mother and family members and he forgets all about serving the Lord and falls totally into maya again.
Avoid the process of rebirth, it is not auspicious in any way.
Death in Three Gunas
BG 14.14-15 lists three destinations according to three gunas: goodness - heaven, passion - earth, ignorance - hell. SB 11.25.22 confirms it.
An example for death in the mode of passion would be king Puranjana who had to take birth as a woman in his next life. Ajamila was practically enroute to hell and his condition was a good example of ignorance. In the Gita-mahatmya of the Padma Purana there are many examples, like the story of one brahmana who had to go to hell after death and then had to accept an animal birth.
The example of a person who went to heaven is Maharaja Pururava. After he had somewhat cooled down from his excessive attachment to Urvasi, he became absorbed in performing sacrifices which the Gandharvas had taught him. At the end of his life he went to heaven. There are also all sorts of jnanis and yogis and brahmacaris who go to the planet of Brahma.
SB 5.26.6 - Yama
yatra ha vava bhagavan pitr-rajo vaivasvatah sva-visayam prapitesu sva-purusairjantusu samparetesu yatha-karmavadyam dosam evanullanghita-bhagavac-chasanah sagano damam dharayati.
yatra - where; ha vava - indeed; bhagavan - the most powerful; pitr-rajah - Yamaraja, the king of the pitas; vaivasvatah - the son of the sun-god; sva-visayam - his own kingdom; prapitesu - when caused to reach; sva-purusaih - by his own messengers; jantusu - the human beings; samparetesu - dead; yatha-karma-avadyam - according to how much they have violated the rules and regulations of conditional life; dosam - the fault; eva - certainly; anullanghita-bhagavat-sasanah - who never oversteps the Supreme Personality of Godhead's order; saganah - along with his followers; damam - punishment; dharayati - executes.
"The King of the pitas is Yamaraja, the very powerful son of the sun-god. He resides in Pitrloka with his personal assistants and, while abiding by the rules and regulations set down by the Supreme Lord, has his agents, the Yamadutas, bring all the sinful men to him immediately upon their death. After bringing them within his jurisdiction, he properly judges them according to their specific sinful activities and sends them to one of the many hellish planets for suitable punishments."
Quote from Hindu Dictionary by Manurishi Foundation
Yama - Restrainer. Pluto, etc. In the Vedas Yama is god of the dead, with whom the spirits of the departed dwell. He was the son of Vivasvat (the Sun) and had a twin-sister named Yami or Yamuna. These are by some looked upon as the first human pair, the originators of the race; and there is a remarkable hymn, in the form of a dialogue, in which the female urges their cohabitation for the purpose of perpetuating the species. Another hymn says that Yama "was the first of men that died, and the first that departed to the (celestial) world." It was Yama who found the way to the home which cannot be taken away. "Those who are now born follow) by their own paths to the place where our ancient fathers have departed." "But," says Muir, "Yama is nowhere represented in the Rigveda as having anything to do with the punishment of the wicked." So far as is yet known, "the hymn of that Veda contain no prominent mention of any such penal retribution... Yama is still to some extent an object of terror. He is represented as having two insatiable dogs with four eyes and wide nostrils, which guard the road to his abode, and which the departed are advised to hurry past with all possible speed. These dogs are said to wander about among men as his messengers, no doubt for the purpose of summoning them to their master, who is in another place identified with death, and is described as sending a bird as the herald of doom." In the epic poems Yama is the son of the Sun by Sanjna (conscience) and brother of Vaivasvata (Manu). He was the father of Yudhishthira. He is the god of departed spirits and judge of the dead. A soul when it quits its mortal form goes to his abode in the lower regions; there the recorder, Citragupta, reads out his account from the great register called Agrasandhani, and a just sentence follows, when the soul either ascends to the abodes of the Pitris (Manes), or is sent to one of the twenty-one hells according to its guilt, or it is born again on earth in another form. Yama is regent of the south quarter, and as such is called Dakshinashapati. He is represented as having a green color and clothed with red. He rides upon a buffalo, and is armed with a ponderous mace and a noose to secure his victims. In the Puranas a legend is told of Yama having lifted his foot to kick Chaya, the handmaid of his father. She cursed him to have his leg affected with sores and worms, but his father gave him a cock which picked off the worms and cured the discharge. Through this incident he is called Shirnapada, "Shrivelled foot." Yama had several wives, as Hemamala, Sushila, and Vijaya. He dwells in the lower world, in his city Yamapura. There, in his palace called Kalichi, he sits upon his throne of judgment, Vicharabhu. He is assisted by his recorder and councillor, Citragupta, and waited upon by his two chief attendants and custodians, Canda or Mahacanda, and Kalapurusha. His messengers, Yamadutas, bring in the souls of the dead, and the door of his judgment-hall is kept by his porter, Vaidhyata. Yama has many names descriptive of his office. He is Mrityu, Kala, and Antaka, "death"; Kritanta, "the finisher"; Shamana "the settler"; Dandi or Dandadhara, "the rod-bearer"; Bhimashasana, "of terrible decrees"; Pashi, "the noose-carrier"; Pitripati, "lord of the manes"; Pretaraja, "king of the ghosts"; Shraddhadeva, "god of the exequial offerings"; and especially Dharmaraja, "king of justice." He is Audumbara, from Udumbara, "the fig-tree," and from his parentage he is Vaivasvata. There is a Dharmashastra which bears the name of Yama.
How to become a Yamaduta
"Those who have passed several years in the dreadful hell and have no descendants (to offer gifts) in their favor become messengers of Yama." (Garuda Purana 2.18.34)
Avoiding Yamaraja: Ajamila's story
Ajamila's story is given in the Bhagavata Purana (Astama Skandha, Chapter 1) as an example to illustrate that even the most wicked person can attain Visnupada (salvation).
Ajamila was a brahmana who was once sent by his father to the jungle to fetch samit (leaves and twigs to make the sacrificial fire). Ajamila met there a beautiful sudra woman. Forgetting everything, the brahmana made her his wife and children were born to them. When that brahmana, who was the very embodiment of all vices, reached the age of eighty-seven, the time came for him to die. Yamadutas (agents of Yama, the god of death) had arrived. The frightened Ajamila shouted loudly the name of his eldest son, "Narayana". Hearing the repeated call of his name "Narayana", servants of Visnu appeared there and dismissed the agents of Yama. From that day Ajamila became a devotee of Visnu and did penance on the bank of the Ganges and after some years attained salvation.
Ajamila was saved from hell because he chanted "Narayana" as the Yamadutas approached him. Afterwards Yamaraja forbade his servants from touching devotees who "even if by mistake or because of bewilderment or illusion... sometimes commit sinful acts," because "they are protected from sinful reactions because they always chant the Hare Krsna mantra."
Yamaraja then told the Yamadutas:
"Paramahamsas are exalted persons who have no taste for material enjoyment and who drink the honey of the Lord's lotus feet. My dear servants, bring to me for punishment only persons who are averse to the taste of that honey, who do not associate with paramahamsas and who are attached to family life and worldly enjoyment, which form the path to hell.
"My dear servants, please bring to me only those sinful persons who do not use their tongues to chant the holy name and qualities of Krsna, whose hearts do not remember the lotus feet of Krsna even once, and whose heads do not bow down even once before Lord Krsna. Send me those who do not perform their duties toward Visnu, which are the only duties in human life. Please bring me all such fools and rascals."
The Greatness of Tulasi (from Padma Purana)
Everything of the Tulasi plant, leaves, flowers, fruits, roots, twigs, skin and even the soil around is holy. The soul of a dead one whose dead body is cremated using Tulasi twigs for firewood would attain a permanent place in Visnuloka. Even great sinners would be absolved of their sins if their dead bodies are cremated with Tulasi twigs. If at the time of death one thinks of God and mutters His name and if his dead body is later cremated with Tulasi twigs, he would have no rebirths. Even he who has done a crore of sins would attain moksa if at the time of cremating his dead body a piece of Tulasi twig is placed at the bottom of the funeral pyre. Just as all waters become pure by the union with. Ganga water, all firewood is made pure by the addition of a small piece of Tulasi twig. If the dead body of one is cremated using Tulasi twigs alone, one's sins for a crore of kalpa years would be washed away. Yamadutas would keep away from one whose dead body is cremated with Tulasi twigs and servants of Visnu would come near. If a light is burnt for Visnu with a Tulasi stick it would be equal to burning several lakhs of lights for Visnu. If one makes the Tulasi leaves into a paste and smears it on one's body and then worships Visnu for one day, one would be getting the benefit of a hundred ordinary worships and also the benefit of doing a hundred go-danas (gifts of cows). (Chapter 24, Padma Purana).
They came in through the open window!
By Tribhuvannatha Das
A devotee named Jeremy was with us on our Festival 98' tour of East & Central Africa. Jeremy is more of a congregational member of ISKCON and is just starting to understand the commitment that there is in Krsna Consciousness. He caught malaria and had to come back early.
Upon his return I spoke to him on the phone. I mentioned how he should be careful not to fall down from the process of KC. Two weeks later he was back to his 'old ways' but still a devotee - not as strict as before though.
He'd been out with his girlfriend, and while admiring some waterfalls in the mountains of Wicklow, Ireland, he slipped and fell 60 ft down the side of the mountain - lucky for him he chanted at the top of his voice Krsna! Krsna! as he went tumbling down the side of the mountain, the bushes slowed his pace, but then over the edge... another 160 ft sheer drop to death! He screamed "Krsna" and suddenly he stopped... 'smack' he had landed on the only rock jutting out from the side of the mountain. He was damaged - broken pelvis, leg, etc. but still alive.
The rock had an unusual inward curve, just the right size to cushion his body. If it had been a normal rock he would have simply bounced off it, to his death!
The rescue team said that they could not believe his fortune. Ten others before him had fallen from the same spot, nine died, one crippled. Then in hospital (where he is making a full recovery) in comes Michael who has just fallen off a crane. His head hit a steel girder on the way down (his luck was he had a hard hat on), the whole top of his head, peeled like an orange. Miraculously his heavy coat had got caught on the way down and saved his life.
He came over to see Jerry - by this time in his life he has gone from been one of the most debauched personality to almost a saint, even setting up his own alter at the hospital!
He had heard that Jerry was a 'Hare Krsna' and was intrigued to meet him. After some conversation Jerry complained about the 'nightmares' he was getting.
"Nightmares!" says Michael. "I was attacked by five horrible-looking monsters that came in through the window. They said they had come to get me." (While in intensive care Michael was 'dead' three times, in the same night). He described them in detail. He was so frightened at their appearance that he threw a chair at the window, four nurses had to restrain him! They had come to get him, he even mentioned that one appeared to have a rope.
"They came back again, and said they were coming to get me very soon. "Was it just a nightmare?" asked Jerry. "No!" said Michael, "these guys were as real as you or me... These guys were very real!"
Encounter with Yamadutas
By Vaidyanatha Das
One day a very freakish artist came to old "steel wagon" Sochi temple with Sri Isopanisad in his hand and told devotees his story:
"I was looking for you, people, for three days and I am unbelievably glad I have finally found you. One day I bought this book (he couldn't even name its name and author, Srila Prabhupada, but only stammered something) and tried to read it. But it was very difficult to understand, so many strange words. Therefore I put it on the shelf and cared no more about it. I was drinking lot of alcohol. One day while lying drunk in my bed I heard strange voices nearby. It was something absolutely new. I was looking for the source and saw two persons indistinctly. They were speaking about me - about my life and how sinful it was. They were recounting all my sins in great detail which I even didn't remember and also a few good things. Finally they came to conclusion: "He must go to hell!" I was screaming in protest: "I don't want to hell and don't know what is going on at all." But anyway, at once one of them put a stringent rope on my neck. I tried to get rid of it and run away but to no avail - the rope was very tight. I was almost finished but suddenly a cover picture of this book (Sri Isopanisad with Lord Kesava and Sesa Naga) appeared before my eyes. It was actually not picture but reality. The snake was moving and out of sudden a flame emanated from his many mouths. Totally bewildered about it I asked those persons - what does it all mean? They answered: "This is just the hell where you are going to go." But all of sudden everything disappeared and I awoke in my bed, completely shocked. Immediately I stopped drinking and smoking and tried to find you, devotees, to find explanation about all of this. I beg on my knees, let me stay here somewhere!"
(This story refutes the scientists' theory that one's NDE is influenced by his/her cultural background - Easterners are supposed to have different experiences than Westerners. There are more stories of Westerners who "met" the servants of lord of death, Yamaraja.)
Encounter in a Dream
"Before I joined the temple I have been reading Prabhupada's books like
anything - sometimes for hours a day - and I developed a deep appreciation
for them. At that time I still lived in my rented flat whose owner was
one woman living together with her daughter. This girl was a heavy drug
addict and often when she had nightmares her screams would wake me up.
One night I was awaken by her particularly horrible screaming. I looked
at my watch - it was 0:30 AM. Knowing that this time is notorious for its
inauspiciousness I was a bit afraid and confused. But then I fell asleep
again and in my dream I saw coming to me a strange figure looking like
a devil - dark, with big ears and carrying a stick or something similar
in its hand. It was looking at me and laughing, "Oh, you read these books!
Ho, ho, ho!" and pointed at my Bhagavatam lying beside my bed on a table.
At once I realized that I cannot do anything but if Krsna is in the hearts
of all the living beings He can protect me. Thus I got a feeling of security.
At that moment the dream stopped and I slept peacefully for the rest of
the night. This incident even deepened my faith in Prabhupada's books."
(c) 2001 - 2003 VEDA - Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, authors and Jan Mares