väyur anilam amåtam
athedaà bhasmäntaà çaréram
oà krato smara kåtaà smara
krato smara kåtaà smara
väyuù—air of life; anilam—total reservoir of air; amåtam—indestructible; atha—now; idam—this; bhasmäntam—after being turned to ashes; çaréram—body; oà—O Lord; krato—O enjoyer of all sacrifices; smara—please remember; kåtam—all that has been done by me; smara—please remember; krato—O supreme beneficiary; smara—please remember; kåtam—all that I have done for You; smara—please remember.
Let this temporary body be burnt to ashes, and let the air of life be merged with the totality of air. Now, O my Lord, please remember all my sacrifices, and because You are the ultimate beneficiary, please remember all that I have done for You.
The temporary material body is certainly a foreign dress. The Bhagavad-gétä (2.20) clearly says that after the destruction of the material body the living entity is not annihilated, nor does he lose his identity. The identity of the living entity is never impersonal or formless; on the contrary, it is the material dress that is formless and that takes a shape according to the form of the indestructible person. No living entity is originally formless, as is wrongly thought by those with a poor fund of knowledge. This mantra verifies the fact that the living entity exists after the annihilation of the material body.
In the material world, material nature displays wonderful workmanship by creating varieties of bodies for the living beings according to their propensities for sense gratification. The living entity who wants to taste stool is given a material body that is quite suitable for eating stool—that of a hog. Similarly, one who wants to eat the flesh and blood of other animals may be given a tiger’s body equipped with suitable teeth and claws. But the human being is not meant for eating flesh, nor does he have any desire to taste stool, even in the most aboriginal state. Human teeth are so made that they can chew and cut fruit and vegetables, although there are two canine teeth so that primitive humans can eat flesh if they so desire.
But in any case, the material bodies of all animals and men are foreign to the living entity. They change according to the living entity’s desire for sense gratification. In the cycle of evolution, the living entity changes bodies one after another. When the world was full of water, the living entity took an aquatic form. Then he passed to vegetable life, from vegetable life to worm life, from worm life to bird life, from bird life to animal life, and from animal life to the human form. The highest developed form is this human form when it is possessed of a full sense of spiritual knowledge. The highest development of one’s spiritual sense is described in this mantra: One should give up the material body, which will be turned to ashes, and allow the air of life to merge into the eternal reservoir of air. The living being’s activities are performed within the body through the movements of different kinds of air, known in summary as präëa-väyu. The yogés generally study how to control the airs of the body. The soul is supposed to rise from one circle of air to another until it rises to the brahma-randhra, the highest circle. From that point the perfect yogé can transfer himself to any planet he likes. The process is to give up one material body and then enter into another. But the highest perfection of such changes occurs only when the living entity is able to give up the material body altogether, as suggested in this mantra, and enter into the spiritual atmosphere, where he can develop a completely different type of body—a spiritual body, which never has to meet death or change.
Here in the material world, material nature forces the living entity to change his body due to his different desires for sense gratification. These desires are represented in the various species of life, from germs to the most perfected material bodies, those of Brahmä and the demigods. All of these living entities have bodies composed of matter in different shapes. The intelligent man sees oneness not in the variety of the bodies but in the spiritual identity. The spiritual spark, which is part and parcel of the Supreme Lord, is the same whether he is in a body of a hog or in the body of a demigod. The living entity takes on different bodies according to his pious and vicious activities. The human body is highly developed and has full consciousness. According to the Bhagavad-gétä (7.19), the most perfect man surrenders unto the Lord after many, many lifetimes of culturing knowledge. The culture of knowledge reaches perfection only when the knower comes to the point of surrendering unto the Supreme Lord, Väsudeva. Otherwise, even after attaining knowledge of one’s spiritual identity, if one does not come to the point of knowing that the living entities are eternal parts and parcels of the whole and can never become the whole, one has to fall down again into the material atmosphere. Indeed, one must fall down even if he has become one with the brahmajyoti.
As we have learned from previous mantras, the brahmajyoti emanating from the transcendental body of the Lord is full of spiritual sparks that are individual entities with the full sense of existence. Sometimes these living entities want to enjoy their senses, and therefore they are placed in the material world to become false lords under the dictation of the senses. The desire for lordship is the material disease of the living being, for under the spell of sense enjoyment he transmigrates through the various bodies manifested in the material world. Becoming one with the brahmajyoti does not represent mature knowledge. Only by surrendering unto the Lord completely and developing one’s sense of spiritual service does one reach the highest perfectional stage.
In this mantra the living entity prays to enter the spiritual kingdom of God after relinquishing his material body and material air. The devotee prays to the Lord to remember his activities and the sacrifices he has performed before his material body is turned into ashes. He makes this prayer at the time of death, with full consciousness of his past deeds and of the ultimate goal. One who is completely under the rule of material nature remembers the heinous activities he performed during the existence of his material body, and consequently he gets another material body after death. The Bhagavad-gétä (8.6) confirms this truth:
yaà yaà väpi smaran
tyajaty ante kalevaram
taà tam evaiti kaunteya
“Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, O son of Kunté, that state he will attain without fail.” Thus the mind carries the living entity’s propensities into the next life.
Unlike the simple animals, who have no developed mind, the dying human being can remember the activities of his life like dreams at night; therefore his mind remains surcharged with material desires, and consequently he cannot enter into the spiritual kingdom with a spiritual body. The devotees, however, develop a sense of love for Godhead by practicing devotional service to the Lord. Even if at the time of death a devotee does not remember his service to the Lord, the Lord does not forget him. This prayer is given to remind the Lord of the devotee’s sacrifices, but even if there is no such reminder, the Lord does not forget the service rendered by His pure devotee.
The Lord clearly describes His intimate relationship with His devotees in the Bhagavad-gétä (9.30–34): “Even if one commits the most abominable action, if he is engaged in devotional service he is to be considered saintly because he is properly situated in his determination. He quickly becomes righteous and attains lasting peace. O son of Kunté, declare it boldly that My devotee never perishes. O son of Påthä, those who take shelter in Me, though they be of lower birth—women, vaiçyas [merchants] as well as çüdras [workers]—can attain the supreme destination. How much more this is so of the righteous brähmaëas, the devotees and the saintly kings. Therefore, having come to this temporary, miserable world, engage in loving service unto Me. Engage your mind always in thinking of Me, become My devotee, offer obeisances to Me and worship Me. Being completely absorbed in Me, surely you will come to Me.”
Çréla Bhaktivinoda Öhäkura explains these verses in this way: “One should regard a devotee of Kåñëa to be on the right path of the saints, even though such a devotee may seem to be su-duräcära, ‘a person of loose character.’ One should try to understand the real purport of the word su-duräcära. A conditioned soul has to act for double functions—namely for the maintenance of the body and again for self-realization. Social status, mental development, cleanliness, austerity, nourishment and the struggle for existence are all for the maintenance of the body. The self-realization part of one’s activities is executed in one’s occupation as a devotee of the Lord, and one performs actions in that connection also. One must perform these two different functions along parallel lines, because a conditioned soul cannot give up the maintenance of his body. The proportion of activities for maintenance of the body decreases, however, in proportion to the increase in devotional service. As long as the proportion of devotional service does not come to the right point, there is a chance for an occasional exhibition of worldliness. But it should be noted that such worldliness cannot continue for long because, by the grace of the Lord, such imperfections will come to an end very shortly. Therefore the path of devotional service is the only right path. If one is on the right path, even an occasional occurrence of worldliness does not hamper one in the advancement of self-realization.”
The facilities of devotional service are denied the impersonalists because they are attached to the brahmajyoti feature of the Lord. As suggested in the previous mantras, they cannot penetrate the brahma-jyoti because they do not believe in the Personality of Godhead. Their business is mostly word jugglery and mental speculation. Consequently the impersonalists pursue a fruitless labor, as confirmed in the Twelfth Chapter of the Bhagavad-gétä (12.5).
All the facilities suggested in this mantra can be easily obtained by constant contact with the personal feature of the Absolute Truth. Devotional service to the Lord consists essentially of nine transcendental activities: (1) hearing about the Lord, (2) glorifying the Lord, (3) remembering the Lord, (4) serving the lotus feet of the Lord, (5) worshiping the Lord, (6) offering prayers to the Lord, (7) serving the Lord, (8) enjoying friendly association with the Lord, and (9) surrendering everything unto the Lord. These nine principles of devotional service—taken all together or one by one—help a devotee remain constantly in touch with God. In this way, at the end of life it is easy for the devotee to remember the Lord. By adopting only one of these nine principles, the following renowned devotees of the Lord were able to achieve the highest perfection: (1) By hearing of the Lord, Mahäräja Parékñit, the hero of Çrémad-Bhägavatam, attained the desired result. (2) Just by glorifying the Lord, Çukadeva Gosvämé, the speaker of Çrémad-Bhägavatam, attained his perfection. (3) By praying to the Lord, Akrüra attained the desired result. (4) By remembering the Lord, Prahläda Mahäräja attained the desired result. (5) By worshiping the Lord, Påthu Mahäräja attained perfection. (6) By serving the lotus feet of the Lord, the goddess of fortune, Lakñmé, attained perfection. (7) By rendering personal service to the Lord, Hanumän attained the desired result. (8) Through his friendship with the Lord, Arjuna attained the desired result. (9) By surrendering everything he had to the Lord, Mahäräja Bali attained the desired result.
Actually, the explanation of this
mantra and of practically all the mantras of the Vedic hymns is summarized
in the Vedänta-sütra and properly explained in Çrémad-Bhägavatam.
Çrémad-Bhägavatam is the mature fruit of the Vedic tree
of wisdom. In Çrémad-Bhägavatam this particular mantra
is explained in the questions and answers between Mahäräja Parékñit
and Çukadeva Gosvämé at the very beginning of their
meeting. Hearing and chanting of the science of God is the basic principle
of devotional life. The complete Bhägavatam was heard by Mahäräja
Parékñit and chanted by Çukadeva Gosvämé.
Mahäräja Parékñit inquired from Çukadeva
because Çukadeva was a greater spiritual master than any great yogé
or transcendentalist of his time.
Mahäräja Parékñit’s main question was: “What is the duty of every man, specifically at the time of death?” Çukadeva Gosvämé answered:
tasmäd bhärata sarvätmä
bhagavän éçvaro hariù
çrotavyaù kértitavyaç ca
“Everyone who desires to be free
from all anxieties should always hear about, glorify and remember the Personality
of Godhead, who is the supreme director of everything, the extinguisher
of all difficulties, and the Supersoul of all living entities.” (SB 2.1.5)
So-called human society is generally engaged at night in sleeping and having sex and during the daytime in earning as much money as possible or else in shopping for family maintenance. People have very little time to talk about the Personality of Godhead or to inquire about Him. They have dismissed God’s existence in so many ways, primarily by declaring Him to be impersonal, that is, without sense perception. But in the Vedic literature—whether the Upaniñads, Vedänta-sütra, Bhagavad-gétä or Çrémad-Bhägavatam—it is declared that the Lord is a sentient being and is supreme over all other living entities. His glorious activities are identical with Himself. One should therefore not indulge in hearing and speaking of the rubbish activities of worldly politicians and so-called big men in society but should mold his life in such a way that he can engage in godly activities without wasting a second. Çré Éçopaniñad directs us toward such godly activities.
Unless one is accustomed to devotional practice, what will he remember at the time of death, when the body is dislocated, and how can he pray to the almighty Lord to remember his sacrifices? Sacrifice means denying the interest of the senses. One has to learn this art by employing the senses in the service of the Lord during one’s lifetime. One can utilize the results of such practice at the time of death.
agne naya supathä räye asmän
viçväni deva vayunäni vidvän
yuyodhy asmaj juhuräëam eno
bhüyiñöhäà te nama-uktià vidhema
agne—O my Lord, as powerful as fire; naya—kindly lead; supathä—by the right path; räye—for reaching You; asmän—us; viçväni—all; deva—O my Lord; vayunäni—actions; vidvän—the knower; yuyodhi—kindly remove; asmat—from us; juhuräëam—all hindrances on the path; enaù—all vices; bhüyiñöhäm—most numerous; te—unto You; namaù uktim—words of obeisance; vidhema—I do.
O my Lord, as powerful as fire, O omnipotent one, now I offer You all obeisances, falling on the ground at Your feet. O my Lord, please lead me on the right path to reach You, and since You know all that I have done in the past, please free me from the reactions to my past sins so that there will be no hindrance to my progress.
By surrendering to the Lord and praying for His causeless mercy, the devotee can progress on the path of complete self-realization. The Lord is addressed as fire because He can burn anything into ashes, including the sins of the surrendered soul. As described in the previous mantras, the real or ultimate aspect of the Absolute is His feature as the Personality of Godhead, and His impersonal brahmajyoti feature is a dazzling covering over His face. Fruitive activities, or the karma-käëòa path of self-realization, is the lowest stage in this endeavor. As soon as such activities even slightly deviate from the regulative principles of the Vedas, they are transformed into vikarma, or acts against the interest of the actor. Such vikarma is enacted by the illusioned living entity simply for sense gratification, and thus such activities become hindrances on the path of self-realization.
Self-realization is possible in the human form of life, but not in other forms. There are 8,400,000 species, or forms of life, of which the human form qualified by brahminical culture presents the only chance to obtain knowledge of transcendence. Brahminical culture includes truthfulness, sense control, forbearance, simplicity, full knowledge and full faith in God. It is not that one simply becomes proud of his high parentage. Just as being born the son of a big man affords one a chance to become a big man, so being born the son of a brähmaëa gives one a chance to become a brähmaëa. But such a birthright is not everything, for one still has to attain the brahminical qualifications for himself. As soon as one becomes proud of his birth as the son of a brähmaëa and neglects to acquire the qualifications of a real brähmaëa, he at once becomes degraded and falls from the path of self-realization. Thus his life’s mission as a human being is defeated.
In the Bhagavad-gétä (6.41–42) we are assured by the Lord that the yoga-bhrañöas, or souls fallen from the path of self-realization, are given a chance to rectify themselves by taking birth either in the families of good brähmaëas or in the families of rich merchants. Such births afford higher chances for self-realization. If these chances are misused due to illusion, one loses the good opportunity of human life afforded by the almighty Lord.
The regulative principles are such that one who follows them is promoted from the platform of fruitive activities to the platform of transcendental knowledge. After many, many lifetimes of cultivating transcendental knowledge, one becomes perfect when he surrenders unto the Lord. This is the general procedure. But one who surrenders at the very beginning, as recommended in this mantra, at once surpasses all preliminary stages simply by adopting the devotional attitude. As stated in the Bhagavad-gétä (18.66), the Lord at once takes charge of such a surrendered soul and frees him from all the reactions to his sinful acts. There are many sinful reactions involved in karma-käëòa activities, whereas in jïäna-käëòa, the path of philosophical development, the number of such sinful activities is smaller. But in devotional service to the Lord, the path of bhakti, there is practically no chance of incurring sinful reactions. One who is a devotee of the Lord attains all the good qualifications of the Lord Himself, what to speak of those of a brähmaëa. A devotee automatically attains the qualifications of an expert brähmaëa authorized to perform sacrifices, even though the devotee may not have taken his birth in a brähmaëa family. Such is the omnipotence of the Lord. He can make a man born in a brähmaëa family as degraded as a lowborn dog-eater, and He can also make a lowborn dog-eater superior to a qualified brähmaëa simply on the strength of devotional service.
Since the omnipotent Lord is situated within the heart of everyone, He can give directions to His sincere devotees by which they can attain the right path. Such directions are especially offered to the devotee, even if he desires something else. As far as others are concerned, God gives sanction to the doer only at the risk of the doer. But in the case of a devotee, the Lord directs him in such a way that he never acts wrongly. The Çrémad-Bhägavatam (11.5.42) says:
tyaktänya-bhävasya hariù pareçaù
vikarma yac cotpatitaà kathaïcid
dhunoti sarvaà hådi sanniviñöaù
“The Lord is so kind to the devotee who is fully surrendered to His lotus feet that even though the devotee sometimes falls into the entanglement of vikarma—acts against the Vedic directions—the Lord at once rectifies such mistakes from within his heart. This is because the devotees are very dear to the Lord.”
In this mantra of Çré Éçopaniñad, the devotee prays to the Lord to rectify him from within his heart. To err is human. A conditioned soul is very often apt to commit mistakes, and the only remedial measure to take against such unintentional sins is to give oneself up to the lotus feet of the Lord so that He may guide one to avoid such pitfalls. The Lord takes charge of fully surrendered souls; thus all problems are solved simply by surrendering oneself unto the Lord and acting in terms of His directions. Such directions are given to the sincere devotee in two ways: one is by way of the saints, scriptures and spiritual master, and the other is by way of the Lord Himself, who resides within the heart of everyone. Thus the devotee, fully enlightened with Vedic knowledge, is protected in all respects.
Vedic knowledge is transcendental and cannot be understood by mundane educational procedures. One can understand the Vedic mantras only by the grace of the Lord and the spiritual master (yasya deve parä bhaktir yathä deve tathä gurau [ÇU 6.23]). If one takes shelter of a bona fide spiritual master, it is to be understood that he has obtained the grace of the Lord. The Lord appears as the spiritual master for the devotee. Thus the spiritual master, the Vedic injunctions and the Lord Himself from within—all guide the devotee in full strength. In this way there is no chance for a devotee to fall again into the mire of material illusion. The devotee, thus protected all around, is sure to reach the ultimate destination of perfection. The entire process is hinted at in this mantra, and Çrémad-Bhägavatam (1.2.17–20) explains it further:
Hearing and chanting the glories of the Lord is itself an act of piety. The Lord wants everyone to hear and chant His glories because He is the well-wisher of all living entities. By hearing and chanting the glories of the Lord, one becomes cleansed of all undesirable things, and then one’s devotion becomes fixed upon the Lord. At this stage the devotee acquires the brahminical qualifications, and the effects of the lower modes of nature (passion and ignorance) completely vanish. The devotee becomes fully enlightened by virtue of his devotional service, and thus he comes to know the path of the Lord and the way to attain Him. As all doubts diminish, he becomes a pure devotee.