At 74 I think I am at a ripe old age to think of the future, or whatever is left of it, and beyond. As a long retired man, and a very senior citizen, there is in fact no worthwhile work to be done by me in this world any more, as whatever work I have to do, like the daily chores of getting milk or purchasing provisions or paying bills, are well taken care of by my children. There is therefore ample leisure time, or rather prolonged idle time, and, as the old saying goes, an idle mind is the Devil’s workshop.
Speaking of the Devil, I realize there is a distinct possibility of coming face to face with either the Devil or Deivam, or both, in the near or distant future that I am mentioning. How will I cope with that situation for which there are no models to draw on?
It is this thought that made me sit up and take note of the many possibilities of properly utilizing the remaining time available in such a way as to make me fully prepared to meet any eventuality. It is not at all to develop a devil-may-care attitude. In fact my prime thought is how to avoid the Devil and go straight to Godhead.
I understand that in similar circumstances the normal practice of old men and women in the olden days used to be to go on a spiritual overdrive. Always thinking of God the Almighty and always chanting one of his many, many names. As a child I used to watch my grandmother, a shriveled, wrinkled nonagenarian, walk this way and that way in the room with the aid of a stick, mumbling nothing but ‘Rama, Rama, Rama, Rama.’ But even as a child I was not fascinated by that sight or that kind of repetitive devotion. Or demonstrative devotion either. I used to see some people in front of the sanctum sanctorum of temples chanting Sahasranamam or reciting some slokas in such a loud mouthed fashion that other people have no chance to pray in peace. A prayer is best made in silence, in one’s mind. And just one supplication to the God is more than enough. There is no point in repeating that prayer ad nauseam. Perhaps even God will feel annoyed, if not offended.
Having a lot of time to read, I thought the best reading would be on Afterlife. What are the conditions of the netherworlds or upperworlds that no one has visited to give any account but knowledgeable people have speculated on? My first thought was about Dante and his famous work, The Divine Comedy, giving descriptions of Inferno (Hell), Purgatory and Paradise. But being an Indian, and dying as an Indian in future, I thought it would be better to turn to local speculations rather than foreign ones.
But what I found here, in the writings on Hindu scriptures describing various hells, was so mind boggling, confusing, nauseating and scary that I almost gave up the effort. There was in fact no uniformity from scripture to scripture even on the number of hells in the netherworlds. For instance the The Bhagavata Purana gives an account of 28 hells, giving each one a distinct name and identity. The Vishnu Purana and the Devi Bhagavata Purana concur with it, but Agni Purana mentions only four hells. Then comes Manu Smriti with a list of 21 hells. Descriptions of these hells and the various punishments meted out to the incoming souls, depending on the severity of their earthly sins, are so revoltingly elaborate and horrifying that even reading some passages might make one to throw up. What awaits the errant soul in these shadowlands is indicated by the difficulty it faces in crossing the borderland river Vaitharani, a universal sewer and cesspool on whose description the scripture writers have waxed eloquent.
Had at least an abridged version of these descriptions been included in our school curriculum, I would have definitely stayed away from any sin my whole life so as not to warrant a remand to one of these realms. Obviously, now it is too late and I may have to face the consequences for my acts of commission and omission in this world.
What I found strange was that compared to the large number of hells, there are only a few heavens, or levels of heaven, mentioned in the scriptures, like Mahar Loka, Jana Loka, Tapa Loka and Satya Loka, apart from the ultimate heaven, Vaikunta. The number difference may be because there are far more sinners in this world than do-gooders.
One comforting point that may be noted is that in our hell it will only be a temporary stay as the chastened soul will have to come for re-birth after the remand period is over. It is unlike the ‘everlasting damnation’ that Dr Faustus, who bartered his soul to Lucifer, faced after 24 years of heavenly bliss in this world facilitated by the Devil.
The do-gooders also cannot hope to remain in heaven for ever as after a period of pleasure they have to make a beeline for re-birth in this world.
So, all said and done, it is better to adopt the policy of ‘Wait and See’ or ‘Come What May.’
In fact more than the prospect of pain or pleasure of Afterlife, what should be of concern to a geriatric like me is how best to depart from this world gracefully and peacefully. Without pain or suffering for self and without causing any inconvenience to others. If possible in a rather memorable way!
Some years ago a journalist friend collapsed and died while travelling in a bus. At the condolence meeting held that day I said I feel sad at his death but I envy his way of dying. He was up and about till the last moment of his life. He was not even sitting in the bus when he collapsed. There was no hospitalization, no ICU, no Ventilator support, no unnecessary expenditure of several lakhs.
There was a time when I used to recite the sloka ‘Anayasena Maranam’ every night before going to bed. It was said to be a prayer to Lord Krishna by Guru Drona after laying down his arms at Kurukshethra when Yudhishtira falsely confirmed the news that Drona’s son Aswatthama had been killed in battle. The news unnerved Drona and he made this intense prayer, perhaps unaware that it was Krishna himself who caused the false news to spread in order to kill him.
Vina dainyena jeevanam,
Dehi me kripaya Krishna
I always felt an uneasiness in reciting the sloka on account of the inherent injustice in it, because of Krishna’s subterfuge. I therefore stopped reciting it, but later started using another version of it in prayer to Lord Shiva and Devi.
Vina dainyena jeevanam,
Dehi me kripaya Shambho
Vina dainyena jeevanam,
Dehi me kripaya Devi
Would the prayer have any effect?
Well, as said earlier, ‘Wait and See.’