Kanthar Anubhuthi - Verse 41
By Sri Arunagirinathar
Life & Death and Lord Yama
Life is a mystery and everything with it is uncertain. Yet, one thing is most certain and that is death. Death is the separation of the soul (subtle and causal bodies) from the physical body on the exhaustion of the Prarabdha Karmas which projected it. The physical body is, therefore, bound to disintegrate one day or the other and go to its fundamental elements; Yama or the Lord of death is said to throw his noose on the Jiva and separate it from the physical body, which act causes physical suffering and mental disturbance. The Jiva, then, cannot think of God. As the last thought determines the nature of one's next birth, God-thought has to be maintained at the time of death if the soul is to be saved from rebirth and rest in the Feet of the Lord, i.e., attain Mukthi (liberation). But the last thought cannot be expected to be something other than what one has been entertaining throughout one's life, or at least the greater part of it. Hence, we have to create a strong habit of remembering God always, if we are to rest under His Feet when Yama would do his work.
Think of God always (not at time of death)
Live life as if one will die tomorrow
As life is fickle and one may die at any moment, to think of remembering God only at the time of death would be unwise. Sudden and instantaneous deaths of heart-failure, accidents, etc., are not uncommon. Where is the guarantee that we shall live tomorrow, nay, the next moment? Hence, it is the advice of all men of wisdom to regard every moment as the last moment and remember God, so that whenever death might occur God-thought will be steady and the soul could merge in God, avoiding rebirth. Not only this, we have freedom of thought; we can exercise our will and think of God. But, at the last moment when Yama would throw his noose and separate the Jiva from the body, one's mind will get confounded and the nervous system agitated due to the peculiar conditions that would supervene then. Man will have no freedom of thought and action; and even if he wishes to remember God; it would be next to impossibility. Therefore, if we are not going to remember God now when we have got a little freedom, are we going to think of Him when we would be helpless? Hence, the remembrance of the Lord should be so much habituated by practice from now itself as to seep into the very subconscious and unconscious levels of one's being, which will enable one retain God-thought even at the critical juncture when conscious thinking may not be possible.
Arunagirinathar, thus, impresses upon us the need to think of God and be in a prayerful and meditative mood always, and not be foolish enough as to think of remembering God at the last moment; because neither the time of death is known to us nor have we the freedom of thought at that time. "Beware! Death is ever at your elbows. Remember God from now on. Pray to Him constantly. Dwell upon His diving form and attributes. Meditate upon Him. Attain God-experience before the body fails. Give no chance to Yama to take possession of the soul. The Lord who rides on the Peacock is the Lord of Yoga, is the Guru Supreme. Realize Him, merge in Him and rest in Him, so that when Yama comes (that is, when the death of the body takes place), the soul need not die to be reborn, but may rest in the Feet of the Lord, the Eternal Abode of Bliss," is Arunagirinathar's advice.
Arunagirinathar prays: "O Lord, I am ever thinking of You, or the Vel. Therefore, rest my soul in your Feet, under your care, when it is separated by Yama (on the exhaustion of the Prarabdha Karmas) from this body." Though the verse appears to be a prayer for protection from Yama's clutches, it has a deeper significance and seems to imply a longing for the attainment of liberation while yet in the body.
Death of the body vs soul
We have to make a distinction between death of the body and death of the soul. The death of the body is unavoidable; it is a natural process, a Dharma of the body, which has to disintegrate when the force that gave a momentum to it ceases. The death of the soul means transmigration. What is reborn is not the body but the soul. Since "rebirth" presupposes death, and because rebirth is for the soul and not the body, the soul that has to be reborn is said to die. Hence, by death of the soul, what is meant is transmigration. While the death of the body cannot be avoided, the soul's death, i.e. transmigration, can be. This freedom from transmigration is what Arunagirinathar means by "Saagaadhu"; and the natural process of the body's death, which cannot be avoided, by "Namanaar Kalagam".
Process of Transmigration (death-rebirth-death): what is it?
When the body dies, if the soul has good or bad Karmas to be worked out by it, Yama takes possession of it, passes judgment according to its deeds and involves it into further births high or low. This transmigratory process can be avoided if the soul devotes itself to God, meditates on Him and attains Mukthi. This is to rest in the Lord's Feet, for which is the prayer in this verse. If God-consciousness is maintained, if the Jiva attains freedom from Karmas by Atma-Jnana, i.e., establishment in the Atman or Vel-consciousness, at the time of the body's death, it will not be subject to transmigration. This freedom can be attained even while living in this body, which is called Jivanmukthi.
Attainment of Lord's Feet need not
be an after death experience
The attainment of Freedom or Lord's feet or Mukthi, is not necessarily an after-death achievement but a possibility and an actual experience here and now. It is not of much consequence in what condition the body is at the time of death whether it is healthy, diseased, young, old, worshipped, ignored, etc. in determining the liberation of the soul; what really matters is the state of consciousness of the Jiva because liberation is not of or for the body, but the soul. The consciousness it is that is either bound or liberated. The state of consciousness maintained before and at the time of the death of the body determines its condition after death also. Hence, the Jiva cannot be said to attain after death, a state totally unknown and unconnected to what it was just before death. What it was before, it is also after death. This explains the possibility of Jivanmukthi. Hence, when Arunagirinathar prays for the Lord's protection of the Jiva under His Feet at the time when Yama plays his mischief, i.e., death of the body, it means the soul's longing for freedom while yet alive, i.e., Jivanmukthi state to grant God-consciousness. Therefore, "at the time of Yama's mischief" refers to "physical death"; while "Saagaadhu" or "without dying", which means "not to be reborn", refers t the soul's liberation from (death) transmigration.
"At the time when Yama plays his mischief, protect me, protect me under Thine Feet," prays Arunagirinathar. Why does he say "Kaa", "Kaa" protect me, protect me twice? It cannot be for immediate protection from Yama, because the danger is not close at hand; it is far off which is clear form the words "Kalagam Seyum Naal" "at that time". Had Yama already come and is trying to take the soul and had the Lord not come to its help so far, this call would have been appropriate. But it is not so. Again, this cannot be a prayer to the Lord to hurry up at that time, because it is meaningless; for, if there is a time for Yama to come, the Lord has also enough time to come. The Lord need not be hurried now itself. Moreover, the Lord is all-knowing, all-powerful, and omnipresent. Hence, "Kaa", "Kaa", indicates the longing of the soul for immediate liberation and not protection from Yama. We have to carefully note that the protection sought for is not from Yama but in the Lord's Feet. Protection in the Feet means liberation. And "Kaa", "Kaa" is used to indicate immediacy in liberation, i.e.., liberation here and now, and now somewhere and at sometime.
This now and here are mysterious factors. They mean the transcendence of time and space. What is this "now"? Every moment is a now, at that time. What we call "the past" was then a now; "the present" is now a now; and "the future" will then be a now. The past, present, and future are, therefore, a mere play of the now, or Eternity. In Eternity, there is no past, present, and future; it always is a now. Similarly, in Infinity there is no here, there, etc.; it always is a here. So Arunagirinathar says, "Under Thine Feet protect me (here) ("Kaa") and protect me (now) ("Kaa"). Hence, it is clearly a prayer or longing for Jivanmukthi or liberation here and now. A better translation of the first two lines of the verse would, therefore, be, "Protect me (here) and protect me (now) under Thine Foot Lotuses, i.e., grant me Jivanmukthi, in order that, at the time when Yama makes his mischief, the soul need not die (i.e., pass into his hands avoid rebirth)."
Fear of Yama as seen in Verse 10 is gone now
(as indicated in this verse)
It is important and of interest to note that the prayer in this verse is not for freedom from physical death nor even fear of it, as in verse 10. There the Sadhaka was afraid of death and prayed for the intervention of the Lord if Yama comes on his black buffalo. He was afraid of death or Yama, because of two reasons:
1. In those initial stages of Sadhana, his understanding was not mature enough, and consequently, the identification with the body was so much that the death of the body mean the death of the soul or personality itself, and so it was unthinkable and fearful.
2. Secondly, he did not want the death of the body to come before the Goal is attained, because life's purpose would not then be fulfilled and great would be his loss. But now, in this verse or state of attainment in Sadhana, he is not afraid of the physical death for, again, two contrary reasons:
1. His understanding is different now, which is also correct. He now knows that the death of the body cannot be avoided (it being a natural process), nor is it to be avoided and feared, because physical death has nothing to do with the soul's attainment.
2. Secondly, he is now confident that he is getting established in the Vel-consciousness or God-consciousness (verse 40) and that physical death has no relevance to the soul's liberation.
There is a subtle but vast distinction between the death of the body and the liberation or bondage of the soul. One has nothing to do, as it were, with the other. Hence, when great souls or Maha-purushas pass away, we do not say that they died but say, "They have become Immortal or attained Maha-samadhi," though what happens to their bodies is just the same as to any ordinary man as well.
Hence here, the prayer to the Lord is not for saving him from physical death or Yama's mischief as in verse 10, but for resting of the Jiva-consciousness in the Lord's Feet or God-consciousness; again, the prayer in verse 10 was not for liberation of the soul as here, but only for intervention of the Lord if Yama comes.
Summary of contrast between verse 10 & verse 41
The points of contrast between the two verses may be summed up as follows:
1. "At the time when Yama plays his mischief" it means Yama shall do it. There is no escape from it, nor is the prayer intended to avoid it or be saved form it. But in verse 10, fear of Yama or death is echoed when he says, "If Yama comes, O Lord, come and intervene (i.e., protect me from him)."
2. "Protect me under your Feet so that I may not die" "Soul's Mukthi is prayed for, which has nothing to do with Yama's mischief. (But in verse 10, there is no such explicit prayer for the soul's liberation, unless we imply it.)
3. Because soul's liberation is prayed for here, the Lord is also addressed accordingly, i.e., as the giver of Siva-Jnana or Atma-Jnana as also the Lord (or giver) of Yoga. In verse 10, because protection from physical death was only prayed for, the Lord was also addressed accordingly, i.e., as the destroyer of Surapadman who was the enemy of Indra who killed the Asura Vala. "Enemy" and "killing" seem to suggest that Yama is regarded as "enemy" who is to be "killed".
Link to the previous verse
In the previous verse, Arunagirinathar said that he will never forget the Wisdom-Vel, and so he is not affected by Karmas and that Samsara becomes a play the body which is due to the impetus of the Prarabdha Karmas carries on its activities undeluded as long as the momentum lasts. What should happen when the body falls, on the exhaustion of the Prarabdha, that is, when Yama separates the soul from the body, he reveals this verse. "When Yama does his duty of separating the soul from the body (that is, when the present body dies), O Lord of Yoga and Jnana-Guru, allowing not he soul to die at Yama's hands (i.e., be subject to transmigration), give me permanent shelter under Thine Lotus Feet, i.e., grant me Mukthi." An effort at establishment in the awareness of the Self (as stated in the previous verse) gives one the needed strength to face death undisturbed, because the soul need go nowhere but merge in the Absolute or the Lord, then and there.
Instruction for the devout Sadhaka
[That determined effort at establishment in the Vel-consciousness or Aham Brahma Asmi (verse 40), has removed the fear of death and the Sadhaka now laughs, as it were, at death, because he knows that Yama will merely do his duty of separating the soul from the body, i.e., the body will disintegrate on exhaustion of the Prarabdha Karmas, which is but a natural process.
The purpose of "Aham Brahma Asmi" meditation is to attain God here itself. The aspirant who has taken to an uninterrupted thinking of the Vel, or meditation of "Aham Brahma Asmi" (verse 40), therefore, not only continues that meditation, but also intensely longs for immediate protection under the Lord's Feet, i.e., establishment in that awareness, which is liberation here and now Jivanmukthi and thereby, be freed from transmigration forever.
The Lord's Feet and the Vel-consciousness mean one and the same thing. The Feet are not a limited object but the Object of attainment, even as the Vel is, and represent Paramapadam or the Supreme Abode of Omnipresence (as we shall see in verse 44). Hence, to grant (protection under) the Feet or Vel-consciousness means liberation or Jivanmukthi. While the Feet are regarded as visible outside and placed on one's head, the Vel represents an inner state of consciousness and is revealed within, in the aspirant's heart. Thus, while the one is an external act, the other is an inner revelation, but both denoting the same thing. The prayer of this verse to grant (protection under) the Feet is, therefore, a prayer to reveal the Vel-consciousness, to establish in which was the Sadhaka's unremitting effort in the previous verse; and the revelation of the Vel-consciousness, in the next verse, is at once the consummation of that effort as also the fulfillment of this prayer.
It is body-consciousness or limited consciousness that causes fear of physical death. When protection under the Feet is granted or Universal consciousness supervenes, for which he now prays, fear of physical death is overcome, and transmigration also cease, because there is then no question of the soul's going anywhere but to remain forever under the Lord's Feet.]
Karthikeyan, N.V. Kanthar Anubhuti (God-Experience) of Saint Arunagirinathar. 2nd ed. India: Divine Life Society, 1990.