The Close Encounter

It is quite easy to talk about the inevitability, surety and reality of death, especially when one has read Srila Prabhupada’s books and has engaged in so called ‘preaching’ to many people on the philosophy of Krishna Consciousness. But when as an individual one comes face to face with the actual reality of death is when all that knowledge is tested to see even if there is an ounce of realization about what one so confidently preaches!

In the last week of February, I had been to my much loved pilgrimage to Sri Vrindavana Dhama and this time it was not just my wife, but with my aunt and cousin as well. Just couple of days before our departure to Vrindavana, my cousin’s old grandpa (around 90 years old) was told to be suffering from serious illness and that he could pass away any time soon. But since our plans were made, she decided to continue with the trip as planned, on the first night of our stay at Vrindavana, the sad news of his passing away arrived. As is natural, when someone close passes away, she was obviously disturbed and visibly distressed. In spite of it, she came for the Vrindavana Parikrama with us the next morning. At one point during the Parikrama she asked me, “How do you devotees see ‘death’? Don’t you cry or lament? How do you cope with such news of death of someone close to you?” I had responded with an inherent over-confidence of knowing so much of theory about the philosophy of seeing death, maybe with a hidden hint of arrogance,A devotee knows that there is no death for the soul but only for the body. Also, when a devotee passes away other devotees around him may lament and shed tears because of concern of separation from that devotee, but at the same time the devotees are happy for they know that the devotee that has passed is under direct control of Lord and that His destination will be under His shelter and protection. Whereas death is a very fearful and painful experience for a non-devotee for he has no idea of where he is going nor can anyone close to him help him in this regard. All his erstwhile attachments will be snatched away at the moment of death and he has to begin a new life unknown and completely different from his current situation. Thus death is truly the most fearful and distressing situation for a non-devotee. Srila Prabhupada compares the death for a devotee and non-devotee with a comparison of a cat carrying its kitten between its jaws and a cat carrying a mouse between its jaws to eat it up. Whereas the kitten feels the love, care and security of its mother while in the grip of its jaws, the mouse feels the jaws of death when the cat carries it in its jaws.”

As is common, the days passed by and the death and its distress passed, we enjoyed the pilgrimage and that conversation was forgotten, and we returned to Bangalore. Once back in Bangalore, I plunged myself busily into my services, and sometimes sweating over some petty interpersonal issues with fellow devotees, and many times just being absorbed in working too hard in services at hand, completely oblivious to a ‘close encounter’ which was around the corner.

On Thu, Mar 28, two days after Gaura Purnima, I started experiencing extreme fatigue and fever. I neglected it thinking it must be just from the stress of extreme work and the stress from the interpersonal strain with other devotee I was experiencing and perhaps I would be fine with some rest. The illness however seemed to only increase the next day as well. However, Sat, Mar 30, I had to go to Udupi on an inevitable service. After consultation with my boss, I decided to take a flight from Bangalore to Mangalore and a return flight same evening. So I had taken an anti-febrile injection and tablets prescribed by our doctor and went ahead with the trip. On the return journey on Saturday night, I experienced abdominal cramps, which continued next day as well. On Monday morning when the pain and weakness was unbearable, the family doctor visited home to draw blood and send it for tests to rule out any viral infections. However, I collapsed just after he drew the blood and the anxious doctor suggested to get me admitted to the hospital immediately. Even when at the hospital the weakness and fatigue only increased, and the tests were made.

The ‘close encounter’ was immanent, and was somehow sensed by my subconscious mind. The high fever on Monday night with weakness, made me call out to my wife, and declare that I am fearing that I may not get out of the hospital alive. That night was painful, and fearful as well. The same arrogant devotee who was overconfidently preaching about the inevitability of death and the vision of a devotee towards death that I was, was now not just fearing death but was even unable to properly chant Hare Krishna mantra fully. I was so fearful of the death that I would not want to sleep and force myself to stay awake, for I didn’t want to pass away in sleep unconscious and unaware of even dying, which would not give me any chance of remembering the Lord, or meeting devotees or saying my final goodbye to my beloved wife and others.

The Tuesday morning brought some strength to the body and mind eased up again. It seemed like the ‘close encounter’ was perhaps over. My wife was cheerful too until the doctor visited us. After she left saying that the liver enzymes and the blood thinning factor values were very high and that I must be careful, we were slightly worried but since I displayed no clinical symptoms I was not much disturbed. But that afternoon, my wife was called separately and informed by the doctor that my condition was very critical and that anything might happen to me including a brain stroke, liver failure leading to death.

She was told not to let me, ‘the patient’ know, to avoid panic. Obviously, the young and most loving wife that she is, she broke down emotionally and soon informed about the critical situation to Nandanandana Prabhu, her brother Chaitanya Chandra Prabhu and my sister. Within an hour suddenly I saw a flow of so many devotees visiting me. They all looked in visible anxiety and yet tried to cheer me up and tried their best to hide the reality from me. But I very much guessed that the inevitability of my death was informed to them but they were trying to act ‘normal’. When my sister and mother arrived and they broke down, it was quite clear that the inevitable was quite close.

While the Monday night was such a painful and fearful experience, though Tuesday afternoon and evening was the time when it was pronounced that death may happen any time, surprisingly when I was surrounded by devotees who were talking cheerfully with me, encouraging me to talk Krishna katha, chant Hare Krishna or sometimes they chanting for me, I felt quite relieved of the fear. I felt a strange confidence that the doctors and their reports were wrong and that death may not be happening now, or just the thoughts of such a possibility didn’t last long in my mind. By the evening around 8PM, the blood reports of the evening’s samples came back which declared that the values had significantly reduced and that I seemed to have passed the phase of danger. Soon all the devotees started returning, feeling reassured that the danger had passed.

The Tuesday night after all the devotees had left, it was only me and my wife. She was obviously physically and emotionally drained from the day’s happenings was soon asleep, being relieved of the danger having passed. Tuesday night proved to be another night of extreme fear and anticipation of death coming anytime. I would try my best not to sleep, to avoid passing away in sleep. When I awoke at 3:30 AM, I was feeling anxious and lonely, and wanted again to be surrounded by devotees. I requested my wife to call for any devotees to be here again. Soon her brother arrived around 5:00 AM. In the next couple of days I kept recovering constantly and was soon told that I would be discharged by Saturday.

I was overwhelmed by the visits, messages and calls coming from so many devotees, many of them I haven’t even kept in regular touch or interact with. They visited me, they prayed for me, performed sankalpa for me to the Lord, and offered any kind of help required. It was now clear to me that if I had passed from this close encounter it was certainly not due to my any ‘knowledge’, ‘realization’, confidence of being a ‘devotee’ or even from any medical interventions. It seemed purely due to the pure and selfless prayers and wishes of so many Vaishnavas unbeknownst to me, that I could quite easily cross the close encounter, even without my own knowledge. Whenever I was surrounded by the devotees there was no fear or even an inkling of the thoughts of death lingering close-by, but the moment I was left alone or even with just having my wife by my side, the fear of death loomed large in my mind. I could hardly chant, listen to kirtan, lecture or Prabhupada vani.

This experience quite humbled me and showed me my true position. I am nothing without the association of Vaishnavas. It is the Vaishnavas prayers and strength that has made me whatever I seem to be, a so called ‘devotee.’ In the absence of Vaishnavas, I am reduced to very much that scared mouse, a materialist karmi facing death which I had arrogantly cited in an example to my cousin a month before the ‘close encounter’.

Of course it has built in me the realization and urge to start preparing for the inevitable whenever it comes, and though desiring and depending on Vaishnava sanga and prayers during such a time is not undesirable, I must also develop strength and seek mercy of Srila Prabhupada, Lord Chaitanya and Krishna to be able to feel Their constant presence with me, either in the physical presence or absence of other devotees around me at such time. I can only wish and pray to Srila Prabhupada and Their Lordships and all the Vaishnavas to bestow their mercy upon me so I can develop this realization and be able to feel the presence of Guru, Gauranga and Krishna at all times, so that I need not trouble the Vaishnavas who are always busy in saving the conditioned souls by preaching the Lord’s glories to set aside their valuable time and energy to address this wretched and proud so called ‘devotee’ just because I am afraid of facing the close encounter ‘alone’.

Funnily, how mind forms perceptions and fears which stand way stronger in this weak ‘devotee’ mind of mine, surprised me too! Though it seemed like I had crossed over the ‘close encounter’, my mind kept fearing about what I had heard sometime, somewhere from someone about my lifespan being only up to 40 years and that death may come anytime now. I was afraid and unsure of making it out of the hospital due to a recent experience of seeing another person, a brother of a practicing devotee, who was told that he had much improved and would be discharged the next day, only to see that the next morning he suddenly developed complications and passed away. I was very much apprehensive of a similar thing happening to me, until at last I really got discharged from the hospital and returned home. Now, the mind feels much more confident, that indeed the astrologer might have been true in telling me my lifespan was only up to 40 years, but by the strength and prayers of my fellow Vaishnavas and well-wishers like my beloved wife and others, it seems as if there is some purpose of the Lord that has extended the leash of my life further, to engage me in the service of all these well-wishers and through them in service of Srila Prabhupada and Their Lordships.

Once a devotee said, “We are so fortunate, Çréla Prabhupäda, that we came to the Kåñëa consciousness movement,” and Srila Prabhupada said, “I have created your good fortune.”

As Çréla Bhaktivinoda Öhäkura sang, jogyatä-vicäre, kichu nähi päi, tomära karuëä—sära: “When I consider my qualifications, I see have none. I am simply made of your mercy.”

Due to Srila Prabhupada creating that good fortune by which a wretched soul like me could join His Krishna Consciousness movement, I could be surrounded by so many merciful Vaishnavas at the time of my ‘close encounter’ and sail over it as well. If I examine myself, I find nothing of value. I am simply made of ‘your’ (all Vaishnavas’) mercy, which is the external manifestation of Srila Prabhupada’s mercy!

|| vanca kalpatarubhyas ca krpa sindhubhya eva ca

patitanam pavanebhyo vaisnavebhyo namo namah ||