Yes, when that time to bid farewell to earth arrives, it’s certainly easier to move on to the other world together with someone else or others. In any case, when your soul leaves the physical body and begins it journey to the other world, it is never really alone at any stage. Family members and friends who have departed earlier, guardian angels, spirit guides, they’re all there to be with you, give you strength throughout the momentous time of transition.
Its momentous because you’re leaving and being separated not only from a physical body you’ve occupied and cared for during a whole life time, but also from all that and all those you loved, all that you’re familiar with, all the things to which you’ve become sentimentally attached. Therefore, apart from the presence of other souls concerned about your welfare, if you’re prepared to leave your body and all that you’ve held dear on earth, the journey to the other world can be much easier. The transition, the separation is often painful because of worldly attachments and that, coupled with fear of the unknown and what lies ahead can compound anxieties. That is part of the reason why the Bhagavat Gita advocates “attachment within detachment”.
However, not everyone has anxieties about dying. Yogis and evolved or enlightened souls, for example, regard death as a natural process and accept it as a welcome transition to the other world. “Everything on earth, both animate and inanimate has an approximate average lifespan. In the case of us human beings, its about a hundred years”, explained an old sadhu I met in Haridwar. “In recent decades a better quality of life and other factors have contributed to many people remaining healthy, active and youthful looking for much longer despite advancing years. But there’s no way, no elixir of life that will prevent our organs, our joints from packing up eventually and taking a toll on our mobility as well as our thinking ability. So prepare to let go of life and welcome a release from a physical body that is more of a burden than a help.”
In an earlier column on the importance of dying peacefully, I’ve cited the words of Karen Wyatt MD, a hospice physician and death awareness advocate: “There are many different ways to die…. For some patients death is a welcome ending to a life well-lived, for others death is reluctantly accepted even though they don’t feel ready to let go of life, and some approach death kicking and screaming all the way.” Obviously, dying a “good”, peaceful death is vital for making the journey to the other world easier. However, defining what constitutes a “good” death is not easy because beliefs vary from individual to individual, region to region, culture to culture.
For instance, as mentioned earlier, a study published in the American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry identified 11 core themes associated with dying well, culled from 36 studies and include: Pain-free status. Experiencing emotional well-being. Having a sense of life completion or legacy. Experiencing dignity in the dying process. Having family present and saying goodbye. Quality of life during the dying process.
Again, apart from a “good” death, I’ve written earlier about how many people are aware of the omens which will herald their death and prepare themselves accordingly to move on from earth to the other world… In Doiwala near Dehra Dun, a lady who headed a spiritual institution had been told by her ‘guru’ or teacher that when a live goat who traditionally formed a part of certain ceremonies would shake its head from side to side during a ceremony, it meant her end was near. And that’s what happened one year. The goat shook its head from side to side, and the spiritual leader knew her time had come. She called her followers, explained what needed to be explained to them about the running of the institution, gave her blessings, bade good-bye and retired to her room. She was found dead a few hours later, with a most peaceful, beatific look on her face. Many others know their time has come just a short while before the final departure. In Haridwar, at the well-known Sapt Rishi Ashram, its revered founder Shri Goswami Ganesh Dutt was according to accounts, praying in the Shivalaya when the call came for him. “The time has come for me to leave”, he told the others present, and after giving certain instructions, walked out into the sylvan surroundings, lay down under a tree, and passed away peacefully. Those who are ill but still conscious often get to know death is at hand when they glimpse friends and relatives who are dead waiting for them.
My own parents were very particular—in fact they made me promise—that I would not cart them to a hospital or nursing home in their last moments and have them put on a life support system in an effort to “extend” their life, as they said. “We are no longer young, have lived a full life, and are prepared to leave when the call comes. To try and stop us would make it more difficult for us to make the transition from this world to the next. So let us go peacefully, gently, and don’t try to minimise our suffering to the extent that it holds us back, such as putting us on artificial respiration, dialysis, or a heart machine. Be gentle with us, try to heal us, be with us, through love and caring gestures, through prayers—but let us finish as much of what we have to give and take in this birth rather than carry it over to another birth. We know we’re asking you to do something very difficult, but if you reflect on it, and if you truly love us you’ll realise that you’ll be smoothening the path ahead for us, you’ll be strengthening us for the journey to the other world….”
Of course, for ordinary people, all partings, all separations are painful regardless of age or the kind of suffering the person may be undergoing. But the fact remains that mortal existence and its natural last stage of old age has an inevitable ending. Chapter II of the Bhagavad Gita ( 2.13) mentions that death is a very natural process and a sane person is not bewildered by it: Dehino ’smin yathā dehe/ kaumāraṁ yauvanaṁ jarā/ tathā dehāntara-prāptir/ dhīras tatra na muhyati!—as the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. If an individual can accept that change as part of a natural process, can accept that one has no control over the actuality of that change capped by death, the journey to the other world can undoubtedly be made easier.