The Moment of Truth
Śukadeva Gosvāmī continued: After hearing the discourses between the Yamadūtas and the Viṣṇudūtas, Ajāmila could understand the religious principles that act under the three modes of material nature. These principles are mentioned in the three Vedas. He could also understand the transcendental religious principles, which are above the modes of material nature and which concern the relationship between the living being and the Supreme Personality of Godhead. Furthermore, Ajāmila heard glorification of the name, fame, qualities, and pastimes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. He thus became a perfectly pure devotee. He could then remember his past sinful activities, which he greatly regretted having performed.
Ajāmila said, “Alas, being a servant of my senses, how degraded I became! I fell down from my position as a duly qualified brāhmaṇa and begot children in the womb of a prostitute. Alas, all condemnation upon me! I acted so sinfully that I degraded my family tradition. Indeed, I gave up my chaste and beautiful young wife to have sexual intercourse with a fallen prostitute accustomed to drinking wine. All condemnation upon me! My father and mother were old and had no one to look after them. Because I did not take care of them, they lived with great difficulty. Alas, like an abominable lower-class man, I ungratefully left them in that condition.
“It is now clear that as a consequence of such activities, a sinful person like me must be thrown into hellish conditions meant for those who have broken religious principles and must there suffer extreme miseries.
“Was this a dream I saw, or was it reality? I saw fearsome men with ropes in their hands coming to arrest me and drag me away. Where have they gone? And where have those four liberated and very beautiful persons gone who released me from arrest and saved me from being dragged down to the hellish regions?
“I am certainly most abominable and unfortunate to have merged into the ocean of sinful activities. But nevertheless, because of my previous spiritual activities, I could see those four exalted personalities who came to rescue me. Now I feel exceedingly happy because of their visit.
“Were it not for my past devotional service, how could I, a most unclean keeper of a prostitute, have gotten an opportunity to chant the holy name of Nārāyaṇa when I was just ready to die? Certainly it would not have been possible.” (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 6.2.24–33)
Having heard the conversation between the Yamadūtas and the Viṣṇudūtas, Ajāmila became firmly fixed in Kṛṣṇa consciousness. He began to lament, “How unfortunate I was to engage in so many sinful activities!” This is the proper attitude for a Kṛṣṇa conscious devotee. Whatever he may have done in the past, no matter how sinful, when he comes in contact with devotees and hears transcendental topics in relation to the Supreme Personality of Godhead (bhāgavata-kathā), he becomes purified and laments his previous condition. Indeed, the symptom of his purification is that he laments having behaved so sinfully. He repents and discontinues his past grievous conduct.
Ajāmila was now at the stage of devotional service in which one is freed from all material impediments and is completely satisfied (ahaituky apratihatā yayātmā suprasīdati). Having reached this platform, Ajāmila began to lament for his past materialistic activities and glorify the name, fame, form, and pastimes of the Supreme Personality of Godhead. One who takes to Kṛṣṇa consciousness naturally endeavors to follow the rules of devotional service, and he regularly chants the Hare Kṛṣṇa mahā-mantra: Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma, Hare Hare. A person should not suppose that because he has taken to Kṛṣṇa consciousness he can continue his sinful activities and have their effects counteracted. We have repeatedly warned that this is the greatest offense against the holy name. Like Ajāmila, one should repent, “How unfortunate I was to engage in so many sinful activities! But now, by the grace of Kṛṣṇa, I have come to know that I was acting improperly.”
Thus Ajāmila greatly repented, remembering all his sinful activities. He remembered that he had been trained by his father to be a first-class brāhmaṇa, that he had been educated in the science of the Vedas, and that he had married a beautiful and chaste wife, a girl who was innocent and highly qualified, having come from a respectable brāhmaṇa family. Ajāmila now lamented, “I rejected her and accepted a prostitute, an abominable drunkard!”
It is a Vedic regulation that men of the higher classes – brāhmaṇas, kṣatriyas, and vaiśyas – do not beget children in the wombs of lower-class women. Therefore the custom in Vedic society is to examine the horoscopes of a girl and boy being considered for marriage to see whether their combination is suitable. Vedic astrology reveals whether one has been born in the brāhmaṇa class, the kṣatriya class, the vaiśya class, or the śūdra class, according to the three qualities of material nature. The horoscope must be examined because a marriage between a boy of the brāhmaṇa class and a girl of the śūdra class is incompatible; married life would be miserable for both husband and wife. Of course, this is a material calculation according to the three modes of nature, yet it is important for the peace and prosperity of the family and society. But if the boy and girl are devotees, there need be no such considerations. A devotee is transcendental, and therefore in a marriage between devotees, the boy and girl form a very happy combination.
Ajāmila thought, “Because I failed to be self-controlled, I was degraded to an abominable life and all my brahminical qualifications were nullified.” This is the mentality of one who is becoming a pure devotee. When one is elevated to the platform of devotional service by the grace of the Lord and the spiritual master, one first regrets his past sinful activities. This helps one advance in spiritual life. The Viṣṇudūtas had given Ajāmila the chance to become a pure devotee, and the first duty of a devotee is to regret his past sinful activities in illicit sex, intoxication, meat-eating, and gambling. Not only should a devotee give up his past bad habits, but he must always regret his past sinful acts. This is the standard of pure devotion.
Debts to Pay
Ajāmila repented his negligence in performing his duty to his wife, father, and mother. It is the duty of grown-up children to render service to their aged parents. This practice should be reintroduced into present society. Otherwise, what is the use of family life? Proper family life means that the husband should be protective, the wife chaste, and the children grateful to their father and mother. Children should think, “My father and mother gave me so much service. When I was unable to walk, they carried me. When I was unable to eat, they fed me. They gave me an education. They gave me life.” A bona fide son thinks of ways to render service to his father and mother. And just as a woman is expected to be faithful to her husband, so the husband should be grateful for her service and protect her. Because of his association with a prostitute, however, Ajāmila had abandoned all his duties. Regretting this, he now considered himself quite fallen.
According to the Vedic social system, as soon as one takes birth he becomes indebted to so many persons. We are indebted to the ṛṣis, or great sages, because we derive knowledge from their transcendental writings, such as the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, compiled by Śrīla Vyāsadeva. The authors of the scripture know past, present, and future, and we are urged to take advantage of such invaluable knowledge. Thus we are indebted to the sages.
We are also indebted to the demigods, for they manage the affairs of the universe, supplying it with every essential-sunshine from the sun god, Sūrya; moonshine from the moon god, Candra; air from Vāyu; and so on. Each element is controlled by a particular demigod.
We are also indebted to ordinary living entities from whom we take service. For example, we take milk from the cow. According to Vedic understanding, the cow is considered one of our mothers because we drink her milk, just as at birth we drink our mother’s milk. The Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam lists seven mothers: our own mother, the wife of our teacher or spiritual master, the wife of a brāhmaṇa, the wife of the king, the nurse, the cow, and the earth. We are indebted to all seven of these mothers, and also to our father, brothers, friends, relatives, and forefathers.
Also, if someone accepts charity, he becomes indebted, and that debt has to be repaid, just as borrowed money must be repaid. Therefore devotees should not accept charity from anyone unless they intend to spend it in Kṛṣṇa’s service. For a devotee to accept donations just to satisfy his belly is a great sin. Brāhmaṇas and sannyāsīs who accept charity from others must accept it with great caution. According to the Vedic social structure, only the brahmacārī, sannyāsī, and brāhmaṇa are allowed to collect money in charity. An ordinary householder must not. The brahmacārī may collect alms from the public for serving his spiritual master, and a sannyāsī may collect money for serving God, Kṛṣṇa. The Vedas likewise direct people to give charity to the brāhmaṇas because they know how to spend it for Kṛṣṇa. Charity given to a worthy person is in the mode of goodness, charity given for one’s own personal benefit is touched with the mode of passion, and charity given without any consideration is sunk in the mode of ignorance. For instance, if we give money to a rascal, he will likely take it to the nearest liquor shop. Those who are rich may think it does not matter – they can afford not to discriminate – but the scriptures describe these three kinds of charity.
We may well ask, How can one hope to liquidate all his debts? The answer is: only by taking shelter of the lotus feet of Kṛṣṇa, or Mukunda. The name Mukunda indicates one who liberates us from material contamination. We are indebted to the demigods, but we cannot take shelter of them. If we actually want shelter, we should take shelter of Kṛṣṇa, because He alone can free us from all debts. Kṛṣṇa is the Supreme Personality of Godhead, and if He excuses us, then all other departmental managers, such as the demigods, must also excuse us.
Ajāmila understood his position as a debtor, but since he had now taken shelter at the lotus feet of Mukunda, all his debts were cleared. Simply by taking shelter of Lord Nārāyaṇa, who is nondifferent from Mukunda, Ajāmila became free. Similarly, if we want to be free from all sinful reactions, we have no alternative but to surrender to Kṛṣṇa. As Kṛṣṇa recommends, mām ekaṁ śaraṇaṁ vraja: “Simply surrender unto Me.” We should follow Kṛṣṇa’s advice. Otherwise, it will be very difficult to liquidate all our debts to so many persons, especially in this Age of Kali.
In the material world there is danger at every step. Even for those who are pure devotees there is the danger of falling down from the standard of purity. However, in the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (1.5.17) Nārada Muni assures us,
bhajann apakvo ’tha patet tato yadi
yatra kva vābhadram abhūd amuṣya kiṁ
ko vārtha āpto ’bhajatāṁ sva-dharmataḥ
The word dharma in this verse means “occupational duties.” A brāhmaṇa, for example, has certain occupational duties. Similarly, a kṣatriya has his, and so also do the vaiśya and śūdra. If a person gives up his occupational duties and takes to Kṛṣṇa consciousness, strictly following all the rules and regulations, but if due to his immature execution of devotional service he falls down, there is still no loss for him. Whatever he does as service to the Supreme Lord, although it may be a small percentage of his whole life, will remain to his credit. He does not lose it.
On the other hand, one who perfectly executes his occupational duties but fails to worship Kṛṣṇa ultimately gains nothing. Strictly discharging one’s occupational duties means living a life of piety. But suppose through these pious activities you are promoted to the heavenly kingdom. Kṛṣṇa explains in the Bhagavad-gītā that as soon as the effects of your pious activities are finished, you will be forced to return to this planet. Another point: If a person performs pious activities in this life, such as giving in charity, he must return here in the next life to accept the beneficial results of his pious actions. That means he must accept another term of material life. So it is not a sound idea to hope for acquisition of the effects of pious activities.
Unfortunately, even in India people are more inclined to perform pious activities, such as giving in charity, than to take up devotional service to Kṛṣṇa. They hope that by performing such tapasya, or austerity, they will be elevated at death to a higher standard of material life in the heavenly planets. They also worship demigods for this purpose, or to gain a benediction in this life. Lord Śiva, for example, very quickly gives his worshiper material benedictions – whatever his devotee wants. He is very kind. He is known as Āśutoṣa, “he who is easily satisfied.” For this reason people are fond of worshiping him for material prosperity. But Śrī Kṛṣṇa condemns such worship in the Bhagavad-gītā (7.20): kāmais tais tair hṛta-jñānāḥ prapadyante ’nya-devatāḥ. “Those whose intelligence has been stolen by material desires surrender unto the demigods.”
The Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam tells the story of Vṛkāsura, who sought a terrible benediction from Lord Śiva. Vṛkāsura asked that whoever he would touch upon the head would be destroyed. This is the sort of benediction sought by demons. Rāvaṇa and Hiraṇyakaśipu also received such benedictions. They thought that by becoming powerful they could elude death. This is typical demoniac mentality.
None of these demons, however, was saved from death by the benediction received from the demigods. Rather, ultimately they were all killed by the Supreme Lord. It is nature’s law that everyone here must die. No one who takes birth in the material world can live eternally. The material world is called Martyaloka, meaning that every living entity here is subject to birth, death, old age, and disease. In illusion, people do not see this. They try to adjust their material condition so that they can live perpetually. Modern scientists also aspire to be immortal, in imitation of Hiraṇyakaśipu. This is all foolishness. One should not be afraid of dying, but one should be cautious and ask, “What sort of situation will I attain in my next life as a result of my activities?”
A devotee is never afraid of death. He simply prays to Kṛṣṇa, “I may die and take birth again repeatedly, as You like. But I only ask that, in whatever condition I may live, by Your mercy I will never forget You.” A devotee is not afraid, but he is cautious not to fall down. At the same time, he knows that whatever percentage of devotional service he renders is to his permanent credit. The story of Ajāmila is the perfect illustration of that point. We should follow the rules and regulations very strictly, but even if we fall down, there is no loss. That is the statement of Nārada Muni quoted above. Even if one takes to Kṛṣṇa consciousness on the basis of sentiment and executes devotional service for only some time and again returns to material life, whatever service he has rendered is recorded, and one day he will be saved, just as Ajāmila was saved.
After the Viṣṇudūtas disappeared, Ajāmila at first wondered whether he had been dreaming that they had come to release him from the binding ropes of the Yamadūtas. When Ajāmila was on his deathbed, practically in a coma, he actually saw the Yamadūtas and Viṣṇudūtas, but it seemed to him that he was just dreaming. When he saw that he was in fact released from the fearsome agents of Yamarāja, he wanted to see the Viṣṇudūtas again. They had appeared very splendid. Their bodily features were just like those of Lord Viṣṇu, and they were decorated like Him and carried the four symbols of His potency: the conchshell, lotus, club, and disc. Their bodies shone with a very beautiful luster, and their dress was of golden silk. Therefore Ajāmila inquired, “Where are those beautiful personalities who released me from the bondage of the Yamadūtas?”
Ajāmila thought, “My whole life was full of sinful activities, so how could I be worthy of seeing such great personalities?” He concluded, “Perhaps in my previous life I did something good, and as a result I have been allowed to see the Viṣṇudūtas.” In fact, early in life Ajāmila had been a faithful servant of Lord Nārāyaṇa, and as a result he was able to see the Viṣṇudūtas. It was the good association Ajāmila had been blessed with in his early days that saved him. As stated in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Madhya 22.54),
lava-mātra sādhu-saṅge sarva-siddhi haya
“The verdict of all revealed scriptures is that by even a moment’s association with a pure devotee, one can attain all success.” In the beginning of his life Ajāmila was certainly very pure, and he associated with devotees and brāhmaṇas; because of that pious activity, even though he was fallen he was inspired to name his son Nārāyaṇa. Certainly this was due to good counsel given from within by the Supreme Personality of Godhead. As the Lord says in the Bhagavad-gītā (15.15), sarvasya cāhaṁ hṛdi sanniviṣṭo mattaḥ smṛtir jñānam apohanaṁ ca: “I am seated in everyone’s heart, and from Me come remembrance, knowledge, and forgetfulness.” The Lord is so kind that if one has ever rendered service to Him, the Lord never forgets him. Thus the Lord, from within, gave Ajāmila the inspiration to name his youngest son Nārāyaṇa so that in affection he would constantly call “Nārāyaṇa! Nārāyaṇa!” and thus be saved from the most fearful and dangerous condition at the time of his death. Such is the mercy of Kṛṣṇa. Guru-kṛṣṇa-prasāde pāya bhakti-latā-bīja: by the mercy of the guru and Kṛṣṇa, one receives the seed of bhakti, devotional service. Watering this seed by the process of hearing and chanting the name of the Lord saves a devotee from the greatest fear.
In our Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement we therefore change a devotee’s name to one that reminds him of Viṣṇu. If at the time of death the devotee can remember his own name, such as Kṛṣṇa dāsa or Govinda dāsa, he can be saved from the greatest danger. Therefore the change of names at the time of initiation is essential. The Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is so meticulous that it gives one a good opportunity to remember Kṛṣṇa somehow or other.
Remembrance of Kṛṣṇa at the time of death is generally possible only for persons who have established an intimate relationship with Kṛṣṇa throughout a lifetime of devotional service. When Ajāmila was a young boy he was trained by his father to be completely faithful to the Lord, and until the age of twenty he served Lord Nārāyaṇa very nicely. Although Ajāmila had fallen down from the standard of devotional service to Lord Nārāyaṇa and forgotten his relationship with Him, Nārāyaṇa did not forget, and in Ajāmila’s hour of need He reciprocated His devotee’s love. Thus Ajāmila was given the presence of mind to remember Nārāyaṇa at the time of death.
Kṛṣṇa is very appreciative of even a small amount of devotional service. He confirms this in the Bhagavad-gītā (2.40),
pratyavāyo na vidyate
svalpam apy asya dharmasya
trāyate mahato bhayāt
“In this endeavor there is no loss or diminution, and a little advancement on this path protects one from the most fearful type of danger.” If a person practices even a small amount of devotional service, it can save him from the greatest danger. So why not take to Kṛṣṇa consciousness? Engage in devotional service always, twenty-four hours a day. Then there is no question of danger. One who has become Kṛṣṇa conscious is fearless. He knows he is under the protection of Kṛṣṇa.