At the Final Hour
Śukadeva Gosvāmī continued: Because of the child’s broken language and awkward movements, old Ajāmila was very much attached to him. He always took care of the child and enjoyed his activities. When Ajāmila chewed food and ate it, he called the child to chew and eat, and when he drank he called the child to drink also. Always engaged in taking care of the child and calling his name, Nārāyaṇa, Ajāmila could not understand that his own time was now exhausted and that death was upon him.
When the time of death arrived for the foolish Ajāmila, he began thinking exclusively of his son Nārāyaṇa. (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 6.1.25–27)
A Child’s Name
Here it is clearly mentioned that the child Nārāyaṇa was so young that he could not even speak or walk properly. Since the old man was very attached to the child, he enjoyed the child’s activities, and because the child’s name was Nārāyaṇa, the old man always chanted the holy name of Nārāyaṇa. Although Ajāmila was referring to the small child and not to the original Nārāyaṇa, the name of Nārāyaṇa is so powerful that even by chanting his son’s name he was becoming purified. Śrīla Rūpa Gosvāmī has therefore declared that if one’s mind is somehow or other attracted by the holy name of Kṛṣṇa (tasmāt kenāpy upāyena manaḥ kṛṣṇe niveśayet), one is on the path of liberation. In India even today parents often give their children names of God, such as Kṛṣṇa, Govinda, or Nārāyaṇa. Thus the parents chant the names Kṛṣṇa, Govinda, or Nārāyaṇa and get the chance to be purified.
At the time of death, Ajāmila was chanting the name of Nārāyaṇa in connection with his youngest child. Since Ajāmila was the son of a brāhmaṇa, he had been accustomed to worshiping Nārāyaṇa in his youth, because in every brāhmaṇa’s house there is worship of Nārāyaṇa. Therefore, although the contaminated Ajāmila was calling for his son, by concentrating his mind on the holy name of Nārāyaṇa he remembered the Nārāyaṇa he had very faithfully worshiped in his youth.
The value of remembering Nārāyaṇa at the time of death is explained in the Second Canto of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (2.1.6):
janma-lābhaḥ paraḥ puṁsām
“The highest perfection of human life, achieved either by complete knowledge of matter and spirit, by acquirement of mystic powers, or by perfect discharge of one’s occupational duty, is to remember Nārāyaṇa, the Personality of Godhead, at the end of life.”
Somehow or other, therefore, Ajāmila consciously or unconsciously chanted the name of Nārāyaṇa at the time of death and became all-perfect.
Death, a Critical Time of Life
As mentioned above, one’s mentality at the time of death is all-important. But if we become complacent and think, “Oh, death takes place – what of it?” then we cannot advance on the spiritual path. Just as the air carries fragrances, so a person’s mentality at the time of death will carry him to his next life. If he has cultivated the mentality of a Vaiṣṇava, a pure devotee of Kṛṣṇa, then he will immediately be transferred to Vaikuṇṭha. But if he has cultivated the mentality of an ordinary karmī, a fruitive worker, then he will have to stay in this material world to suffer the consequences of the kind of mentality he has thus created.
Suppose I am a businessman. If I simply do business up till the point of death, naturally my mentality will be business. One Calcutta businessman at the time of death asked about the management of his mill. He might have taken his next birth as a rat in his mill. This is possible. At the time of death, whatever you are thinking will carry you to your next body. Kṛṣṇa is very kind, and whatever mentality one is absorbed in at the time of death, Kṛṣṇa will provide an appropriate body: “All right, you are thinking like a rat? Become a rat.” “You are thinking like a tiger? Become a tiger.” “You are thinking like My devotee? Come to Me.”
By chanting Hare Kṛṣṇa, we can mold our thoughts so that we are always thinking of Kṛṣṇa. As Kṛṣṇa recommends in the Bhagavad-gītā (6.47), yoginām api sarveṣāṁ mad-gatenāntarātmanā: “The first-class yogi is he who always thinks of Me within his heart.” The Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement is especially meant for helping the members of human society come to this state of full Kṛṣṇa consciousness. Then at the end of life one will simply remember Kṛṣṇa. Whatever you practice throughout your life will determine your consciousness at death. That is natural.
One who properly prepares for the time of death is really intelligent, while one who thinks he can remain at home forever and enjoy the association of his wife and children is a fool. In illusion a man thinks, “My bank balance, my nice house, and my family will protect me.” But these cannot protect anyone. The Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam (2.1.4) declares,
ātma-sainyeṣv asatsv api
teṣāṁ pramatto nidhanaṁ
paśyann api na paśyati
“One who is mad thinks, ‘My strong body, my grown-up children, my good wife, and my bank balance will save me.’ ” We are simply struggling in this material world like soldiers fighting on a battlefield. Our soldiers are our children, our wife, our bank balance, our countrymen, etc. The Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam warns us not to take shelter of such fallible soldiers. Even though a man has seen that his father and grandfather, who were once living, are existing no more, he does not see that likewise everyone, including himself, will be destroyed. How can he protect his son? How can his son protect him? These questions do not arise for the materialist who is simply engrossed in the animal propensities of eating, sleeping, defending, and mating.