Neither Birth Nor Death
Śukadeva Gosvāmī continued: Ajāmila then saw three awkward persons with deformed bodily features, fierce, twisted faces, and hair standing erect on their bodies. With ropes in their hands, they had come to take him away to the abode of Yamarāja. When he saw them he was extremely bewildered, and because of attachment to his child, who was playing nearby, Ajāmila began to call him loudly by his name. Thus with tears in his eyes he somehow or other chanted the holy name of Nārāyaṇa. (Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam 6.1.28–29)
Anxious to Save Themselves from Death
At the time of death people become very anxious to save themselves, especially those who have been sinful. Of course, the soul itself is not subject to death (na hanyate hanyamāne śarīre), but leaving the present body and entering into another body is very painful. At death the living entity can no longer bear to remain in his present body – the pain is so acute. Sometimes when a person’s life becomes too painful he commits suicide. But suicide is a sin punishable by the laws of karma.
When Ajāmila was dying, he saw three ferocious and very frightening persons with ropes in their hands, unruly hair on their heads, and bodily hair like bristles. These assistants of Yamarāja, the Yamadūtas, had come to drag Ajāmila out of his body and take him to the court of Yamarāja. Sometimes a dying man cries out in fear when he sees the Yamadūtas. Ajāmila, too, became very fearful.
Fortunately, even though Ajāmila was referring to his son, he chanted the holy name of Nārāyaṇa, and therefore the order-carriers of Nārāyaṇa, the Viṣṇudūtas, also immediately arrived there. Because Ajāmila was extremely afraid of the ropes of Yamarāja, he chanted the Lord’s name with tearful eyes. Actually, however, he never meant to chant the holy name of Nārāyaṇa; he meant to call his son.
The Appearance and Disappearance of Kṛṣṇa and His Devotees
One may ask, “The devotees die, and the nondevotees also die. What is the difference?” It is like this: The mother cat may catch a rat and carry it in her mouth, and she also carries her kittens in her mouth. It is the same mouth, but the kittens are comfortable and safe, whereas the rat is feeling the jaws of death. Similarly, at the time of death the devotees are transferred to the spiritual realm, Vaikuṇṭha, whereas the ordinary sinful man is dragged down to the hellish regions by the Yamadūtas, the constables of Yamarāja. This was apparently to be Ajāmila’s fate.
vināśāya ca duṣkṛtām
sambhavāmi yuge yuge
“To deliver the pious and annihilate the miscreants, as well as to reestablish the principles of religion, I appear millennium after millennium.” God’s only business is to protect the faithful devotees and to kill the demoniac. Therefore we find Lord Viṣṇu pictured with His weapons, the club and cakra (disc), for protecting the devotees, and the lotus flower and conch for their benediction.
Similarly transcendental are the appearance and disappearance of Kṛṣṇa’s devotees who are sent to this material world to preach the glories of the Lord. According to the principles of Vaiṣṇavism, both the appearance and the disappearance of such Vaiṣṇavas, or devotees of Viṣṇu (Kṛṣṇa), are all-auspicious. Therefore we hold festivals in their honor on the anniversaries of both days.
Actually, even ordinary living entities never take birth or die, what to speak of Kṛṣṇa and His devotees. Sometimes atheistic men say God is dead. They do not know that even the smallest living entity does not die. So how can God be dead? Atheists are described in the Bhagavad-gītā as mūḍhās, or foolish rascals. They have no knowledge but pose themselves as learned men and mutter something that is good neither for them nor the public.
Liberation via Thinking of Kṛṣṇa
Because somehow or other Ajāmila became absorbed in thinking of Nārāyaṇa, or Kṛṣṇa, at the time of death, he immediately became eligible for liberation, even though he had acted sinfully throughout his entire life. One can think of Kṛṣṇa in any capacity. The gopīs, Kṛṣṇa’s cowherd girlfriends, were absorbed in thinking of Kṛṣṇa out of what appeared to be lusty desire, Śiśupāla became absorbed in thinking of Kṛṣṇa out of anger, and Kaṁsa incessantly thought of Kṛṣṇa out of fear. Kaṁsa and Śiśupāla were demons, but because they thought of the Supreme Personality of Godhead throughout their lives and at the time of death, they were granted liberation by Kṛṣṇa Himself.
Of course, it is best if one thinks of Kṛṣṇa favorably. Bhakti, or devotional service, means thinking favorably of Kṛṣṇa. Śiśupāla and Kaṁsa were not devotees, because the word devotee implies someone who is favorably disposed toward Kṛṣṇa. Thinking of Kṛṣṇa in the opposite way, however, is also accepted by Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa is so kind that anyone who thinks of Him always, even as an enemy, becomes the greatest yogi and attains liberation. Thus the results of yogic performances and austerities were achieved even by such inimical personalities as Kaṁsa and Śiśupāla. In the impersonal Brahman effulgence (brahmajyoti) we find not only the highest learned scholars (jñānīs), who have struggled to attain Brahman, but also those persons who constantly think of Kṛṣṇa in enmity. They also enter into that spiritual effulgence. Thus the destination achieved by the jñānīs is also achieved by the enemies of Kṛṣṇa. This, however, is not very desirable.
A living entity can remain for some time in the Brahman effulgence (brahmajyoti) as a tiny shining spiritual particle. As there are many molecular particles of sunshine, similarly the living entities can live as small particles of spiritual effulgence in the brahmajyoti. But they are subject to fall down into this material creation again. By nature the living entities want varieties of sense enjoyment, but in that impersonal existence there are no varieties of enjoyment. So when they desire to enjoy, they have to come again to this material world. Therefore, if one merges into the Brahman effulgence, there is every chance of falling down.
Kṛṣṇa’s devotees do not desire liberation, because their only interest is to be engaged in devotional service to Kṛṣṇa, whether in the material world or in the spiritual world. Still, by the mercy of Kṛṣṇa, they attain liberation by being elevated to the planet of Goloka Vṛndāvana, the residence of Kṛṣṇa, where the material miseries of birth, death, old age, and disease are conspicuous by their absence. Thus a devotee’s position is different from that of the impersonalists and jñānīs. The devotee’s position is very exalted. He also passes through the Brahman effulgence, but he is not attracted to it. He is attracted to the Vaikuṇṭha planets, especially Goloka Vṛndāvana, where the Supreme Personality of Godhead lives eternally with His associates.