Death – the door to the chamber of the divine fire
Death – it is one thing that is common to all of us. All of a sudden, unknown, unaware, unpredictably, we release our last breath from the nostrils and the next thing we know, we cannot eat, sleep, walk, talk or do all the mundane things that we do with this so called frame of flesh and blood.
Why does death grasp each individual at the very end of one’s life? Death comes to all – the rich, the poor, the famous and the infamous, the healthy and the sick. None can escape it. The question about the mystery of death has intrigued all alike – from average men to philosophers, from scientists to sages.
Over centuries, mystics and saints across different religions have attested that one who attains a vision of an auspicious deity or manifestation of the Supreme consciousness (which we term as God) in the form of a fire or glowing light is said to have been enlightened. The inner fire is said to take the form of the supreme force that one has been praying to the most in the current life but also in his/her previous lives.
The enlightened sages assert that this bright light or infinite fire witnessed at the time of enlightenment is verily the pure consciousness that makes its presence felt everywhere, thereby dispelling the darkness (ignorance born out of ego) of man, which is responsible for his physical birth and death.
The mystics believe that one who has conquered death by overcoming all kinds of fear and worry has conquered everything in this universe. The more devoted we are to the truth (pure consciousness aka God), we find ourselves capable of overcoming any challenge in life.
In Hindu belief, there are many deities and manifestations of the pure consciousness (God). One such potent manifestation is Lord Shiva, who is said to appear in front of his devotees, who dedicate their life to deciphering the truth behind death. Let us briefly look at a story to understand how Lord Shiva appears to a devotee in the form of death itself to show him that death is nothing but a passing phase in our life. The more we understand and accept death, the closer we get to emancipation (Moksh). Death is the greatest opportunity to know ourselves in terms of who we are, why we are born and where do we go after shedding this physical body….
Kishore was an ardent devotee of Lord Shiva. He had supported his family by selling puja articles like coconuts, flowers, lamps and incense sticks outside a Shiva temple. He was in his 70’s and had lived to see his children and grandchildren. He untiringly worked at his shop so that he could see the temple and pray to God every day, even if he did not have the time to step inside the temple. He was hardworking and free from any malice.
Every day, he opened his shop early in the morning and prayed to Shiva. He also offered prayers before closing his shop at night. He did not know any spiritual texts or scriptures, hymns or mantras, but his love for Lord Shiva was pure.
One night as he was preparing to go home, he got a strange vision – he saw a dark and majestic man behind the temple pillars. He started to feel something strange and he found his breath becoming weaker and weaker. He decided to close the shop early but before that, he took some coconuts, fruits, sweets, flowers, turmeric and 9 lamps with him.
He skipped dinner that night and went straight to his prayer room. He laid all the articles he had brought from his shop in front of the Shiv ling and lit all the lamps facing the South (the direction of death). Suddenly, he saw the same majestic dark figure approaching him, that he had seen earlier in his shop. The brightness of the lamps made the face of the figure clear; it was none other than Lord Yama, the Lord of Death, mounted on a buffalo.
Even before Yama introduced himself, Kishore said: “O Yama! I am very pleased to see you. Please come in. I have brought fruits, flowers, coconuts and sweets for you.”
Yama was shocked to hear this, as everyone usually fears him and avoids him.
Yama: “You fool! If you are trying to please me and win back your life, then you can forget it. Death comes to all so just accept it. It is time for you to leave this present body.”
Kishore: “O Yama! Our ancestors have said: “A guest is like God” (Athithi Devo Bhavah) but here I am so fortunate to have “God as my guest”. I am not trying to win back my life. I have lived to see my grandchildren. I have prayed to Shiva all my life. I have no more use for this perishable body. Besides, you are only here to do your duty. So, I will gladly go with you.”
Yama: “Kishore! Nobody has spoken to me with such courage after Nachiketa!”
Kishore: “O Lord! Who is this Nachiketa? Pardon me! I do not know any Veda, Shloka or Mantra to praise you or any form of God. I am just an ignorant man and have only been taking the name of Shiva all my life.”
Yama: “Nachiketa (you will find more information about him in the Katha Upanishad) was a young boy who fearlessly came to my abode (Yamlok) to know the truth about life and death. I showed him the path to immortality. Now tell me…aren’t you disappointed that Shiva has not come here?”
Kishore: “O Yama! Aren’t you and Lord Shiva the same? It would be ignorant of me to differentiate both of you.
Yama: “Why have you lit 9 lamps?”
Kishore: “There are 9 openings in my body (2 nostrils, 2 eyes, 2 ears, 1 mouth and 2 openings of excretion). I do not know by which opening you will take out my life (Pran). I lit one lamp for each opening so that there is light around. Light is verily Shiva. The sages say that death comes from the South, hence I lit them all facing the South.”
Yama: “Do you absolutely have no desire? Not even to see Shiva?”
Kishore: “I have seen you and hence I have seen Lord Shiva. Besides, why would I want to see Shiva externally when he is already in my heart?”
Yama: “I must leave now. I cannot take your life (Prana) through any of these 9 openings.”
Kishore thought that his hospitality was not good enough for Yama. He began to pray to Shiva, as he did not want his guest to go away unsatisfied. Just then, a bright light filled the entire room, it was like a giant ball of fire, as radiant as billion suns put together. From that fire emerged a gigantic Shiv ling that took Kishore’s Prana (life energy/Kundalini Shakti) towards the crown of his head through the invisible tenth opening, the Sahasrara Chakra. It made a loud noise like that of a temple bell and a tingle sensation on his head. Kishore opened his eyes and saw that the fruits, coconut and sweets had been consumed and the flowers were placed on the Shiva ling.
From that day, Kishore was renowned as a sage, and he only felt pure bliss in his heart and compassion for all beings. People visited his shop not just to buy Puja items but also to learn how to become immortal (Shiva). Kishore lived many more years in his physical body to guide humanity to salvation.