The year was 1912. Ramana was only 33 years old then. He was returning from Pachaiamman temple to Virupaksha cave. Vasudeva Sastri and other devotees were with him. Suddenly but gradually the view of nature in front of him disappeared and got covered up as if by a sheet of white cloth. He stopped and started walking again. It happened again for a second time. When it happened for the third time, circulation of blood and the beating of the heart stopped. Vasudeva Sastri took him to be dead and started weeping. Ramana was fully conscious of what was happening. His body’s condition did not worry him at all nor did he swerve in the least from his self-rootedness. Ramana’s blood circulation and breath revived after ten or fifteen minutes. Why the miracle took place is a divine mystery. It may be because long years of spiritual ministration lay ahead for Ramana. Or it could have been because of the jnani’s freedom, as Ramana himself told a devotee - Ananthanarayana Rao - in later years. The jnani is free to cast off the body only when the certainty of his existence even after the dropping of the body has been established in the minds of the disciples and devotees. Or it may be because, though the jnani does not have any volition of his own, his body’s purpose is linked with the establishment of his message which would be the most appropriate one for the age. Though the reason for Ramana’s resurrection is beyond our comprehension, there can be little doubt that in a physical and a clinical sense, the life force had for all intents and purposes left his body after the third attack. When the attack was on, those were Ramana’s last moments. How were these last moments? Ramana had no thoughts concerning his body for his mind lay ‘dead’ submerged in the Heart. For him, the timeless one, the last minutes were therefore not different from the earlier ones.
But the position is wholly different for those like us, born to work out our karmas. It would be worthwhile to look at the anatomy of what happens at the death-bed. As usual Ramana himself throws light on what happens normally. At the final hour there is a regular tussle, a battle-royal between the deep-rooted attachments to this body and the body to which the ‘ego’ is about to transfer itself. Gasping for breath towards the end is indicative of it and violent gasps at intervals would mean that the present attachments are not yet snapped. If such a situation is to be avoided one should have learnt to turn the mind inward through self-enquiry. Lot of preparatory work needs to be done well in advance to ensure that.
The last moment of life being all important, one has to reflect whether there would be any difficulty in channelizing thoughts self-ward when the time comes. The difficulty was explained to Chadwick by Ramana himself. While once cycling round Arunachala, seeing a bus pass by, Chadwick thought of an easy way to liberation. He felt that since last thoughts are vital, the best course would be to think of the Self and then throw himself in front of a bus. When he told Ramana about this he explained what would happen. Ramana told him that fear and shock would cause the rising of thoughts at that time and result in the continuation of life in another body after death. Ramana also clarified that the only sure way to avoid rebirth would be to still the mind totally.
Again, if we look at death, it means the dissolution of a particular ego and its rebirth in another body. It is the continuity of the ego. If one learns to demolish the ego-sense at its very root, then death would be with full awareness. This also emphasizes the paramount importance of self-enquiry. By the force of self-enquiry the ego would have to fall back on its source and strength, the Self. If one has, through repeated practice of self-enquiry, even tasted, though intermittently, the bliss of the Self, then at the appointed hour also one can manage to turn within and lose the separate identity. Ramana’s aid can be banked upon if one has done his sadhana, then the mind would merge in the Heart, its source. At the point of death there would be no thoughts, the attachments would have been uprooted. Thus liberated, the person is forever freed from death’s hands.
A.R.Natarajan Founder President, Ramana Maharshi Centre for Learning, Bangalore