On Monday, July 25 around 3pm, I nearly died in China. Seriously. I was about 30 seconds from death. The hotel I was booking into in Guangzhou had just fumigated the rooms with some ultra toxic mosquito repellent that caused my lungs to collapse. At first it was just a tickle in the throat, but it became annoying to breathe and I had to cover my nose with my shirt. I assumed that as soon as I got into my room all would be ok. I mean, even the lady at the desk was not bothered, but something felt wrong.
When I entered my room on the 5th floor, however, within seconds I began gasping and my body began heaving trying to expel whatever it was from my lungs. The heaving got more and more intense to the point where my lungs were not interested in taking air in, only getting air out! The room was a toxic minefield. With whatever air I had left, I said, “We have to get out, I can’t breath”. Then my lungs fully collapsed. I raced into the bathroom to splash water in my face to shock my lungs into working again. It enabled me a few more breaths. I then stumbled into the elevator on the 6th floor. I was now wondering if I would make it out in time. I tried to calm myself down. I couldn’t talk but tried to communicate with my eyes to my friends, “Please help me relax so that my lungs can take in air”. I managed to squeeze out “Krishna” with my last remaining air. One of my friends hugged me and rubbed my back…I started to relax.
We reached the bottom and I ran out of the elevator red faced, coughing, crying and my nose flowing with mucus. I just had to get as far away as possible. I raced up the street and sat down to recover.
I remember thinking while in the elevator, “this is not how I want to go.” But you never know, do you?
Looking back at that event, I am happy to know that at a time of great stress and confusion I remembered Krishna. I hope that this will be true every time I am tested like that. For as Krishna states in the Gita, one who remembers Him is guaranteed success. In fact, remembrance of Krishna is considered the principle instruction of all the Vedas.
Another interesting observation was that the people I was with, although my friends, were ultimately helpless to do anything for me. Death is something we all have to face alone, for we are the only ones standing at the doorway. In any case, the hotel was so saturated from the mosquito fogging that they too were coughing and struggling to breathe. Only in my case, my lungs completely gave out. The moment that I rushed into the bathroom to splash my face probably gave me an extra minute of time. As soon as I splashed I was able to take in extra air, just enough to get me downstairs. I remembered this technique from an earlier experience when I was living in an ashram in Sydney in 1984. One morning my friend (Nimai Pandit) awoke from sleep, gagging because his throat had become overloaded with mucus. His face went red and he had no idea what to do. In a panic he was jumping up and down trying to awaken us. One of the other monks (Jagannath) immediately rushed into the kitchen and splashed cold water on Nimai’s face. The shock enabled Nimai to break his panicked state and clear his throat. That happened nearly 30 years ago, but the memory stayed with me all these years to help me at a critical time in my own life. There are so many things we forget, and we often wonder why we remember particular incidents and forget others. I now know why I remembered that one incident and have pretty much forgotten all others from that time.
The most obvious lesson to take away from this experience is that we have to appreciate every moment we have in life, for you never truly know when the last one will come. More importantly, these near death experiences help us to understand the importance of preparation and to be conscious at every moment. The highest state of consciousness is to be aware of your higher SELF and the omnipresence of God. Material bodies are temporary portals for us souls to express ourSELF for a predetermined number of breaths, according to our karma. We the “witness” of these life events live on and on until such time that we do NOT require another material form to carry us further. This can only come to pass if our consciousness is sufficiently purified of attachment to this material matrix and is fully aligned with (or vibrating at the same resonance as) the higher spiritual dimension. At this time, a material body made of earth, water, fire, air and ether becomes unnecessary.
The challenge for all of us is relearning the TRUTH of our higher existence. We do not belong here in this material energy, explains Krishna in the Gita, but are sourced from a higher spiritual energy. This whole material creation is a response to our desire to enjoy and control independently of Krishna. As soon as we awaken to our “sanatana dharma” or eternal nature of loving service, this material world and the elements that build it will literally dissolve before our eyes.
Every time we are forced out of a body at death, for at least a split moment we become aware of our divinity. However, due to attachment and lust we are forced once more to accept another material body. The solution therefore is to cultivate detachment from matter over your lifetime so that at the time of death you CAN let go. This will only be possible with a pure heart fixed on the divine, because unless we are able to replace our attachment for material things with attachment for the divine there is no question of detachment.
Every learned man knows very well that attachment for the material is the greatest entanglement of the spirit soul. But that same attachment, when applied to the self-realized devotees, opens the door of liberation. (SB 3.25.20)
This is exactly why the path of voidism is so flawed. A transcendentalists may be able to break out of this material matrix through renunciation and sense control, but eventually, because the soul’s nature is to enjoy, they eventually come back to this material dimension to satisfy the enjoying tendency.
Krishna instructing Arjuna
Merely renouncing all activities yet not engaging in the devotional service of the Lord cannot make one happy. But a thoughtful person engaged in devotional service can achieve the Supreme without delay. (BG 5.6)
The path of bhakti, however, teaches the aspirant to learn to enjoy in service to the Supreme which is expressed in 5 principle rasas (tastes): neutrality, servitude, friendship, parental, and conjugal. Everything that we experience in this realm is a perverted reflection of a pure expression of that experience in the spiritual dimension. In other words, enjoying is not the problem; the problems start when we attempt to enjoy through matter and independently of the Supreme Enjoyer, Krishna.
These concepts of divine rasa may seem unattainable or unrealistic because of a conditioning that God is a vindictive and impatient patriarch. However, the Vedas declare that God by definition, is that person that is a supreme expression of all things great and wonderful in this world. Therefore, just as we are persons and can love another person in a variety of ways, similarly, we can have a loving relationship with a Supreme Personality of Godhead. Our relationship with God is uniquely personal.
You may recall in a previous posting on the sacred geometry of food, I shared the idea that we resonate to Phi or “fiveness” — five fingers, toes, senses, etc, and here we see that even in spiritual relationships there are 5 primary tastes!
At this stage in my own spiritual evolution, I may not be aware of my eternal rasa with God, but some things I do know for certain:
- I am NOT the supreme enjoyer, but God, by definition must be;
- I am NOT the supreme controller of my destiny, but God, by definition must be;
- God (HE/SHE) is my best friend!
In conclusion: I am so glad that I have been given another opportunity to cultivate purity and express my love and appreciation for all the blessings in my life. I apparently was not ready to go on that day, but hopefully when my predetermined number of breaths does run out, I will be fully ready to embrace the eternal reality and not come back here again for another round.