One must know the art of living in this world and also the art of leaving this world.
Death is that grand test that determines our next destination. Srila Prabhupada once said that ISKCON teaches the Art of Dying. In Srimad-Bhagavatam, we can see that Bhismadev has set the best example of how to prepare oneself for that moment.
In Bhagavad Gita there are numerous references that claim that the aim of life is to be absorbed in thoughts of Krsna at the time of death and thus perfect one’s life.
anta-kāle ca mām eva smaran muktvā kalevaram
yaḥ prayāti sa mad-bhāvaṁ yāti nāsty atra saṁśayaḥ
And whoever, at the time of death, quits his body remembering Me alone, at once attains My nature. Of this there is no doubt. (BG 8.5)
tasmāt sarveṣu kāleṣu mām anusmara yudhya ca
mayy arpita-mano-buddhir mām evaiṣyasy asaṁśayaḥ
Therefore, Arjuna, you should always think of Me in the form of Krsna and at the same time carry out your prescribed duty of fighting. With your activities dedicated to Me and your mind and intelligence fixed on Me, you will attain Me without doubt.(BG 8.7)
We can see that although he was a great fighter, leader and commander, at the time of death, Bhismadeva gave it all up and simply focused on the Lord. This is compared to a relay race. After running one should be prepared to hand over the relay to the next runner. There are many examples in the modern world of people who grow old and still want to maintain their positions, name and fame. This only leads to further bondage in the cycle of birth and death. But if we want to attain the goal of life, krishna prema, we should be prepared to follow in the footsteps of great devotees like Parikshit maharaj, Yudhistira maharaj, Prahlad maharaj and Bhismadev and give up all these false identifications that do not actually belong to us.
Bhismadeva said: Let me now invest my thinking, feeling and willing, which were so long engaged in different subjects and occupational duties, in the all-powerful Lord Sri Krishna. He is always self-satisfied, but sometimes, being the leader of the devotees, He enjoys transcendental pleasure by descending on the material world, although from Him only the material world is created. (SB 1.9.32)
It should be noted that Bhismadev was on the side of the Kauravas, and he had an important role to play on their side. He fought vigorously against the Pandavas so much so that he would had nearly killed Arjuna. Yet his nature of thought remained on Sri Krishna. This is very much related to the current modern society. Unfortunately, due to circumstances, some devotees might find themselves trapped in their jobs, duties, family lives and responsibilities which may sometimes be unfavorable. Yet if we follow in the footsteps of Bhismadev, we can still make our lives perfect, even in that status of life. Desires cannot be stopped, but they can be purified in accordance with the Lord. One can work for the Lord. One can occupy his family for the Lord, just as Bhismadev fought for the pleasure of the Lord. In order to make Krishna one’s nature of thought, one should be constantly connected with the name, form, pastimes and glories of the Lord.
Furthermore, Bhismadev as a vigorous fighter related to the Lord in that chivalrous mood. He saw Sri Krsna, sweating, His hair covered with dust raised by the horses, and His body bleeding. There are five rasas ; santa, dasya, sakhya, vatsalya and madhurya. But at the time of death, one must be able to vision one particular form of the Lord. His Holiness Sachinandan Swami Maharaj once said that while chanting, devotees can choose their particular favorite picture of the Lord and thus meditate on that. That is one practical step. Gradually, by cleansing of the heart through chanting, and by advancing through the stages of bhakti, one can develop one’s relationship with the Lord and vision that form at the time of death.
If out of the twenty four hours, one is thinking of Krishna for 3 hours, and doing other things during the day that are devoid of Krishna, then at the time of death, all the other things will come to the mind, since those things are the priority of his consciousness. But if one is Krishna conscious twenty four hours a day, there is nothing but Krishna that will appear to us at the time of death. This the Art of Dying.
The above article is an answer to the Open Book Exam (Canto 1.1-9), by Sharad Pournima Das, to the question: “The subject matter which attracts the dying man becomes the beginning of his next life.” Based on how Bhismadev left his body present your views on, “life-An art of dying.”