How nice it would be if our last thought was, “If I had been a renunciate, I would be living in a mountain cave now. I would be meditating on God, without interacting with anybody.” This is precisely why, in the evening of my life, I left Munger and came here to Rikhia. Now I pray all the time, “Oh God, may no doctor or nurse attend me when I die. I do not want a drip or a bedpan. I do not want to see my disciples crying for me. Let there be just one image in my mind of Lord Shiva, besmeared with ashes and adorned with matted locks, crescent moon and serpents, and with the third eye closed, of course.” This is my sankalpa – that I should see his form at the time of death. I did not come here to start an institution, to become a great man or to fulfil any other ambitions. Whatever I do here is because I have been told to do it by somebody whom you don’t know, whom I have never seen and whose telephone number I don’t have. He has asked me to do it.
So, at the time of death, the last thought becomes the guiding principle for your next birth. In this life you may be a wretched person, hopeless in every sense, but during the last moments before your departure, you may think of very high spiritual things. This is nearly impossible, but if it happens, your next birth will be directed by that last thought. You will incarnate according to that last thought in your previous life. However, all the other karmas of your previous life will also follow you into that incarnation, even with that great sankalpa. You may be a good person, but there will also be suffering because you have to suffer, you have to enjoy, you have to face and confront the karma. You can escape anything in life, you can cheat God in every sense, but you cannot cheat your karma, because karma is within you. The witness, that watchdog within you, is there all the time, making notes in his computer. Everything is being computerized.
Therefore, this matter of transmigration, relating to the journey of the soul from ignorance to light, from mortality to immortality, should be understood in the light of karma, in the light of the nature of the soul. At the same time, you should remember one point. The wise men in India, regardless of their tradition, whether they were from the north, south, east or west, were inspired by the philosophy, by the approach, but they were never satisfied with the final answer because the final answer is with God, not with man. We have to be open-minded all the time. The wise men, whether Shankaracharya or any other great saint, have explained very clearly how the soul moves from one body into another. Even as we throw off these clothes and put on new ones, the individual soul leaves one body and enters another. However, no matter which body it adopts, the soul has to face and experience the karma that it has reaped. This is an eternal process until the day we are emancipated.
Rikhiapeeth, 29 November 1997, first published in Bhakti Yoga Sagar Vol. 5