Question: Swamiji, we have heard that what we attain after death is based on our thoughts right before death. In such a case, what will he, who has slipped into the state of coma before death, attain?
Answer by Swamiji: In the Bhagavad Geeta, Shree Krishna says,
यं यं वापि स्मरन्भावं त्यजत्यन्ते कलेवरम् ।
तं तमेवैति कौन्तेय सदा तद्भावभावितः ॥
"Whatever one remembers at the time of leaving his body, he shall attain it after death".
That is the spiritual principle that you have referred to in your question. But do you have an idea of the magnitude of the pain that one experiences while dying? It is said that the pain is as severe as 2000 scorpions stinging at the same time. Such pain is well beyond the tolerance limit of all ordinary mortals, and so before death arrives, everyone slips into a state of coma.
This state of coma comes when the mind and intellect cannot tolerate the pain that they are perceiving through the body. For example, if someone is being thrashed by hooligans, each time he is beaten, he screams, "Do not hit me!" However, after being beaten for the tenth time, he stops screaming. What has happened? The person who was being beaten has fainted. The pain was so intense that his mind and intellect could not tolerate it any further, and they slipped into a state of unconsciousness. This tolerance limit is not the same for everyone. Someone would faint on the fifth blow, and another would faint by the fiftieth blow. But once the tolerance limit is crossed, without exception everyone falls unconscious.
Now, the pain of death is many times more severe than most people's limit of tolerance, and so it is certain that the state of coma will come before death. Then how can anyone hope to remember God at that moment? The Saint Tuslidas writes:
जनम जनम मूनी यतन कराहीं अन्त राम कहि आवत नाही
"Sages endeavour for many lifetimes, and yet they cannot take Shree Ram's name at the moment of death." When they slip into the state of coma before death, how will they remember the name of God, or any other name for that matter? Only a person who leaves his body at will or voluntarily, can remember the name of God at the time of death. These are the God-realized Saints, who have attained God in their lifetime itself, and hence have transcended the bodily platform.
When Shree Krishna says that whatever we contemplate upon at the time of death, that is what we will attain in next lives, He is referring to the thoughts before entering the state of coma. Even at that time, the pain will be so intense that the mind will refuse to be guided by the intellect, and it will naturally wander in the direction where it has been habituated to go throughout its life. So, if people think that they will love the world for their entire life, and while dying they could remember God and attain Him, they are in for a surprise. Our thoughts at the time of death are not guided by the intellect. They are guided by the mental habits that we have cultivated throughout life.
There could also be cases of sudden death, where a person had no opportunity to think of anything before falling unconscious. There could be instances where one slips into coma for reasons other than mere physical pain. In such cases, God will not be so whimsical as to ignore the person's lifelong actions and merely reward or punish in accordance with the last conscious thought. Shree Krishna has stated elsewhere that our future in this life and the next is decided by our actions. The spiritual laws are very intricate. They are often simply stated to make them comprehensible to us. However, in God's governance there are often various laws that are taken into account to various extents. So we must not get confused if the simple principles do not fit into every situation that we can think of.