A Second Chance

A Second Chance

The Story of a Near-Death Experience
by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada

NDEs (near-death experiences) are not new phenomena; the Srimad-Bhagavatam, written thousands of years ago, recounts this NDE occurring in the much deeper past:

Ajamila, a young, religious student, is drawn astray to a life of debauchery and crime. At the appointed hour of his death, he witnesses an extremely unusual conversation between the agents of death and the agents of the Supreme Person, Vishnu. Ajamila receives a second chance to live, and his life is transformed forever.

During the winter of 1970-71, Srila Prabhupada was traveling in India with some of his Western disciples. They had heard him speak about Ajamila several times, and at their request he gave a systematic series of lectures on Ajamila's history. This book includes the original Bhagavatam verses outlining Ajamila's NDE, selections from Srila Prabhupada's commentary, and excerpts from transcriptions of his lectures during the '70-71 India tour.

A Second Chance, Hardbound

Hardbound Edition

  • Hardbound; 208 pages; 13.3 x 21 (centimeters); 5.25 x 8.25 (inches)
  • 8 color illustrations; index
  • Publisher: The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust; First issue: 1991; Reissue: 1995
  • Suggested Audience: Introductory
ISBN: 0-89213-271-x
A Second Chance, Softbound

Softbound Edition

  • Softbound; 217 pages; 13.3 x 21 (centimeters); 5.25 x 8.25 (inches)
  • 8 color illustrations; index
  • Publisher: The Bhaktivedanta Book Trust; First issue: 1991; Reissue: 1998
  • Suggested Audience: Introductory

Available at the Krishna.com Store

ISBN: 0-89213-329-5

At the final hour…

According to the law of karma, we're all responsible for our actions. Death is the crucial moment when unseen forces determine our destiny according to karmic law.

As reincarnation gains popular acceptance—with more and more reports of out-of-body and near-death experiences—A Second Chance is indispensable to our daily lives.

This amazing narrative, describing Ajamila's transformative near-death experience, is an excerpt from the ancient Srimad-Bhagavatam. It describes how to employ the techniques of meditation and bhakti-yoga to overcome the obstacles of materialism, meet the challenge of death, and ultimately attain spiritual perfection.

Table of Contents

Introduction
Chapter 1: Separating the Men From the Animals
Chapter 2: In Imitation of the Original
Chapter 3: At the Final Hour
Chapter 4: Neither Birth Nor Death
Chapter 5: The Vishnudutas to the Rescue
Chapter 6: The Residents of the Spiritual Sky
Chapter 7: Authorized Discrimination
Chapter 8: Religion
Chapter 9: Punishment
Chapter 10: The Next Life: It's Up to Us
Chapter 11: The Realm of the Senses
Chapter 12: Bewildered by Desire
Chapter 13: Ajamila Begins His Degraded Life
Chapter 14: Betrayed by Leaders
Chapter 15: Atonement
Chapter 16: Awakening Love of God
Chapter 17: The Moment of Truth
Chapter 18: Pilgrim with a Purpose
Chapter 19: Erasing All Doubts
Chapter 20: Under One Master
Chapter 21: Confidential Knowledge
Chapter 22: The Glories of the Holy Name
The Author
Glossary
Krishna Consciousness at Home
Sanskrit Pronunciation Guide
Index

Excerpts

Spiritual Form and Spiritual Pastimes

The impersonalist philosophers cannot differentiate between activities in the material world and similar activities in the spiritual world. Nor do they differentiate between the material form and God's form. They are convinced that the impersonal brahmajyoti, the spiritual effulgence emanating from the Lord's body, is the Supreme Absolute Truth. The Mayavadis mistakenly assume that when God appears He accepts a material body, just as we have taken this material form in the material world. That kind of thinking is impersonalism, or Mayavada philosophy.

God has a form, but not a material form like ours. His form is sac-cid-ananda-vigraha [Bs. 5.1], a spiritual form full of eternity, bliss, and knowledge. Anyone who understands the transcendental nature of Krishna's form achieves perfection. This Krishna confirms in the Bhagavad-gita (4.9):

janma karma ca me divyam
evam yo vetti tattvatah
tyaktva deham punar janma
naiti mam eti so 'rjuna

“When I come, I do not accept a material body; My birth and activities are completely spiritual. And anyone who perfectly understands this is liberated.” When Krishna displayed Himself as the perfect child before mother Yashoda, He would break everything when she did not supply Him with butter—as if He were in need of butter! So God can display Himself exactly like an ordinary human being, yet He remains the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

Impersonalists cannot know God because they see Him as an ordinary man. This is rascaldom, as Krishna declares in the Bhagavad-gita (9.11): avajananti mam mudhah. “Only rascals accept Me as an ordinary human being.” The Mayavadis say, “Oh, here is a child. How can He be God?” Even Brahma and Indra became bewildered. They thought, “How can this boy be the Supreme Lord? Let me test Him.”

Sometimes a so-called incarnation of God declares, “I am God.” He should be tested to determine whether or not he is actually God. The Mayavadis are claiming, “I am God, I am Krishna, I am Rama.” Everyone becomes “Krishna,” everyone becomes “Rama,” yet people do not challenge their claims: “If you are Rama, exhibit your supreme potency! Rama constructed a bridge over the Indian Ocean. What have you done? At the age of seven, Krishna lifted Govardhana Hill. What have you done?” When they are challenged by Krishna's pastimes, these rascals say, “It is all fiction; it is all legend.” Therefore people accept an ordinary person as Rama or Krishna. This nonsense is going on, and both those who declare themselves to be God and those who accept them as God will have to suffer for it. Anyone can claim to be God, and any foolish person can accept, but no one will benefit by serving a false God.

Once Lord Brahma thought that Krishna might also be such a false God. He observed that a mere boy in Vrindavana, India, was accepted as the Supreme Lord and that He was performing extraordinary activities. So Brahma decided to make a test. He took away all of Krishna's calves and playmates and hid them. When Brahma returned to Vrindavana after one year and saw the same calves and playmates still there, he could understand that Krishna had expanded Himself by His unlimited potency into so many calves and boys. The boys' own mothers could not detect that their sons were Krishna's expansions, though the mothers could not explain why every evening when their boys returned home from the fields, their affection for them increased more and more. Finally, Brahma surrendered to Krishna, composing very nice prayers in glorification of the Lord.

Similarly, Indra became bewildered when Krishna told His father, Nanda Maharaja, “There is no need of performing sacrifices to Indra, because he is under the order of the Supreme Lord.” Krishna did not say to Nanda Maharaja, “I am the Supreme Lord,” but He said, “Indra is under the order of the Supreme Lord; therefore he has to supply you with water. So there is no need of performing this yajna [sacrifice] to him.”

When the sacrifice to Indra was stopped, he became furious and tried to punish the inhabitants of Vrindavana by sending incessant torrents of rain for seven days. Vrindavana was nearly drowned in water—so great was the downpour. But Krishna, a child of about seven years, immediately lifted Govardhana Hill and invited all the residents of Vrindavana, together with their animals, to take shelter underneath the hill. Krishna held up the hill for seven days and nights without taking any food or rest, just to protect the residents of Vrindavana. Thus Indra understood that Krishna was the Supreme Personality of Godhead.

In this way the Srimad-Bhagavatam warns that if even great personalities like Brahma and Indra can sometimes become bewildered by maya, the external manifestation of Krishna's energy, then what to speak of us.

So, God sometimes displays Himself as God and sometimes as a human being, but the rascal impersonalists dismiss His pastimes as legend or mythology. Either they do not believe in the shastras or they interpret them in their own way, using ardha-kukkuti-nyaya [Cc. Adi-lila 5.176], “the logic of half a hen.” Once a man kept a hen that delivered a golden egg every day. The foolish man thought, “It is very profitable, but it is expensive to feed this hen. Better that I cut off her head and save the expense of feeding her. Then I will get the egg without any charge.” The impersonalists accept the shastras in this way. They think, “Oh, this is not good; it is inconvenient. We shall cut this portion out.” When Krishna says, “One should see Me everywhere,” the rascal Mayavadis think it is very palatable, but when He says, “Give up everything and surrender to Me,” they disagree. They accept what is convenient and reject what is not. But the acharyas do not distort the shastras in this way. When Krishna spoke the Bhagavad-gita, Arjuna said, “I accept whatever You have said.”

The Absolute Truth Full of Knowledge

The Vedanta-sutra is accepted as the supreme authority of all Vedic literature. And the Vedanta-sutra (1.1.2) says, janmady asya yatah: [Bhag. 1.1.1] “The Absolute Truth is the original source of everything.” Janma means “birth. ” There is no question of interpretation; the meaning is clear. Everything in this material world comes out of the Absolute Truth, just as this body comes out of the womb of our mother. Janmady asya yatah: “Beginning from birth up to the annihilation, everything is an emanation from the Absolute Truth.” The Absolute Truth is that which is the source of everything, the reservoir of everything, and the maintainer of everything.

What are the characteristics of the original source? The Srimad-Bhagavatam (1.1.1) says, janmady asya yato ’nvayad itaratash cartheshv abhijnah svarat: The original source of everything must be supremely cognizant of everything, both directly and indirectly. He is the supreme spirit, and He knows everything because He is perfect. We are also spirit—spiritual sparks—and as soon as a spiritual spark takes shelter in the womb of a mother, it develops a body. That means that the spiritual spark is the source of the body and all its mechanisms. Although it is by our energy that this body is produced, we do not know how our veins are created or how our bones are created. And because we do not know, we are not God. But Krishna knows. This is the characteristic of the Absolute Truth: He knows everything. Krishna confirms this in the Bhagavad-gita (7.26): “I know everything that has happened in the past, everything that is happening now, and everything that will happen in the future.”

We become cognizant of the Absolute Truth by accepting knowledge from a spiritual master, but how has Krishna become perfectly cognizant? How is Krishna's knowledge so perfect? Because He is fully independent (svarat). He does not have to learn anything from anyone. Some rascal may try to realize himself as God by taking knowledge from a Mayavadi, but Krishna is God without taking knowledge from anyone. That is God.

At the Final Hour

Shukadeva Gosvami continued: Because of the child's broken language and awkward movements, old Ajamila was very much attached to him. He always took care of the child and enjoyed his activities. When Ajamila chewed food and ate it, he called the child to chew and eat, and when he drank he called the child to drink also. Always engaged in taking care of the child and calling his name, Narayana, Ajamila could not understand that his own time was now exhausted and that death was upon him.

When the time of death arrived for the foolish Ajamila, he began thinking exclusively of his son Narayana. (Srimad-Bhagavatam 6.1.25–27)

A Child's Name

Here it is clearly mentioned that the child Narayana was so young that he could not even speak or walk properly. Since the old man was very attached to the child, he enjoyed the child's activities, and because the child's name was Narayana, the old man always chanted the holy name of Narayana. Although Ajamila was referring to the small child and not to the original Narayana, the name of Narayana is so powerful that even by chanting his son's name he was becoming purified. Srila Rupa Gosvami has therefore declared that if one's mind is somehow or other attracted by the holy name of Krishna (tasmat kenapy upayena manah krishne niveshayet [Bhag. 7.1.32]), one is on the path of liberation. In India even today parents often give their children names of God, such as Krishna, Govinda, or Narayana. Thus the parents chant the names Krishna, Govinda, or Narayana and get the chance to be purified.

At the time of death, Ajamila was chanting the name of Narayana in connection with his youngest child. Since Ajamila was the son of a brahmana, he had been accustomed to worshiping Narayana in his youth, because in every brahmana's house there is worship of Narayana. Therefore, although the contaminated Ajamila was calling for his son, by concentrating his mind on the holy name of Narayana he remembered the Narayana he had very faithfully worshiped in his youth.

The value of remembering Narayana at the time of death is explained in the Second Canto of the Srimad-Bhagavatam (2.1.6):

etavan sankhya-yogabhyam
svadharma-parinishthaya
janma-labhah parah pumsam
ante narayana-smritih

“The highest perfection of human life, achieved either by complete knowledge of matter and spirit, by acquirement of mystic powers, or by perfect discharge of one's occupational duty, is to remember Narayana, the Personality of Godhead, at the end of life.”

Somehow or other, therefore, Ajamila consciously or unconsciously chanted the name of Narayana at the time of death and became all-perfect.

Death, a Critical Time of Life

As mentioned above, one's mentality at the time of death is all-important. But if we become complacent and think, “Oh, death takes place—what of it?” then we cannot advance on the spiritual path. Just as the air carries fragrances, so a person's mentality at the time of death will carry him to his next life. If he has cultivated the mentality of a Vaishnava, a pure devotee of Krishna, then he will immediately be transferred to Vaikuntha. But if he has cultivated the mentality of an ordinary karmi, a fruitive worker, then he will have to stay in this material world to suffer the consequences of the kind of mentality he has thus created.

Suppose I am a businessman. If I simply do business up till the point of death, naturally my mentality will be business. One Calcutta businessman at the time of death asked about the management of his mill. He might have taken his next birth as a rat in his mill. This is possible. At the time of death, whatever you are thinking will carry you to your next body. Krishna is very kind, and whatever mentality one is absorbed in at the time of death, Krishna will provide an appropriate body: “All right, you are thinking like a rat? Become a rat.” “You are thinking like a tiger? Become a tiger.” “You are thinking like My devotee? Come to Me.”

By chanting Hare Krishna, we can mold our thoughts so that we are always thinking of Krishna. As Krishna recommends in the Bhagavad-gita (6.47), yoginam api sarvesham mad-gatenantaratmana: “The first-class yogi is he who always thinks of Me within his heart.” The Krishna consciousness movement is especially meant for helping the members of human society come to this state of full Krishna consciousness. Then at the end of life one will simply remember Krishna. Whatever you practice throughout your life will determine your consciousness at death. That is natural.


As the sinful Ajamila lay on his deathbed, he was terrified to see three fierce humanlike creatures coming to drag him out of his dying body and take him away to the abode of Yamaraja, the lord of death, for punishment.

Surprisingly, Ajamila escaped this terrible fate. How? You'll find out in the pages of A Second Chance: The Story of a Near-Death Experience.

You'll also learn many vital truths about the fundamental nature of the self and reality, so you can better prepare yourself for your own inevitable encounters with death and dying.

Even today, people momentarily on the verge of death report encounters like Ajamila's, lending credibility to the idea that there is life after death.

In 1982, George Gallup, Jr., published a book called Adventures in Immortality, which contained results of a survey on American beliefs about the afterlife, including near-death and out-of-body experiences.

Sixty-seven percent of the people surveyed said they believe in life after death, and fifteen percent said they themselves had had some kind of near-death experience.

The people who reported a near-death experience were then asked to describe it. Nine percent reported an out-of-body sensation, and eight percent felt that “a special being or beings were present during the near-death experience.”

The Gallup survey is intriguing, but it leaves unanswered this basic question: Is there any scientific evidence for near-death experiences, particularly of the out-of-body type?

Apparently there is—from studies of people on the verge of death who, while supposedly unconscious, accurately report events relating to their physical body from a perspective outside it. Heart attack patients, accident victims, and soldiers wounded in battle have all reported such experiences.

Dr. Michael Sabom, a cardiologist at the Emory University Medical School, undertook a scientific study of such reports. He interviewed thirty-two cardiac-arrest patients who reported out-of-body experiences. During a cardiac arrest the heart stops pumping blood to the brain, and so a patient should be totally unconscious. Yet twenty-six of the thirty-two patients reporting out-of-body experiences during cardiac arrest were able to give fairly accurate visual accounts of their resuscitation. And the remaining six gave extremely accurate accounts of the specific resuscitation techniques, matching confidential hospital records of their operations.

The results of Sabom's study, detailed in his book Recollections of Death: A Medical Investigation (1982), convinced him of the reality of out-of-body experiences. He concluded that the mind was an entity distinct from the brain and that the near-death crisis caused the mind and brain to split apart for a brief time. Sabom wrote, “Could the mind which splits apart from the physical brain be, in essence, the soul, which continues to exist after the final bodily death, according to some religious doctrines? As I see it, this is the ultimate question that has been raised by reports of the NDE [near-death experience].”

The true dimensions of that ultimate question are thoroughly explored in A Second Chance, by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the founding spiritual master (acharya) of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.

Thousands of years ago in India, the history concerning Ajamila and his near-death experience was related by the great spiritual master Sukadeva Gosvami to his disciple King Parikshit. Their conversation is recorded in the Sixth Canto of the Sanskrit classic Srimad-Bhagavatam, renowned as the ripened fruit of the tree of India's timeless Vedic literature.

In 1975–76, in the course of translating the Srimad-Bhagavatam into English, Srila Prabhupada translated the story of Ajamila. And as with the rest of the work, in addition to the text he provided an illuminating commentary on each verse.

But this wasn't the first time Srila Prabhupada had explained the story of Ajamila. During the winter of 1970–71 Srila Prabhupada was traveling with some of his Western disciples in India. They had heard him speak about Ajamila several times, and at their request he now gave a systematic series of lectures on the Ajamila story.

Thus A Second Chance consists of texts from the Sixth Canto of Srimad-Bhagavatam (reproduced here in boldface type), selections from Srila Prabhupada's commentary, and excerpts from transcriptions of his lectures during the ’70–71 India tour.

The history of Ajamila is dramatic, powerful, and engaging. And the sharp philosophical and metaphysical debates that punctuate the action as Ajamila confronts the messengers of death and finds deliverance are bound to excite the interest of those concerned with life's deepest questions.

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