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Bhagavad Gita: Chapter - 8 Verse - 5:

अन्तकाले च मामेव स्मरन्मुक्त्वा कलेवरम् |
य: प्रयाति स मद्भावं याति नास्त्यत्र संशय: || 5||

anta-kāle cha mām eva smaran muktvā kalevaram
yaḥ prayāti sa mad-bhāvaṁ yāti nāstyatra sanśhayaḥ

Translation: Those who relinquish the body while remembering me at the moment of death will come to me. There is certainly no doubt about this.

If a person commits crimes like murder, robbery etc. and at the time of his death, thinks of, and reaches God. Then;

  • What will happen to all his (bad) Karma? Will it be forgiven?

  • How come a single thought of God, at the moment of death suppress all of his Karma?

  • Doesn't this violate the Law of Karma?

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    Yes theoretically, by thinking of the Lord all His crimes will be forgiven. However in practicality, this is rarely the case. In order to remember the Lord at the time of one's end, one has to live His whole life in piety and devotion to God. In terms of 'doesn't this violate the law of karma?' if you think more deeply into it, the law of karma is bound to be violated if one has to achieve Moksha. Moksha implies destruction of the law of karma. Thus however way moksha is achieved, it will lead to 'violation of the law of karma' or rather its removal from the life of the jiva. Thank you sir – Sai Oct 22 '15 at 2:04
  • @Sai I'm not sure about this, but I think someone who pursues Bhakti Yoga has to experience all his Sanchita Karma before attaining Moksha (as opposed to Sharangati where the Sanchita Karma is destroyed). I'd need to look in Hindu scripture to verify this. But if I'm right, that would constitute a path to Moksha which doesn't break the law of Karma. (All the more reason to pursue Sharanagati instead :-)) – Keshav Srinivasan Oct 22 '15 at 3:31
  • @KeshavSrinivasan I doubt it. As I understand, I believe that Bhakti Yoga is about God all the time and loving Him dearly. In such cases there is no question of Karma. However if you were to refer me to that verse, I will definitely take a look at it and try to understand it. – Sai Oct 22 '15 at 14:19
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I think you did not go further in the 8th chapter of Srimad Bhagavad Gita.

Sri Krishna also said in the subsequent slokas after sloka 5 as follows::

यं यं वापि स्मरन्भावं त्यजत्यन्ते कलेवरम्।

तं तमेवैति कौन्तेय सदा तद्भावभावितः।।8.6।।

O son of Kunti, thinking of any entity whichever it may be one gives up the body at the end, he attains that very one, having been always engrossed in its thought.

तस्मात्सर्वेषु कालेषु मामनुस्मर युध्य च।

मय्यर्पितमनोबुद्धिर्मामेवैष्यस्यसंशयम्।।8.7।।

Therefore, think of Me at all times and fight. There is no doubt that by dedicating your mind and intellect to Me, you will attain Me alone.

अभ्यासयोगयुक्तेन चेतसा नान्यगामिना।

परमं पुरुषं दिव्यं याति पार्थानुचिन्तयन्।।8.8।।

O son of Prtha, by meditating with a mind which is engaged in the yoga of practice and which does not stray away to anything else, one reaches the supreme Person existing in the effulgent region.

अनन्यचेताः सततं यो मां स्मरति नित्यशः।

तस्याहं सुलभः पार्थ नित्ययुक्तस्य योगिनः।।8.14।।

O son of Prtha, to that yogi of constant concentration and single-minded attention, who remembers Me uninterruptedly and for long, I am easy of attainment.

So Sri Krishna never said that it is possible to think of that BRAHMAN only in the last second and that it is very easy to attain that BRAHMAN.

There should be a continuous practice.


Remember there is no SHORT CUT to attain the BRAHMAN.

  • One has to remember the supreme brahman, at the time of death, which is just impossible for most of all the jivathmas..So, the supreme lord himself has to make one remember at his or her last moment. So, leave it to the Lord and do complete saranagathi or self surrender to Supreme Lord. That is best path for all jivas in this Kaliyuga. – user808 Oct 20 '15 at 12:44
  • I totally agree that it is not easy to think of Brahman at the last second of death, for someone having their entire life thinking of something other than God. But, i was wondering just in case if it happened the way i mentioned in my question, What will happen then? – Prashanth Bl Oct 20 '15 at 12:48
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    @PrashanthBl That was the case of Ajamila, who performed only sinful activities his entire life, but at the last moment uttered 'Narayana'. As a result his sins were completely destroyed, and the messengers of Vishnu fought the messengers of Yama to prevent taking him to Naraka. Then the Vishnudutas left, and Ajamila proceeded to Haridwar, where he performed service to Vishnu and Vaishnavas. Finally, he was escorted to Vaikuntha by the Vishnudutas. So you have an example of a criminal who remembered Krsna's name at the last moment, and thus was saved from all punishments of Yama. – Surya Oct 20 '15 at 12:53
  • @Surya you can post that one as answer – Prashanth Bl Oct 20 '15 at 13:19
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    @PrashanthBl Ramakrishna Paramhansa said to be careful of using the ajamila example. He may have done many good deeds in his life: oaks.nvg.org/rk1.html – user3547 Oct 20 '15 at 16:37
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Yes, "sins" are "forgiven"

There are many verses for "sins washed out" throughout Gita. Citing few of them below, to establish the authority of this concept:

Gyan Yoga (Sundar/Beautiful): Once a person conquers the Rajo-guna and identifies himself with absolute, all his past deeds are freed, be it good or bad. Would merge within the supreme without any Karma lingering[1].

Karma Yoga (Sahaj/Trivial): The true Sanyasi is the one who lets go the fruits of Karma, because a person cannot get rid of doing (good/bad/ugly) Karma due to material nature influence. But those who have renounced the fruits of action are unaffected and would get Moksha; others would get good, bad, mixed fruits[2].

Bhakti Yoga (Saral/Easy): Once a worshiper completely surrenders self to supreme or any manifestation of supreme by remembering in any way, he/she is intact from any sinful reactions & ultimately merges to God[3].

With above approaches, if one lives his/her life then quite likely that during death the same tendency will be retained. Similarly, if one lives life in ignorance or wish-fulfillment, then it's very less likely that God can be remembered at last moment. Because the moment of death is said to be quite testing and creating such tendency instantaneously may require saadhana of many births.

Now one may ask, if I misbehave with someone and then think about God, is my sin gone? Theoretically it's possible, but practically there is a catch:

  • Did I "behave" or "misbehave" or "well-behave"? 1st one doesn't have any result. So even if others say "misbehaved", there is no sin. But if I am able to judge "mis"/"well" myself then it's a fruitful action! So even if I remember God, this attachment will remain subtly just
    waiting to kick-in someday!

The "sin" is a relative term. Two persons of different philosophies may think that other one is committing sins. However both themselves are just acting naturally.
Sometimes a person will assume certain action sinful due to ignorance or rationality or weighing on the profit/loss. But in actuality not performing that action would be sinful.

Why "sins" are "forgiven"

Indeed true that a person committing "heinous crimes" if remembers God during death, then reaches God irrespective of whatever Karma. Ramananda Sagar's TV series Krishna has got this sloka right. However, the "why" part was missed.

This verse is quite controversial and can be used by critics of Gita against it. To explain it, I have to present another few controversial thoughts which are implicit:

  • We don't need to necessarily love God with compassion; we can even hate the God continuously, we will reach him
  • Surrendering to any(right/wrong) Guru[4] helps reaching God.

Let's understand 2 important words from your original verse:

"Me"
Often the universal appeal of this word is missed by translating it as:

Me = Kṛṣṇa © 3000 BC, India. All rights reserved.

We should remember that here Krishna is talking as a self realized supreme soul to Arjuna. Now certain things cannot be translated into words, so he uses the term "Me" as the closest. The "Me" is creator, supporter & destroyer of universe, its Maya and just everything[5].

At the level of soul, the "Me" part of you and the "Me" part of myself/others is no different than the "Me" part of Krishna[6]. Our current "body" identities are just certain combinations of material nature. Material nature combos are "ever-existent temporaries"[7].

"Remember (Fixed upon)"
This is the keyword which we often get it wrong. Love is not the only devotion humans have! What if a person's nature doesn't have "Lovingness", rather is always "Hateful". What if the person isn't even "Hateful", but he/she is always a "Critic". What if he/she is just a "Mocker" or "Fearful". What if mix of many emotions?
A person has right to act according to his Swadharma[8]. God in form of enjoyer/Anandmaya Sharira enjoys all the Rasa/emotions[6].

A hateful person may take births or ages to become loving, why to have a long wait? Just hate God as your enemy, hate like how Shishupala did. Or being a cruel person, get frightened from the God like how Kamsa did. Because their minds were always fixed upon Krishna[9].

Emotions like "Hatred", "Fear", "Envy" are self defeating compared to "Love", "Compassion", "Friendliness", hence their reactions are sinful. But based on own nature, one can use those "tools" to remember God.

Remember (Devotion) = not being Indifferent

A real non-believer is not the one who consciously say, "I don't believe in God", but the one for whom existence of God doesn't matter. He/she is ok even if God exist, or ok if doesn't. Plain indifference.

Answer
If one's nature is crooked then all the so called scriptures will not help become divine. One's Swa-Dharma is defined by inner material nature and should act according to it. Such people don't have any sinful reaction because they are just doing their duty. It's better not to copy even those, who are considered 'good' according to the society[10].

Even the "enlightened" people act according to their typical nature, it's not to be repressed[11]. Because, it's easier to give away the fruit of your Karma, when it's done according to Swa-Dharma (Swabhavik Dharma). e.g. if your nature is not to cheat then you won't attach to the Karma of buying milk in exchange of money from store. But if my nature is of a thief and if I buy milk ethically then it's quite likely to get excited about that "good deed" and get attached to it. For me it's better to avoid that "interruption".

Now pure Bhakti Yogis don't have even that much discrimination/discretion/Viveka. So they surrender themselves to someone to whom they think has such discretion. That might be any person or deity or God or even an idol. Now "surrender" means, even the bad effects are also considered Prasadam. Bhakti Yoga is the easiest with the main condition as once you surrender, there has to be no looking back without a shadow of doubt.
Arjuna had surrendered to Krishna considering him as Sakha. He din't have slightest doubt on his words (questions are different). He apologizes to Krishna after being overwhelmed by his universal form, thinking that he was being too candid with the supreme God[12]!

An extremely sinful person if devoted to God is considered saintly/Sadhu[13]. But the catch is that a person has to get influenced by "remembering God" continuously during his regular life to be able to realize the same feeling during death[14]. Instantaneous generation of Godly feeling should be quite rare. If one rely on that gamble then bigger chances of failing.

In nutshell while Death

For Gyan-Yogi, he treats the life as a grand film and him being a character. The actors who play hero or villain are not punishable by the law! Rather the yogi is aware that he/she is not involved in any activity whatsoever[15].

For Karma-Yogi, being embodied it's recommended to act according to Swa-Dharma. Behaving natural doesn't have virtue/sin. Finally the soul doesn't have any Dharma and to let it merge within the supreme, one has to let go all the Dharmas (including Swa-Dharma) around it[16].

For Bhakti-Yogi, "God" is just interested in "Devotion" (i.e. not being indifferent). God neither creates the doer-ship nor actions nor its fruits. Whatever virtue/Punya or sin/Paap we commit, are just 3 modes of material nature Triguna — Sattva, Rajas, Tamas acting within themselves. Not only that, God even doesn't accept anyone's Punya-Paap[17].

Ramana Maharshi

"You must achieve liberation during your life time. Even if you fail to do it during your lifetime, you must think of god at least at the time of death, since one becomes what he thinks of at the time of death. But unless all your life you have been thinking of God, unless you have accustomed yourself to dhyana of 'God always during life, it would not at all be possible for you think of God at the time of death."


References:
Read Sanskrit word by word translation to get real verse meaning

[1] BG 6.27 — The yogī whose mind is fixed on Me verily attains the highest perfection of transcendental happiness. He is beyond the mode of passion, he realizes his qualitative identity with the Supreme, and thus he is freed from all reactions to past deeds.
BG 4.36 — Even if you are considered to be the most sinful of all sinners, when you are situated in the boat of transcendental knowledge you will be able to cross over the ocean of miseries.

[2] BG 5.10 — One who performs his duty without attachment, surrendering the results unto the Supreme Lord, is unaffected by sinful action, as the lotus leaf is untouched by water.
BG 18.12 — For one who is not renounced, the threefold fruits of action – desirable, undesirable and mixed – accrue after death. But those who are in the renounced order of life have no such result to suffer or enjoy.

[3] BG 9.27, 9.28 — Whatever you do, whatever you eat, whatever you offer or give away, and whatever austerities you perform – do that, O son of Kuntī, as an offering to Me.
— In this way you will be freed from bondage to work and its auspicious and inauspicious results. With your mind fixed on Me in this principle of renunciation, you will be liberated and come to Me.

[4] गुरुर्ब्रह्मा गुरुर्विष्णुर्गुरुर्देवो महेश्वरः गुरुरेव परं ब्रह्म तस्मै श्रीगुरवे नमः

[5] BG 9.17 — I am the father of this universe, the mother, the support and the grandsire. I am the object of knowledge, the purifier and the syllable oṁ. I am also the Ṛg, the Sāma and the Yajur Vedas.
BG 13.14 — Everywhere are His hands and legs, His eyes, heads and faces, and He has ears everywhere. In this way the Supersoul exists, pervading everything.

[6] BG 13.23 — Yet in this body there is another, a transcendental enjoyer, who is the Lord, the supreme proprietor, who exists as the overseer and permitter, and who is known as the Supersoul.

[7] BG 13.20 — Material nature and the living entities should be understood to be beginningless. Their transformations and the modes of matter are products of material nature.

[8] BG 3.35 — It is far better to discharge one’s prescribed duties, even though faultily, than another’s duties perfectly. Destruction in the course of performing one’s own duty is better than engaging in another’s duties, for to follow another’s path is dangerous.

[9] Don't have textual reference handy. However, TV series "Krishna on Shishupala" and "Mahabharata on Kamsa" has shown this concept in genuine ways. Here is one Quora thread which discusses this as "Shatru Bhakti".

[10] BG 18.47 — It is better to engage in one’s own occupation, even though one may perform it imperfectly, than to accept another’s occupation and perform it perfectly. Duties prescribed according to one’s nature are never affected by sinful reactions.

[11] BG 3.33 — Even a man of knowledge acts according to his own nature, for everyone follows the nature he has acquired from the three modes. What can repression accomplish?

[12] BG 11.41-42 — Thinking of You as my friend, I have rashly addressed You “O Kṛṣṇa,” “O Yādava,” “O my friend,” not knowing Your glories. Please forgive whatever I may have done in madness or in love. I have dishonored You many times, jesting as we relaxed, lay on the same bed, or sat or ate together, sometimes alone and sometimes in front of many friends. O infallible one, please excuse me for all those offenses.

[13] BG 9.30 — Even if one commits the most abominable action, if he is engaged in devotional service he is to be considered saintly because he is properly situated in his determination.

[14] BG 8.6 — O Arjuna, one who at the final moment gives up body remembering any idea whatsoever certainly achieves that, because being absorbed in the same idea for a long time.

[15] BG 5.8, 5.9 — A person in the divine consciousness, although engaged in seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, eating, moving about, sleeping and breathing, always knows within himself that he actually does nothing at all. Because while speaking, evacuating, receiving, or opening or closing his eyes, he always knows that only the material senses are engaged with their objects and that he is aloof from them.

[16] BG 18.66 — Abandon all varieties of Dharma and just surrender unto Me. I shall deliver you from all sinful reactions. Do not fear.

[17] BG 5.14, 5.15 — The God does not create activities, nor does he induce people to act, nor does he create the fruits of action. All this is enacted by the modes of material nature.
— Nor does the Supreme Lord assume anyone’s sinful or pious activities. Embodied beings, however, are bewildered because of the ignorance which covers their real knowledge.

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