Time devours everything, and death engulfs all. But this need not be a cause of sorrow. Instead of making us gloomy and pessimistic, thoughts on death should help us grow closer to God, the spiritual Reality that abides in the hearts of all. Sri Ramakrishna once told Brahmo devotees: "The world is impermanent. One should constantly remember death." Then he sang: "Remember this, O mind! Nobody is your own: Vain is your wandering in this world. Trapped in the subtle snare of māyā as you are, do not forget the Mother's name."
A conversation between Swami Vivekananda and Surendra Nath Das Gupta reveals how thoughts of death lead to awakening of a new life within:
Swami Vivekananda: "Look here, we shall all die! Bear this in mind always, and then the spirit within will wake up. Then only, meanness will vanish from you, practicality in work will come, you will get new vigour in mind and body, and those who come in contact with you will also feel that they have really got something uplifting from you."
Disciple: "But, Swamiji, will not the spirit break down at the thought of death and the heart be overpowered by despondency?"
Swami Vivekananda: "Quite so. At first, the heart will break down, and despondency and gloomy thoughts will occupy your mind. But persist; let days pass like that, and then you will see that new strength has come into the heart, that the constant thought of death is giving you a new life and is making you more and more thoughtful by bringing every moment before your mind's eye the truth of the saying, 'Vanity of vanities, all is vanity!' Wait! Let days, months, and years pass, and you will feel that the spirit within is waking up with the strength of a lion, that the little power within has transformed itself into a mighty power! Think of death always, and you will realise the truth of every word I say."
Swami Vivekananda deeply appreciated the spiritual classic The Imitation of Christ. He translated six chapters of the book into Bengali and wrote a preface in praise of the author. The chapter "Thoughts on Death" has the following precious teaching: "Who will remember you when you are dead? Who will pray for you? Do now, beloved, what you can, because you do not know when you will die, nor what your fate will be after death. Gather for yourself the riches of immortality while you have time. Think of nothing but your salvation. Care only for the things of God. Make friends for yourself now by honoring the saints of God, by imitating their actions, so that when you depart this life they may receive you into everlasting dwellings.
"Keep yourself as a stranger here on earth, a pilgrim whom its affairs do not concern at all. Keep your heart free and raise it up to God, for you have not here a lasting home. To Him direct your daily prayers, your sighs and tears, that your soul may merit after death to pass in happiness to the Lord."