Death—what is it? The dropping off of the physical body is the time when all of the karma-making actions go back to seed in the mûlâdhâra chakra, into the memory patterns. All of our actions, reactions and the things we have set in motion in the prânic patterns in this life form the tendencies of our nature in our next incarnation. The tendencies of our nature in the present incarnation are the ways in which awareness flows through the i∂â, pingalâ and sushumnâ currents.
These tendencies of man’s nature also are recorded in the astrological signs under which he is born. Man comes through an astrological conglomeration of signs, or an astrological chart, according to his actions and reactions and what he set in motion in the seed-karma patterns of his past life. So, we are always the sum total, a collection, of all the karmic experiences, a totality of all the seed patterns, that have happened to us, or that we have caused to happen, through the many, many lives.
One great peculiarity about man is that he individually feels that he is never going to die and goes on through life planning and building as though he were going to live forever and ever. The fear of death is a natural instinctive reflex. The fear of change or fear of the unknown is an ominous element in the destiny of a human being. The study and comprehension of the laws of reincarnation can alleviate this fear and bring an enlightened vision of the cosmic rhythms of life and death. It is a simple process, no more fantastic, shall we say, than other growth problems we experience daily. A flower grows, blossoms and withers. The seed falls to the ground, is buried in the earth, sprouts and grows into a plant and a flower.
Death, like birth, has been repeated so many times that it is no mystery to the soul. From the Hindu point of view, the knowledge of one’s imminent departure begins the sannyâsa âsrama for the individual. In this âsrama, the devotee traditionally divests himself of all material belongings, effecting a conscious death before the actual death. He is the executor of his own will, taking care of everybody and not leaving these things to others to deal with after his passing.
After everything is settled, all personal possessions disposed of, then he begins meditation and awaits the fruitful hour, trying to exit through the highest chakra of the attainment of this life. Each chakra is a door through which we can depart. The dying should always remember that the place where one will reincarnate is the place that he is thinking about prior to death. So, choose your desires wisely. The last thoughts just before death are the most powerful thoughts in creating the next life. This is why a sudden death—with its intense emotion, the intellect not having been prepared for it—would produce difficulties in getting born and in the first few years of getting raised, leading to miscarriage and abortion and later child abuse. All these experiences are a continuation of the emotional upheaval that happened at the sudden departure. The emotional upheaval of the person is compounded by the emotional upheaval of the friends, family and business associates when they finally hear of the sudden departure.
However, if the person was prepared for death, no matter when it might arrive, sudden or otherwise, his mental and emotional astral body would have already been well schooled in readiness. Sudden death to such a soul is a boon and a blessing. The next birth would be welcoming and easy, one wherein he would be well cared for and educated by loving parents.
Nevertheless, the thought force of the departing person is very strong, as his energy transmutes into the mental body. That’s why nobody wants the departing person to hate them or curse them.
People wonder whether death is a painful process, such as in the case of cancer victims. Cancer, which produces a lot of pain, is a process of life which results in death, but death itself is not painful. Death itself is blissful. You don’t need any counseling. You intuitively know what’s going to happen. Death is like a meditation, a samâdhi. That’s why it’s called mahâ (great) samâdhi. A Hindu is prepared from childhood for that mahâsamâdhi. Remember, pain is not part of the process of death. That is the process of life, which results in death.When somebody is about to have a tremendous accident and, for example, sees his car is going to run into a truck or his plane is going to crash, he experiences no pain whatsoever, as he dies before he dies.
The problem comes when doctors bring the dying back. Then a lot of pain is experienced. The doctors should let them die. Prolonging the life of the individual body must be done by the individual himself. He needs no helping hands. But to prolong life in the debilitated physical body past the point that the natural will of the person has sustained is to incarcerate, to jail, to place that person in prison.
Åyurvedic medicine seeks to keep a person healthy and strong, but not to interfere with the process of death. The experience of dying and death is as natural as birth and life.
To perpetuate life, you perpetuate will, desire and the fruition of desire. The constant performing of this function brings the actinic energies of the soul body into physical bodies. To give up one’s own personal desires is the first desire to perpetuate. Then to help others to fulfill their highest aspirations is the next challenge. Then to seek for ultimate attainment and fulfill that lingering desire takes a tremendous will. Then to lay a foundation for the betterment of peoples everywhere is the ultimate challenge. This perpetuates life within the physical body, which of itself renews itself every seven years.
At death, you leave through a nerve ganglia of consciousness, a chakra.The thoughts at death are the next saμskâras of the astral body. At death, you leave through a nerve ganglia of consciousness, a chakra. Most people live in about three chakras, and they see-saw back and forth among those states of mind. Each one is a window, and at death it becomes a portal, a doorway. So, it is the state of mind at death that gets you into one loka or another. The ideal is to leave through the top of the head, through the door of Brahman, to get into the Brahmaloka and not have to come back.
The cha kras are in the astral body. The astral body lives in the physical body, and when death comes, it is going to live without the physical body. The same chakras are within it. At the moment of death, you have the opportunity to stabilize yourself in the highest chakra you have experienced in this life.
The tunnel of light that is experienced by so many people at the point of death is the portal they are going through, the window, the chakra. Passing through the tunnel is leaving this world and going into another. You do that in meditation, too. You leave the light of the physical plane and go into the light in the inner world. But dying is not such a dramatic experience really. Every night you “die” and leave your physical body. It is very similar. Every night mystics leave their physical body, go and meet and converse with other mystics on the inner planes. That’s why they know each other when they meet on the physical plane. Samâdhi, the exalted meditative state, which literally means “holding together completely,” is also a word used to describe dying. Why is that? Because deep contemplation is similar to a death experience; only the silver cord is not separated. This cord is an astral-prânic thread that connects the astral body through the navel to the physical body. It is a little like an umbilical cord. The only full separation comes when the cord is cut at mahâsamâdhi, the true death of the physical body. People die all the time, but if the cord is not broken, they come back. You die all the time. The cord being broken makes for a twenty four-hour consciousness in the inner world, as compared to a sixteen hour consciousness in the physical world.
If a person knows he is terminally ill, that knowledge is a blessing, for he can prepare. He should not hesitate to tell his relatives he is going to die, and that is a wonderful blessing for them, as they can prepare for his great departure. Now all know he has finally arrived at the end of his prârabdha karmas and is going to fly. In turn, family and friends should release him, be happy—he is going to be happy with no physical body—for they know they will be as close to him in his astral and soul body as they were in his physical body.
For Hindus, death is a most exalted state, an incredible moment that you spend your whole life preparing for. Birth is the unhappy occasion. Death should be a big party. He has just gone through his day of Brahma. The sadness at death comes from Western attitudes. When someone dies, that means that section of the jyotisha is finished and he can go and have a great rest and be with intelligent people. It is great inside there and difficult out here.
Everyone dies, but it is a blessing to know when you are going to die, because then you can prepare for it, make a decision whether you are going to be reborn, do intense sâdhanas, make preparations. Heed the wisdom of the Vedas, “When a person comes to weakness, be it through old age or disease, he frees himself from these limbs just as a mango, a fig or a berry releases itself from its stalk.”
Hindus go to special sacred places to die, because that’s where holy people live, in that part of the astral plane. All of the temples in the West are connected to other temples in Sri Lanka and India.
Lord Yama is Lord Restraint, restraining life and getting it started again on the other side. In preparing the body for cremation, embalming should not be done. It is painful to the astral body to have the physical body cut or disturbed seriously within seventy-two hours after death. The soul can see and feel this, and it detains him from going on. As soon as you tamper with his physical body, he gets attached, becomes aware that he has two bodies, and this becomes a problem. Ideally, when you die, your physical body goes up in flames, and immediately you know it’s gone. You now know that the astral body is your body, and you can effortlessly release the physical body. But if you keep the old body around, then you keep the person around, and he is aware that he has two bodies. He becomes earthbound, tied into the Pretaloka, and confused.
For a jîvanmukta, he might want to leave, but some people might want to keep him around for a while for their own benefit. The best way for him is to go off into the hills, to die in the forests where no one knows and none of these questions arise. More than many great sâdhus have done this and do this to this day.
The ideal is to live out one’s Earthly life to its full extent, not to shorten it in any way, for during the elderly years, after ninety and the twenty or thirty years thereafter, the sañchita karmas in the great vault which are waiting to come up in another life begin to unfold to be lived through and resolved in this one. By no means should suicide ever be considered, for it cuts short all karmic developments of the current life and may require additional births to work through the lowest possible experiences still held in the great sañchita vault. Many incarnations may elapse after an untimely self-inflicted death before the soul returns back to the same evolutionary point at which the suicide was committed. Suicide is no escape. It only prolongs the journey.
The goal is realization of Parasiva as the ultimate personal attainment. This is nirvikalpa samâdhi. Savikalpa is the by-product of this. Even having had this experience, if the sâdhana and tapas and discipline are not maintained, mukti, liberation, will not be the product of effort. The knowledge of Parasiva, in its total impact, must impact every area of mind, every nook and cranny of the mind. Therefore, the goal is realization; and liberation from rebirth is the by-product of that essential goal. If a soul becomes realized but still has the desire to come back to finish something, he will come back partially enlightened. Hinduism will be an open book to him, and he will understand all of the basic truths and be able to explain it all naturally. He will find his enlightenment later in life and go on, having experienced what he had to.
Excerpts from “Merging with Siva” by Sivaya Subramuniyaswami