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On Death

by Swami Veda Bharati

October 1998

We all begin in silence, pass through the music and the song of life, and
return to silence. Silence is eternal, the underlying stream. Life, as we know
it, as a process, is only from one short end to another short end - brief. The
eternal life that we speak of is the life force ever in silence. In this, the state,
up to birth and the state from the point of the so-called death, is one and the
same - identical.

I leave this room in which I was with you. I enter another room. For your
eyes, I disappeared. That absence of appearance is a silence given to your
sight. I go to the next room, and those who were there say a child is born
and rejoice. Over the same event of my leaving one room and entering
another room, you grieve, they rejoice. Thus it is that all the sages and the
saints of the past have spoken of death contemptuously, have said that it is a
myth, a figment of imagination. Something produced by our fears. Not
something substantial that we fear, but something that our fear has
produced. Those who have demolished the myth are the realized ones.

Many of you may have read a text called the Vidura-niti. It is the teaching of
the wise elder named Vidura in the Mahabharata. After he has given his
teachings to the blind king, Dhrtarashtra on life and its principles and folly,
Dhrtarashtra has one remaining doubt. He asks Vidura about the meaning
of death.

And Vidura says, “I’m afraid I’m not qualified to answer this question.”

“How would I have my question answered,” asks the blind king. “The
greatest one who may guide you on this is a great sage known as
Sanatsujata. You need to ask him.”

“Where will I find him?” asks Dhrtarashtra. “How will I know him?”

“There is not much effort required,” says Vidura. “Simply close your eyes
and remember him. That is how the disembodied saints, the realized ones,
who are beyond death, manifest themselves when someone truly deeply
remembers them.”

The king closes his eyes and intently remembers the sage, and the sage
manifests himself and appears before them. And the king asks him the
question of death. Sanatsujata says there is no such thing as death. Like
theBhagavad Gita and the Vidura-niti I have just mentioned, there is a text
which is part of the Mahabharata, one of most deeply philosophical text
called Sanatsjatiya, the teachings of Sanatsujata, (someday we may study
together), but the statement that appears again and again and again is that
death is a myth.

Why is it we call it a myth? The question arises: What is it that dies? Who is
it that dies? The body as we know it is a composition. A compound, a very
complex compound of chemicals. There is nothing more to the body. A
compound must discompose in time. No compound can last forever. It is a
simple law of nature. When one goes through what you call the process of
dying, says the Upanishad, the sage Uddalaka teaching his son Shvetaketu
says that at that moment, the speech is withdrawn into prana. Prana is
withdrawn into the mind. Mind is withdrawn into an inner light, the
principle of tejas which is an emanation of the spiritual Self, Atman, and
that tejas, the emanation, the corona of the rays of that spiritual Self, the
Atman, is withdrawn into the Atman itself.

When people approach a dying person and ask him, do you recognize me?
So long as his speech is not withdrawn into prana and prana is not
withdrawn into the mind, he says I recognize you. Yes, I know you. But as
his consciousness elevates itself, is withdrawn, he no longer recognizes you.
As one goes through the dying process, something very sublime occurs. One
loses the awareness of the body. Some principle of the speech remains. The
speech is withdrawn, and then one’s consciousness is totally that of prana
force, knows himself to be prana. From there, he rises to the next state of
consciousness, knows only the mind. Rises from there, and knows only the
rays of light that are emanating from the Self and is absorbed in the
consciousness of those and then further into the Atman itself.

Not everyone may be aware of even this process going on but especially
those who are blessed to be initiated by a great sage, great saint, those who
have received a mantra, they are guided. Death, our Guru Dev Swami Rama
says, is a habit of the body. When he was preparing to leave the body, he
had his disciples compile his final work titled Sacred Journey. At that time,
we did not realize he was speaking of his own forthcoming sacred journey,
and it is in that he has said death is a habit of the body.

Elsewhere, in the book titled The Path of Fire and Light, he says those who
are realized ones rejoice at the prospect of dropping their bodies. Then he
has said repeatedly those who have been initiated with a sacred mantra
within a genuine tradition that has an enlightened being as the Guru, then
the consciousness of that mantra remains. As the process of death begins in
such beings, the mantra comes on as though the entire cosmos, the entire
universe, as though all the devis, rishis, saints, sages are, all are singing his
mantra, and his awareness is absorbed and that mantra then gently leads
him through these various stages that I have just described and the
momentum of the past karma takes him to the next life, but the mantra
guides him through.

Therefore, for those who are on the path of enlightenment, the experience of
death is like that of Nachiketas in the Katha Upanishad. He goes into the
realm of death seeks and finds him, finds out its secret, and comes back.
And what he has told us of that secret is studied and read with keen
awareness by all the yogis, all the practitioners of the spiritual science.

I’m not saying these things simply by way of giving solace. I’m not saying
this only to console the grief-stricken. This is the reality. This is the truth.
As to our worldly awareness, of the way we perceive life and death, you
know in the great epic Ramayana, Bharata finds his way into the forest and
falls at the feet of his elder brother, Rama. “Brother, our father has left this
world, has died.” Rama who had cultivated himself speaks to his younger
brother who is not so well cultivated and says some verses that are recorded
in the Ramayana -

All things gathered end in being scattered. All risings end inevitably in
falling. All unions have their natural end in separation. Not ends in dying, it
does not end, but we perceive its end as dying. As a fruit ripe on the tree has
no other fear and no other danger but the fear and danger of falling, so
being once born has no other danger and fear but the danger and fear of
dying. All our other fears are part of this fear. People rejoice as the sun rises,
enjoy the sight of the sunset, celebrate the changes of seasons, and greet
each other with the greeting of Happy New Year.

But with each sunrise and with each sunset, with each change of season with
each year passing, they do not realize death day by day, sunrise to sunset,
season to season, year to year, their karmically allotted life span is
diminishing. As two logs of wood, oh, Bharata may fall from two different
trees in two different forests and float down in two different tributaries and
then come to come to the main river, and there, by a force of waves and
wind, they may join together, floating down the river as companions. And
then another wave, another gust of wind, and the two separate and go their
way. Oh, Bharata, as a pedestrian walking on foot may greet someone who
is going on a fast chariot with speedy steeds and says, you go along ahead. I,
too, am coming behind you on the same path. So, oh, Bharata, the sons and
friends and kinsmen and relatives and the treasures and wealth come
together, and in due time, separate and go their way. So our father has gone
on the same path as how many ancestors of ours have already gone and we
too are going in the same direction.
Said the Buddha: In how many lifetimes from times almost eternal, in how
many births have you cried for how many mothers and fathers and sons and
brothers, and sisters, and relatives and kinsmen and other beloved ones?
He said if you were to collect all those tears from those past lives, you would
make a whole ocean. Now you are adding a few drops. Do you still grieve for

So, just as that grief has passed, let this grief also pass. Understand the law
of karma. Our acts of the body, speech and mind, leave their cumulative
imprints on the subtle body.

Now it takes three persons to have a birth: the mother, the father, and the
soul to be born at the right time, and the right karma. The mother marries a
father; the would-be mother marries the would-be father because that is
how her karma will be fulfilled. He will marry her because through her his
karma will be fulfilled. From the moment of that marriage, you pool your
karma. From that moment, you cannot say who has given how much
happiness, who has granted how much pleasure, who has caused how much
pain. It is all pooled together and enjoyed or suffered jointly.

Then another soul whose karma can be fulfilled can ripen only in the
presence of that chemistry which the mother and father have created
karmically. So according to his karma, now he comes here and his karma
will be fulfilled because of the temperament, choices, inclinations of the
mother and the father and the sister who is not yet born and now comes the
soul who is to be a sister. Whose karma is to be fulfilled by having such and
such brother? Such and such mother? Such and such father?

And when the force of that momentum created at the moment of the last
death which the Yoga Sutras has called mūrchana (moorchana), when that
momentum is exhausted, there is not one single moment you can hold back
that person. You will grab into the breezes and the wind. You will grope to
catch hold of the empty sky but no. There is no way you can hold back that
soul, and in any case, again the question arises who dies?

It is said that Atman, the spiritual Self is like akasha. Like this vast space
indivisible, intangible, unlimited. Here I cup my two hands together. What
have I done? Here I have made a clay pot. I’ve enclosed a piece of the sky
inside. Have I really divided the sky when I take this clay pot from point A
to point B, from one end of this room to the other end of this room? Is the
sky, the spaced inside it moved? Does anything happen to that akasha?
Nothing happens. That clay pot bursts. Shall we say that the akasha is now
liberated or shall we say where is the akasha that was within that clay pot
gone? So it is thus that you ask where did the soul go. Who dies? Does the
shard of the clay pot die? This body. the clay pot that is referred to as ghata,
containing within it the space. Space like spiritual Self , also that akasha.
This ghata, this clay pot, does the clay pot die? Does a lump of clay die?
Who dies? Does Atman die?

This shawl, this clothing I am wearing, does this clothing die? I take off this
shawl. Then is the shawl dead or am I dead by removing that shawl, by
removing that garment? Understand the reality. When you really analyze
and then contemplate and then meditate and then realize you find that
death is a myth. Those who understand this principle they say when you
have seen the oneness of Atman what grief, what attachment, can there be?
What attachment, what grief can there be? The Upanishads have said,
therefore, realize that one. He who is inside the Earth, that is this Earthly
body, is inside the Earth. Who knows this Earth from within, this Earthly
being from within? Whom the Earthly being the Earth does not know. Know
that one. In a very long passage the Upanishad goes on to say the same
thing of the waters and the fires and the mind, and then says he who is
inside that death the principle of mortality, inside that death whom the
death itself does not know but who knows the death? That Atman, the Self
of yours. The indwelling one is amrita, immortal.

The prayer that we have, the Mrityunjaya prayer, the prayer of the death
conqueror, prayer of the death conquer, it is not a prayer to be removed
from death. It is not a prayer to be released from death. It is a prayer for
moksha. May I be released. May I be liberated. May I attain moksha from
bondage that is death. Bondage is the death, the karmic bondage. It is for
this reason that when a liberated being leaves the body, at least at that time,
one is supposed to rejoice at his liberation. We don’t. That is our ignorance,
but for him it is a moment of greatest pleasure. The greatest reunion - the
entry into that mother silence from which he or she was born.

If you do not feel attuned to the process I have described of moving from the
body consciousness and speech to prana, prana to mind and so forth, look
at your sleeping process. What happens? The same thing happens. You
withdraw from the body. Do you grieve? Do others grieve that you have
fallen asleep because you have withdrawn from the body and are not

The yogis take to the path of meditation. In the first half of this century was
a great sage named Ramana Maharishi. Blessed are they who have seen
him and those who have read his writings. You can go and make a
pilgrimage to the town of Madurai. That room is still preserved where at the
age of thirteen he said to himself this death, death, death, people are so
afraid of, what exactly is this death? Let me die, and find out. Master of his
life force and consciousness, he lies down and dies. Oh, ah, ha, this is what
they call death. He, the being of light, is standing there watching the clay
pot that is the body. Is this what they are afraid of? Well, I still have some
use for this body. I better not die right now. Let me get back into the body
again, and he gets up. A few years later he walks out of the house in time to
be known as one of the greatest enlightened sages.

When we meditate we go through the same process voluntarily. You know

there is a principle of life. What will be snatched away from you
involuntarily, let that happen voluntarily. Before you wealth is snatched
away and you suffer its loss, give it away and enjoy the act of having shared.
So also with this physical life process. A meditator voluntarily dies every
day. He goes through the same process. Withdraws his consciousness
together with the mantra from the physical awareness to prana, from prana
to mind and as he advances to the inner light which is an emanation of
Atman and from that consciousness knows the Atman itself. This is daily
vaccination of a small dose of death to realize our immortality.

The moments of separation called death especially of those who are

initiated on the path should not be moments of grief but reminders of the
principle of immortality. I pray that all of you realize in yourself this
principle of immortality. Shanti. Shanti. Shanti.