The Inner Dimension of Death
From an inner and occult point of view therefore death seems to encompass at least three distinct stages. To understand this we need to take a look at what holds the different organs of the body together in a smooth and harmonious functioning. Though the organs appear as separate and distinct entities, they are linked both anatomically as well as physiologically, mainly through the nerves, blood, glands and the lymphatics. Each is a specialised group of cells, yet they do not work in isolation but with a fine, intricate, delicate as well as complex balance that would beat the orderliness of a megalopolis. Where does this intelligent order come from except as an outer reflection of a vast and concealed intelligence hidden and working from behind in matter. Much in the same way as an event’s coordinator who smoothly controls all different aspects of an event, even while not being directly involved in each aspect, this intelligence too, coordinates, orders, sets to motion a smooth functioning of the diverse systems in our material and other universes, from the galaxies to the atoms and subatomic particles. It differentiates itself at each level and plane of consciousness and each individual particle and aggregates, to further co-ordinate the billions of processes in our manifold and complex universe. The ancient seers saw this as a Consciousness-Force that permeates, operates and works everywhere. But this Consciousness-Force is obviously not a mechanical inconscient energy as is evident in its working at all levels but a vast and supreme Intelligent-Will that knows its steps and goal. This Intelligent-Will works in the body also to hold the diverse elements and processes together. In man, the mental being, its primary seat is in the brain, and it holds the replica of the body as a whole in the physical consciousness behind, so that the gross outer manifested body can be compared for faults and rectified to the extent possible. This central Will must abdicate first before the smooth and harmoniously coordinated functioning of the body begins to give way to a disorder, dispersal and death. The stages therefore:
First, is the stage of Decentralisation. The universal will that held the body as a single unit or its representative decides to withdraw. This is the most important unseen and occult-determining factor. It is this Will that gives us the sense of a cohesive whole and coordinates its manifold events despite the diversity of functioning of the different body tissues and organs. In the absence of such a Will the body organs may well end up destroying each other since each is like a little primordial organism specialised in operations and symbiotically linked to other organs/organisms. The force that holds all these together is the Will that operates in the organism. It is the same force that holds the atomic constituents and the distant stars and galaxies together and is therefore universal. Modern science recognises such a force of cohesion between the molecules as well as the cells. Yet it is not a blind and mechanical force but an Intelligent-Will as is evident from its operations. It is this Will that begins to decentralise thereby starting a chain reaction of disintegration, dispersal and finally death and decomposition.
Centralisation is indeed the process of focal concentration necessary for creating anything. For without such a centralising concentration there would be nothing but an indeterminate chaos. The universal planes of consciousness themselves are formed through a process of concentration and condensation of the One Consciousness. These universal planes in their turn get focused and reflected in an individual once again through the same process. The soul in us chooses the elements out of universal nature and channelises them through its Will so as to form a unique body with its unique life-mind constitution based upon its need of certain experiences for growth and mastery. It is like a gymnast choosing certain equipment out of a wide variety so as to develop one aspect of his body through a certain set of physical exercises. So too the secret soul in us chooses certain formations of nature including the difficulties and challenges so as to develop certain sides of our self-experience in each birth. The choice is made based upon its past experiences, the need for a certain developmental training in the present and most importantly, its hidden agenda for the future. It is this and not a mechanical machinery of karma and heredity that forms us. And it is from this deepest standpoint that we say that our soul is the author of our fate. Heredity, environment, karma are all nothing else but machineries and processes of nature that the soul uses to make its choices. It chooses our life and circumstance, it chooses the experiences of life and when the need for a particular experience is over and it can go no further, then it chooses to move out of a particular formation of nature, rest for a while to gather the essence of its experiences, and return back for further growth. The Will of the soul binds it to the earth with a divine purpose and not some illusion or accident and it is the Will of the soul that makes it leave this house of matter and not some frightful agency of death.
Second, is the stage of Withdrawal. There starts a process of withdrawal wherein the mind withdraws followed by the life-force. This goes on till the body enters into a state of suspension of life activities. Here the vital functions stop but the body cells continue to hold the life-force reserves. The connection has not yet been severed and can re-establish itself under certain circumstances. This is the twilight zone wherein medical science may declare a person dead since his vital functions have stopped, yet there is some life in the body and therefore return is possible. It is a tacit recognition of this possibility that has led to a whole science of resuscitation. It has led to the inclusion of a new criterion in the certification of death.
A third and final stage supervenes — the Point of No-Return. Herein the life-force has withdrawn near-completely and whatever is left is busy with the process of disintegration. It is at this point that decomposition begins to set in and the being that inhabited the body moves on from the world that links the earth to the beyond.
Medical science is not yet aware of the first stage. It recognises the second stage in its outward aspects only and terms it as Clinical Death. The last is of course well known as the stage of decomposition or Cellular Death though here too, it is only the visible process (to the naked eye) that is described without any reference to the inner process. That leaves a big gap in our understanding. It is therefore that medical science is unable to explain cases of return, of NDE (near death experience) an of personality changes known in some of those who have survived death.
It is on this basis that we can also understand the pain of death. A question is often asked, is death painful? The answer is a yes and no. It is not painful once the central being has detached itself completely from the form and earth atmosphere. This may be easy for yogis and the spiritually accomplished but is by no means easy for the normal earth-bound mass of mankind. Though insensible to the outer surface, there is a real pain of death that arises due to a tearing of the life-force from the body and the subtle nerves that feed it. These nerves built of a subtle substance are attached to the gross body much as the physical nerves are. Their cutting asunder leads to an agonising wrench that constitutes the ‘pain of death’. That is why there is so much attachment to life in the body and if the euthanasia enthusiasts were to know or experience it once, they will be likely to change their views regarding this matter.
“What is it that the Soul draws out from the body when it casts off this partial physical robe which enveloped not it, but part of its members? What is it whose issuing out gives this wrench, this swift struggle and pain of parting, creates this sense of violent divorce? The answer does not help us much. It is the subtle or psychical frame which is tied to the physical by the heart-strings, by the cords of life-force, of nervous energy which have been woven into every physical fibre. This the Lord of the body draws out and the violent snapping or the rapid or tardy loosening of the life-cords, the exit of the connecting force constitutes the pain of death and its difficulty.”
The Tragedy of Inner Death
Thus we see that death is not just the stoppage of the body machine but even more importantly the driver-soul leaving behind a broken and frail machine. As the driver moves away, the force of life using the fuel of matter soon wears out. The machinery thence comes to a complete halt. We may envisage a situation wherein the soul leaves the body but the machinery continues. In such cases certain forces of the vital world may possess or inhabit the body temporarily and use it for its own destructive purposes. Such instances of a vital possession may arise following a seemingly spontaneous recovery or after an artificial resuscitation. The hallmark of such an event is a sudden personality change for the worse. Since it is the soul that gives man his true value, its absence leaves the field of the body a prey to the animal and demoniac forces from the nether worlds. There is a sudden downward tendency characterised by an increasing propensity to satisfy the crude and animal aspects of nature, a turn towards cruelty, an absence of faith and will, an absence of the urge to progress even outwardly, a missing of the finer and nobler movements that constitute our humanity, an undue appetite for vulgar display of power, wealth and sex. Such instances have been recorded in human history and passed off as psychotic madness due to brain damage but whose inner significance is yet to be discovered.
Man harbours dangerous forces in his house.
The Titan and the Fury and the Djinn
Lie bound in the subconscient’s cavern pit
And the Beast grovels in his antre den:
Dire mutterings rise and murmur in their drowse.
Insurgent sometimes raises its huge head
A monstrous mystery lurking in life’s deeps,
The mystery of dark and fallen worlds,
The dread visages of the adversary Kings.
The dreadful powers held down within his depths
Become his masters or his ministers;
Enormous they invade his bodily house,
Can act in his acts, infest his thought and life.
This is a graphic description of certain severe forms of madness. Whatever be the outer cause, the real inner reason is always a possession (except in certain organic brain disorder). The ‘possession’ is not just a being but more importantly a force and a consciousness. And since everything in this world is essentially a play of consciousness and forces at different levels interacting with each other, here too this dark and clouded force of a lower consciousness disrupts the links of thought, colours our feelings with suspicion and fear or an exaggerated self-importance and undue vanity, alters the brain chemistry by filling the cells with a perverse force and finally creates confusion and forgetfulness; the soul unable to find the right instruments for its growth and self-expression decides to depart, and that indeed is the inner death. With the departure of the soul, there departs from us faith and will, hope and courage, love and light. What remains is an empty shell like an automaton. The body continues to live supported by an inert and dark force of life that drives it only to satisfy certain gross animal propensities or else turns it into a dumb unthinking stone that can neither think nor feel like a human being. Drugs work only at the last step of the process and for some time alter the balance since at least the physical substance (which is the main instrument of expression and medium of growth) is prevented from disruption. But they are not enough. In others, the disorder silently and ominously creeps into the cells and tissues till the man gradually turns from good to evil like the black magician and cannibal in J.K. Rowling’s books, or like Hitler, Mussolini and the perpetuators of Tianamen in real life. The gory history of many dictators is witness to what happens next.
Impotent to quell his terrible prisoners,
Appalled the householder helpless sits above,
Taken from him his house is his no more…
This evil Nature housed in human hearts
A foreign inhabitant, a dangerous guest:
The soul that harbours it it can dislodge,
Expel the householder, possess the house.
Thus, Faith and Will are in their essence spiritual elements and derive from the inmost soul in us. Faith is the reflection of knowledge and Will the reflection of power, the two things that constitute the divine element within us along with that other element termed Ananda or a deep unconditional joy of being. Broken and deflected from their true purposes in our outer nature, they are yet the reflections or shadows of something true and deep in us. However, such a complete break is rare for it would mean an extreme form of regression (reverting back to a previous developmental stage of our evolution) to an animal existence. Nature usually does not allow such drastic regressions but we do encounter it sometimes in extreme cases. That as we have seen is indeed the real tragedy. The body’s death is only a temporary pause in the soul’s journey but the death of Faith and Will, of godward and upward aspiration, is a great fall and loss, a defeat of the soul at least for that particular lifetime.
Often the pilgrim on the Eternal’s road
Ill-lit from clouds by the pale moon of Mind,
Or in devious by-ways wandering alone,
Or lost in deserts where no path is seen,
Falls overpowered by her lion leap,
A conquered captive under her dreadful paws…
The mortal perishes to God and Light,
An Adversary governs heart and brain…
His subtle defeatist murmur slays the faith…
From the veiled sanctuary the God retires…
This is the tragedy of the inner death
When forfeited is the divine element
And only a mind and body live to die.
The Pervertors of Life and Death
The presence of such demoniac forces in some form or the other have always been known in every civilisation. Indian yogis and mystics have classified them into three main types:
The asuras or the disturbers of light, who inflict doubt and pervert truth to suit their darker ends. These act mostly in the domain of the ordinary mind giving it an entirely wrong turn of thoughts and a distorted interpretation of all religious, scriptural and spiritual truths.
The rakshasas or the eaters of light, who eat away will and aspiration and faith thereby diverting all efforts towards hideous and diabolic ends. They act mainly in the domain of the vital life parts in man, giving to these an excess and inordinate sense of power and ambition, leading to its misuse for entirely selfish and egoistic purposes.
The pisachas or the robbers of light, stealthily enter through the doors of the senses exciting lower vital propensities thereby depriving man of whatever inner gains he may have made through the touch of his soul. Their field of action is in the most unguarded and vulnerable parts of the lower vital nature with its animal desires and give to such craving, a perverted hedonistic element with an excess of lust and greed.
It may be difficult for a sceptic shut in the prison-house of matter to appreciate that there are other and occult dimensions of our being and existence. Nevertheless, the evidence comes through the experiences of humanity, that there are indeed hidden levels of the universe whose nature unfolds before us sometimes. One such everyday entry into the inner realms is during the body’s sleep, the other comes through the hallucinations of a psychotic. The full and conscious experience of these realms lies with the mystic and his visions and voices. Whether admitted by the die-hard sceptic or not, nevertheless the normal ordinary life of humanity is in any case an easy field for their action since the soul parts in us are relatively underdeveloped.
But even the relatively refined and developed human being, the pilgrim of truth has to safeguard against these beings that are on the watch out for those who are humanly striving to escape their fiefdom. It is not easy to play the detective upon them since they come wearing many appealing masks. It is only an awakened soul sense, a sincere aspiration unmixed with lower motives, and an unflinching trust in God or the Master which can save one from this inner downfall that is a far greater tragedy than the body’s death. If the trust and faith are missing then one normally goes through the full curve of the experience, touches rock bottom if need be, then comes up again, invariably so since whether acknowledged through faith or unacknowledged by our outer nature, the deeper truth of soul and God and Grace are always there and stand behind the drama of life, to intervene and rescue and succour. Once the necessity of the dark experience is over, the being comes up again, the Will in us restarts its titanic climb after a period of inertia, faith wakes up again after a long or short period of slumber, hope is rekindled in the human heart and the Lord of Life resumes his rounds through the upward spiral of his journey.
Here must the traveller of the upward way —
For daring Hell’s kingdoms winds the heavenly route —
Pause or pass slowly through that perilous space,
A prayer upon his lips and the great Name…
Only were safe who kept God in their hearts:
Courage their armour, faith their sword, they must walk,
The hand ready to smite, the eye to scout,
Casting a javelin regard in front,
Heroes and soldiers of the army of Light.
By its very nature it cannot perish but rise again and again till it has charted all time’s curve, till it has discovered at last God, Freedom, Light, Immortality. The soul that has once taken the upward curve cannot rest and returns again and again till it arrives. The path shines once again and the soul relieved of passage through the inner night lifts up its head once again towards the sun. And above all we must remember the greatest truth of Grace that guards us in our passage through the Unseen and the Unknown.
But there is a guardian power, there are Hands that save,
Calm eyes divine regard the human scene.
 Sri Aurobindo: Essays in Philosophy and Yoga, Vol.13, pp.274-75
 Could the latter part of King Solomon’s life be a reflection of this inner death? A seemingly just ruler in his earlier years he is supposed to have turned into an unreasonable and cruel tyrant in the later part of his life.
 Sri Aurobindo: Savitri, p.480
 Sri Aurobindo: Savitri, pp.481-82
 Sri Aurobindo: Savitri, pp.224-25
 Sri Aurobindo: Savitri, pp.210-11
 Sri Aurobindo: Savitri, p.482