Chapter 8 The Many Faces of Death, Pt 2

The Seal of Ignorance

If we follow the clue given to us by life we shall see that death is a grim and a last reminder of our imperfect state. This imperfection is due to ignorance; ignorance of who we truly are and of the true nature of things, of the oneness and unity underlying this world of apparent division and multiplicity. It is this ignorance born from the womb of a false and illusory sense of the ego-self that constitutes the pain of life and much of its struggle. However, this ignorance itself is not a uniform tearing of the veil lest we are blinded, a premature shedding and its darkness prevent too rapid an efflorescence, an early thing but a continuum with necessary stages of growth. Death of the outer crust of the divine-seed hid safely in the case of ignorance. The repeated experience of death and pain provides the heat needed for ripening the case and prepares the seed within to bear light when it splits open to the sun. Death serves the purpose of creation through opposition. It retards and slows down the movement and tests each element over and over again till all is ready to be delivered to the Light. That is why it is rightly called the dark mother of all things. This dark mother checks us thoroughly for all our weak and tender spots of ignorance, putting her finger where it hurts most. Death and pain are the first teachers of life, who are intent only on training us and care little for the reactions and the tantrums we throw against them. So long as ignorance lasts, death will have right over earth. The end of ignorance will also mean the end of death.

 

The Changing of Our Robes

The soul in us is immortal. It is the body that dies. This is the ancient fundamental truth that each one of us has to rediscover in our own way. When the scales of ignorance fall away from our eyes, the first thing we discover is the eternity and immortality of the divine element in us. This is the true immortality, the immortality of the soul in us. We discover that we are not the body that perishes but the soul that death cannot slay. Weapons cannot cleave or wound it; fire cannot burn it; water cannot wet it, nor the wind dry it. In short, it is independent, free and above the material circumstances of the body. Death, to this new outlook appears as nothing more than a changing of our robes. The sting and sense of tragedy passes away and we see death as simply a temporary station and gateway through which the caravan of life must pass towards its ever-nearing goal. Since whether we know it or not, the wheel of life never really stops, and helplessly, beyond our control, we are driven towards the supreme destination of our soul. Through night and through day, through the adventure of victory and fall, through birth, death and afterlife, the adamantine march of God goes on.

 

The Passport to Immortality

Death to this new vision becomes a spur towards immortality. If it were not for death man would rest content with ignorance and mistake his ego-identity for the true self. What is worse, he would continue to expand the empire of his ego and prolong ignorance and its by-product pain indefinitely. Therefore must we pass repeatedly through the portals of death so as to reach a greater life. Death stands across our path as a stern ticket collector and does not allow any premature passage to the other worlds. By doing this it binds our sight to this material world. This too is a great service, since an early and easy visa for other worlds would so much enamour the soul in its infancy that it may well forget the true field of its work — that is the earth — and keep slipping into the beyond. But death stands in the way and it is only through its dark and narrow portals that we must pass towards the higher hemispheres where death is not nor grief nor pain. This dark tunnel of death through which we sometimes pass is actually a night of God into which we step before emerging into the greater lights of the beyond.

 

The Instrument of God

If we persist in gazing into the eyes of death without fear or terror, without undue pessimism or loss of faith in the mighty creative Energy, the One Original Shakti that has built this many tiered world, then we will discover at the end of our search that death like everything else is an instrument. But an instrument in whose hands? In the hands of Him alone who has hurled these myriad creatures and universes and ages into Time and Space. Unseen by our gross and even subtle senses but visible to the eye of faith and known as intimately real to our deeper heart and soul, His Hand not only creates but also sustains and supports us through all our bitterness and struggle and fall. This Hand of God is ever close to us and keeps in His unshakable grasp the one thing for which our souls have entered into this drama of creation — the crown of conscious immortality, the boon of pure and unmixed Truth and Bliss, the taste of a transcendent Love and inner Peace, the touch of Oneness, the manifestation of an eternal Perfection here upon earth. And again it is His hand that smites and smashes to dust all that must pass out for a greater renewal. We in our Ignorance see a senseless, meaningless, bodiless force, pulling down the empire of our hopes and our fragile castles. But when we grow in vision and strength, then we see that this too is God — Chhinnamasta[1] destroying Her own body by Her own force since it has served its purpose, or Kali dancing before us destroying with a pitiless and fierce love all that is not ready. Our little human ego crushed by Her embrace and unable to bear the pressure of Her intense and all liberating, all purifying fire of love criesin defense. If only it knew that the Hand that smites us is the same hand that supports and succours. The Hand that brings us down is also the Hand that creates and lifts us high. There are no two Gods but only One and He is moved only by the Light and Love in His bosom, in creation as much as in destruction. Death is only an ignorant instrument. Divorced from his one integral truth, he sees only his role. Little does he know that he too is used for shaping out a higher Good and when that happens, he too will realise his true divinity and be transformed by the same Hand that now sustains his mask of ignorance. Already we see God grow up from the stone into the leaf and plant and tree, live and feel in an animal and think and reflect and seek himself in man. Already we see hints of a greater realm touch upon earth and leave its quivering in matter, a touch which comes from a transcendent deathless realm and inspires the prophet tongue and moves the heart of the inwardly attuned sensitive seer-poet. Already God moves ahead tracing the path of a greater Life before us. Despite death, despite hate, despite war, despite failures, the soul in man aspires for love and peace and climbs beyond death to the home of immortality.

 

The Being of Death

All this is he and yet we may ask who he is? Is he real or unreal, is he just a shadow or a palpable being, is he just a formation of the human mind or a person created and deputed by God, is he an original truth or an energy that has deviated from its aim leading to much avoidable confusion? The answers to these questions are the very last ones on death and exceed the limits and scope of the human mind. They belong to the realm of the Spirit, to a domain that transcends the reaches even of our highest mentality. The truth and mystery of death is subtle, one which even the gods know not. So says Death to Nachiketas. Ask not this boon but any other for none knows me. Yet Nachiketas persists and, likewise, there is in all of us a dormant or active Nachiketas whose thirst for knowledge and fire of seeking is not satisfied with the usual answers. Our science and experience of life cannot help us. We have to die while living to know this and few have even attempted it.

In all traditions there have been such rare geniuses of the soul. And their collective experience does affirm that there is indeed such a being who is responsible for the cessation of our earthly existence. And he has a vast and complex organization whose net is cast far and wide and sinks deep into the fabric of our earthly tissue of life. Yet how did this dark mystery come into existence? What secret necessity gave him such an ominous and formidable shape of terror and what force sustains his reign? Here we find even the mystic experience fumbling. He is, that is all, and we must somehow escape his net. But as to the how and why of his existence, there is a hush of conspiracy that hangs around most spiritual philosophies and their supporting vision. The Hindu of course sees his dual role, the twin role of the god of death as well as the god of dharma (here in the sense of a keeper of the law). That explains, symbolically at least, the deeper role that he plays. He is also depicted as carrying a noose in his hands and riding on a buffalo. This also is perhaps a symbolic image. The buffalo is an inert animal, reminding us of the dull inertia towards which everything tends to sink, except that which is given to Light and united with it. The noose here is a paradox since in its function it actually severs the cord with which the soul gets attached to and lost in material life. Therefore its own noose is a kind of reminder to the soul to get rid of the noose of false attachment to material existence. But still the mystery of his origin and dissolution or whatever other destiny remains a question mark.

 

The Transmutation of Death

Are we to forever struggle under his hard and harsh inflexible law, individual cases of escape and partial victories apart? Is his reign as eternal as God’s? To answer that, it is imperative to first understand the origin of death itself.

“There is a very old tradition which narrates this. I am going to tell you the story as one does to children, for in this way you will understand:

‘One day ‘God’ decided to exteriorise himself, objectivise himself, in order to have the joy of knowing himself in detail. So, first of all, he emanated his consciousness (that is to say, he manifested his consciousness) by ordering this consciousness to realise a universe. This consciousness began by emanating four beings, four individualities which were indeed altogether very high beings, of the highest Reality. They were the being of consciousness, the being of love (of Ananda rather), the being of life and the being of light and knowledge — but consciousness and light are the same thing. There we are then: consciousness, love and Ananda, life and truth… And naturally, they were supremely powerful beings… They were what are called in that tradition the first emanations, that is, the first formations. And each one became very conscious of its qualities, its power, its capacities, its possibilities, and, suddenly forgot each in its own way that it was only an emanation and an incarnation of the Supreme. And so this is what happened: when light or Consciousness separated from the divine Consciousness, that is, when it began to think it was the divine Consciousness and that there was nothing other than itself, it suddenly became obscurity and inconscience. And when Life thought that all life was in itself and that there was nothing else but its life and that it did not depend at all upon the Supreme, then its life became death. And when Truth thought that it contained all truth, and that there was no other truth than itself, this Truth became falsehood. And when love or Ananda was convinced that it was the supreme Ananda and that there was no other than itself and its felicity, it became suffering. And that is how the world, which was to have been so beautiful, became so ugly…

“It is said also… that the Divine wanted his creation to be a free creation. He wanted all that went forth from him to be absolutely independent and free in order to be able to unite with him in freedom, not through compulsion. He did not want that they should be compelled to be faithful, compelled to be conscious, compelled to be obedient. They had to do it spontaneously, through the knowledge and conviction that that was much better. So this world was created as a world of total freedom, freedom of choice. And it is in this way that at every moment everyone has the freedom of choice — but with all the consequences. If one chooses well, it is good, but if one chooses ill, ah well, what’s to happen happens — that is what has happened!

“The story may be understood in a much more occult and spiritual sense. But it is like all the stories of the universe: if you want to narrate them so that people may understand, they become stories for children. But if one knows how to see the truth behind the symbols, one understands everything.”[2]

Death therefore is a shadow of God who swallows up all that He has left behind in His blazing trail. He is God’s instrument for destroying imperfect forms. Death sees its dark womb alone as the origin of things. Since its nature is to swallow, it tries to swallow not only the past but also the future and the present. This happens because cut off from its origin and the deeper truth that gave it birth, it forgets God’s Whole. Therefore too its darkness hangs as a veil around the face of the Eternal, slowly uplifted as consciousness evolves and moves further. The day man is ready to see the Eternal face to face and manifest His Perfection in life, that day death will disappear from human life at least, or rather human life will change into life divine, a life free of ignorance and death. This will happen when man has got rid of his ignorance and life has fulfilled itself in God. Death has to be transformed into a being of Life from which it originally emerged. This will become possible as life progressively centers itself on its divine origin and is no more cut off by the veil of ego and ignorance and desire. Death is nothing but life fallen from its purpose of constant progression towards the divine, through a swift and natural efflorescence of the divine element within man. A divinisation of life is therefore also a divinisation of death. When man refuses to live for and by the separative ego and begins to live for the divine not only in his soul as he does now in rare moments and in rare beings, but also in parts of his nature, then the reign of death will end. And that hour will surely come.

For in the march of all-fulfilling Time
The hour must come of the Transcendent’s will:
All turns and winds towards his predestined ends
In Nature’s fixed inevitable course
Decreed since the beginning of the worlds
In the deep essence of created things:
Even there shall come as a high crown of all
The end of Death, the death of Ignorance.
But first high Truth must set her feet on earth
And man aspire to the Eternal’s light
And all his members feel the Spirit’s touch
And all his life obey an inner Force….
The frontiers of the Ignorance shall recede,
More and more souls shall enter into light,
Minds lit, inspired, the occult summoner hear
And lives blaze with a sudden inner flame
And hearts grow enamoured of divine delight
And human wills tune to the divine will,
These separate selves the Spirit’s oneness feel,
These senses of heavenly sense grow capable,
The flesh and nerves of a strange ethereal joy
And mortal bodies of immortality.
A divine force shall flow through tissue and cell
And take the charge of breath and speech and act
And all the thoughts shall be a glow of suns
And every feeling a celestial thrill.
Often a lustrous inner dawn shall come
Lighting the chambers of the slumbering mind;
A sudden bliss shall run through every limb
And Nature with a mightier Presence fill.
Thus shall the earth open to divinity
And common natures feel the wide uplift,
Illumine common acts with the Spirit’s ray
And meet the deity in common things.
Nature shall live to manifest secret God,
The Spirit shall take up the human play,
This earthly life become the life divine.[3]

The Fear of Death

“Death is but changing of our robes to wait
In wedding garments at the Eternal’s gate.”
 
“Although Death walks beside us on Life’s road,
A dim bystander at the body’s start
And a last judgment on man’s futile works,
Other is the riddle of its ambiguous face:
Death is a stair, a door, a stumbling stride
The soul must take to cross from birth to birth,
A grey defeat pregnant with victory,
A whip to lash us towards our deathless state.
The inconscient world is the spirit’s self-made room,
Eternal Night shadow of eternal Day.
Night is not our beginning nor our end;
She is the dark Mother in whose womb we have hid
Safe from too swift a waking to world-pain.
We came to her from a supernal Light,
By Light we live and to the Light we go.”
 
“A secret Will compels us to endure.
Our life’s repose is in the Infinite;
It cannot end, its end is Life supreme.
Death is a passage, not the goal of our walk…”

Sri Aurobindo


[1] The great goddess who destroyed her own head into many parts. An incarnation of Kali who destroys herself when it seems she is destroying others. All is herself and her destruction is also an act of love. This is the symbol.

[2] The Mother: CWM Vol. 5, pp. 372-374

[3] Sri Aurobindo: Savitri, pp. 708, 710-11

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