(The following excerpts have been taken from Life After Life written by Raymond Moody.)
The Myth of Our 3-Dimensional Universe
Many people have made remarks to the effect that, “There are just no words to express what I am trying to say”, or “They just don’t make adjectives and superlatives to describe this”. One woman put this to me very succinctly when she said, “Now, there is a real problem for me as I’m trying to tell you this, because all the words I know are three-dimensional. As I was going through this, I kept thinking, “Well, when I was taking geometry, they always told me there were only three dimensions, and I always just accepted that. But they were wrong. There are more”. And, of course, our world — the one we’re living in now — is three dimensional, but the next one definitely isn’t. And that’s why it’s so hard to tell you this. I have to describe it to you in words that are three dimensional. That’s as close as I can get to it, but it’s not really adequate. I can’t really give you a complete picture.”
The Experience of Peace and Calm
Many people describe extremely pleasant feelings and sensations during the early stages of their experiences. After a severe head injury, one man’s vital signs were undetectable. As he says, “At the point of injury there was a momentary flash of pain, but then all the pain vanished. I had the feeling of floating in a dark space. The day was bitterly cold, yet while I was in that blackness all I felt was warmth and the most extreme comfort I have ever experienced…
I remembered thinking, ‘I must be dead.’”
The Dark Tunnel of Death
During a severe illness, a man came so near death that his pupils dilated and his body was growing cold. He says, “I was in an utterly black, dark void. It is very difficult to explain, but I felt as if I were moving in a vacuum, just through blackness. Yet, I was quite conscious. It was like being in a cylinder which had no air in it. It was a feeling of limbo, of being half-way here, and half-way somewhere else.”
Out of the Body
“I was seventeen years old and my brother and I were working at an amusement park. One afternoon, we decided to go swimming, and there were quite a few of the other young people who went in with us. Someone said, ‘Let’s swim across the lake’. I had done that on numerous occasions, but that day for some reason, I went down, almost in the middle of the lake… I kept bobbing up and down, and all of a sudden, it felt as though I were away from my body, away from everybody, in space by myself. Although I was stable, staying at the same level, I saw my body in the water about three or four feet away, bobbing up and down. I viewed my body from the back and slightly to the right side. I still felt as though I had an entire body form, even while I was outside my body. I had an airy feeling that’s almost indescribable. I felt like a feather.”
A young informant states, “It was about two years ago, and I had just turned nineteen. I was driving a friend of mine home in my car, and as I got to this particular intersection downtown, I stopped and looked both ways, but I didn’t see a thing coming. I pulled on out into the intersection and as I did I heard my friend yell at the top of his voice. When I looked I saw a blinding light, the head-lights of a car that was speeding towards us. I heard this awful sound — the side of the car being crushed in — and there was just an instant darkness, an enclosed space. It was very quick. Then, I was sort of floating about five feet above the street, about five yards away from the car, I’d say, and I heard the echo of the crash dying away. I saw people come running up and crowding around the car, and I saw my friend get out of the car, obviously in shock. I could see my own body in the wreckage among all those people, and could see them trying to get it out. My legs were all twisted and there was blood all over the place.”
Seeing the Body
Emotional responses to this strange state vary widely. Most people report, at first, a desperate desire to get back into their bodies but they do not have the faintest idea about how to proceed. Others recall that they were very afraid, almost panicky. Some, however, report more positive reactions to their plight, as in this account:
“I became very seriously ill, and the doctor put me in the hospital. This one morning a solid gray mist gathered around me, and I felt myself get out of my body, and I looked back and I could see myself on the bed below and there was no fear. It was quiet — very peaceful and serene. I was not in the least bit upset or frightened. It was just a tranquil feeling, and it was something which I didn’t dread. I felt that maybe I was dying, and I felt that if I did not get back to my body, I would be dead, gone.”
Dying persons are likely first to become aware of their spiritual bodies in the guise of their limitations. They find, when out of their physical bodies, that although they may try desperately to tell others of their plight, no one seems to hear them. This is illustrated very well in this excerpt from the story of a woman who suffered a respiratory arrest and was carried to the emergency room, where a resuscitation attempt was made. “I saw them resuscitating me. It was really strange. I wasn’t very high; it was almost like I was on a pedestal, but not above them to any great extent, just maybe looking over them. I tried talking to them but nobody could hear me, nobody would listen to me.
“The doctors and nurses were pounding on my body to try to get IV’s started and to get me back, and I kept trying to tell them, ‘Leave me alone. All I want is to be left alone. Quit pounding me’. But they did not hear me. So I tried to move their hands to keep them from beating on my body, but nothing would happen. I couldn’t get anywhere. It was like — I don’t really know what happened, but I couldn’t move their hands. It looked like I was touching their hands and I tried to move them — yet when I would give it the stroke, their hands were still there. I don’t know whether my hand was going through it, around it, or what. I didn’t feel any pressure against their hands when I was trying to move them.”
Perception in the new body is both like and unlike perception in the physical body. In some ways, the spiritual form is more limited. As we saw, kinesthesia, as such, is absent. In a couple of instances, persons have reported that they had no sensation of temperature, while in most cases feelings of comfortable ‘warmth’ are reported. No one among all of my cases has reported any odours or tastes while out of their physical bodies. On the other hand, senses which correspond to the physical senses of vision and of hearing are very definitely intact in the spiritual body, and seem actually heightened and more perfect than they are in physical life. One man says that while he was ‘dead’ his vision seemed incredibly more powerful and, in his words, “I just can’t understand how I could see so far”. A woman who recalled this experience notes, “It seemed as if this spiritual sense had no limitations, as if I could look any where and everywhere”.
The Being of Light
What is perhaps the most incredible common element in the accounts I have studied, and is certainly the element which has the most profound effect upon the individual, is the encounter with a very bright light. Typically, at its first appearance this light is dim, but it rapidly gets brighter until it reaches an unearthly brilliance. Yet, even though this light (usually said to be white or ‘clear’) is of an indescribable brilliance, many make the specific point that it does not in any way hurt their eyes, or dazzle them, or keep them from seeing other things around them (perhaps because at this point they don’t have physical ‘eyes’ to be dazzled).
Despite the light’s unusual manifestation, however, not one person has expressed any doubt whatsoever that it was a being, a being of light. Not only that, it is a personal being. It has a very definite personality. The love and the warmth which emanate from this being to the dying person are utterly beyond words, and he feels completely surrounded by it and taken up in it, completely at ease and accepted in the presence of this being. He senses an irresistible magnetic attraction to this light. He is ineluctably drawn to it.
Sensation of Being Pulled Back
In a few instances, persons have expressed the feeling that the love or prayers of others have in effect pulled them back from death regardless of their own wishes. A woman told me, “The doctor had already said that I was gone, but I lived through it. Yet, the experience I had been through was so joyous, I had no bad feelings at all. As I came back, I opened my eyes, and my sister and my husband saw me. I could see their relief, and tears were pouring from their eyes. I could see that it was a relief to them that I did survive. I felt as though I had been called back — magnetised back — through the love of my sister and my husband. Since then, I have believed that other people can draw you back.”
In the Moonlight
…A strange unreal gospel Science brings,
Being animals to act as angels might;
Mortals we must put forth immortal might
And flutter in the void celestial wings…
Through chemistry she seeks the source of life,
Nor knows the mighty laws that she has found
Are Nature’s bye-laws merely, meant to ground
A grandiose freedom building peace by strife.
The organ for the thing itself she takes,
The brain for mind, the body for the soul,
Nor has she patience to explore the whole,
But like a child a hasty period makes.
“It is enough,” she says, “I have explored
The whole of being; nothing now remains
But to put details in and count my gains.”
So she deceives herself, denies her Lord…
The Inflexible Iron Law of Death
and the Dilemmas of Human Law
Ethical Issues involving Death and the Dying
Death raises many an ethical question and as with everything else related to death, none have a simple answer. The reason is that we do not know with certainty the state of an individual who is dead or is in coma. We do not know whether there is an inner psychological life going on during coma or after death, independent of the body. We do not know whether the surface choice of a man reflects the choice of his soul or is it simply rendering into mental terms, the recoil from pain of the nervous and sensational parts of his being. For man is not made up of one piece. Our reason often cancels the choice made by our emotions. Our emotions can be at war and at variance with our vital desires. Our sentiments may play at cross purposes with our idealism, not to speak of the inmost soul within us which may not consent or agree to the ignorant choice made by our surface being! The physicians and caretakers, well-wishers included, are not much help either since it is not only the man on the deathbed but all those around him who are also afflicted by a general ignorance of these deeper issues.
So how are we to decide about the ethical issues arising out of death? The one simple, practical answer is that no hard and fast rule can be made about these things. Each case has to be dealt with as uniquely independent. The person who is called upon to decide has to be guided by the highest light available to him. This highest light may be the prevalent norm during his time or else that other equally ignorant and imperfect but nevertheless partial light of reason. The best of course is if the person can command the deeper vision of his soul. But that is rare. So until that happens, the answer is to do whatever best one thinks or can, without letting oneself sway towards one extreme or the other, and by offering the act to God within, seeking for the growth of a deeper vision. As long as one does not have the arrogance of the intellect but instead is armed with an opening to a higher power, this greater seeing will dawn sooner or later. And even if it isn’t soon enough, this act of offering with humility will be like a corrective to balance the general state of our ignorance and its many errors. It is against this background and with the greater Light now available to us than the narrow and ill-lit lamp of rational ethics or an equally imperfect body of religious or social conventions that we shall turn to the specific issues.
To name a few of the ethical dilemmas, there is euthanasia, artificial life support, resuscitation, post-mortem examination, abortions, suicide victims and survivors, homicide, capital punishment and animal experiments. A lot depends upon the premises we hold dear to our heart, our individual belief systems and conditioning to existing norms. It is difficult to generalise. For many are the strands along which our nature moves and what is best in one situation may not be applicable in another. To hold one single principle or standard, however high, as an infallible ideal to be followed by all under every circumstance may be a dangerous oversimplification of human nature and its possible movements. At the same time to leave each one to decide as they please or will, may be an even greater risk in the present state of our collective ignorance. Only broad outlines can therefore be attempted; the gaps have to be filled up by each one according to the need of the hour and the situation.
Broadly speaking, ethics rests upon two main pillars as its lampposts — first, the consideration of what is truly good and, second, what is nobly beautiful. Both of these are relative values. At best these are crutches that we hold to walk in our journey through the forest of human ignorance. At worst these are fetters that we tie to the growing soul and its limitless expansion. A little consideration of real issues will reveal the difficulty.
Until recently, suicide was a punishable offence. Rarely was it understood that the act of suicide is in itself a punishment, a kind of self-punishment that the person inflicts upon himself in a state of gloom. The cosmic laws are not forgiving either since as we have seen, the scriptures describe this particular mode of exit as among the worst ones, from an inner point of view. “Sunless are those worlds…” Whether the cosmic laws have changed or not, there is nevertheless a little more humane understanding of the suicidal situation. With spreading awareness of psychological illnesses and their hold upon the human mind, the suicidal man is seen more as a victim of a pathological state of mind rather than a criminal. Most suicides are done in a state of depression under whose spell they see the world and themselves in a negative way. There is usually an exaggerated sense of self-depreciation, a heavy inner state called tamas in the parlance of the Indian mystic. It is this dark and heavy principle of tamas that comes over and clouds the soul, throwing the nature into a state of utter despair much as the world would so thrown if it came under the spell of a prolonged eclipse. The adverse and hostile forces take advantage of this inner eclipse and get hold over the human nature. These terrible agencies thereby distort perception in a most unreasonable way, create an abundance of confusion, suggest failure, and fill the heart with gloom and self-pity. The ego-sense doubling up upon itself enters into utter despair, abandoning hope and will and faith. Once faith is lost, then all is lost or seemingly so. Suicide as the only escape is the last extreme suggested by the dark whispers of this nether world. Reason, emotions, will, impulse are seized and perverted by this darkness. Our soul, the only sure guide, is thrust far behind a thick veil and its promptings and word of hope and courage do not reach the outer nature and the receiving brain. The parts of vital impulse are finally fully seized and made to act out the gruesome tragedy. A curtain falls upon the inmost sun-touched parts and in ruin ends the epic of a soul.
The soul suffering this darkened state and caught in its terrible mesh needs help and perhaps does cry out for it. But the outer nature is obviously closed to every available help and needs a persistent effort to pull the inner light out so as to illumine the dark outer chambers once again. Maybe the soul under these circumstances is helped to depart with minimum possible struggle, but of this inner transaction nothing much can be said and besides it would differ from case to case. Generally speaking, however, it is dragged by the heavy chains of tamas and the cloak of its darkened nature acts as fetters in its upward journey. One thing is certain — it is absurd to justify assisted suicide under any circumstance. A case was recently reported wherein a mother assisted in the suicide of her son, who pleaded for her assistance while undergoing physical pain. The mother could have been better informed and known that this pleading of the son was really an aberrant and perverse mistranslation of the will to be free from the pain. Suicide does not help the situation but only makes it worse. What if the physical pain and the illness or the outer circumstance leading to the psychological pain is unchangeable? Well, even if it were so, there is still much that can be done. One can help the person in becoming detached from the physical pain and its ensuing circumstances. One can help the person develop the right inner attitude and face the difficulty with courage, perseverance and faith. One can help the person see the light of reason and assess the situation realistically. Most often things are not so bad as we perceive them to be. There is a silver lining behind every dark cloud, a positive by the side of every negative. It is the task of well-wishers and counsellors to bring out this silver lining in bold relief and present the positive perspective which the individual himself is unable to see. This positive need not be necessarily on the same plane. An outer insurmountable problem may carry a deep inner possibility of growth — a growth in wisdom that inevitably follows if we care to wait and see after we have weathered the storm; a growth in strength that comes when we have faced the rigorous and uncertain trials of life; a growth in compassion and a generous understanding of others when we have confronted and struggled with our own difficulties. All these are no cheap or easy gains and if the moment of intense inner crisis can be used to acquire them, then we will find our pain more than rewarding and grow mightier with each stroke of what we in our ignorance term as misfortune, failure and fall. To assist the soul in emerging and stepping out from behind the clouds, even using the moment of crisis for this purpose, is the only true assistance. In contrast, to aid the person in his suicidal impulse is to unwittingly fall prey oneself in the hands of the dark and hostile forces that sometimes come upon us. Therefore, all talk of assisting suicide or legalizing it is a dangerous plea, a cover for increasing the darkness and suffering of the world, and certainly not reducing it as we may be ignorantly led to believe.
As a matter of fact, the grief generated after such a death in the home and surrounding atmosphere is much more dense and heavy. Those who are left behind often suffer from nightmares, undue guilt and are sometimes themselves caught by the impulse to die. The reasons for this may be more than what our superficial psychology may suggest. The person departing under such a burdened state of the soul naturally leaves a thick black trail in the occult worlds which begins to attach itself to those who are near and dear. Thrown out of the body through a sudden violent act, the consciousness may remain confused and not knowing whether one is with or without a body, it seeks shelter somewhere. The atmosphere of most hospitals is often felt heavy by perceptive people because of such disembodied beings. Some actually find place in others who are sick, which is one cause of the sicknesses taking a turn for the worse. Some patients may return with heavy limbs, feeling inexplicably exhausted, a common experience attributed to prolonged sickness or effect of drugs. But there may be other causes. A case was recently reported on the Discovery channel about a woman who was discharged from hospital after a minor surgery but developed unexplained exhaustion on return. The surgeons washed their hands off while the physicians put her through a series of tests but to no avail. After sixteen years of suffering, she consulted an occultist whose clairvoyant vision saw a disembodied being who after suicide had taken shelter in the patient’s body. The being was released from the woman’s body through certain occult practices and she became free of her heaviness. Such things may actually be more common than we choose to observe and record. And it is true that there may not always be good and expert occultists at hand to deal with these problems. But there is a simpler way to tackle this in the everyday life of average human beings. It is to bring peace in the atmosphere and create a zone of deep spiritual vibrations through faith, concentration and whatever outer means we may have at our disposal. The disembodied beings dissolve soon if they are not fed by the vitality of others. And no meal is tastier to this dark state than the bitter taste of grief, suffering and fear.
One last word about a common misconception. There is a prevalent view which is undoubtedly ignorant, that the yogi’s samadhi and departure by choice is the same as suicide. Nothing can be farther from the truth. We have already seen that the possibility and power of iccha-mrityu (self-willed departure) develops at a certain high stage of our inner self-development. Along with this power and will are given the inner knowledge of the means, the hour, the precise indication, and the wisdom to discern between an impulse to throw away life in a fit of despair vis-à-vis the decision to leave the shell of this body because more work is not possible with the existing frame. The first is a state of helplessness in nature that sets in because the soul is utterly veiled; the second is a luminous state of the soul that has earned its rest since it stands master over its nature. The first is a state of gross and thick coating of ignorance, the second a state of knowledge, not only knowledge of one’s own self, but also the knowledge of the cosmic forces and their movements. Besides, even the process used is very different. The man under a spell of depression whose nature is held captive by the hostile forces chooses violent physical means for his exit. The yogi, in sharp contrast, departs of his own choice by an inner process of withdrawing his consciousness from the physical and detaching his soul from the different sheaths. The first therefore is an utterly unconscious movement, the other a luminous and fully conscious one. Of course such yogic withdrawals are very rare and never recommended, nor even possible for the common humanity. One should not delude oneself into believing that one is in an exceptional state and can decide about one’s hour to quit. These things are usually a cover for some defeatist part in our nature that wants to avoid the struggle, spiritual or otherwise, and gives up easily for lack of perseverance in nature. One should not confuse the two. Therefore the dictum for most of us is a calm indifference towards death, neither to will it nor to be afraid of it.
Homicide and Capital Punishment
If suicide is anger turned upon oneself then homicide is anger turned against others. Anger, gloom, frustration, self-depreciation, these are part of the internal constitution of a suicidal man which attracts the dark adverse forces. The homicidal man is under the sway of very similar forces. He is caught up in a net of a morbid lower-vital state of anger, jealousy, frustration, suspicion, etc. Some of those committing homicide (and this may be a sizable number) are seized by beings with a strong and vital impulse to kill. Driven by this uncontrollable urge to slay, these beings and their human representatives combine a vicarious insensitivity to pain (one’s own and other’s) with a perverse pleasure in acts of violence. Cruel in their thoughts and deeds, with very little beauty and nobility of an inner life, or soul-development, these beings are upon earth only to create destruction and chaos. The Gita revealing the internal constitution of such an extreme asuric type of humanity describes them thus:
Given over to egoism, power, arrogance, desire and wrath, these maligning characters despise Me dwelling in their own and others’ bodies.
These vile men of the world, despising and cruel and evil, I cast into continual Asuric births.
Drawn into the Asuric womb birth after birth, these deluded ones, O Kaunteya (Arjuna), not attaining to Me, go eventually to the lowest state of being.
The fate of such men of evil deeds is as bad as slayers of their own bodies since they have obviously closed the doors to Grace. However, this state of perdition is not permanent and absolute. Having touched rock bottom of their consciousness, chastened by this experience of darkness and its aftermath, they once again come up to enter the normal evolutionary cycle. It is believed that these two (suicide and homicide) are utkata karmas, that is to say karmas whose repercussions are inevitable and cannot be mitigated by subsequent good deeds. While utkata karmas are hard to remove by our own efforts and take many lives due to the strong impress (creating a strong predisposition to commit the same act, suicide for example, in other lives as well), they can not only be mitigated but totally effaced from the soul by the action of Grace. Therefore the famous injunctions of the Gita again and again, to leave things in the hands of Grace for them to be worked out.
सर्वधर्मान्परित्यज्य मामेकं शरणं प्रज।
अहं त्वा सर्वपापेभ्यो मोक्षयिष्यामि मा शुचः॥६६॥
Abandon all dharmas and take refuge in Me alone. I shall deliver you from all fear and evil. Do not worry.
Now such a provision of inner consequence already exists in the cosmic law. But what about our human law? Humanity can take one of the two positions. One is to punish murder with murder (capital punishment). While this could be an understandable albeit purely emotive human reaction at the spur of the moment, is the impulse to punish the killer by killing him much different from the original act? Revenge and hate, individual or collective, stands much at the same level as jealousy and fear and anger. We have also to take into account the occult fact that most of these offenders are under the possession of dark and violent hostile forces. The body of the individual is destroyed through capital punishment but the force escapes, only to take hold of other individuals who are in the same frequency. It is said that following a guillotine execution, the force or being inhabiting the one executed would soon depart only to inhabit some other body in the crowd, someone who is open and receptive, thereby perpetuating its reign in one body or another!
Besides, recent research claims that it is yet to be proven substantially and irrefutably that capital punishment acts as a deterrent. People who commit such ghastly crimes act under a strong impulse over which they have little conscious or rational control. While they are being swept and swayed by this violent impulse their minds are neither attuned nor receptive to any reason, rational arguments or the previous experience of others. Why, even their own experience of previous punishments does not deter criminals, as any police record file would suggest. An inner change is needed and capital punishment certainly cannot bring that about. In fact what most people fail to realise is that serving life imprisonment is far more difficult to bear than losing one’s life. In the course of serving such a sentence, cut off from one’s family and a life of freedom, the prisoner is likely to go through a series of introspective phases, each of which can prove both torturous as well as enlightening, for it is no lie that the way to truth is long and difficult. If, at the end of it, he comes out a better human being, then that would leave a more lasting impact on people rather than a speedy delivery from this world.
An interesting parallel occurred in very recent times. A news item reported the atrocities committed by the American and British soldiers towards the Iraqi POWs. An important point was missed in the report which expressed surprise that these atrocities on Iraqi POWs were committed in the same prison where Saddam and his men used to torture their captives in much the same way. Could it be that the very same forces that had possessed the dictator’s regime suddenly seized the soldiers who entered these places? Is it the same phenomenon wherein the oppressed who seize power themselves become the oppressor? Of course, the American soldiers were not the oppressed in this case, but perhaps there was something of a transfer of forces knowingly or unknowingly, between the older regime and the present one. We have to learn much about the play of these occult forces that seize men as puppets and play mischief and havoc upon this world. The Mother has something very interesting about this occult phenomenon:
“The death of Stalin (unfortunately not any more than the death of Hitler) has not changed the present state of the world. Something more than that would be necessary. For this is like the assassin who is guillotined; when his head is cut off, his spirit remains behind and is projected outside him. It is a vital formation and it goes and takes shelter in one of the benevolent spectators, who suddenly feels a criminal instinct in himself. There are many men like that, specially very young criminals who when questioned have acknowledged this. They have been asked: ‘When did this desire to kill come to you?’ and the frequent reply is: ‘It got hold of me when I saw so-and-so executed.’”
What this seeing means with relation to TV and public executions in certain countries is anybody’s guess.
A better strategy than execution would be to isolate the murderer through some kind of a prolonged term and then to work towards reforming him. Mere isolation can never be enough. One has to also simultaneously provide some kind of a reformative atmosphere which brings about a change in the inner being of the individual. Numerous instances are quoted to illustrate that wild animals lose their natural born propensities in the atmosphere of a sage or enlightened being. It is as if the power of his peace counteracts their tendency to attack and harm. We have the famous example of Angulimaal, a man who garlanded himself with the fingers of those whom he killed, turn into a highly respected monk known as Ananda (the very opposite of suffering that he inflicted upon others) through Buddha’s Grace. Such examples, and there are others, are not isolated individual cases but instances that open up a general possibility for the race. And while we cannot transform our prisons into ashrams overnight nor transform our jailers in one go, we can however introduce a ray of hope even among those who are considered as ‘the fallen ones’. Such experiments have been done in recent times among prison inmates by a few daring police officers and with rewarding results.
Anton Chekov in an interesting story, The Bet, reveals this truth in a remarkable way. Two men, a businessman and a lawyer, take a bet as to which is better, capital punishment or life imprisonment. The lawyer advocates for the latter since he is of the opinion that men can change. The businessman, on the other hand, believes that it is not possible for anyone to live for a long time in isolation without suffering much more than the short term intense suffering of the man who is sent to the gallows. The bet has it that the lawyer must prove his point by actually staying in isolation in a room provided by the businessman. He will be provided with whatever he needs except that he will have no contact with the outer world of humanity. If the lawyer completes the term successfully he will win the bet as well as a huge sum of money from the businessman. Years roll by, the lawyer spends most of his time reading and writing. The businessman in the meantime goes through the ups and downs of life. But as the last few weeks and days of the bet draw nearer, he grows increasingly restless. He has suffered great losses in his business and now dreads the prospect of losing money through the bet to the lawyer. As the days close upon the businessman, he draws a nasty plan to do away with the lawyer. A day before the bet comes to an end, he steps stealthily into the lawyer’s room while he is asleep with an intention to kill him. But before he can execute his plan, his eyes catch sight of a piece of paper whose contents startle the businessman. It says something to the effect that the lawyer has in all these years realised the vanity of life. He does not need any money now and has come to peace with himself. Having realised this he has already decided to deliberately lose the deal by walking away from the room five minutes before the fixed time. The businessman is touched and shaken and walks out of the house quietly, perhaps deeply moved.
Even in this section, we have to distinguish the act of homicide from the patriot facing the bullet, or the man of war battling for his country, and of course the judge doing his duty by sending the criminal to the gallows — all are moved by a very different impulse and therefore cannot be put in the same category. This difference is important since there exists a body of thinkers who make a fetish of non-violence as if all killing is evil. These men of little thinking would let the world be run over by forces of terror and darkness. Such weak souls and weaker minds often take refuge in popular religious beliefs or a sentimental idealism without caring to probe the deeper issues involved. Love and kindness and gentleness and peace and non-injury to living beings is no doubt divine but we must also see and recognize the divinity in strength and courage and hard sacrifice that lays down its body at the altar of a higher truth or to save humanity. That the sacrifice and courage is physical does not make a difference to its essential nature. Therefore again the Gita, which so beautifully describes non-violence as an important divine attribute, nonetheless exhorts Arjuna to fight and slay the champions of evil but with a difference — not with personal hatred, anger, jealousy or any of these lower motives that delude our minds and souls, but with a larger vision and truth that sees the divine in all beings and hates not what it slays. Therefore when we speak of killing we have to draw a distinction between the different intentions which inspire an act. In a sense it is true of all action. Law itself recognises this and draws a line between actus rea (the has to be ‘guilt’ action) and mens rea (the has to be ‘guilt’ intention). The essential thing is whether the motive behind it is a selfish gain (as in aggression resorted to for monetary or power gain purposes or even for religious domination or the forced domination of one group over the other) or there is a larger purpose involved (as in a war of self-defence, protective violence, etc). The first is a low and ghastly act, the other noble and courageous. To fight a just war as an inner offering and for the purpose of a greater truth is equally divine and cannot be done away with in the world in its present stage of evolution.
Violent deaths as in accidents or mass catastrophes form a separate category from an inner point of view. The suddenness of the event may create confusion in the individual who is violently thrown out of the body. He may not realise at once that he is dismembered thereby making a part of his most elementary physical-vital consciousness linger in the earth atmosphere for a longer time. Sometimes these vital formations can hover around the spot of the disaster, enacting the scene over and over again, what some people perceive and label as ghosts. This formation can grow and prolong its life by feeding on the fear of people, thereby prolonging its own misery as well as of others. Of course this temporary vital formation should not be confused with the soul that sooner or later breaks through every sheath of bondage and ascends upwards to its true home and resting place.
In the case of mass deaths as in war or catastrophes, this vital-physical part thrown out in great numbers can form a considerable sticky mass in the earth atmosphere. This mass can itself become a nidus (nest or a breeding place) for the emergence of new and unknown diseases affecting the body and mind. Outbreaks of diseases following such mass catastrophes can multiply geometrically as the mass grows following more and more deaths, and are what are called epidemics. It is only the natural disintegration of this amorphous vital substance due to the cessation of the disaster or the intervention of an unseen higher force that can dissipate the sticky form and clear the earth-atmosphere of its illness, restoring health and peace once again. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) could have originated in such a way following the recent Gulf War just as an influenza epidemic followed the First World War.
Sudden deaths due to unforeseen accidents and violence cause much greater pain in those who are left behind and especially if the event is an untimely one (much before the average life expectancy). It has the power to radically influence one’s self-view and world-view. The western psychologists recognize the aspect of deep outer trauma to the emotional being that such events can cause. But if we probe deeper, quite often one can see that the event has over a period of time facilitated the emergence of the soul. Perhaps it is the very shock and helplessness of things that draws out the deeper entity since nothing else could cope better. Perhaps the event suddenly shakes us and we see the utter vanity of all our efforts. There are a good number of examples that we all encounter in our lives which repeatedly testify to this strange paradox wherein an outer misfortune serves a great and ultimately positive inner end. A middle-aged person once recounted his story. He lost his father when this man was still in his mid-teens (about fifteen years of age). His father, a man deeply devoted to God, died at the age of forty-seven in a car accident. Worse, the accident occurred within a couple of weeks after his return from a visit to his spiritual Master. The event shook the family and the boy for about a few months. Life became topsy-turvy and uncertain. But after the initial phase was over, one day the boy went quietly and sat in his father’s room where there was a corner dedicated to his master for meditation. As this lad sat ruminating about the uncertainties of life and future, he somehow struck at a thought. He wondered what his father would do in the face of life’s uncertainties. The answer that spontaneously came to him was that even his father would advise him to turn to God and seek help. Now instead of cursing God for the event, he started relating with Him praying for strength and peace and guidance and even worldly help of every kind. And the young boy began to perceive a hidden and benevolent Hand shaping his own and his family’s life in every way. The event changed him forever and for good!
But not all are fortunate enough to develop a spontaneous faith during their hour of crisis. And so what will apply in their case?
Well, the essential element is the same. It is to remind the person as to what his loved one would have truly wished and hoped for the one left behind. To fulfil those dreams and hopes and aspirations, to carry on with life as if in a logical continuation of a single effort of the great force of Life itself manifesting through different bodies, becomes a point of re-emergence of the sunken life force of those aggrieved. It gives us a sense of continuity and through completing the unfinished deeds of the departed, even a sense of victory over death. A classical example is the instance of Madame Curie, an atheist, who following the sudden demise of her husband due to a car accident, went on to complete his unfinished work which became a means for others to live on.
There is in each one of us something deep and true which may come out during hours of intense crisis and personal loss and by its emergence from within us, conquer suffering by an inner strength, conquer pain through a smile, conquer death through its inherent sense of continuity and immortality.
Therein lies the crucial role of a therapist. Counselling in such cases is a very delicate and sensitive thing. The counsellor has to be very sensitive to the personal pain as well as the outer difficulties that may arise due to the sudden event. But he must also know the direction towards which the being and consciousness of the person has to be gently led, the utility of all moments of deep pain and crisis, and assist, if he can, the delivery of the inmost soul through this dark and painful labour.
Abortion is another sensitive subject with certain religions at least. It hinges upon this singular issue that abortion is akin to taking life. But what when the choice is to be made between saving the mother’s life or the foetus? To say that abortion is unjustified under all circumstances and is sinful may lead to an act of a greater ignorance. Also, what about the emotional and other preparedness of the parents to receive the child? Is it better to necessarily bring the child to life and then condemn him to a worse fate? And what if one had the precise vision about the child and the entry of the soul? The tales of yore are full of such examples, for instance in the Mahabharata, Rishi Vyasa suggests to Dhritrashtra to destroy the new-born child (none other than Duryodhana). A similar story is recounted with regard to the birth of Shishupal, Jarasandh, and Ravana. In fact Ravana’s father, a sage himself, tells his wife that this womb is carrying a rakshasa and should therefore be destroyed. But the mother refuses. Although they are stories recounted in our ancient literature, such visions or intuition have been experienced by people all over the world. Unable to easily authenticate or prove such an event usually leads to the trivializing of this phenomenon at best or using it conveniently to justify infanticide at worst.
As to the time of entry, it refers to the moment when the soul enters in contact with the physical body. If the soul has accepted to take up a body for whatever purpose, then its decision needs to be given full importance and other considerations can be set aside. But if that has not yet happened then it is a different thing.
Here again occult knowledge comes to rescue us from the impasse. Taking life is wrong, especially human life. True, but this is based upon the principle that there is within living beings, especially the human, a conscious soul which is like a delegate divinity. This soul takes up a body for a certain human experience necessary for its growth. To take away life is therefore considered as if one is interfering with the divine plan of the soul. It is here that we need to have the precise knowledge about the time of ensoulment of the human body. According to certain traditions, it is perhaps after the third month that the soul chooses to come into contact with the human body while it is in the womb. As far as the formation of vital life-processes, it happens somewhere around the fifth month or so. And if a sustainable and viable living form is considered, that comes even later around the seventh month. This is of course one viewpoint and allows for exceptions depending on individual consciousness of the mother as well as the soul that is seeking an opportunity for being born once again. The final decision in this regard should be left to the physician and the expectant mother and not with the moral police force. A moral law devoid of wisdom and compassion is only a façade behind which hypocrisy thrives. There should be therefore no ethical, moral or spiritual objection to any abortion before the third month to say the least. Incidentally, even medically, the abortions are advised during the first three months only and very seldom later and only under exceptional circumstances. Most planned abortions take place in fact during the first month itself when the foetus has hardly formed beyond a mass or bundle of cells. So in essence there is neither any scientific basis in the moral argument, nor an occult basis. Considering all this and the benefit that it may bring to the living mother-to-be there should be no ethical objection for a timely abortion done to protect the physical and mental well-being of the woman. This is especially so in the case of unwed pregnancies which are on the increase now-a-days. To punish or condemn such a woman and the child-to-be with a life of shame and ignominy by forcing her to continue the pregnancy is nothing short of torture, a cruelty worse than that inflicted upon the yet-to-be-conscious unborn.
Viewed from a certain standpoint organ transplant is not only ethically justified but spiritually laudable. After all is it not an act of compassion and inner detachment? However although it may be justified as an act of compassion, it may not necessarily be an enlightened compassion.
The spiritual view is not confined to the outer and practical momentary good of an individual, but more importantly the inner good. Spiritual vision is not cabined within the confines of outer life as our rational mind is but looks at the complex play of forces in and around. Therein comes the difficulty. Should the body organ of an inwardly developed person be handed over to a criminal’s body for use or abuse later on? Does each organ, nay each cell have a consciousness of its own? And is not the whole body one and therefore isn’t it dangerous to dislocate it and thereby confuse the body consciousness?
A story is recorded of a heart recipient who started to get nightmares of violent deaths following the transplant. It was later discovered that the donor was actually a murder convict! The story is no more fantastic or improbable considering the knowledge we have now that memory does not reside in any particular area of the brain alone but is spread throughout the body! The cells are perhaps far more conscious than we imagine, their imprints more faithful and enduring than we understand. Would the soul, if consulted, agree to prolonging life at this cost?
Of course this may not matter in most cases wherein the donor and the recipient are both equally and largely part of the mass of our humanity, struggling and stumbling in the darkness of gross ignorance. To be more specific, before the process of individualisation, we live largely in the realm of an amorphous mass of humanity driven largely by certain subconscious instincts and needs. Here, interchange is the law since there is very little individuality. Since a lot of inner interchange takes place at this level, it does not matter whether there is an additional physical interchange. In fact a conscious act of donation, blood for example, is a very good preparation for this stage of inner self-development. It is a conscious recognition that we are all essentially one and that the manmade external barriers of caste and creed, nationality and religion have to be transcended by a larger sense of human unity. Organ donation like blood (the simplest and most common organ transplant is blood donation) is a physical reminder of this fact of unity and therefore good. Also there is an obvious difference between short-term exchange of the physical material as for example blood (where the cell life is relatively short) and the permanent replacement of an organ like the kidneys.
But there intervenes another stage of human development wherein the being gets crystallized and individualized so to say. At this point and as consciousness grows, we begin to become aware of the beneficial and harmful effects of our associations and interchange with others. At this stage we begin to exercise choices and are no more driven by certain fixed norms, social, religious or otherwise. We are no more part of a herd but a conscious humanity. At this stage, one cannot make general rules and it will depend upon each case. Those who feel that organ donation helps them grow or become wider in their consciousness may continue to do so. But some who are very sensitive are prone to suffer a change of inner and outer atmospheres. They have a different field of work and action and line of growth. These are the ones for whom organ donation or reception may not necessarily be good. As of now we do not consider these subtler psychological issues during organ transplant. A future psychology may well do so.
But finally we arrive at a still higher stage of internal self-development beyond the individual. We begin to pass beyond the realm of the normal humanity. At this stage we have to be very conscious of all interchange, psychological as well as physical. Certainly organ donation or receiving at this stage is not at all advisable. One has to get rid of a fearful attachment to the body, learn to calmly see all events as part of a larger plan, learn to look beyond life and death. Even if one feels that life has to be prolonged in the body for a certain higher purpose, it has to be left in the hands of that Higher Power rather than resort to desperate and dubious physical means. Great Masters who have not blinked twice before sacrificing their lives and bodies for the sake of human progress, have however, strange as it may seem, seldom indulged in organ donation. It is not because they are not compassionate but because their compassion works in a higher way, at a very different dimension than merely giving sanction to prolonging the old maladies in worn out bodies, especially when they see that death itself is a means adopted by Nature for performing the most radical organ transplant of the whole body. Why deprive the person of this total change into a completely new body by doing such patchwork upon the old?
Since so much depends on the level of consciousness of both the donor and the recipient, no general rule can therefore be made regarding this issue, with the solution differing from case to case.
The necessity of a post-mortem examination for forensic purposes in order to bring a culprit to task cannot be questioned. So also perhaps in the study of anatomy by medical students for the moment at least, although one hopes that one day better means may emerge for this kind of study. What is doubtful however is the need of post-mortem simply for legal purposes as for example in clear situations of accidents or where post-mortem is not likely to yield any useful information. It is also doubtful whether the method of post-mortem has really helped the cause of science. The rationale is that by studying the dead body we can establish the cause of death and grow wiser for the future. But the dead body reveals only a few physical signs, not the deeper inner cause or psychological antecedents of the illness. Unfortunately this method of enquiry into purely physical causes continues to haunt our science as a relic of our past stress upon reductionism. The whole approach has so completely biased us in favour of physical causes and their inter associations that we have for long remained blind to deeper psychological and even molecular causes. Now that we are waking up from the stupor of a purely material approach, we need to rethink about our methods of treating the dead the way we do in our hospital premises, mortuary and post-mortem tables. To mutilate a body that has served the ends of a higher consciousness in the name of science needs to be rethought. Science, yes, but what about the higher science that sees the body not as a mechanical but a conscious machine!
In other words, the stress on post-mortem is based on a model of man that believes the body to be an unconscious machine and illnesses having purely physical causes. But wisdom grows and today we are approaching a point where the inner causes are becoming more and more important than outer ones. That apart, the real question is that whether the body something like an automaton or a mechanical tool which has no reaction to its mutilation as long as the mind is asleep? Many are now beginning to believe that this is not true. The body has its own inherent consciousness and it takes time before the full connection of the soul is severed from the body. To mutilate a body during this crucial phase is to bring an inner pain and even some kind of a loss in terms of the riches of consciousness for the departing soul. The least that a dead man would want is to depart peacefully and gracefully rather than turn around and see the house he inhabited being broken into pieces because the dweller is going away! But science is yet to see the dweller and is yet to discover the consciousness of the body which is not just a lump of clay. Till it does that (as it must one day) the least we can do is to treat the body that has served as a vehicle for the soul with respect and a minimum of sensitivity expected from our human stature.
Resuscitation and Artificial Life Support
Resuscitation is about reviving those who have technically died. It is also sometimes about prolonging life in those who are living on the edge of life and death. Revival within a certain period of time before the cord of life is snapped is very much possible. Yogis in India have always known the art of returning from the land of the dead. What the ancient mystic knew how to do consciously through spiritual and occult means, the modern scientist does semi-consciously through material methods. However, a yogi may not wish to interfere with the processes of nature since he knows that in the strange and vast economy of nature, both life and death serve a certain common purpose. Nevertheless authentic instances do exist of a yogi’s intervention in reviving the dead, of bringing back to life – man or beast. As for prolonging life or saving from imminent death, one comes across many instances (such as the one quoted below) which medical science would call miracles and explain away as chance factors.
“The 14th of July is a remarkable day in the history of the world. On that day, we commemorate the French Revolution, ‘La Prise de la Bastille’ which took place 200 years ago. The same day in 1996, was a fearful and unforgettable day for me but in a different way.
“At 1.15 p.m. my husband had gone to the library and I was watching TV while my six-year-old son and nine-month-old daughter were playing. I went to the kitchen to drink some water when suddenly my son came rushing to say that the baby had put something in her mouth. I ran to her. She was crying a lot and was looking at me pathetically. When I opened her mouth wide, I could see a small cone shaped plastic object (it was part of a plastic toy) stuck in her throat near her ‘uvula’. I tried to remove it but in vain and her throat started bleeding. In course of time her crying decreased since she was suffocated. To my horror, I couldn’t see the ball anymore, it had descended further down her throat. A cold fear gripped me as I watched with frightened eyes my baby turning blue. With the help of my landlord, I rushed to the nearest private nursing home. There was no time to waste. Every second the baby’s condition was deteriorating. On my way to the clinic I kept calling to Her to save my child. On reaching the nursing home I rushed to the doctor’s chamber where we were stopped by a staff nurse. I pushed her aside in order to be attended to immediately.
“The doctor was busy talking to some people. I yelled to him to look at my child immediately and I babbled out what had happened. He asked me to relax and started checking her heart beat, her pulse, etc… I became jittery because I thought some more time was being wasted as he didn’t make any effort to remove the object from her throat. Finally, he turned solemnly to me and said, ‘I am sorry, but your baby died ten minutes ago.’
“’No!’ I cried out. I couldn’t believe it. It was too horrible to accept. Everything had happened too fast for me to digest. ‘You should have brought her here immediately, why did you delay? After everything is over you have brought her to me. What can I do now? You can take her away.’ I tried to convince him that I had rushed to the hospital immediately. If the baby had been ailing from some illness then it would have been understandable, but a baby who was very active and playing happily only a few minutes ago, was now lying lifeless. I realised that once dead, she is gone forever, nothing can bring her back. So I was determined that the doctor should try everything to revive her. I told him to remove the object from her throat, it could be that with the airway unblocked she would revive. He thrust his huge hand into her tiny mouth, struggled for a few minutes and removed it. He scolded me again for what had happened, perhaps because of his own frustration at not being able to do anything! It could be that with a proper heart massage, she would revive. He started massaging her heart, shaking her at times, but nothing happened.
“He lost hope, but not I. I pleaded and pleaded fearing that I would lose her forever. But it had already been almost 30 minutes since she had been declared dead. All he could tell me was that she was dead, and that I could take her away. But I kept fighting and kept hoping. ‘I am not taking her till something is done.’ The doctor calmed me down and began explaining many things to me.
“He made me feel her pulse and listen for her heartbeat. There was no heartbeat, no pulse. Then he opened one of her lifeless eyes and told me to watch the pupil which was not responsive to light. Then he lifted her hand and let it fall, it fell lifelessly on the examination table. He did the same with her leg. He declared that she had all the symptoms of a dead person. Fearing that he would stop trying, I kept insisting that he do something. Then quite suddenly, he lifted the child off the table and ran up the stairs to the operation theatre, followed by some junior doctors and other staff.
“In the operation theatre, the doctor started massaging her heart and gave the baby oxygen and intravenous drips.
“Outside the theatre I was praying for my baby’s life. I was praying to Her every second to save my child. At the human level everything had been tried and had failed. Now it was up to the Divine. Only She could do something. I had surrendered completely to Her. If she was saved then she would have a whole life to live, so much to do and be. Otherwise she would be gone forever. But with the ticking of time, my hope was fading.
“As the doctor did not come out even after half an hour, I finally lost all hope. I said to myself, ‘If that is Her decision I must accept it.’ At that time my husband arrived at the hospital. He did not know the seriousness of the situation. I felt more guilty since all this had happened in his absence.
“Inside the doctor was trying everything that medical science had to offer. After trying for about thirty minutes to no avail, he left the child for dead. He was coming out of the theatre towards me when one of the O.R. boys came rushing behind him to say that her heartbeat had started. The doctor rushed back to the theatre and started massaging her heart again.
“That morning at 2.00 a.m. she regained consciousness and opened her eyes. The nurse came running out and called me in. Inside my child was lying helpless with an oxygen mask strapped to her face and I.V. tubes in her hands and legs. Two staff nurses were holding her arms and legs so that the I.V. flow would not be interrupted. Now that she had survived, I wanted to check immediately whether her brain was affected so I called her name. She looked at me. I said, ‘Hello!’ hoping she would raise her hand for a handshake as I had taught her to do. She tried to lift her right hand. I was ecstatic for I knew my child was not only alive but mentally all right as well. She had heard me, and I knew the Grace had filled my life.
“After three days, just before leaving the hospital, we went to the doctor to express our gratitude. He said, ‘It’s I who should thank you for your persistence. Again and again, I told you she was dead. She had all the symptoms of death which I demonstrated to you. But you were commanding me and like an instrument in the hands of the Lord, I tried doing something which I thought to be impossible. God is great. It’s a miracle. Thank you for insisting, otherwise I would have committed a great sin. She is born again in my hospital.’”
Does this authenticate the scientist’s action? Yes and No. Yes in the sense that it authenticates the possibility and probably points to the fact that modern science has unwittingly entered the threshold of the occult domain. It is moving in areas of which it has as yet only a very superficial knowledge. This superficial knowledge mainly consists of the material side of the processes that form an interphase with life-energy and the vital worlds. These are powerful discoveries giving one an unprecedented capacity to manipulate life. And it is here that one has to be careful wherein comes the ‘No’ part of it. Power without full or deeper knowledge creates a dangerous imbalance and can be a very harmful thing. A commensurate inner development and deeper knowledge is needed. The material side of the processes known, the scientist has to also explore the other shore of boundlessness and all that is contained in between. This knowledge cannot come by studying material processes alone whose seams have already burst beyond the confines of our gross matter. We need to complement the knowledge of material processes with the knowledge of occult worlds whose material organization is different from our own.
It is therein that lies the knot of our difficulty. A precise knowledge is needed to know the actual will of the being, a knowledge of how far the dead (or near-dead) had walked away from the domain of life and material world and how much of his consciousness would be lost forever by this revival, a knowledge of what force comes back after the resuscitation, the vital being of the person under ALS or some other vital force masquerading from the other worlds and possessing or taking hold of the body. Instances of radical personality change, and that too for the worse following survival after prolonged and near fatal illness have been documented in history. What about prolonging life in a body that the soul has already decided to quit? What if life returns and continues but not the soul and the body becomes a prey for certain vital forces to feast upon during the interim period?
The answers would lie in expanding the base of our knowledge from the mere material chemistry to occult chemistry as well. That it would happen one day is the hope for the future. For if it does not then this blind and powerful material manipulation would be foredoomed to self-destruction.
Euthanasia is a paradox of sorts. The traditional role of the physician is to save life. But here he is expected to take away life. The justifying rationale is that a very important task of the physician is to relieve the patient of the burden of suffering and pain. Just as one of the means that nature uses to relieve our miseries of one life at least is to send us for a while into the sleep of death. So also when the doctor is aware that there is no further hope to live and that prolonging survival would only mean to prolong the patient’s agony and pain, then it would be better to assist him in his departure or at least deny any active support that would be merely extending his pain. Accordingly as the case may be, euthanasia is categorised into two types: active and passive. Active euthanasia is like assisted suicide wherein the doctor in some way assists the patient to die through his active intervention (in favour of death). The patient in this instance may be mentally alert and makes his choice and just as one prays to god to grant life or death so too here he calls upon his human physician god to grant him death. The issue centers around the right to die with dignity. Dr. Jack Kevorkian who invented the suicide machine achieved notoriety in the USA for active euthanasia. Though convicted of manslaughter, he called himself a social activist who was delivering people of their pain!
Passive euthanasia involves withdrawal of life-support systems in the terminally ill. Whatever it may be, the following questions arise in our consideration of the subject of euthanasia:
Could it be that the person opting for death is labouring under some form of depression and needs treatment for the same rather than granting him the death wish?
Is the choice of his surface being also the choice of his inmost soul? We know that man is a complex entity and often harbours contradictory wills. A part of him may want a temporary respite from suffering through death but another part may not like to give up the struggle and perhaps yet another part may be actually enjoying it! So the question is, which part is in front when he is choosing to embrace death? Is it his nobler and higher part as in the case of the hero who sacrifices his life for the nation? Or is it his lower vital part that is in love with tragedy and therefore seeks death as a tragic end to the drama of life? Or is it his rational but ignorant part that knows not the significance of suffering when it comes in our earthly life? Or is it the worst in him, a nervous recoil from pain and a shrinking from the horror of the battle of life? It is not easy to know and therefore the decision to quit needs to be questioned, the patient led to deeper understanding of himself through his pain and not simply complied with as an ignorant mother would comply with each and every wish of the errant child.
What type of karma do the doctor and the patient and the relatives incur when they become active assistants of death rather than the creative children of life and light?
Who decides that the hour of death is close and there is nothing more that can happen? Based upon existing knowledge (or ignorance) and the law of probability, miracles do happen. And the greatest miracle is not necessarily the last minute personal survival of a dying man but a transformative change in his consciousness, helping him to face death with the certitude of immortality. Can we predict when this inner enlightenment will come and will it be wise to take away that possibility by focusing too much on the pain of the body?
Who knows what is transpiring within the consciousness of the individual while he is outwardly comatosed or even suffering?
Is the decision of family and friends due to genuine concern for the terminally ill? Or is it a nervous shrinking from the sight of another’s pain and worse still, a means to relieve themselves of their own suffering of taking care of the terminally ill?
The sole remedy is to grow in our consciousness but till we can do that it may be better as a general rule not to interfere too much with nature’s play in and around oneself or to play god while one is still a struggling human being.
The coma and unconsciousness of the body and mind does not necessarily imply an unconsciousness of the soul. And who are we to limit the possibilities for the soul that may be using this narrow window of opportunity called coma and death to realise itself? Who can say when we shall wake up from our sleep and at which fortunate moment realise that we are essentially deathless and divine? Here is a real life story penned by a medical doctor trained in the Western paradigm that shakes the very foundations of our belief and actions.
“Karen had slipped into a coma. There was involvement of every organ of her body, including her brain, and literally no other chemical agent to be tried. There was nothing we could do. After viewing the CT scan and seeing the diffuse brain involvement, it was easy to see why. We expected each day to be her last. Her eyes were fixed and unresponsive, her breathing shallow. Her heart was still strong, as we knew it would be. However, the disease (acute leukemia) was ravaging her blood system and brain, and there was evidence of opportunistic pneumonia involving both lungs. We knew that she would soon die.
“I began to have a tremendous dread of Karen dying while I was on call. I did not want to pronounce her dead. It came to a point where I hoped that her death would come on nights that I was away from the hospital because I feared that I would not be any emotional support for the family, or that I would even be able to perform my duties as a physician. This family had come to mean so much to me.
“It was a Wednesday night, and Karen had been in a coma for four days. I was the chief resident on call for the wards. I spoke with the family and peeked in on Karen. I noticed her breathing was very shallow and her temperature quite low. Death could be imminent. I selfishly hoped to myself that maybe she’d wait until tomorrow to die. I went about my chores until about 3.00 am, when I finally tried to get some sleep. At 4.00 am I received a STAT pager to Karen’s room. This puzzled me somewhat because we were not going to make any heroic interventions. Nevertheless, I ran to her room.
“The nurse greeted me outside the room and grabbed my arm. ‘Karen wants to talk to you.’ I literally thought this nurse was crazy. I couldn’t imagine what she was talking about — Karen was in a coma. At this point in my life, my scientific, Newtonian way of thinking ruled my thoughts, primarily because this is the approach we are trained in day in and day out in medical school. I had neglected other, more important spiritual aspects of my being, ignoring the instinct that knows what reason cannot know.
“I went into the room, and to my amazement, Karen was sitting up in bed. Her mother was on the left side of the bed, her father on the right. I stood next to the father, not saying anything, not knowing what to say. Karen’s eyes which had been glazed over for four days, were now clear and sharp. She simply stated, ‘God has come for me. It is time for me to go.’ She then hugged us tightly, one at a time. These were strong hugs, hugs that I keep thinking were impossible. I could only visualize her CT scan and the severe degree of brain damage. How could this be?
“Then Karen lay down. But she popped back up immediately, as if she had forgotten something. She went around the bed to each of us again, with her penetrating eyes fixing our stares. No hugs this time. But her hands were strong and steady, squeezing our shoulders as she spoke. ‘God is here,’ she said. ‘Do you see him? Do you know him?’ I was scared. Nothing in my experience could explain what was happening here. There was nothing else to say, so I mumbled, ‘Yes. Goodbye. Thank you.’ I didn’t know what to say. The entire time, I kept visualising that CT scan. Then Karen lay back down and died — or I should say, she quit breathing and her heart stopped. Her powerful spirit went on living.
“It was years before I could tell that story, even to my wife. I still cannot tell it without feeling overwhelming emotions. I know now that this experience is not something to be understood through the limited viewpoint of the scientific realm. We are, in essence, spiritual beings in a spiritual universe, not primarily governed by Newton’s laws, but by the laws of God.”
Killing of Animals
This important issue has somehow received scant attention of mankind so far. Though there have been certain individual efforts or even sometimes general efforts guided by religious or humane sentiment, it is only recently that the plight of animals being slaughtered is being noticed. So merciless has been the hand of the killer that some species have come close to extinction. Here we need to remember the spiritual as well as material truth that ‘man-animal-plant-material’ form a single chain linked by such a oneness that an unenlightened disruption of any part of the whole threatens the entire chain itself. But that apart the issue involves deeper facets of human life and our outlook towards life itself. The question can be answered in two parts — the general and the individual.
Generally speaking, animal killing is done, for four main reasons:
- For food whether for purposes of the palate, taste or sometimes health and nutrients (though current views on the subject hardly justify it).
- For commercial purposes like ivory, leather, fur, etc.
- For medicinal and research purposes.
- For purposes of self-defense as for example killing a poisonous or wild animal to preserve one’s own life or another’s.
Now, the real issue is which of these purposes really helps in the evolutionary march of humanity and preserves the balance of life upon earth (lokasangrahartha of the Gita). The blind and merciless killing for commercial interests (including fancy food and some drug firms) is obviously far from evolutionary. With regard to health one can envisage certain situations wherein meat or soup (let us exclude unfertilized eggs from the issue) may be understandable as for example in areas with hardly any vegetation, or with people involved in vigorous muscular activity (like athletes or warriors and army-men) or sometimes in cases of severe debilitating illness. Here the principle is that given a choice of survival higher forms that are closer to an expression of divinity are to be preserved over the lower, although such a choice would really be rare, in modern times at least. Besides, we should not forget that nature has provided us with a digestive tract that is primarily suited for vegetarian food. Much of the justification of eating animals is deep down an argument for the sake of justifying the taste buds and nothing more. A balanced vegetarian diet is not only healthy but also prevents quite a few diseases that non-vegetarians are prone to. These are now proven facts that are no more in the sphere of ambiguity. The same would apply to a certain extent with regard to drug research as well. But only to a certain extent. The line between genuine trial for the interests of medicine and commerce/research for its own sake is often thin. Most animal research can truly be done away with. But commerce and ambition (promotions through paper publication) stand as a barrier on the way; human insensitiveness and cruelty perpetuate our own animality. Unfortunately, in our present stage of Ignorance wherein the average man depends so much on allopathic treatment, it is difficult to say which is a better choice. But then let us also hope and work towards a future wherein we no more need medicines from outside for health and healing. That would be the real solution. But so long as men continue to depend upon allopathic drugs, it is difficult to do away completely with animal research. It will be like taking the crutch away from a lame man before teaching him to walk. Finally, animal killing or for that matter even human killing for self-defence (as in a defensive war) is naturally justified and perhaps even an act of courage leading to soul-development and protection of others.
But for now the dilemma exists and the question remains as to how we are to tackle it individually? The rule is the same here — to do what helps in the evolutionary march of the individual Divine within us. If there is a conflict between an outer conduct done for purely external and commercial reasons and the natural awakening to an inner law then there is no doubt that the inner law is to be respected. It is only the Divine Will whose command, if one has clearly received it, can and does transcend both, the outer and the inner. For both these lesser standards are ultimately partial and therefore ignorant ways of seeing and feeling, albeit necessary for the moment. The Divine alone knows and sees the whole truth. In other words, while we must respect the growing inner sensitivity in us which is like the softer cover of a seed (in contrast to the hard and insensitive outer cover) yet we should be careful not to make a fetish of any single ideal (including non-violence) or become a social activist driven by an emotional idealism (unless that is what we are presently called upon to do by our nature). One should also be sure that the shrinking from violence is not a recoil of the sensory-nervous parts (pity and jugupsa) but a genuine need of the inner being. The true solution can only come by the growth of our soul whose authentic light can truly guide us through all dilemmas.
“Nature in her deeper aspect as a conscious spiritual Power is concerned with the growth, by experience, the spiritual development of the souls she has in her charge — and these souls themselves have a say in the matter. All these good people lament and wonder that unaccountably they and other good people are visited with such meaningless sufferings and misfortunes. But are they really visited with them by an outside Power or by a mechanical Law of Karma? Is it not possible that the soul itself — not the outward mind, but the spirit within has accepted and chosen these things as part of its development in order to get through the necessary experience at a rapid rate, to hew through… even at the risk or the cost of much damage to the outward life and the body? To the growing soul, to the spirit within us, may not difficulties, obstacles, attacks be a means of growth, added strength, enlarged experience, training for spiritual victory? The arrangement of things may be that and not a mere question of the pounds, shillings and pence of a distribution of rewards and retributory misfortunes!
“It is the same with the problem of the taking of animal life under the circumstances put forward by your friend in the letter. It is put on the basis of an invariable ethical right and wrong to be applied to all cases — is it right to take animal life at all, under any circumstances, is it right to allow an animal to suffer under your eyes when you can relieve it by an euthanasia? There can be no indubitable answer to a question put like that, because the answer depends on data which the mind has not before it. In fact there are many other factors which make people incline to this short and merciful way out of the difficulty — the nervous inability to bear the sight and hearing of so much suffering, the unavailing trouble, the disgust and inconvenience — all tend to give force to the idea that the animal itself would want to be out of it. But what does the animal really feel about it — may it not be clinging to life in spite of the pain? Or may not the soul have accepted these things for a quicker evolution into a higher state of life? If so, the mercy dealt out may conceivably interfere with the animal’s Karma. In fact the right decision might vary in each case and depend on a knowledge which the human mind has not — and it might very well be said that until it has it, it has not the right to take life. It was some dim perception of this truth that made religion and ethics develop the law of Ahimsa — and yet that too becomes a mental rule which it is found impossible to apply in practice. And perhaps the moral of it all is that we must act for the best according to our lights in each case, as things are, but that the solution of these problems can only come by pressing forward towards a greater light, a greater consciousness in which the problems themselves, as now stated by the human mind, will not arise because we shall have a vision which will see the world in a different way and a guidance which at present is not ours. The mental or moral rule is a stop-gap which men are obliged to use, very uncertainly and stumblingly, until they can see things whole in the light of the spirit.”
Not so shall Truth extend her flight sublime,
Pass from the poor beginnings she has made
And with the splendour of her wings displayed
Range through the boundaries of Space and Time.
Clamp her not down to her material finds!
She shall go further. She shall not reject
The light within, nor shall the dialect
Of unprogressive pedants bar men’s minds…
The intellect is not all; a guide within
Awaits our question. He it was informed
The reason He surpasses; and unformed
Presages of His mightiness begin.
The Triumph-Song of Trishancou
I shall not die.
Although this body, when the spirit tires
Of its cramped residence, shall feed the fires,
My house consumes, not I.
Leaving that case
I find out ample and ethereal room.
My spirit shall avoid the hungry tomb,
Deceiving death’s embrace.
Night shall contain
The sun in its cold depths; Time too must cease;
The stars that labour shall have their release.
I cease not, I remain…
I shall not die.
Although this body, when the spirit tires
Of its cramped residence, shall feed the fires,
My house consumes, not I.
Leaving that case
I find out ample and ethereal room.
My spirit shall avoid the hungry tomb,
Deceiving death’s embrace.
Night shall contain
The sun in its cold depths; Time too must cease;
The stars that labour shall have their release.
I cease not, I remain…
My breath runs in a subtle rhythmic stream;
It fills my members with a might divine:
I have drunk the Infinite like a giant’s wine.
Time is my drama or my pageant dream.
Now are my illumined cells joy’s flaming scheme
And changed my thrilled and branching nerves to fine
Channels of rapture opal and hyaline
For the influx of the Unknown and the Supreme.
I am no more a vassal of the flesh,
A slave to Nature and her leaden rule;
I am caught no more in the senses’ narrow mesh.
My soul unhorizoned widens to measureless sight,
My body is God’s happy living tool,
My spirit a vast sun of deathless light.
Towards a Vision of the Future
Behind the Veil of Death
Death is our present reality yet is immortality the secret aspiration in man and therefore our future potentiality. Whatever higher things we seek in life have already been granted by the highest Self in us. Mankind has aspired deeply among other things for permanence of life; for vanquishing suffering, evil and pain; for conquering old age, disease, infirmity and death. Each age of mankind has seen the revival of this aspiration of terrestrial perfection and permanence albeit in a language appropriate to the age concerned. Thus in the early intuitive dawns of mankind the aspiration of immortality takes the form of discovering the immortal spiritual principle within us, the immortal soul and our true Self beyond grief and death. In the historic and mental ages of mankind, we see this impulse manifest in preserving the works of art and science, of moral and mental values, of the cultural ethos that would ensure some kind of racial immortality through the best achievements of the age. Down the line and in the heroic and vitalistic ages of mankind, we have the bard singing glories of the deeds of kings and knights. We also see huge structures built around the dead with all facilities for their enjoyment of an afterlife. Here, as in ancient Egypt, afterlife is considered as a means for men and women to enjoy the vital pleasures of this life albeit in an exaggerated form. The hells and heavens of the Puranic and other legends are largely a superimposition of this world view on an aspect of afterlife that has some semblance to our earthly joys and pains. Seen from an occult angle, these hells and heavens are largely creations in the vital worlds. In other words, they do not have a permanent reality and are constructs of the human mind. Closer to earth they portray something of its impulse to joy and suffering. Or truer still, our earthly joys and sorrows are a pale reflection of these attics of the vital worlds, which cast some light of happiness and shadows of suffering upon our human days. In our present day material age, this impulse to immortality has taken a material form, for example, the efforts towards an indefinite prolongation of life in the body through physical means for achieving a genetic continuation rather than a social and cultural one, and most of all in the attempts towards achieving physical immortality. Whether such a mere physical prolongation of life without a commensurate transformation of our inner psychological existence will be a boon or a bane is anybody’s guess. But the efforts are there and are likely to go on until one day we are able to combine all these separate efforts into a single whole and achieve a simultaneous permanence of a perfected spiritual, psychological and physical existence.
But for now we labour and struggle under the yoke of suffering and impermanence and realise that there is a need to understand the real reason if we wish to find the true solution.
The Scientist’s View on Death and Immortality
Science has for long now been divorced from philosophy. Therefore it does not even raise the question of why. It simply seeks to find the how. And that it does with utmost perfection. But since the how of things is only a process subservient to something else that is deeper, all means to correct the process alone are likely to fail. Nature will devise fresh means for the final exit. Even if we were to block all material avenues of death by controlling each and every process, yet Nature will create new doors just as new diseases have replaced the old ones. In fact, the scientists have been trying to retard aging and to achieve immortality by various means since the last four decades or so. In its understanding of death science has moved on from cryonics through errors of metabolism onto genetic manipulation. These are reasonable approaches but they touch only the fringe of the problem. Nevertheless, they indicate one thing, that the mind of the race is moving towards the conquest of disease and death. The imperfect means it employs now do not matter since the urge is true. Science will truly understand the secret of life and master it when it has understood how life becomes matter, and not as it is now striving to know the means and conditions under which matter becomes living. One has to reverse the view and see from top below to truly understand. Sooner or later, the biological sciences are bound to stumble into the territory of the occult much as physics stepped into the inner terrain unwittingly and thereby came closer to the hidden dimensions of matter. So too there are hidden dimensions of life that we need to understand and enter into for discovering the secret of prolonging youth and preventing decay.
Scientifically, the physical causes of death are the following:
Aging is supposed to be regulated by the genetic makeup. It is scientifically believed that each species has a more or less fixed average lifespan. Normally in other mammals, this span is limited to the reproductive cycle except in man. Man’s lifespan is delinked to the reproductive age. Nevertheless it has so far been believed that the physical being of man is so constituted that after a certain age, a progressive decline will inevitably follow. There is a gradual decline in the mental capacities like memory, a decline in stamina, a decline in the capacities of the heart and lungs and other vital organs, a decline in physical prowess. Of course, there may be a gain in wisdom and experience of life. The genetic errors and the molecular toxins continue to multiply till the body reaches a point of no return. Death comes then as a natural, inevitable consequence. Recent research however refutes this over-simplistic theory. Efforts are on to reduce the toxic and oxidative damage of the body, to manipulate the genetic material, to replace the old and decrepit organs with new and fresh ones. Not only this, it is now common knowledge that regular and methodical physical exercises can delay the aging process. Though the role of medicines like Vitamin E in retarding aging is very doubtful, still such efforts of science are indeed laudable and in the right direction, so far as physical aging is concerned. If science can discover the material basis of aging and the ways and means to retard it, that would truly be some achievement. However aging is only one of the physical factors responsible for death. There are other factors as well.
Death due to diseases fall under a vast and diverse range. Broadly however, these are genetic disorders, infections, injuries, inflammations, poisoning from within (metabolic) or without, and degeneration. There are other causes as well. Here again efforts are on to prevent and cure them. The illnesses once considered incurable are coming closer to cure. Efforts are on to reduce the side effects of the drugs to a bare minimum by specific molecules. Even genetic diseases are coming in the range of manipulation. The problem however is that by its very nature the human body (like other physical bodies) is built on the basis of ignorance (that is a divisive mental consciousness). Therefore it has a strong sense of self and not-self. The result is a constant conflict with life around it. A body built of such a fabric cannot be immune from diseases. It may master one disease but fall prey to another. It may wipe out one illness but new ones will crop up, new diseases, new strains of germs more immune, new chemical and other hazards. The causes of illness are far more subtle and deeper and unless these are tackled there is little hope of making human life disease free, though we may replace the existing diseases with new ones.
“That death is caused by disease is a superficial explanation. How does disease come about? The Mother observes that the fact that one is ill shows that something is ill in his being. Disease and death are results of some disharmony in the being. Either the body fails to keep pace with the progress of the soul or it is unable to adapt itself to the universal movement. In either case, there is an inner disharmony and outer illness, disintegration and death follow as a consequence.”
Thus the real causes of illness are subtle and connected to the imbalance between the life-force within the body and around it. A perfect balance is not possible so long as the body remains what it is. It is only a new body, built on the basis of oneness and of a truer substance that can be perfectly immune to diseases.
Accidents and Poisoning
It is obvious that life being what it is, an adventure in a dangerous charming world, there is little we can do by way of physical science to stop causes of accidents and poisoning except to grow the consciousness of the body. That indeed is the aim of all physical culture, to develop consciousness, mastery and balance and control. This would make the body more alert and conscious of any impending disaster thereby facilitating timely preventive action. If a rational physical culture can be combined with yogic processes which bring even the autonomic nervous system under control, then the mastery over diseases of diverse origin (including poisoning and degeneration and accidents and aging) can be near complete. Near, but not fully and not yet as a natural law of the body, for which the very body must undergo a great change, the kind envisaged through the Yoga of Supramental transformation. To this we can turn later. The Mother notes an interesting instance:
“Once, in Paris, I was crossing the Boulevard Saint Michel… I had decided that within a certain number of months I would achieve union with the psychic Presence, the inner Divine, and I no longer had any other thought, any other concern. I lived near the Luxembourg Gardens and every evening I used to walk there — but always deeply absorbed within. There is a kind of intersection there, and it is not a place to cross when one is deeply absorbed within; it was not very sensible. And so I was like that, I was walking, when I suddenly received a shock, as if I had received a blow, as if something had hit me, and I jumped back instinctively. And as soon as I had jumped back, a tram went past — it was the tram that I had felt at a little more than arm’s length. It had touched the aura, the aura of protection — it was very strong at that time, I was deeply immersed in occultism and I knew how to keep it — the aura of protection had been hit and that had literally thrown me backwards, as if I had received a physical shock. And what insults from the driver! I jumped back just in time and the tram went by.”
Some blind people have been known to develop these subtle senses to help them compensate for the loss of sight. A methodical development of the subtle senses through yoga and becoming more and more conscious in our physical parts may well be one answer to the problem of accidents in times to come.
Occultism and the Alchemy of Life and Death
Material life as we know it is not the only life. Behind embodied life there is a plane of life-consciousness with its own unique energy and properties. The occultists in every tradition of past and present have always been aware of it. There are special techniques to become aware of this life-energy behind our material processes. There are also means by which we can learn to manipulate them. This is exactly what knowledgeable Reiki masters do and some tantrics of yore used to do. By this manipulation of the inner life, one can temporarily, for a short or long period, superimpose the law of a higher plane on a lower plane. This can help in preserving youth, prolonging life, even for very long periods of time. The lamas of Tibet, the Hatha and Raja yogis of India, the Buddhist traditions and the tantrics of Nath Sampradaya have all tried to unleash this hidden force of a greater life-energy and thereby conquer disease and decay for long time. Certain Vaishnava schools have made attempts to dwell in the subtle inner body and also attempted kayasiddhi, specialised procedures for rejuvenating the body. And finally there have been efforts to prolong life in the body by the superimposition of another and higher dynamism of the life energy. But all these efforts as far as we know are not linked to immortality of the physical body. They are efforts at prolonging life in the physical body by adhyaropan, the imposition of another law, and for the moment (as long as the forced superimposition continues) dispense with the physical laws. But all this is not a conquest since the laws of the physical body do not change as such. It is not a natural possession of physical immortality. And obviously physical immortality without a corresponding purification and perfection of inner consciousness and outer nature would mean an immortalisation of man’s imperfection and ignorance. The story of ‘Trishancou’ illustrates this well. An early king of the solar dynasty seeks to reach the home of the immortals in his physical body through the tapa-shakti (the power accumulated through askesis) of Rishi Vishvamitra. The Rishi tries over and over again but fails each time since the king is essentially impure in his physical consciousness and thus is not granted entry into the immortal’s world while still in his physical body. An integral purity and perfection of consciousness is a precondition for physical immortality. But short of this one can have and realise the essential immortality by discovering and living in one’s soul. Is there a possibility of prolonging youth through subtler yogic means? After all we do observe that the species that live longer like the tortoise also take fewer breaths per minute. So also the heavy breathers like dogs and rabbits live relatively shorter lives. In fact a whole science of breath regulation called pranayama has been known since antiquity in India. Among the other effects of pranayama, a well-known and significant effect is prolongation of life and delaying the aging process. And finally we do also see a certain linkage between reproduction and lifespan. Most species, barring man have their lifespan limited by their reproductive capacity. That is to say, they live up to the age they can reproduce and not beyond. Human beings are an exception to this general rule as if Nature has given us a lease of life for purposes other than living only for propagating the species. But as in the case of breathing, there may be a deeper linkage between sexual reproduction and death, a subtler truth that we have yet to discover. Ayurveda does speak about brahmacharya and sexual continence as one of the means of prolonging youthfulness and vital vigour.
Pranayama and Brahmacharya
In ancient India, material existence and physical processes were seen as conterminous with the subtler ones. Thus the physical breath was seen as a means not only of bringing in oxygen but also and simultaneously as a vehicle to draw the vital-force or prana (also called ‘chi’ in Japanese). The heart was not only an organ necessary to pump blood but also a physical means to circulate the prana within the body. It may be noted that prana in this context refers to the fuel or energy used by the body and the mind for their diverse processes. If we compare the body to an engine, then prana is the fuel used for driving it, mind is the technology behind the motion of the wheels and the engine, whereas the driver, the man behind the steering wheel whose decisions can change the course of the engine is the secret soul within us. Thus each part has its right place and function, none can be ignored. If the engine is of a weaker make or poor design it can run only for limited purposes. So also if the fuel is not efficient energy-wise, throwing more smoke than fire and steam, it will be a poor fuel. In the human body also, this fuel or prana is of five types — two of poor quality used for driving the body for lower motives like eating, reproduction, anger, etc. It is the old version of prana, the animal prana, so to say. Then there is the middle prana, which is used for slightly more human motives like attachments, sentiments, etc. Finally we have the two upward currents of prana utilised for mental and higher pursuits. The lower form of prana that looks after the body is supplied largely through material processes whereas the higher forms are subtler. The life of an average man is governed largely by lower motives and therefore utilises the inferior fuel for driving the body. A better type of humanity with a slightly higher orientation naturally draws a better quality. But the best fuel of prana is drawn quite naturally by those who are turned upward in quest of a higher spiritual life. They naturally draw prana in its purest form. Similarly, the technology of the engine or the mind’s movements and finally the experience and expertise of the driver are all important for the smooth functioning of the body. Nevertheless, the regulation of breath through pranayama is a psycho-physical means to increase and regulate the five currents of prana and balance them in the system. The physical means were nature’s devices to which our body forms have got habituated and accustomed. The yogi could however do away with the outer device by learning to draw prana in other subtler ways and circulating it by force of will. At the same time the average human being who could not do this, that is go beyond the limits set by nature could nevertheless use this knowledge for drawing more vital energy within the body by perfecting his breath.
Poverty of breath leads to a diminution of the life-force, its eventual depletion and petrifaction thereby predisposing one to diseases and aging. Pranayama or breath regulation is a means to halt this depletion of life-energy within us. Of course mere pranayama is naturally not enough if one continues to allow depletion through other means especially the lower motives and channels. In fact an excess of unregulated life-energy flowing through the lower channels is precisely the deeper psychological basis for what we call as vices. Pranayama in such situations would only worsen the situation by increasing the quantum of life-force without regulating its flow. It is like overloading a system without enhancing its power to contain and bear more weight and force.
The word pranayama indeed means regulating the flow of life-energy in its movements through the five channels. This fivefold movement of prana as mentioned earlier is divided into two lower currents, one middle and two upper currents. When there is a predominant flow through the lower currents there is very little left for higher purposes of life. Being thrown out downwards soon depletes the pranic reserves. Therefore it has been said by the ancient wisdom that each sexual act is actually a step towards death. The same of course would be true of other lower movements of prana like anger, jealousy, fear, etc. It is here that we have the psychological basis of brahmacharya. This is a means to convert the prana-shakti (life-energy) within us for higher purposes. This is best done through will and changing of life’s motives, by consciously turning the prana-shakti in us for higher and vaster rather than for lower and narrower purposes, through an opening to a higher consciousness beyond mind and as a corollary preventing the flow and loss of life-energy through lower channels of lust, anger, hate, etc. It is much like the transmutation of energy that we talk of in physics and is indeed the subtle basis of sublimation of energy that we recognise in modern psychology. But this too would only lead to a prolongation of youth and not a complete conquest over death.
Sri Aurobindo sheds light upon the rationale of brahmacharya and its process —
“… if the sex-fluid is prevented from being spent away, it turns into tejas and ojas. The whole theory of brahmacarya is based upon that by the yogis. If it were not so, there would be no need of brahmacarya for producing tejas and ojas. It is not a question of vigour and energy per se, but of the physical support — in the physical support the ojas produced by brahmacarya counts greatly. The transformation of the retas into ojas is a transformation of physical substance into a physical (necessarily producing also a vital-physical) energy. The spiritual energy itself can only drive the body, like the vital and mental, but in driving it, it would exhaust it if it has not a physical support. (I speak of course of the ordinary spiritual energy, not of the supramental to be, which has not only to transmute retas into ojas but ojas into something more sublimated.)”
“The contrary opinion of which you speak may be due to the idea that sex is a natural part of the human vital-physical whole, a necessity like food and sleep, and that its total inhibition may lead to unbalancing and to serious disorders. It is a fact that sex suppressed in outward action but indulged in other ways may lead to disorders of the system and brain troubles. That is the root of the medical theory which discourages sexual abstinence. But I have observed that these things happen only when there is either secret indulgence of a perverse kind replacing the normal sexual activity or else an indulgence of it in a kind of subtle vital way by imagination or by an invisible vital interchange of an occult kind, I do not think harm ever occurs when there is a true spiritual effort at mastery and abstinence. It is now held by many medical men in Europe that sexual abstinence, if it is genuine, is beneficial; for the element in the retas which serves the sexual act is then changed into its other element which feeds the energies of the system, mental, vital and physical — and that justifies the Indian idea of brahmacharya, the transformation of retas into ojas and the raising of its energies upward so that they change into a spiritual force.
“As for the method of mastery, it cannot be done by physical abstinence alone — it proceeds by a process of combined detachment and rejection. The consciousness stands back from the sex-impulse, feels it as not its own, as something alien thrown on it by Nature-force to which it refuses assent or identification — each time a certain movement of rejection throws it more and more outward. The mind remains unaffected; after a time the vital being which is the chief support withdraws from it in the same way, finally the physical consciousness no longer supports it. This process continues until even the subconscient can no longer rouse it up in dream and no further movement comes from the outer Nature-force to rekindle this lower fire. This is the course when the sex-propensity sticks obstinately; but there are some who can eliminate it decisively by a swift radical dropping away from the nature. That, however, is more rare.”
Yet as we have seen, we are far from conquering death as a species. And if there is a reason to life and a reason to existence then there must be a good enough reason for death, for the moment at least. The inner methods are also processes and capitalise on manipulating still deeper forces of nature than the physical scientist manipulates. Occultism in this sense is like chemistry learning and playing with the inner combination of forces. Yet it is still the domain of the how, leaving the why untackled and therefore the original cause remains intact. Death though pushed back a little remains unconquered. The reason is that the stuff of the body remains unchanged. It is like using high voltage energy from electricity or the sun to drive an engine which has been designed by nature to be driven mainly by coal or steam. Though electrical and solar processes are submerged within and run as an undercurrent they are not the main means or vehicles for energy transmission and exchange within the body. It is still largely air (steam) or chemicals (coal). The nerves do use electrical transmission in places. An odd gland responds to the solar energy but not the body as a whole. Even if we could draw energy directly through the sun, unless there is a change in the constituting consciousness of the body it will still be subject to decay and age and consequent death. For these are but processes, and not the real inner reason for the existence of death. Even if all the outer causes are mastered death will find its entry through the door of ignorance within the human body. And the body will change only when the consciousness within changes.
Quest for Immortality – The Two Approaches
The Indian tradition has given a lot of attention to this subject of immortality. Through a significant series of myths it has pointed out basically two different approaches to the problem. One is the asuric or the demoniac way typified in the tales of Ravana, Hiranyakashapa, Trishanku, Jarashandha and others. These beings were attracted towards immortality for the sake of prolonging their ego’s empire indefinitely. Meaning thereby they wanted physical immortality without changing within in their consciousness. For this they try many outer, inner, subtler and occult means, including great tapasya and mastery over deeper forces of nature. Still their efforts are foredoomed to failure since immortality for them would mean a great imbalance in All-life whom these gigantic egos are out to devour. Death finds some way or the other to reach their doorsteps. The message is clear, you cannot forcibly wrest the cup of immortality from the hands of Eternal life, certainly not by clinging to the body out of fear or vanity. Fear is in fact a dangerous ally of death and one who strives for immortality must be therefore free of all fear and attachment.
The other method is the way of the gods and godly beings. The tales of Markandeya, Savitri, Hanuman, Narada, Nachiketas symbolize this other approach. These do not strive for immortality per se but for some other higher spiritual good that they may serve through their bodies. They are granted immortality as a boon or gift of Grace and not as a result of some arduous tapasya done for egoistic purposes. The story of Bheesma who was granted the gift of Iccha-mrityu is especially touching. A man of godly bearing and rare wisdom, he himself reveals the means of his death to his opponents since he feels that thus alone he can serve the cause of truth. Though potentially capable of prolonging life indefinitely, yet he is not attached to it as the frightful and fearful asura.
Especially significant in this regard is the legend of the churning of the ocean. The gods and the titans join hands to churn the ocean of life together to bring out the nectar of immortality buried in its depths. Many things come out as a result of the great churning, but the two groups continue to strive unfazed and unallured. They continue to churn till just before they hit rock bottom, there appears the most potent poison, kalkoota. There is a furore as to who would take it. The answer is obvious — who else but the great god Shiva who is eternal life dancing over death. That danger gone, now comes out the great elixir, but also the subtlest of tests devised by the preserver of the worlds, Vishnu. Knowing the hidden intention of the titans, the great god assumes the form of a world-alluring figure, Viswa-mohini. The titans are shaken as their hidden lusts come out to the surface. Their gaze and desire is now fixed upon the alluring form and thereby they miss the nectar. But the gods who are in the secret confidence of the preserver himself, keep their gaze fixed upon the aim and thereby succeed in getting the nectar. Modern science is similarly in the position of the asura who tries to forcibly snatch and take away the powers of nature to serve the egoistic purposes of man. And nature does reveal it quite a bit through this excess violence of force, but not the last secrets. Therefore is all effort without the true knowledge and right attitude foredoomed to collapse like a house of cards.
The Traditional Spiritual View of Immortality
The energies of mind, life and body, however powerful, are as yet subordinate energies moving in the fields of a cosmic ignorance. The issue of death cannot be settled here. This is not the plane where the power for physical immortality can be found, though a relative mastery and prolongation of life may be possible by tapping these powers. This relative mastery is also useful and necessary as a first preliminary step towards the final mastery. One of the great significances of life upon earth is to master outer and inner nature. At the animal level, the field of this mastery is limited to certain gross things in the outer environment. With man and the advent of mind with its capacity to reflect upon itself and introspect, the field of self-mastery extends to one’s inner nature as well. All ethics, science especially the psychological sciences, art with its pursuit of perfection, occultism, meditation, are so many means to move towards this mastery. But all these are incomplete means. They are not perfect in power because they are not perfect in their knowledge. The seat of authentic power and knowledge lies even deeper than our natural combination of mind-life-body. It lies in the secret adytum of our inmost soul.
The traditional spiritual view, higher than the scientist’s and the occultist’s, reaches deeper into the very spiritual fount of nature. The soul in us is the divine element and therefore authentic and true. Being divine in its essence, it is also immortal and eternal. It does not perish with the destruction of the body nor with the return and dissolution of the elements of life and mind into their native worlds. The first genuine step towards immortality is taken when we touch and begin to dwell within our soul. We then begin to share the consciousness of immortality that is natural to the soul itself. The fear of death leaves us forever since we know its unreality. The false ‘I’ of the ego, which is a conglomeration of the mind-life-body self, is dissolved by death. But death cannot touch the immortal soul in us and nothing can destroy it. The true ‘I’ never perishes. To find this soul and live in it is to discover the secret of immortality even while we continue to function in an otherwise perishable body.
Most spiritual traditions do not resolve the mystery of death. They only make it deeper by bypassing the question. The mystic has so far regarded life as a field of sorrow and impermanence where everything dies. Birth therefore is seen as an occasion of sorrow since it is bound to bring along with it grief and suffering and pain. Being born again and again is seen as a source of prolonging one’s misery by entering repeatedly into this transient, unhappy world where death takes its prey at will and nothing can save us from its grip, not even good deeds or a powerful mind and body. The only solution left is to somehow cut the knot of birth. The soul that arrives at this departure does it by one of the two methods. One is by going deep within using one or more powers of nature — the mind, emotions or will, until one gets at the secret soul. Once this true self is touched, one wakes up from the stupor of a false identity. With this knowledge one cuts the bonds of false attachment and desire or retires into solitude till these things fall off by starvation and the soul denuded of its sheaths returns back to its origin. The second method is to go higher and higher with the help of the mind and its power of meditation. The ascending mind reaches ultimately a state of impersonality or the static Self. The whole effort of the practitioner then is to dwell in that state more and more by increasingly retiring into his inner solitude and the stillness of his Impersonal self till the body and mind wear off and drop in a natural way. There are other lesser known methods as well like the method of constantly witnessing nature and observing without sanctioning its activities till they drop off as a flower would wilt, unsupported by the sap that nourishes it. Whatever be the means, the immortality sought by the mystics is the immortality of the soul within or of the higher Self above.
As to immortality of the body, all spiritual traditions seem to have passed a final verdict of anityam asukham (this transient suffering world where neither permanence nor delight can dwell). Thus far and no further stops all search and ends the mystery. Having realised the soul and its convincing immortality, the hold of death is gone forever and so also of birth. The purpose for which we came to earth is over. The drape of illusion is torn from our mist-laden eyes and we make the final-most exit into some heaven of mukti, salvation, nirvana.
“Be thyself, immortal, and put not thy faith in death; for death is not of thyself, but of thy body. For the Spirit is immortality.”
The End of Death, the Death of Ignorance
“To free the self is but one radiant pace”…
“A first betrothal of the Earth to Heaven…”
But not the last word, not the final seal of God’s work or the sign of His sanction to our efforts. There is a still greater work to do, a still greater problem to be understood, and a still greater mystery to be solved. All that we realise by discovering the immortal soul in us is who we truly are. Knowing our true self frees us individually from the clutches of sorrow and suffering. But to know oneself is only the beginning of another line of progress. It consists in knowing what we came here to do, our purpose beneath the stars, our real work amidst this wilderness. If the purpose of the soul was simply to free itself from nature then there was no need for it to accept the bondage at all! It is a weird logic to believe that the soul, though divine becomes somehow helplessly bound by nature and has then only to cry for its release from this pitiable state. What a waste of all creative effort of God or whoever else that would be if the whole drama began just so that after millions of years we realise its utter futility and walk out of the play, shocked and dazed and bitter. That would not only be a bad creation but a terrible folly to boot. Here must we pause and reconsider whether it is the folly of the Creator who made this intriguing world where our souls have strayed unwittingly or unwillingly, or is it the folly and impatience of our blinded hearts attracted to the lure of escape due to which we are unable to see the purpose even when it stares us in the eyes. The purpose of creation must also be the secret purpose of the soul adventuring in time and space. That purpose, if we care to see it, is obviously the evolution of more and more perfect life forms upon earth and a correspondingly higher and higher consciousness as well. There is an ascending evolution in Nature through which Nature seems to be working out the development of higher and higher forms. Higher in capacity of life and its powers, higher in capacities of feeling and willing, higher in capacities of mind and of knowledge, and most importantly higher in terms of soul-vision and soul-force. But is this the end? Is this imperfect creature called man the summit of Nature’s evolutionary effort? Not so, says Sri Aurobindo.
Life and creation have a deeper purpose than simply bondage and later a doorway of escape. The soul, that is the seed of divinity in us has not ventured here simply to return empty handed and naked back to its source just as it came. Life in Sri Aurobindo’s vision is not an unfortunate accident, creation not a meaningless tale. It is rather the supreme means for a progressive unfolding of the divine possibilities hid in the soil of matter in the form of the divine seed. These are the deeper and higher truths of life itself — the truth of Knowledge and Light, the truth of Freedom and Peace and Bliss, the truth of Harmony and Love, the truth of a collective and terrestrial perfection of life upon earth. Nature tends towards that, revealing these possibilities as hints and stray glimpses in an exceptional individual here and there. But what is found in one is also latent in another. It is only a matter of time for the race to discover what the individual has uncovered within himself. But that this higher possibility may manifest itself fully in all its many sided perfection and not occasionally and partially, what is needed here is the preparation of the soil and the climate. Sri Aurobindo and the Mother gave their lives to realise this vision of Divine Perfection of our earthly life. Through decades of an intense sadhana they discovered the roots of the problem and the cure. Not only did they discover it but worked it out for man. The soil and the climate could be made ready for this higher possibility of a Divine Life upon earth if a higher than mind principle, the Supramental Truth-Consciousness, could establish itself upon earth. That would hasten this divine outflowering of the race. Right now we are governed by the mental principle which in its very nature is imperfect, leaving us with the choice of either leading an ignorant and imperfect life or else quitting it by ascending to one of the spiritual planes of consciousness beyond our ordinary human mind. But beyond even the spiritual planes there exists the sun blaze of a Supramental Truth-Consciousness where ignorance and suffering, limitation and division, falsehood and error, disharmony and imperfection has no place. Its presence upon earth would mean the natural appearance of truth and oneness, harmony and delight, love and light upon earth and not away from it. It would also naturally mean an evolution of the human race into a race of Supramental gnostic beings just as the advent of mind evolved our humanity out of the unthinking animal. At its apex it would mean the transmutation of the very stuff of our bodies so that this mortal and perishable bag of bones becomes a home of light, a translucent mantle that does not hold back and hide the inner light of the soul but transmits and even enhances its beauty and radiance. With the appearance of this divine body and the end of Ignorance there would end the reign of Death.
What would that mean? Firstly that there will be a change in the inner consciousness of human beings so that they would become in their inner constitution and psychological nature more and more open and receptive to the higher forces of light and love and harmony and truth. Nevertheless these beings though conscious of a higher Light and Law will still have the limitations of the physical body constituted in the animal way. That means that for some time a division will persist with a transformed inner consciousness in a section of humanity ready for the evolutionary leap and an unchanged outer consciousness resisting and dragging it behind towards our animal past. An improved software in an unchanged hardware so to say! But this inner growth will press further and further from within outwards till the very physical body begins to undergo the necessary transmutation, a body fully expressive of the inner divinity and not hiding and obstructing it. The very presence of this new being of Light and Truth will radically alter the balance of earthly life just as the presence of man has altered the balance of animal and plant life and even of the material life upon earth. For, this new being will handle everything with the full and true consciousness, the simultaneous consciousness of the part and the whole, the simultaneous knowledge of the truth of its inner and outer working, the simultaneous insight and intuition of the moment’s need and the vision of eternity. These higher beings will escape the law of death since they will be fully conscious. That does not mean wearing the same body forever. But a conscious changing of the body by an act of supraconscious will without any intermediary stages of forgetfulness, loss of consciousness and helpless subjection to a blind mechanism (blind to our ignorance) which death now represents. Those still subject to Ignorance will no doubt continue to die and be born the present human way but a higher knowledge and power lent to them by this beautiful and luminous ‘other’ will take away much of their pain and suffering that the existence of death carries now. Death then will become an instrument of Light and not a blind unthinking law that it has now assumed for itself before a humanity helpless before its dark and ambiguous veil. Just as with the advent of mind, the forces of nature which appeared as blind for an animal have assumed a different meaning for man who can now harness and use them for a greater good, so too with the advent of the new being the forces of death and destruction will become instruments of a higher will which will harness and use them consciously for a greater good.
How, you may ask. Death at present deals with us the way forces of Nature dealt with man till he became aware of Nature’s reality. Death is also a similar universal force, not all evil, not all good. Rather he seems to be a villain trying to become a do-gooder, like all the forces. The reason is that it chose to be autonomous and therefore cut off from the Integral truth. The psychic being as it develops to perfection can bring it back to surrender to the Truth as we find in tales of Icchamrityu and other notable legends. After that happens and the growing soul of man has mastered death it will be able to use its powers to harness life and to recreate a balance. Death has been indeed used by the Luminous ones as an instrument, for example to destroy the unnecessary past, to remove an obstruction on the way to the future or even to destroy conscious evil as Sri Krishna did. In the same way, man will be able to use the force of death to remove all that obstinately stands in the way of the evolutionary future of mankind. Of course this assumes that one would have reached a stage of evolution to such a height where one is the natural possessor of an unerring wisdom, that sees truth even more concretely than one sees a material object. Such a vision of truth is conterminous with Compassion and to that luminous eye even destruction becomes an act of compassion, releasing the soul from a material encasement where it was trapped in the prison house of a dark and fallen nature. This is surely very, very different from the senseless killing in the name of religion or an ideal or even a high sentiment which are nothing else but ignorance fabricating the name of truth. Such people often quote the Gita or other religious authority to justify an act motivated by their own blindness. The Gita itself clarifies this by extolling non-injury to others (ahimsa) as a divine quality to be practised by one who is still struggling in the maze of the ignorance. But it equally emphasises that it is a midway point and the soul in man has to one day ascend beyond this duality by growing into the authentic soul, seeing beyond the relative good and the relative evil born of our ignorant outlook and ascend to his home in the permanent and divine Good.
Therefore says Savitri whom Death tries to intimidate but ends up being conquered and intimidated himself — “Live, Death, awhile, be still my instrument.” It is not just a change of outlook towards death but a change of capacity and power in dealing with it.
Sounds like a fairy tale. Well, no more a fairy tale than the appearance of thinking man amidst the immense void of space, out of the cosmic dust. No more a fairy tale than the emergence of poetry and philosophy out of the dumb heart of a cave-man. No more a fairy tale than the reptile crawling in dark holes in the bowels of the earth developing wings of a bird and spanning the skies.
Perhaps, but one day our human mode of feeling and communicating may itself become utterly incomprehensible to a future man. For one thing is both consistent with the logic of Nature as well as of God, or the logic of Science and the logic of spiritual philosophy, that such an unsure imperfect creature called man cannot be the apex of God’s creativity or of Nature’s. Man by his very nature is destined to be a transitional being for the gap is still wide between what he hopes for and what he has, between his actuality and his possibility, between his dream visitations and his present day mundane reality.
How can we participate in the process?
By bringing the future closer to us through an inner door, opening to the new consciousness and receiving its influx into our lives.
By a conscious aspiration and changing ourselves in the direction of the future. By unburdening ourselves of that past which seeks to perpetuate the reign of Ignorance and ties us down to littleness and pettiness of thought and endeavour and action.
Or perhaps by simply being happy and hopeful as a child full of enthusiasm and wonder, free of conditioning and arrogant mental pride.
Even if we do not participate, the future will still force itself upon us. Nature did not seek permission from the fish before removing the fins and the gills and replacing them with lungs and limbs. It goes about the task set for it by the secret Time-Spirit whose passing breath is felt by a few, heard by fewer still.
“A Witness of creation, if there had been one conscious but uninstructed, would only have seen appearing out of a vast abyss of an apparent non-existence an Energy busy with the creation of Matter, a material world and material objects, organising the infinity of the Inconscient into the scheme of a boundless universe or a system of countless universes that stretched around him into Space without any certain end or limit, a tireless creation of nebulae and star-clusters and suns and planets, existing only for itself, without a sense in it, empty of cause or purpose. It might have seemed to him a stupendous machinery without a use, a mighty meaningless movement, an aeonic spectacle without a witness, a cosmic edifice without an inhabitant; for he would have seen no sign of an indwelling Spirit, no being for whose delight it was made. A creation of this kind could only be the outcome of an inconscient Energy or an illusion-cinema, a shadow-play or puppet-play of forms reflected on a superconscient indifferent Absolute. He would have seen no evidence of a soul and no hint of Mind or Life in this immeasurable and interminable display of Matter. It would not have seemed to him possible or imaginable that there could at all be in this desert universe for ever inanimate and insensible an outbreak of teeming life, a first vibration of something occult and incalculable, alive and conscious, a secret spiritual entity feeling its way towards the surface.
“But after some aeons, looking out once more on that vain panorama, he might have detected in one small corner at least of the universe this phenomenon, a corner where Matter had been prepared, its operations sufficiently fixed, organised, made stable, adapted as a scene of a new development, — the phenomenon of a living Matter, a Life in things that had emerged and become visible: but still the Witness would have understood nothing, for evolutionary Nature still veils her secret. He would have seen a Nature concerned only with establishing this outburst of Life, this new creation, but Life living for itself with no significance in it, a wanton and abundant creatrix busy scattering the seed of her new power and establishing a multitude of its forms in a beautiful and luxurious profusion or, later, multiplying endlessly genus and species for the pure pleasure of creation: a small touch of lively colour and movement would have been flung into the immense cosmic desert and nothing more. The Witness could not have imagined that a thinking mind would appear in this minute island of life, that a consciousness could awake in the Inconscient, a new and greater subtler vibration come to the surface and betray more clearly the existence of the submerged Spirit. It would have seemed to him at first that Life had somehow become aware of itself and that was all; for this scanty new-born mind seemed to be only a servant of life, a contrivance to help life to live, a machinery for its maintenance, for attack and defence, for certain needs and vital satisfactions, for the liberation of life-instinct and life-impulse. It could not have seemed possible to him that in this little life, so inconspicuous amid the immensities, in one sole species out of this petty multitude, a mental being would emerge, a Mind serving Life still but also making Life and Matter its servants, using them for the fulfilment of its own ideas, will, wishes, — a mental being who would create all manner of utensils, tools, instruments out of Matter for all kinds of utilities, erect out of it cities, houses, temples, theatres, laboratories, factories, chisel from it statues and carve cave-cathedrals, invent architecture, sculpture, painting, poetry and a hundred crafts and arts, discover the mathematics and physics of the universe and the hidden secret of its structure, live for the sake of Mind and its interests, for thought and knowledge, develop into the thinker, the philosopher and scientist and, as a supreme defiance to the reign of Matter, awake in himself to the hidden Godhead, become the hunter after the invisible, the mystic and the spiritual seeker.
“But if after several ages or cycles the Witness had looked again and seen this miracle in full process, even then perhaps, obscured by his original experience of the sole reality of Matter in the universe, he would still not have understood; it would still seem impossible to him that the hidden Spirit could wholly emerge, complete in its consciousness, and dwell upon the earth as the self-knower and world-knower, Nature’s ruler and possessor. ‘Impossible!’ he might say, ‘all that has happened is nothing much, a little bubbling of sensitive grey stuff of brain, a queer freak in a bit of inanimate Matter moving about on a small dot in the universe.’ On the contrary, a new Witness intervening at the end of the story, informed of the past developments but unobsessed by the deception of the beginning, might cry out, ‘Ah, then, this was the intended miracle, the last of many, the Spirit that was submerged in the Inconscience has broken out from it and now inhabits, unveiled, the form of things which, veiled, it had created as its dwelling-place and the scene of its emergence.’ But in fact a more conscious Witness might have discovered the clue at an early period of the unfolding, even in each step of its process; for at each stage Nature’s mute secrecy, though still there, diminishes; a hint is given of the next step, a more overtly significant preparation is visible. Already, in what seems to be inconscient in Life, the signs of sensation coming towards the surface are visible; in moving and breathing Life the emergence of sensitive mind is apparent and the preparation of thinking mind is not entirely hidden, while in thinking mind, when it develops, there appear at an early stage the rudimentary strivings and afterwards the more developed seekings of a spiritual consciousness. As plant-life contains in itself the obscure possibility of the conscious animal, as the animal-mind is astir with the movements of feeling and perception and the rudiments of conception that are the first ground for man the thinker, so man the mental being is sublimated by the endeavour of the evolutionary Energy to develop out of him the spiritual man, the fully conscious being, man exceeding his first material self and discoverer of his true self and highest nature.”
When darkness deepens strangling the earth’s breast
And man’s corporeal mind is the only lamp,
As a thief’s in the night shall be the covert tread
Of one who steps unseen into his house.
A Voice ill-heard shall speak, the soul obey,
A Power into mind’s inner chamber steal,
A charm and sweetness open life’s closed doors
And beauty conquer the resisting world,
The truth-light capture Nature by surprise,
A stealth of God compel the heart to bliss
And earth grow unexpectedly divine.
In Matter shall be lit the spirit’s glow,
In body and body kindled the sacred birth;
Night shall awake to the anthem of the stars,
The days become a happy pilgrim march,
Our will a force of the Eternal’s power,
And thought the rays of a spiritual sun.
A few shall see what none yet understands;
God shall grow up while the wise men talk and sleep;
For man shall not know the coming till its hour
And belief shall be not till the work is done.
Sri Aurobindo and the Mother probed the purpose of earthly life and its rendezvous with death and found its ultimate solution. Not for themselves was their labour. They had already seen and walked several times over the hidden and occult territories of existence, known its powers and limitations, trod the traditional spiritual paths, discovered once again the immortality of the soul, realised the eternal, immutable Self, known the taste of Nirvana and the boundless freedom of the Infinite, charted for all times to come for earth and humanity the maps of Consciousness and filled in the gaps of its unknown dimensions, uncovered the secret pages from the hidden scripts of the past — and yet the paradox of life upon earth and the ultimate mystery of birth and death remained to be satisfactorily solved.
The issue was not just the escape of one or many souls from the clutches of death but the very purpose for which this immortal stuff dallies with mortality. If life upon earth was just to realise the immortality of the soul and the true Self then there was no reason to take this plunge into creation at all. Is the drama of pain and suffering justified in the name of karmic justice or whatever else if the end were to be the same as the beginning — that is, the soul that already knew itself once again knows itself after an intermediate period of apparent self-forgetfulness? The escapist solution cannot satisfy a serious quest. It can at best soothe a weak and tired heart needing some rest after the struggle. But man seeks for more and not just an escape from the drama of life. He seeks also for truth and love and bliss and peace and perfection amidst (and not away) from this troubled restless world. Something within us continues to strive for terrestrial perfection with hope and prayer. Ignorance, one might say. But wherefrom came this Ignorance clouding the native self-knowledge of the soul? Or perhaps we have missed the whole sense and meaning of creation! It is this that Sri Aurobindo discovered, not as an armchair philosopher musing upon the enigmas of life but as a spiritual warrior conquering unknown domains of knowledge, hitherto undiscovered so far. A full justice can never be done to His work for mankind and earth in a short book or many books even.
But for our present purposes we can now turn to some of the salient aspects of His discovery that are of immediate relevance to us.
Life upon earth is not an accident, spiritual or chemical but a willing self-plunge of the Spirit. And since the Spirit is All-Knowledge and All-Power, this plunge could not be a helpless subjection to some dark and mysterious (or mischievous) force of Satan or Maya. All has come out of the One Self and is sustained by It to serve a great purpose in the grand scheme. Even matter is nothing else but an act of the Spirit. The Spirit has become matter, so to say, even as it has become everything else.
Since Spirit has become matter it is logical to see that it is matter that must discover its own spiritual reality. In other words, all life is a process of discovery of its own spiritual reality. The new definition of this self-discovery is in material terms. The delight of being at the origin of all things must also taste the delight of becoming. Becoming what? God in clay, or shall we say God smiling through divinised matter, perfectly adapted to receive and transmit His Delight and Force and Truth and Light and Love and all else that is now and always contained in the silent folds of the Spirit. It is to manifest in material life upon earth, the eternal Perfection above.
This cannot happen in a trifle. Therefore there are stages and processes, a gradual and apparently painful progression towards a greater future. The pain is due to the resistance. Yet in the secret Providence of things this is unavoidable. A too rapid unfolding may mean dissolution rather than a new creation. One cannot carve a beautiful sculpture out of entirely soft clay. The chipping of the stone is a slow process and goes on till the Image concealed and imprisoned within its crude contours is released to its utmost perfection. Nature is working towards this New Creation or a divine creation upon earth. This alone can justify the long labour, explain the ensuing suffering for a greater and as yet unrealised delight, and make perfect sense to the mystery of life upon earth. Not so much to find the soul alone (though that is necessary as a first step) but to find its own divine fulfilment.
This new and diviner creation in material terms necessarily means the appearance upon earth of a new and divine being. It will be a race of beings who would be fully governed and driven by the Truth of the Spirit and no more by the body’s hunger, vital impulses and desires, and the mind’s ignorant dictates as it is now. This means the appearance upon earth of a new species whose very centre of consciousness and source of functioning would be radically different than what we have today. While it will be presumptuous for any of us to envisage the details of this new species, if we may call it so, suffice it to say that man like everything else that proceeded before him is a transitional being. Just as out of the ape there arose the phenomenon of man, so too out of man there shall arise this New being who will be radically different from man not only in his inner consciousness and constitution but also and finally in the very body itself. This would necessarily imply many successive and intermediary stages. One such stage will naturally be a being whose consciousness is radically and fundamentally changed but whose body is yet to undergo the needed divinisation.
This change of form and with it a corresponding change of the powers of consciousness has been happening so far over millenniums and this is what we call evolution. But evolution as described by Darwin is only half the story with its most important causal link missing. The missing link is filled up in science by the neat and ambiguous word ‘Chance’. By chance this world sprang up, by chance the dust under our feet began to breathe and crawl, by chance again the crawl changed into a run and a flight, and yet again by another stupendous chance this lump of clay began to feel and think and introspect, consciously seek for beauty and truth and higher things! Underlying this fictitious chance, there is the unseen thread of consciousness that weaves out one form after another and would continue to do so until the perfect form arrives. And the perfect form will be naturally that which can hold the breath and full force of the Spirit without breaking, and contain delight without spilling, spoilage and degradation. It would also mean the end of disease, suffering (of all kinds, including material suffering) and death.
Death itself has evolved or been imposed upon living things out of an evolutionary necessity. If death were not, then imperfect forms would multiply ad infinitum as virus and bacteria do. We need not imagine what a frightful world there would be if forms of Ignorance (limited and partial knowledge and power) continued to multiply. If nature is foredoomed to imperfection then surely earthly life will become a prison for the soul.
The same would not be true for a being of true and total Knowledge, a Gnostic being, since harmony will be the very law of his existence. He would be free from the law of death even physically, but he will not be misusing this freedom to perpetuate itself and exterminate all other species. And his freedom will not be limited by a helpless continuance in the same body for that too would be a limitation, but a freedom to change the body consciously by an act of will and without going through the process of death.
Death in other words is a necessity when life struggles with imperfection and reels under ignorance. Death will no more be necessary when Ignorance changes into Gnosis, imperfection into divine Perfection (and not what we call as human perfection which even at its best is a creation of ignorance), and suffering into the Immortal’s Ananda. As of now, Death is a temporary release from earthly joys and suffering; the joy that ends too soon into its opposite, the suffering that necessarily follows when the immortal soul assumes the mask of imperfection, ignorance and limitation. It will drop off and cease to exist when all life will become a wave of the Supreme Ananda.
A Glorious Body
“In the very, very old traditions, there was a tradition more ancient than the Vedic and the Chaldean which must have been the source of both, in that ancient tradition there is already mention of a ‘glorious body’ which would be plastic enough to be transformed at every moment by the deeper consciousness: it would express that consciousness, it would have no fixity of form. It mentioned luminosity: the constituent matter could become luminous at will. It mentioned a sort of possibility of weightlessness which would allow the body to move about in the air only by the action of will-power and by certain processes of control of the inner energy, and so on. Much has been said about these things.
“I don’t know if there ever were beings on earth who had partially realised this, but in a very small way there have been partial instances of one thing or another, examples which go to prove that it is possible. And following up this idea, one could go so far as to conceive of the replacement of material organs and their functioning as it now is, by centres of concentration of force and energy which would be receptive to the higher forces and which, by a kind of alchemy, would use them for the necessities of life and the body. We already speak of the different ‘centres’ in the body — this knowledge is very widespread among people who have practised yoga — but these centres could be perfected to the point where they replace the different organs by a direct action of the higher energy and vibrations on matter. Those who have practised occultism well enough, in its most integral form, it could be said, know the process of materialisation of subtle energies and can put them in contact with physical vibrations. Not only is it something that can be done, but it is something which is done. And all that is a science, a science which must itself be perfected, completed, and which will obviously be used for the creation and setting in action of new bodies which will be able to manifest the supramental life in the material world. But, as Sri Aurobindo says, before this can be done, it is good to utilise all that we have in order to increase and make more exact the control of physical activities. It is very obvious that those who practise physical culture scientifically and with coordination acquire a control over their bodies that’s unimaginable for ordinary people. When the Russian gymnasts came here, we saw with what ease they did exercises which for an ordinary man are impossible, and they did them as if it was the simplest thing in the world; there was not even the least sign of effort! Well, that mastery is already a great step towards the transformation of the body. And these people who, I could say, are materialists by profession, used no spiritual method in their education; it was solely by material means and an enlightened use of human will that they had achieved this result. If they had added to this a spiritual knowledge and power, they could have achieved an almost miraculous result… because of the false ideas prevalent in the world, we don’t usually see the two things together, spiritual mastery and material mastery, and so one is always incomplete without the other; but this is exactly what we want to do and what Sri Aurobindo is going to explain: if the two are combined, the result can reach a perfection that’s unthinkable for the ordinary human mind, and this is what we want to attempt.”
“The supramental body which has to be brought into being here has four main attributes: lightness, adaptability, plasticity and luminosity. When the physical body is thoroughly divinised, it will feel as if it were always walking on air, there will be no heaviness or tamas or unconsciousness in it. There will also be no end to its power of adaptability: in whatever conditions it is placed it will immediately be equal to the demands made upon it because its full consciousness will drive out all that inertia and incapacity which usually make Matter a drag on the Spirit. Supramental plasticity will enable it to stand the attack of every hostile force which strives to pierce it: it will present no dull resistance to the attack but will be, on the contrary, so pliant as to nullify the force by giving way to it to pass off. Thus it will suffer no harmful consequences and the most deadly attacks will leave it unscathed. Lastly, it will be turned into the stuff of light, each cell will radiate the supramental glory. Not only those who are developed enough to have their subtle sight open but the ordinary man too will be able to perceive this luminosity. It will be an evident fact to each and all, a permanent proof of the transformation which will convince even the most sceptical.
“The bodily transformation will be the supreme spiritual rebirth — an utter casting away of all the ordinary past. For spiritual rebirth means the constant throwing away of our previous associations and circumstances and proceeding to live as if at each virgin moment we were starting life anew. It is to be free of what is called Karma, the stream of our past actions: in other words, a liberation from the bondage of Nature’s common activity of cause and effect. When this cutting away of the past is triumphantly accomplished in the consciousness, all those mistakes, blunders, errors and follies which, still vivid in our recollection, cling to us like leeches sucking our life-blood, drop away, leaving us most joyfully free. This freedom is not a mere matter of thought; it is the most solid, practical, material fact. We really are free, nothing binds us, nothing affects us, there is no obsession of responsibility. If we want to counteract, annul or outgrow our past, we cannot do it by mere repentance or similar things, we must forget that the untransformed past has ever been and enter into an enlightened state of consciousness which breaks loose from all moorings. To be reborn means to enter, first of all, into our psychic consciousness where we are one with the Divine and eternally free from the reactions of Karma. Without becoming aware of the psychic, it is not possible to do so; but once we are securely conscious of the true soul in us which is always surrendered to the Divine, all bondage ceases. Then incessantly life begins afresh, then the past no longer cleaves to us. To give you an idea of the final height of spiritual rebirth, I may say that there can be a constant experience of the whole universe actually disappearing at every instant and being at every instant newly created!”
We started with the necessity and inevitability of death. Let us end with the certainty of the end of death and of all that it so far stands for; the end of ignorance and falsehood and with it the end of evil and suffering and pain:
The incarnate dual Power shall open God’s door,
Eternal supermind touch earthly Time.
The superman shall wake in mortal man
And manifest the hidden demigod
Or grow into the God-Light and God-Force
Revealing the secret deity in the cave.
Then shall the earth be touched by the Supreme,
His bright unveiled Transcendence shall illumine
The mind and heart, and force the life and act
To interpret his inexpressible mystery
In a heavenly alphabet of Divinity’s signs.
His living cosmic spirit shall enring,
Annulling the decree of death and pain,
Erasing the formulas of the Ignorance,…
The supermind shall be his nature’s fount,
The Eternal’s truth shall mould his thoughts and acts,
The Eternal’s truth shall be his light and guide.
All then shall change, a magic order come
Overtopping this mechanical universe.
A mightier race shall inhabit the mortal’s world.
On Nature’s luminous tops, on the Spirit’s ground,
The superman shall reign as king of life,
Make earth almost the mate and peer of heaven
And lead towards God and truth man’s ignorant earth
And lift towards godhead his mortality….
All shall be drawn into a single plan,
A divine harmony shall be earth’s law,
Beauty and Joy remould her way to live:
Even the body shall remember God,
Nature shall draw back from mortality
And Spirit’s fires shall guide the earth’s blind force;…
The Spirit’s eyes shall look through Nature’s eyes,
The Spirit’s force shall occupy Nature’s force.
This world shall be God’s visible garden-house,
The earth shall be a field and camp of God,
Man shall forget consent to mortality
And his embodied frail impermanence.
This universe shall unseal its occult sense,…
Even there shall come as a high crown of all
The end of Death, the death of Ignorance….
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….
Nature shall live to manifest secret God,
The Spirit shall take up the human play,
This earthly life become the life divine. 
Our Godhead Calls Us
Our godhead calls us in unrealised things.
Asleep in the wide fields of destiny,
A world guarded by Silence’ rustling wings
Sheltered their fine impossibility.
But part, but quiver the cerulean gates,
Close splendours look into our dreaming eyes,
We bear proud deities and magnificent fates;
Faces and hands come near from Paradise.
What shone thus far above is here in us;
Bliss unattained our future’s birthright is;
Beauty of our dim soul is amorous;
We are the heirs of infinite widenesses.
The impossible is the hint of what shall be,
Mortal the door to immortality.
“In that movement of Time and Becoming God appears to our conception or experience of him by the evidence of his works as the divine Power who ordains and sets all things in their place in the movement. In his form of Space it is he who fronts us in every direction, million-bodied, myriad-minded, manifest in each existence; we see his faces on all sides of us… He appears to us too in the universe as the universal spirit of Destruction, who seems to create only to undo his creations in the end, — “I am all-snatching Death,” aham mrtyuh sarvaharah. And yet his Power of becoming does not cease from its workings, for the force of rebirth and new creation ever keeps pace with the force of death and destruction, ‘and I am too the birth of all that shall come into being.’ The divine Self in things is the sustaining Spirit of the present, the withdrawing Spirit of the past, the creative Spirit of the future.”
The Many Faces of Death
The Many Faces of Death
The presence of death has strongly influenced life upon earth. Much of the struggle for survival that we observe at the animal level has been the direct result of death upon our planet. This struggle for survival far from being a disaster has so far only helped in the enrichment of life. The force of evolution has utilized this struggle for developing greater capacities and powers in nature. It has created a kind of race for the development of more and more perfect forms, forms more plastic and adaptable, forms more harmonious and beautiful and, who knows, one day it will go on to create forms that are perfect and divine. Strength, endurance, plasticity are all a direct result of the dance of death whose ruthless steps break the barriers of weakness and fragility and excite and induce the emergence of all that can hold a stronger life. Not only strength, but beauty and harmony as well have been indirectly the result of death. There is a saying pregnant with this truth that the most beautiful stones have been tossed by the winds, washed by the waves, and shaped to perfection by the strongest storms.
At the human level we know how the presence of death has strongly influenced our thoughts, feelings, impulses, motives and behaviour. Its stamp is cast upon our science, arts, law, polity, philosophy and practically everything else. So powerful has been its influence that even spiritual philosophies have not been able to escape acknowledging its presence in life. Much of our human thought and action is driven by this awareness of death — the believer and the non-believer, the moralist and the hedonist, the Dionysian no less than the Apollonians — all seem to be justifying their diverse stands based on this one point of agreement about the certainty of death. Since death seems to be the one certain thing amidst an otherwise uncertain and precarious life upon earth, one justifies oneself based on one’s outlook of death. The man of goodness says, “Since life is short, let me be remembered tomorrow through my deeds.” The evil doer through an equally powerful logic says, “But why, but why must I strive for good since death brings an end to all things? Let me rather enjoy and profit and sleep as much as I can and in whatever way, till in the final sleep of death I lie.” The happy-go-lucky or the go-getter says, “Ah! Let me make the best of each moment since life is brief.” And the man of sorrows says just the opposite, “Ah! What is the use of my striving since in any case life is brief.” The religious man driven by the haunting spectre of death goes on to seek solace in a life beyond. But the physical scientist acknowledges death in the life of this planet and then goes on to find ways and means to push it a little further.
Things as diverse as the science of life and the science of doom have both been born from the womb of death. In short death has coloured every sphere of life, nay it is woven into each and every fabric of life.
So much for our everyday familiarity with this one certainty, and yet we may ask — do we really know death? The answer is obvious. And though we know next to nothing about it we do take certain positions, albeit unconsciously, about death in our life. These are the various attitudes that man has adopted towards death. Or the different psychological and philosophical positions that death has instilled in our life. Let us see these different positions one by one so that we may know all the masks that this great shadow wears to hide itself.
The Tragedy in the Heart of Time
Most of us associate death with the great uncertain end of things. This uncertainty about life, the suddenness of death, the inevitability of an end to all our dreams, is interpreted by the human mind as a tragic fate. But is it really so? A calm and steady look will reveal to us that death has assumed this form not so much to terrify us as to fortify. It is this suddenness and unexpectedness that makes us vigilant. It is the inevitability of loss at the physical level that turns our hearts attached to appearances towards a deeper love, a love which is independent of the physical frame, independent of the circumstances of our body, independent even of life and death. There is such a possibility of deep love in human nature; to love despite the separation of bodies and it is the presence of death that awakens this possibility in man. Seen thus we discover that our sense of tragedy too serves a great purpose. The pain of separation when physical bodies part, the agonizing wrench that the heart feels when it has to perforce drift away from the object of one’s love, the suffering that hangs as a cloud upon our souls by the loss of our loved one are nothing else but an imperfect hint and an ignorant attempt to discover the oneness that is our secret truth. We should neither seek this tragedy nor try to escape it when it befalls us. Rather we should use it as a lever to go deep down within ourselves and discover the oneness that exceeds all change and which time cannot pursue and snatch.
A love beleaguered with the stress of sorrow and separation is the present reality in our imperfect state, yet an immortal, unfading love mightier than death and stronger than time is our future possibility and secret destiny.
The Dance of Destruction
Death is seen as the great destroyer of all things. Men, countries, empires, civilisations, all become a heap of ashes and dust one day. The creative work of centuries, the mighty invincible races, the great and swift moments of life, all slain by death turn into the pages of an uncertain history. Death seems to cast a spell of doom upon all our efforts. But let us ask ourselves if really it is so? Or is it only the forms of men and races and civilisations that perish and from its ashes newer and stronger forms arise, forms more robust, more durable, more plastic in wideness, more adaptable in their circumstances? Thus goes on the march of civilisations through and in spite of death from a lesser to a greater perfection. And so will it go on defying death till the last line of imperfection is crossed. The ancient Indian thought saw it well that behind the dance of death, there is the loving rhythm of Shiva, destroying our imperfections but also simultaneously shaping them anew towards a greater perfection. Death is a mask of Shiva, one of his great moods seen in isolation and divorced from the creative beats of his steps, whose rhythm the world is compelled to follow.
The Great Leveller
This is another image of death that we secretly admire, perhaps even cherish. Is it not justice itself that death sees the great and the mighty and prosperous fall even as the lowly and weak and poor have fallen? Maybe. But the falling of the strong and prosperous does not spare the agonies of the weak and the maimed even though it may provide some solace of retribution to the rebellious heart. Equally, all that is rich and strong is not necessarily bad. Both prosperity (even outer prosperity) and strength (even physical prowess) are also divine. The divine is not only the bare ascetic sitting ash-smeared on the snow peaks, clad with nothing but the sky, but is also the arm of God battling in the world and governing empires through the ages. It is not only the wounded heart writhing in pain over its hurt and fallen pride but also the proud and the fortunate.
Yet the question is left unanswered, what is this great leveller doing upon earth? Well, to each his own, even though there seems to be an outer similarity of fate. To the weak and the poor, death comes to give a release and fresh chance to strive for a better fate. To the strong and the fortunate, it is a reminder that we own nothing and all our riches and possessions will be taken away one day. Thereby it exhorts each of us to do our best, to regard ourselves as trustees and put all we have for a lasting use, so that when we pass away under the shadows, and our strength and joys of life fail, yet do we leave behind the works of our creative might and energy, which is but God’s.
The Grim Accountant
One of the roles ascribed to death and his dark angels is to keep an unfailing account of our deeds and misdeeds. Precise and unswerving, meticulous to the penny are the grim accountants who refuse all barter and bribe. There are neither temples dedicated to the god of death, nor offerings made by devotees (if indeed there are any) since all these are of no avail. Yet are there legendary instances like that of Nachiketas and Savitri, who have shaken off the noose and the snare, snatched back from death what was truly theirs and returned triumphant from the dark and dangerous kingdom where hope thrives not, nor earthly longing and love. Even if these are rarities and are as yet individual victories, yet they point towards a general possibility — the possibility of one day changing this grim and inflexible law. Yet what is this law essentially made up of? What does the god of death measure in his scales?
He measures all that we have given to the ego (individual and collective ego) and on the other scale he keeps all that we have given to the eternal truth of life, to God within and the world. He mercilessly destroys that which belongs to the ego since such are the orders he carries in his breast from of old. But all that is truly divine, the immortal soul and its qualities and deeds are returned back and recycled, in another form if we like, since that it cannot touch. But it tests them thoroughly, its anvil is the most accurate where our pleadings, sentiments, idealisms and the many covers behind which our selfish selfhood hides are of no avail. Only that which is truly divine and pure can pass unhurt and unwounded through its kingdom and yet survive. Its eyes are merciless and regard with relentless scrutiny.
The Ironic Critic of God’s Work
Its method of doubting all as undivine unless proved otherwise has justifiably earned death the name of an Ironic Critic. Nothing is true in its eyes except itself. There is no other eternity for death except itself since of old he has this singular experience of seeing all things perish except of course the human soul. And the soul it cannot see since its empire does not extend up till there. It is a strange irony of death itself that while it can pierce into the subtlest shades of darkness and rip off the most brilliant camouflage of light, yet are its eyes blinded to the Light that shines in all beings. Concealed in a particle of dust and revealed in man, death cannot see this divinity and therefore only frowns at it. Yet God grows on despite its frown. Life evolves from atoms and gases to plants and trees and animals and man. And with life evolve the powers and knowledge concealed in the secret soul that is a delegate divinity upon earth. Men do not give up hope and pursuit of earthly perfection because there is death, but in fact speed up with time and get to work with redoubled effort and urgency, precisely because it is there.
The Dark-Browed Sophist of the Universe
It is death that is directly responsible for much of the pessimism we encounter in life. Most schools of philosophy paint a grim and depressing picture of this world since there is so much uncertainty, unpredictability, and impermanence in it. Even schools of spirituality, subtly breathing the gospel of death have given up hope for any earthly perfection since nothing stays permanently, neither love nor hope. Our heights break off too low and the hearts that dare and aspire, tire too soon. So where is the hope for earth? Death seems to laugh at every dream of human perfection by razing it to ground sooner or later.
But if we pause and look with the calm and steady eyes of the ancient sages, we shall discover that this impermanence and unpredictability, this uncertainty is a boon of sorts. It means that things can and do change and therefore there is hope for everyone.
Because there is impermanence, therefore is our ignorance too impermanent, only a passing phase in evolution.
Because there is uncertainty therefore one can never condemn anyone and can instead be ever hopeful for a change. Because there is unpredictability therefore one can come out of even the worst situation and hope can shine through the darkest clouds.
Because things are not fixed forever therefore is there hope of a change for the better, for all of us.
In fact ignorance and impermanence go hand in hand but neither ignorance, nor impermanence is permanent. This is what we need to remind ourselves when death paints before us a dismal picture of the world and the universe.
In the end it is God’s world and not death’s, who is in effect only a delegate teacher. We may hear what he has to say but believe him not. We may lend our ears to him but not our hearts and souls. For he says only one half of the truth — ‘the truth that slays.’
We must answer him with the other half of the truth — ‘the Truth that saves.’
The Shroud of Mystery
Death is the last veil where the limits of our knowledge cease to be. It is the last earthly barrier we must cross to be a candidate for truth and immortality. In the famous legend of the Sphinx, we see this truth driven home. Sphinx, the strange devouring beast and the symbol of death, has an even stranger puzzle to ask of all who would cross the Theban desert to the other side. “Who is the creature that walks on four in the morning, on two at noon and on three in the evening.” None can answer correctly and are therefore devoured. But one man, the legendary hero Oedipus says with remarkable wisdom, “I am the answer.” And now it is the turn of the Sphinx to die.
This legend like many others carries within itself the seed of a great truth. The Sphinx, a creature unreally real, is a symbol of Death, something so real in everyday life to which all of us lend our own unique form and meaning. Oedipus the traveller, is the adventuring soul of man journeying through the desert of Time towards its authentic kingdom from which it has been expelled even as a child. The soul in man is journeying to regain its kingdom after having grown to full stature, strong and wise having gone through the whole adventure. But the final test of its wisdom and power lies in whether it has discovered itself or not. Death asks this question to all of us at the end of the road of life. If we have discovered who we are then it lets us pass and death is no more for us since we have regained our eternal kingdom. If not, then we return into the womb of death to return again and again to the cycle of birth and into the forest of life till we learn the lesson. The answer of Oedipus is also symbolic. On the face it appears to be a statement of man’s physical life but holds a deeper truth concealed in it. The man on four is the animal-man supported almost helplessly by the world around. He is as ignorant and helpless as a child is. The man on two is the humanised-man, assured of his powers and prowess yet lacking in wisdom and maturity. The man on three has learned to lean upon the staff of faith and has discovered the third element in him, the support of his secret soul. It is not just an ordinary staff but the sceptre carrying the sign of his regality, the royal power as well as the true knowledge. Death dies and the last puzzle of man’s life is solved when man knows himself. Such is the fate not only of individual men but also of all groups and forms of life that know and rule the world but know not themselves. It is also the fate of religion and science, both of which do not answer the one most important question about who we are. Behind the shroud of death, behind this hooded mask, lies the face of a secret deity that is our own. Death can cover it as a drape covers the body but it can slay it not. Yet the question remains what need had God to hide Himself in this mask of an ominous and terrible shape? What secret necessity compelled our soul to wrestle with this ancient powerful Adversary who seems to be stronger than life itself? Here fails our knowledge, here pauses our philosophy, here stops our vision and wisdom. And he who can answer it is he who shall live forever. He who shall know this dark secret is he who shall enjoy an endless term in time and timelessness both. But as the Upanishads rightly point out — “they who know only our dark and divided state dwell in darkness; yet, they who know only the bright body of God in a greater darkness dwell.” We need to know both and know them not just as two opposites but also as a single reality. He who thus knows both as one is he who truly knows. For at the end of all our material and spiritual pursuits, this is the last step of reconciliation — God and Life and Bliss and Love and Light and Truth with their apparent opposites.
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 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 cries in 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.”
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.
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…”
An Ancient Indian Tale: The Secret of Death
Far back in time, life may have been different in its outer aspects, but the inner quest was the same. So also with Nachiketas, a child of faith and simple sincerity. His father Vajashravas is holding a yajna (sacrifice) and as is symbolic of the worldly wise he chooses to offer the old and infirm, unyielding cattle and cows to the gods. It may be noted in passing that in the symbolism of the Vedic and the Upanishadic period, cows represented Light or all our upward striving for true knowledge. The gods are the powers of Light who bring down the gifts of true knowledge and other inner riches to man. The sacrifice spoken of here is therefore not an external ritual but an inner act. Here Vajashravas keeps his best things for himself and offers the worst and the useless for the cosmic good. It may be possible that in this ancient tale pregnant with significant symbols, Nachiketas, the child himself may be a representative of the inmost soul in man and Vajashravas, the king, our hard exterior ego-bound consciousness, pursuing all true things either mechanically or half-heartedly, a thing which our inmost soul despises and abhors. As is common to these tales, deeper truths are interwoven with some actual episode which is mostly an outer scaffolding, the husk hiding the kernel. Coming back to the story, the king’s brilliant son Nachiketas, unable to swallow this insincerity on the part of his father, questions his action. When ignored, he puts it in a most pointed way: “To whom do you give me, father.” The father angered at this rather disrespectful intrusion says: “I give you to Death.” The sensitive boy takes it to heart and waits for death without food or water for three days. Thereupon, Death moved by his sincerity appears before him but not with a view to take him away since obviously his hour has not yet come. Instead, the terrible god appears as a giver of boon and a knower of the secrets of Time and the subtle mysteries of life hidden from mortal sight. In an almost reversal image of death, the great god is apologetic for having not responded to Nachiketas calling upon him for three days. Therefore, he grants him three boons. His first boon is peace of mind for his father, truly a noble gesture for a boy who is given away to death by an angry father. The second boon he asks for is to learn the secret of the heavenly, deathless fire. Who else but death himself to speak of the fire that it cannot slay? But it is the last boon which is the most enigmatic one. Nachiketas asks Death to disclose the truth of immortality. Death tries his utmost to dissuade Nachiketas, offering countless worldly riches instead — sons and grandsons with a long life, much cattle and elephants and gold and horses; a very long life as an emperor of any portion of the earth of his own choice, wealth and pleasure and women and chariots and anything else that he may desire. But wise Nachiketas counters him intelligently: “Will not all these wither away with time and thou take them away one day?” He insists upon his one aspiration, to know the secret of secrets, that over which even the wise men and gods debate. What follows as a colloquy between the god of death and the spirit of Nachiketas forms the quintessence of ancient Indian thought on the subject. It is symbolic that even Death can be persuaded to yield, even its inflexible law can change and its secret revealed if we know how to persist and persevere against the dark denial.
Here are a few excerpts from the dialogue, selected from the ‘Katha Upanishad’:
अविद्यायामन्तरे वर्तमानाः स्वयं धीराः पण्डितंमन्यमानाः।
दन्द्रम्यमाणाः परियन्ति मूढा अन्धेनैव नीयमाना यथान्धाः॥५॥
They who dwell in the ignorance, within it, wise in their own wit and deeming themselves very learned, men bewildered are they who wander about stumbling round and round helplessly like blind men led by the blind.
न साम्परायः प्रतिभाति बालं प्रमाद्यन्तं वित्तमोहेन मूढम्।
अयं लोको नास्ति पर इति मानी पुनः पुनर्वशमापद्यते मे॥६॥
The childish wit bewildered and drunken with the illusion of riches cannot open its eyes to see the passage to heaven: for he that thinks this world is and there is no other, comes again and again into Death’s thraldom.
श्रवणायापि बहुभिर्यो न लभ्यः शृण्वन्तोऽपि बहवो यं न विद्युः।
आश्चर्यो वक्ता कुशलोऽस्य लब्धाश्चर्यो ज्ञाता कुशलानुशिष्टः॥७॥
He that is not easy to be heard of by many, and even of those that have heard, they are many who have not known Him, a miracle is the man that can speak of Him wisely or is skilful to win Him, and when one is found, a miracle is the listener who can know Him even when taught of Him by the knower.
न नरेणावरेण प्रोक्त एष सुविज्ञेयो बहुधा चिन्त्यमानः।
अनन्यप्रोक्ते गतिरत्र नास्त्यणीयान् ह्यतर्क्यमणुप्रमाणात्॥८॥
An inferior man cannot tell you of Him; for thus told thou canst not truly know Him, since He is thought of in many aspects. Yet unless told of Him by another thou canst not find thy way to Him; for He is subtler than subtlety and that which logic cannot reach.
न जायते म्रियते वा विपश्चिन्नायं कुतश्चिन्न बभूव कश्चित्।
अजो नित्यः शाश्वतोऽयं पुराणो न हन्यते हन्यमाने शरीरे॥१८॥
The Wise One is not born, neither does he die: he came not from anywhere, neither is he anyone: he is unborn, he is everlasting, he is ancient and sempiternal: he is not slain in the slaying of the body.
हन्ता चेन्मन्यते हन्तुं हतश्चेन्मन्यते हतम्।
उभौ तौ न विजानीतो नायं हन्ति न हन्यते ॥१६॥
If the slayer think that he slays, if the slain think that he is slain, both of these have not the knowledge. This slays not, neither is He slain.
अणोरणीयान्महतो महीयानात्मास्य जन्तोर्निहितो गुहायाम्।
तमक्रतुः पश्यति वीतशोको धातुप्रसादान्महिमानमात्मनः॥२०॥
Finer than the fine, huger than the huge the self hides in the secret heart of the creature: when a man strips himself of will and is weaned from sorrow, then he beholds Him; purified from the mental elements he sees the greatness of the Self-being.
पराञ्चि खानि व्यतृणत्स्वयम्भूस्तस्मात्पराङ् पश्यति नान्तरात्मन्।
The Self-born has set the doors of the body to face outwards, therefore the soul of a man gazes outward and not at the Self within: hardly a wise man here and there, desiring immortality, turns his eyes inward and sees the Self within him.
पराचः कामाननुयन्ति बालास्ते मृत्योर्यन्ति विततस्य पाशम्।
अथ धीरा अमृतत्वं विदित्वा ध्रुवमध्रुवेष्विह न प्रार्थयन्ते॥२॥
The rest childishly follow after desire and pleasure and walk into the snare of Death that gapes wide for them. But calm souls, having learned of immortality, seek not for permanence in the things of this world that pass and are not.
अङ्गुष्ठमात्रः पुरुषो मध्य आत्मनि तिष्ठति।
ईशानो भूतभव्यस्य न ततो विजुगुप्सते। एतद्वै तत्॥१२॥
The Purusha who is seated in the midst of our self is no larger than the finger of a man; He is the Lord of what was and what shall be. Him having seen one shrinks not from aught, nor abhors any. This is That thou seekest.
अङ्गुष्ठमात्रः पुरुषो ज्योतिरिवाधूमकः।
ईशानो भूतभव्यस्य स एवाद्य स उ श्वः। एतद्वै तत्॥१३॥
The Purusha that is within us is no larger than the finger of a man: He is like a blazing fire that is without smoke, He is lord of His past and His future. He alone is today and He alone shall be tomorrow.
अस्य विस्त्रंसमानस्य शरीरस्थस्य देहिनः।
देहाद्विमुच्यमानस्य किमत्र परिशिष्यते। एतद्वै तत्॥४॥
When this encased Spirit that is in the body, falls away from it, when He is freed from its casing, what is there then that remains? This is That thou seekest.
न प्राणेन नापानेन मर्त्यो जीवति कश्चन।
इतरेण तु जीवन्ति यस्मिन्नेतावुपाश्रितौ॥५॥
Man that is mortal lives not by the breath, no, nor by the lower breath; but by something else we live in which both these have their being.
यदा सर्वे प्रमुच्यन्ते कामा येऽस्य हृदि श्रिताः।
अथ मर्त्योऽमृतो भवत्यत्र ब्रह्म समश्नुते॥१४॥
When every desire that finds lodging in the heart of man, has been loosened from its moorings, then this mortal puts on immortality: even here he tastes God, in this human body.
यदा सर्वे प्रभिद्यन्ते हृदयस्येह ग्रन्थयः।
अथ मर्त्योऽमृतो भवत्येतावद्ध्यनुशासनम्॥१५॥
Yea, when all the strings of the heart are rent asunder, even here, in this human birth, then the mortal becomes immortal. This is the whole teaching of the Scriptures.
शतं चैका च हृदयस्य नाड्यस्तासां मूर्धानमभिनिःसृतैका।
तयोर्ध्वमायन्नमृतत्वमेति विश्वङ्ङन्या उत्क्रमणे भवन्ति॥१६॥
A hundred and one are the nerves of the heart, and of all these only one issues out through the head of a man: by this his soul mounts up to its immortal home, but the rest lead him to all sorts and conditions of births in his passing.
अङ्गुष्ठमात्रः पुरुषोऽन्तरात्मा सदा जनानां हृदये सन्निविष्टः।
तं स्वाच्छरीरात्प्रवृहेन्मुञ्जादिवेषीकां धैर्येण।
तं विद्याच्छुक्रममृतं तं विद्याच्छुक्रममृतमिति॥१७॥
The Purusha, the Spirit within, who is no larger than the finger of a man is seated for ever in the heart of creatures: one must separate Him with patience from one’s own body as one separates from a blade of grass its main fibre. Thou shalt know Him for the Bright Immortal, yea, for the Bright Immortal.
Nachiketas’s Three Boons
Nachiketas is the young aspiring human being still in the Ignorance — naciketa, meaning one without consciousness or knowledge. The three boons he asks for are in reference to the three fundamental models of being and consciousness that are at the very basis, forming, as it were, the ground-plan of the integral reality. They are:
- the individual,
- the universal or cosmic and
- the transcendental.
The first boon regards the individual, that is to say, the individual identity and integrity. It asks for the maintenance of that individuality so that it may be saved from the dissolution that Death brings about. Death, of course, means the dissolution of the body, but it represents also dissolution pure and simple. Indeed death is a process which does not stop with the physical phenomenon, but continues even after; for with the body gone, the other elements of the individual organism, the vital and the mental too gradually fall off, fade and dissolve. Nachiketas wishes to secure from Death the safety and preservation of the earthly personality, the particular organisation of mind and vital based upon a recognisable physical frame. That is the first necessity for the aspiring mortal — for, it is said, the body is the first instrument for the working out of one’s life’s ideal. But man’s true personality, the real individuality lies beyond, beyond the body, beyond the life, beyond the mind, beyond the triple region that Death lords it over. That is the divine world, the Heaven of the immortals, beyond death and beyond sorrow and grief. It is the hearth secreted in the inner heart where burns the Divine Fire, the God of Life Everlasting. And this is the nodus that binds together the threefold status of the manifested existence, the body, the life and the mind. The triplicity is the structure of name and form built out of the bricks of experience, the kiln, as it were, within which burns the Divine Agni, man’s true soul. This soul can be reached only when one exceeds the bounds and limitations of the triple cord and experiences one’s communion and identity with all souls and all existence. Agni is the secret divinity within, within the individual and within the world; he is the Immanent Divine, the cosmic godhead that holds together and marshals all the elements and components, all the principles that make up the manifest universe. He it is that has entered into the world and created facets of his own reality in multiple forms: and it is he that lies secret in the human being as the immortal soul through all its adventure of life and death in the series of incarnations in terrestrial evolution. The adoration and realisation of this Immanent Divinity, the worship of Agni taught by Yama in the second boon, consists in the triple sacrifice, the triple work, the triple union in the triple status of the physical, the vital and the mental consciousness, the mastery of which leads one to the other shore, the abode of perennial existence where the human soul enjoys its eternity and unending continuity in cosmic life. Therefore, Agni, the master of the psychic being, is called jatavedas, he who knows the births, all the transmigrations from life to life.
The third boon is the secret of secrets, for it is the knowledge and realisation of Transcendence that is sought here. Beyond the individual lies the universal; is there anything beyond the universal? The release of the individual into the cosmic existence gives him the griefless life eternal: can the cosmos be rolled up and flung into something beyond? What would be the nature of that thing? What is there outside creation, outside manifestation, outside Maya, to use a latter day term? Is there existence or non-existence (utter dissolution or extinction — death in his supreme and absolute status)? King Yama did not choose to answer immediately and even endeavoured to dissuade Nachiketas from pursuing the question over which people were confounded, as he said. Evidently it was a much discussed problem in those days. Buddha was asked the same question and he evaded it, saying that the pragmatic man should attend to practical and immediate realities and not waste time and energy in discussing things ultimate and beyond that have hardly any relation to the present and the actual.
But Yama did answer and unveil the mastery and impart the supreme secret knowledge — the knowledge of the Transcendent Brahman: it is out of the transcendent reality that the immanent deity takes his birth. Hence the Divine Fire, the Lord of creation and the Inner Master — sarvabhutantaratma, antaryami — is called brahmajam, born of the Brahman. Yama teaches the process of transcendence. Apart from the knowledge and experience first of the individual and then of the cosmic Brahman, there is a definite line along which the human consciousness (or unconsciousness, as it is at present) is to ascend and evolve. The first step is to learn to distinguish between the Good and the Pleasurable (sreya and preya). The line of pleasure leads to the external, the superficial, the false: while the other path leads towards the inner and the higher truth. So the second step is the gradual withdrawal of the consciousness from the physical and the sensual and even the mental preoccupation and focussing it upon what is certain and permanent. In the midst of the death-ridden consciousness — in the heart of all that is unstable and fleeting — one has to look for Agni, the eternal godhead, the Immortal in mortality, the Timeless in time through whom lies the passage to Immortality beyond Time.
Man has two souls corresponding to his double status. In the inferior, the soul looks downward and is involving in the current of Impermanence and Ignorance, it tastes of grief and sorrow and suffers death and dissolution: in the higher it looks upward and communes and joins with the Eternal (the cosmic) and then with the Absolute (the transcendent). The lower is a reflection of the higher, the higher comes down in a diminished and hence tarnished light. The message is that of deliverance, the deliverance and reintegration of the lower soul out of its bondage of worldly ignorant life into the freedom and immortality first of its higher and then of its highest status. It is true, however, that the Upanishad does not make a trenchant distinction between the cosmic and the transcendent and often it speaks of both in the same breath, as it were. For in fact they are realities involved in each other and interwoven. Indeed the triple status, including the Individual, forms one single totality and the three do not exclude or cancel each other; on the contrary, they combine and may be said to enhance each other’s reality. The Transcendence expresses or deploys itself in the cosmos — he goes abroad, sa paryagat: and the cosmic individualities, concretises itself in the particular and the personal. The one single spiritual reality holds itself, aspects itself in a threefold manner.
The teaching of Yama in brief may be said to be the gospel of immortality and it consists of the knowledge of triple immortality. And who else can be the best teacher of immortality than Death himself, as Nachiketas pointedly said? The first immortality is that of the physical existence and consciousness, the preservation of the personal identity, the individual name and form — this being in itself as expression and embodiment and instrument of the Inner Reality. This inner reality enshrines the second immortality — the eternity and continuity of the soul’s life through its incarnations in time, the divine Agni lit for ever and ever growing in flaming consciousness. And the third and final immortality is in the being and consciousness beyond time, beyond all relativities, the absolute and self-existent delight.
If the Upanishad lays down the broad theoretical framework for the subject of death and immortality, the Gita turns it masterfully into its practical application. The problem of the average worldly man is not so much of a striving after immortality but a cognitive frame to face the spectre of death that haunts his life and interferes with the right law of action due to his blind and nervous-sensorial attachment to life. The Gita enlightens our will and teaches us the attitudes we need to develop in facing death in our everyday life.
Gems from the Gita
नासतो विद्यते भावो नाभावो विद्यते सतः।
That which really is, cannot go out of existence, just as that which is non-existent cannot come into being. The end of this opposition of ‘is’ and ‘is not’ has been perceived by the seers of essential truths.
“That which really is, cannot go out of existence, though it may change the forms through which it appears, just as that which is non-existent cannot come into being. The soul is and cannot cease to be. This opposition of is and is not, this balance of being and becoming which is the mind’s view of existence, finds its end in the realisation of the soul as the one imperishable self by whom all this universe has been extended. Finite bodies have an end, but that which possesses and uses the body is infinite, illimitable, eternal, indestructible.”
अविनाशि तु तद्विद्धि येन सर्वमिदं ततम्।
विनाशमव्ययस्यास्य न कश्चित्कर्तुमर्हति॥१७॥
Know that to be imperishable by which all this is extended. Who can slay the immortal spirit?
अन्तवन्त इमे देहा नित्यस्योक्ताः शरीरिणः।
अनाशिनोऽप्रमेयस्य तस्माद्युध्यस्व भारत॥१८॥
Finite bodies have an end, but that which possesses and uses the body, is infinite, illimitable, eternal, indestructible. Therefore fight, O Bharata.
य एनं वेत्ति हन्तारं यश्चैनं मन्यते हतम्।
उभौ तौ न विजानीतो नायं हन्ति न हन्यते ॥१६॥
He who regards this (the soul) as a slayer, and he who thinks it is slain, both of them fail to perceive the truth. It does not slay, nor is it slain.
न जायते म्रियते वा कदाचि-
न्नायं भूत्वा भविता वा न भूयः।
अजो नित्यः शाश्वतोऽयं पुराणो
न हन्यते हन्यमाने शरीरे॥२०॥
This is not born, nor does it die, nor is it a thing that comes into being once and passing away will never come into being again. It is unborn, ancient, sempiternal; it is not slain with the slaying of the body.
वेदाविनाशिनं नित्यं य एनमजमव्ययम्।
कथं स पुरुषः पार्थ कं द्यातयति हन्ति कम्॥२१॥
He who knows it as immortal eternal imperishable spiritual existence, how can that man slay, O Partha, or cause to be slain?
वासांसि जीर्णानि यथा विहाय
नवानि गृह्णाति नरोऽपराणि।
तथा शरीराणि विहाय जीर्णा-
न्यन्यानि संयाति नवानि देही॥२२॥
The embodied soul casts away old and takes up new bodies as a man changes worn-out raiment for new.
“He has spoken of the physical life and the death of the body as if these were the primary realities; but they have no such essential value to the sage and the thinker. The sorrow for the bodily death of his friends and kindred is a grief to which wisdom and the true knowledge of life lend no sanction. The enlightened man does not mourn either for the living or the dead, for he knows that suffering and death are merely incidents in the history of the soul. The soul, not the body, is the reality. All these kings of men for whose approaching death he mourns, have lived before, they will live again in the human body; for as the soul passes physically through childhood and youth and age, so it passes on to the changing of the body. The calm and wise mind, the dhīra, the thinker who looks upon life steadily and does not allow himself to be disturbed and blinded by his sensations and emotions, is not deceived by material appearances; he does not allow the clamour of his blood and his nerves and his heart to cloud his judgment or to contradict his knowledge. He looks beyond the apparent facts of the life of the body and senses to the real fact of his being and rises beyond the emotional and physical desires of the ignorant nature to the true and only aim of the human existence.”
नैनं छिन्दन्ति शस्त्राणि नैनं दहति पावकः।
न चैनं क्लेदयन्त्यापो न शोषयति मारुतः॥२३॥
Weapons cannot cleave it, nor the fire burn, nor do the waters drench it, nor the wind dry.
“Finite bodies have an end, but that which possesses and uses the body, is infinite, illimitable, eternal, indestructible. It casts away old and takes up new bodies as a man changes worn-out raiment for new; and what is there in this to grieve at and recoil and shrink? This is not born, nor does it die, nor is it a thing that comes into being once and passing away will never come into being again. It is unborn, ancient, sempiternal; it is not slain with the slaying of the body. Who can slay the immortal spirit? Weapons cannot cleave it, nor the fire burn, nor do the waters drench it, nor the wind dry. Eternally stable, immobile, all-pervading, it is for ever and for ever. Not manifested like the body, but greater than all manifestation, not to be analysed by the thought, but greater than all mind, not capable of change and modification like the life and its organs and their objects, but beyond the changes of mind and life and body, it is yet the Reality which all these strive to figure.”
तस्मादेवं विदित्वैनं नानुशोचितुमर्हसि॥२५॥
It is unmanifest, it is unthinkable, it is immutable, so it is described (by the Shrutis); therefore knowing it as such, thou shouldst not grieve.
“There is no such thing as death, for it is the body that dies and the body is not the man… and what is there in this to grieve at and recoil and shrink?… who can slay the immortal spirit?”
अथ चैनं नित्यजातं नित्यं वा मन्यसे मृतम्।
तथापि त्वं महाबाहो नैवं शोचितुमर्हसि॥२६॥
Even if thou thinkest of it (the self) as being constantly subject to birth and death, still, O mighty-armed, thou shouldst not grieve.
“Even if the truth of our being were a thing less sublime, vast, intangible by death and life, if the self were constantly subject to birth and death, still the death of beings ought not to be a cause of sorrow. For that is an inevitable circumstance of the soul’s self-manifestation. Its birth is an appearing out of some state in which it is not non-existent but unmanifest to our mortal senses, its death is a return to that unmanifest world or condition and out of it it will again appear in the physical manifestation. The to-do made by the physical mind and senses about death and the horror of death whether on the sick-bed or the battlefield, is the most ignorant of nervous clamours. Our sorrow for the death of men is an ignorant grieving for those for whom there is no cause to grieve, since they have neither gone out of existence nor suffered any painful or terrible change of condition, but are beyond death no less in being and no more unhappy in that circumstance than in life.”
जातस्य हि ध्रुवो मृत्युर्ध्रुवं जन्म मृतस्य च।
तस्मादपरिहार्येऽर्थे न त्वं शोचितुमर्हसि॥२७॥
For certain is death for the born, and certain is birth for the dead; therefore what is inevitable ought not to be a cause of thy sorrow.
देही नित्यमवध्योऽयं देहे सर्वस्य भारत।
तस्मात्सर्वाणि भूतानि न त्वं शोचितुमर्हसि॥३०॥
This dweller in the body of everyone is eternal and indestructible, O Bharata; therefore thou shouldst not grieve for any creature.
“When we have known ourselves as this, then to speak of ourselves as slayer or slain is an absurdity. One thing only is the truth in which we have to live, the Eternal manifesting itself as the soul of man in the great cycle of its pilgrimage with birth and death for milestones, with worlds beyond as resting-places, with all the circumstances of life happy or unhappy as the means of our progress and battle and victory and with immortality as the home to which the soul travels.”
अन्तकाले च मामेव स्मरन् मुक्त्वा कलेवरम्।
यः प्रयाति स मद्भावं याति नास्त्यत्र संशयः॥५॥
Whoever leaves his body and departs remembering Me at his time of end, comes to my bhava (that of the Purushottama, my status of being); there is no doubt of that.
“The body is abandoned, but the soul goes on its way… Much then depends on what he is at the critical moment of his departure. For whatever form of becoming his consciousness is fixed on at the time of death and has been full of that always in his mind and thought before death, to that form he must attain, since the Prakriti by Karma works out the soul’s thoughts and energies and that is in real fact her whole business. Therefore, if the soul in the human being desires to attain to the status of the Purushottama, there are two necessities, two conditions which must be satisfied before that can be possible. He must have moulded towards that ideal his whole inner life in his earthly living; and he must be faithful to his aspiration and will in his departing.”
यं यं वापि स्मरन् भावं त्यजत्यन्ते कलेवरम्।
तं तमेवैति कौन्तेय सदा तद्भावभावितः॥६॥
Whosoever at the end abandons the body, thinking upon any form of being, to that form he attains, O Kaunteya, into which the soul was at each moment growing inwardly during the physical life.
“The Gita here lays a great stress on the thought and state of mind at the time of death, a stress which will with difficulty be understood if we do not recognise what may be called the self-creative power of the consciousness. What the thought, the inner regard, the faith, śraddhā, settles itself upon with a complete and definite insistence, into that our inner being tends to change. This tendency becomes a decisive force when we go to those higher spiritual and self-evolved experiences which are less dependent on external things than is our ordinary psychology, enslaved as that is to outward Nature. There we can see ourselves steadily becoming that on which we keep our minds fixed and to which we constantly aspire. Therefore there any lapse of the thought, any infidelity of the memory means always a retardation of the change or some fall in its process and a going back towards what we were before, at least so long as we have not substantially and irrevocably fixed our new becoming. When we have done that, when we have made it normal to our experience, the memory of it remains self-existently because that now is the natural form of our consciousness. In the critical moment of passing from the mortal plane of living, the importance of our then state of consciousness becomes evident. But it is not a death-bed remembrance at variance with or insufficiently prepared by the whole tenor of our life and our past subjectivity that can have this saving power.”
सर्वस्य धातारमचिन्त्यरूपमादित्यवर्णं तमसः परस्तात्॥६॥
प्रयाणकाले मनसाचलेन भक्त्या युक्तो योगबलेन चैव।
भ्रुवोर्मध्ये प्राणमावेश्य सम्यक् स तं परं पुरुषमुपैति दिव्यम्॥१०॥
This supreme Self is the Seer, the Ancient of Days, subtler than the subtle and (in his eternal self-vision and wisdom) the Master and Ruler of all existence who sets in their place in his being all things that are; his form is unthinkable, he is refulgent as the sun beyond the darkness; he who thinketh upon this Purusha in the time of departure, with motionless mind, a soul armed with the strength of Yoga, a union with God in bhakti and the life-force entirely drawn up and set between the brows in the seat of mystic vision, he attains to this supreme divine Purusha.
“We arrive here at the first description of this supreme Purusha, — the Godhead who is even more and greater than the Immutable and to whom the Gita gives subsequently the name of Purushottama. He too in his timeless eternity is immutable and far beyond all this manifestation and here in Time there dawn on us only faint glimpses of his being conveyed through many varied symbols and disguises, avyakto akṣ araḥ”
सर्वद्वाराणि संयम्य मनो हृदि निरुध्य च।
मूर्ध्न्याधायात्मनः प्राणमास्थितो योगधारणाम्॥१२॥
ओमित्येकाक्षरं ब्रह्म व्याहरन् मामनुस्मरन्।
यः प्रयाति त्यजन् देहं स याति परमां गतिम्॥१३॥
All the doors of the senses closed, the mind shut in into the heart, the life-force taken up out of its diffused movement into the head, the intelligence concentrated in the utterance of the sacred syllable OM and its conceptive thought in the remembrance of the supreme Godhead, he who goes forth, abandoning the body, he attains to the highest status.
“That is the established Yogic way of going, a last offering up of the whole being to the Eternal, the Transcendent. But still that is only a process; the essential condition is the constant undeviating memory of the Divine in life, even in action and battle — māmanusmarayudhyaca — and the turning of the whole act of living into an uninterrupted Yoga, nitya-yoga.”
मामुपेत्य पुनर्जन्म दुःखालयमशाश्वतम्।
नाप्नुवन्ति महात्मानः संसिद्धिं परमां गताः॥१५॥
Having come to me, these great souls come not again to birth, this transient and painful condition of our mortal being; they reach the highest perfection.
“To know him so and so to seek him does not bind to rebirth or to the chain of Karma; the soul can satisfy its desire to escape permanently from the transient and painful condition of our mortal being.”
I saw the mornings of the future rise,
I heard the voices of an age unborn
That comes behind us and our pallid morn,
And from the heart of an approaching light
One said to man, “Know thyself infinite,
Who shalt do mightier miracles than these,
Infinite, moving mid infinities.”
Then from our hills the ancient answer pealed,
“For Thou, O Splendour, art myself concealed,
And the grey cell contains me not, the star
I outmeasure and am older than the elements are.
Whether on earth or far beyond the sun,
I, stumbling, clouded, am the Eternal One.”
“Shall I accept death or shall I turn and wrestle with him and conquer? That shall be as God in me chooses. For whether I live or die, I am always.”
In the Moonlight
…The old shall perish; it shall pass away,
Expunged, annihilated, blotted out;
And all the iron bands that ring about
Man’s wide expansion shall at last give way.
Freedom, God, Immortality, the three
Are one and shall be realised at length;
Love, Wisdom, Justice, Joy and utter Strength
Gather into a pure felicity….
This is man’s progress; for the Iron Age
Prepares the Age of Gold. What we call sin,
Is but man’s leavings as from deep within
The Pilot guides him in his pilgrimage.
He leaves behind the ill with strife and pain,
Because it clings and constantly returns,
And in the fire of suffering fiercely burns
More sweetness to deserve, more strength to gain.
He rises to the good with Titan wings:
And this the reason of his high unease,
Because he came from the infinities
To build immortally with mortal things;
The body with increasing soul to fill,
Extend Heaven’s claim upon the toiling earth
And climb from death to a diviner birth
Grasped and supported by immortal Will.
- Sri Aurobindo: The Upanishads, ‘Isha Upanishad’, Verse 3
- The Gita: Ch. 16, Verse 18-20.
- Sri Krishna in the Gita: Ch. 18, Verse 66
- A Hollywood film called Fallen has tried to illustrate this phenomenon, giving its own interpretation to it.
- The Mother: CWM, Vol.5, p. 377
- Golden Chain, February 1999
- James C. Brown, M.D (as retold in Chicken soup for the Soul, 5th Portion
- Sri Aurobindo: Letters on Yoga, pp. 449-51
- Sri Aurobindo: ‘In the Moonlight’, Collected Poems, pp. 59-60
- The four ages of mankind – the satya, treta, dwapara and kali also referred to as the age of gold, silver, bronze and iron are ages when the Divine Energy works correspondingly at the spiritual, mental, vital and physical stuff of our collective being.
- Cryogenics is the science of preserving the dead body by freezing it below sub-zero temperatures through liquid nitrogen. It is believed that bodies thus preserved under controlled conditions will one day come back to life after 50-100 years. The experiments done in Russia attracted quite a few millionaires paying a fortune for waking up one day again to life. This is based on the finding that some extinct animals frozen below ice have been found to be basically intact with no deterioration in their anatomical structures. Others believe that the ice crystals formed due to sub-zero temperatures is bound to damage the cells.
- M.P.Pandit: Commentaries
- The Mother: CWM, Vol. 10, pp. 132-133.
- Sri Aurobindo: Letters on Yoga, pp. 1517-18.
- Sri Aurobindo: Letters on Yoga, pp. 1511-12.
- Story from the Vishnu Purana (The legends of Lord Vishnu): Dashavatara. Koormavatara retold in English.
- Sri Aurobindo: Essays Divine and Human, p. 159
- Sri Aurobindo: Savitri, pp. 312, 531
- A new creation embodying the Supramental Truth-Consciousness moved by the very highest Truth alone, just as we at present embody the ignorant mental-consciousness, which is the chief source of our error and grief and suffering and evil and death. Sri Aurobindo and the Mother took upon themselves to establish this principle of Truth Consciousness upon earth so that by its pressure a new race of Supramental beings appear in due course. This great and momentous event, the supramental descent, took place upon earth on 29 February 1956.
- Sri Aurobindo: The Life Divine, pp. 849-51.
- Sri Aurobindo: Savitri, p. 55
- The Mother: CWM Vol. 9, pp. 86-88.
- The Mother: CWM Vol. 3, pp. 175-177
- Sri Aurobindo: Savitri, pp. 705-11
- Sri Aurobindo: The Upanishads, Isha Upanishad, Verse 9 ‘Into a blind darkness they enter who follow after the Ignorance, they as if into a greater darkness who devote themselves to the Knowledge alone.’
- 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.
- The Mother: CWM Vol. 5, pp. 372-374
- Sri Aurobindo: Savitri, pp. 708, 710-11
- SABCL, Vol. 12, pp. 245-256
- Collected works of Shri Nolini Kanta Gupta
- Verse 2.16
- Sri Aurobindo: Essays on the Gita, p. 57
- Verse 2.17
- Verse 2.18
- Verse 2.19 — This verse needs to be read in conjunction with the other verses. For it is not a blind justification to kill as is sometimes supposed but rather an invitation to the deepest truth of our soul, that which is forever unstained. It is when we live in this inmost truth and its unperturbed poise that we can truly slay without guilt if that be the Will of God within us. But so long as we dwell in the Ignorance of Nature and act by and for the ego then we cannot escape the inner consequences of our deeds. This is what the Gita repeatedly points out to us — to live beyond the apparent good and the apparent evil, to ascend beyond the individual and social, even beyond the mere moral and such other temporary constructs and standards of our mental ignorance to the highest and eternal truths of the spirit, to live and act from the summits of our soul and for God.
- Verse 2.20
- Verse 2.21
- Verse 2.22
- Verse 2.23
- Verse 2.23
- Sri Aurobindo: Essays on the Gita, p. 57.
- Verse 2.25.
- Sri Aurobindo: Essays on the Gita, p. 58.
- Verse 2.26
- Sri Aurobindo: Essays on the Gita, p. 58.
- Verse 2.27
- Verse 2.30
- Sri Aurobindo: Essays on the Gita, p. 58
- Verse 8.5
- Sri Aurobindo: Essays on the Gita, p. 280
- Verse 8.6
- Sri Aurobindo: Essays on the Gita, p. 281
- Verses 8.9-10
- Sri Aurobindo: Essays on the Gita, p. 282
- Verse 8.12-13
- Sri Aurobindo: Essays on the Gita, p. 283
- Verse 8.15
- Sri Aurobindo: Essays on the Gita, p. 283
- Sri Aurobindo: ‘A Vision of Science’, Collected Poems, pp. 43-44