Among the many mysteries that we encounter in our journey of life, one of them indeed is Death. No amount of biological and chemical understanding of Death can resolve the great mystery of what exists beyond the iron doors. No amount of research can convincingly prove to us whether there is existence after Death. The only way is direct experience which is ordinarily not possible during our material life. Except, of course, if we enter the domain through occult means. Fortunately for us we have the great privilege of the vast experience of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother who have left for us a wealth of deepest understanding about all things, including death. The Mother has indeed actually experienced death while practicing occultism in Algeria. Her subsequent experiences open a new door and shed a new Light on the whole subject. We share today some of Her discoveries and revelations on some aspects of Death and Rebirth.
Words of the Mother
Did you know Benjamin? … His psychic being had left him quite some time ago and, as a result, to the surface consciousness he seemed a bit deranged – he wasn’t deranged but diminished. And he lived, as I said, out of habit. The physical consciousness still held a minimum of vital and mind and he lived out of habit. But the remarkable thing is that sometimes, for a few seconds, he would live admirably, in full light, while at other times he couldn’t even control his gestures. Then he left altogether: all the accumulated energy dwindled little by little, little by little, and whatever remained left his body. It was just on his birthday, on December 30 (the night of December 30). He left. So they did as is always done: they cleaned his room, took out the furniture. Since then, there had been no sign of him. Yesterday evening, after dinner (which is about the same time he left twelve days ago), I was in concentration, resting, when suddenly here comes a very agitated Benjamin who tells me, “Mother, they’ve taken all the furniture out of my room! What am I to do now!?” I told him gently, “Do not fret, you don’t need anything any more.” Then I put him to rest and sent him to join the rest of his being.
Which means it took twelve days for all his elements to form again. You see, they burned his body. (He was Christian, but his family – his wife is alive and his brother too – found it less costly to let us handle it than to bury him as a Christian! So they had him cremated.) We cremated him, but I demanded a certain interval of time,7 although in his case it was really a gradual exhaustion and nothing much remained in his body; nonetheless, even then the consciousness is flung out of the cells violently – it took twelve days to form again. It wasn’t his soul (it had already left) but the spirit of his body that came to me, the body consciousness gathered in a well-dressed, neat Benjamin with his hair neatly brushed. He was quite trim when he came to me, just as he would have been in life: he always wanted to be well-groomed and impeccable to see me, that was his way. It took twelve days to gather together because I didn’t see to it (I can do it in a few hours but only if I see to it), but in his case, his soul having been at rest for a long time, it didn’t matter much. So over twelve days it took form again and when he was ready (laughing), he came to reoccupy his room! … And there was no furniture left, nothing!
And he had been living for more than a year, almost two years, I think, just out of a habit of living.
* * *
There is also here the sister of the old portly doctor, she is (I think) five or six years older than I – she is getting on for ninety. She has been dying away too, for several months. The doctors (who don’t know the first thing in these matters) had declared she would die after a few days. “Wait a little,” I told them, “this woman knows how to enter a state of rest, she has a very peaceful consciousness – it will last long, it may last for years.” She is in bed, she can’t move much, but … she lives. She too lives out of habit.
In reality, the body should be able to last much longer than human beings think. They knock it about: as soon as someone is unwell, they drug or knock his body about, they take away that kind of calm vegetative serenity that can make it last a very long time. The way trees take a very long time to die.
January 12, 1963
* * *
…..when Pralhad died, his mother was very anxious to know if he had come to me. I told her, “Nothing, I haven’t seen anything.” So I don’t know if it’s as a result of that or if I thought about it, but two days ago (the day before yesterday), I went for a stroll in a forest of the vital! … Mon petit, it was beautiful! Oh, a magnificent forest, and so well maintained, so clean, oh, it was lovely! A really magnificent place, really magnificent. Then, I suddenly see a youngish Pralhad there, a mere lad, coming towards me and telling me (in a despairing tone), “I don’t know, can’t find the religion.” I told him, “You don’t need a religion!” He said, “Oh, there’s another man here who can’t find a religion.” And that was Benjamin!94 I said, “He’s an idiot! He doesn’t need to find a religion!” There you are: Benjamin lost in a mar-vel-ous forest (it’s beautiful, you know!) because he can’t find a religion! And Pralhad looking for a religion! … So I wanted to send a line to his mother to tell her, “Be consoled, Pralhad is in a very beautiful place! …”
He looked very well. He was very well dressed….
Oh, what a beautiful forest, mon petit! They must be the forests of … It’s between the subtle physical and the vital, as if joining the two – the subtle physical to the vital. Trees as I have only seen in Japan; trees rising straight like columns, planted in rows – magnificent! With light-colored grass, very light, pale green. Grass on the ground, air – lots of air – and at the same time nothing but trees: a forest. But not thick, not crowded. Well then, in that magnificent place, instead of rejoicing, the fool (Mother takes a wailing tone): “I don’t know what happened to me, I have no religion”! (Mother laughs) So I told him, “But you should rejoice! No religion – you are in a place much more beautiful than all religions!”
October 9, 1968
* * *
There’s a new phenomenon during the night. One phenomenon was there before, but has grown more precise: it’s a place in the subtle physical where those with a body and those without a body are mingled without difference. They have the same reality, the same density and the same conscious, independent existence. There I see … Last night (or the night before, I don’t know), there were things like that: Chandulal109 was there, Amrita too, they met and talked, made plans together, just as they would have done physically on earth. It wasn’t the first time they were meeting, and they said to each other, “I’ll tell you tomorrow like that, regarding their ideal. Interesting things. There’s another … (Mother tries to remember) Ah, yes, Purani110 also. They go about there. There’s an extraordinary likeness to material life, except that you can feel they’re freer in their movement. But that’s not new, it’s just growing more concrete and precise. What’s new is what has taken place these last few nights …
My sleep is no longer sleep at all, I don’t know, it’s a sort of … (gesture as if Mother drew her energies within) withdrawal, that is, I go within, and then I am active. And those people are in that same state. Among them, some are with people who still have a body: it’s not just those who no longer have a body. So then, I am also there, and in the same kind of state. But the strange thing is that when I supposedly “wake up” and get up, I go on with something (laughing) that’s not physical! You understand, the state of over there goes on, and it’s as real, as tangible as physical things; and after half an hour I realize that I have moved about here and done all kinds of things entirely in that consciousness! …111 What’s that consciousness? …
It’s a very clear, very harmonious consciousness, in which there are no difficulties, and very creative ….
This morning it was peculiar: for a half-hour I was literally there [in that world], and I wasn’t aware of it! It’s afterwards that I wondered, “But … is it physically like this?” There was someone, you understand, I was with someone [in that world], and I wondered, “But is this person physically like this? Is it physical?” And I was standing! … So it’s as if the two worlds were … (Mother slips the fingers of her right hand through those of her left hand). Strange ….
The physical appears to be less imperative, less … Previously, there was the impression that, all right, it wasn’t a “dream” as people call it, but a more subtle and less precise consciousness, and that the physical consciousness was quite concrete and precise (Mother gestures as if to knock against something). But now this distinction … the other consciousness has become almost more concrete and real than the physical consciousness; the purely material consciousness is more wobbly: the impression of something not too … not too steady – not too steady, it’s odd.
That’s odd; it’s new, it began two days ago.
July 19, 1969
* * *
Take Purani, for instance: I used to see him almost every night, and then some fifteen days ago, before he left his body here, like that, I saw him in a place … It’s a place which is entirely made of a sort of pinkish gray clay – it’s sticky, gluey, and rather liquid (Mother makes the gesture of stretching chewing gum). There were lots of people. It was a place where lots of people were going to prepare themselves there for the supramental life – but not in their present bodies, which means they were preparing something in order to be ready for the supramental life in a future existence. And I had been taken there; there was a good number of people who had taken me there so I would see (so I would have an action of control there). But as for me, great care was taken to prevent me from being touched by that substance (it was important that I shouldn’t be touched), so they wrapped me in golden veils and all sorts of things, and I was walking along. And I saw him … I was walking on a sort of verandah (but it all had a very peculiar character, all was made of a … bizarre matter), and there was a sort of large courtyard which was entirely made of that semiliquid, semi-gluey matter which looked like very diluted but very sticky clay (same elastic gesture like chewing gum). And suddenly I saw Purani rushing into it. From the far end he comes to me covered all over in that and sweeping through it with such strokes! He had it all over his face, all over everywhere! You could see nothing but that. I told him (laughing), “Oh, you like it!” He told me, “Oh, it’s very nice, very nice!”
Since that evening I haven’t seen him again. And then, some twelve or fifteen days later, I don’t remember, he left his body.
It was a preparation.
December 28, 1965
* * *
We were in the subtle physical. I saw lots of people: Purani [a departed disciple] and so on, people who are no longer on earth. It was in Sri Aurobindo’s … not his house, but his domain. I saw and did lots of things. There were people who live on earth and people who no longer do: they were all together. And at the end (for many details Sri Aurobindo was there, then he left), at the end I looked at all that, and for the first time in the subtle physical, I said, “Oh, how insipid and useless your life is, and flavorless, when you don’t think of the Divine.”
The experience was so acute! So acute. Then I said (among the people there, there was Purani, and as I said people who live on earth), I told them, “On the earth, there is that intensity of aspiration, but here … life is so easy, so easy! Look at all your activities and all that, oh, it has no flavor, because there isn’t that intense need to live for the Divine.” And it was so strong that for hours in the morning it was like that (gesture of intense aspiration). Life anywhere – anywhere, in any part of the world (of the universe) and in any conditions, even the most easy and harmonious, is not worth living without this intensity of aspiration, of the need to be divine.
December 6, 1967
* * *
Last night or the night before, I spent at least two hours in a world – the subtle physical world – where the living mingle with the dead with no sense of difference, it makes absolutely no difference there. For instance, when Mridu191 was in her body I used to see her at night maybe once a year (maybe not even that much). For years she was utterly nonexistent in my consciousness … but since she left her body, I see her almost every night! There she is, just as she was, you know (rotund gesture), but no longer troubled, that’s all. No longer troubled. And there were both living and … what we call the “living” and the “dead” – they were both there together, eating together, moving around together, having fun together; and all in a lovely, tranquil light – pleasant, very pleasant. “There! ” I thought, “and humans have drawn a sharp line, saying, ‘Now he’s dead!'” Dead! And what really takes the cake is the way they treat the body like an unconscious object, and it’s still conscious!
It’s treated like an object: “Now then! Let’s get rid of this just as quickly as we can: it’s a nuisance and it gets in the way.” And even those who feel the most sorrow don’t want to see it; it’s too painful for them…
October 12, 1962
* * *
Most people – the vast majority of people – go into a sort of assimilative sleep: all the experiences they had in their lives, all they learned, the consciousness seems to ruminate over that.
In the beginning …, in the beginning, the span of time between two lives is very long, and it’s a sort of assimilative sleep in which the consequences of what one has learned develop inwardly. Then, as the psychic being is formed and as one grows more conscious, rebirths take place more and more closely, until the time when rebirth becomes the result of a choice: at a precise place, for a specific length of time. And then, depending on what the psychic being wants to do, depending on the action it has to do, the new birth may be near or distant. There, we have all possible differences. But in the formative stage, that’s how it is: very distant rebirths….So then, I’ve often wondered … You see, Théon says there is a psychic state in which those beings rest (it’s true, there is such a place, I know it), but many people, especially at the beginning of their evolution, are quite tied down to the earth; I have seen quite a few people in trees, for instance. Very often I saw them in trees; often, while following someone [with the inner vision], I saw him enter into a tree; and often, while looking at a tree, I saw someone in it. I saw others who were … oh, people clinging to a place they were interested in: for instance, I saw a man who was interested in nothing but his money, which he had hidden somewhere, and as soon as he left his body, he went there, settled there, and refused to budge from there! … Incidentally (laughing), it had a curious result: it led people to discover the place! You see, it caused movements of forces, and some people felt it and thought, “Oh, there must be something here.” ….
There is increasingly an impression that our head and our way of seeing are what makes clear-cut limits like that [between life and death, between the ones and the “others” ] – but it’s not like that! It’s all mingled, it’s consciousness … (gesture of stirring and mixing) inter developing, I don’t know. And all that is together.
It’s far more interdependent than we think.
May 21, 1969
* * *
Diseases, accidents, catastrophes, wars, all of that is because the human material consciousness is so small, so narrow that it has a rabid taste for drama. And of course, there is, behind, the vital being having fun, also influences … anyway all that enjoys an opportunity to delay the divine Work and make things difficult. And all that takes pleasure in that naturally encourages drama. But the seed of the difficulty is that smallness, extreme smallness of the physical consciousness – the material physical consciousness – which has an absolutely perverse taste for drama. Drama – the slightest thing has to make a drama: if you have a toothache, it turns into a drama63; if you bang against something, it turns into a drama; if two nations quarrel, it turns into a drama – everything turns into a drama. The taste for drama. If anything in your body is even slightly upset or there is the smallest trouble, which should go completely unnoticed, oh, it makes a big fuss, a drama. The taste for drama. I was deeply disgusted.
Everything, everything … Like the bedlam at a marketplace….
It went on worsening nicely, till the day (I forget which) when I said with “high indignation” (Mother takes on a dramatic tone), “What is this creation in which …” (I said it in English) “in which living is a suffering, dying is a suffering, everything is a suffering….” (Mother laughs) As soon as that was uttered, it was enough. And the consciousness was there, saying, “There is only one remedy, but the world rejects that remedy.” Then I was put in the presence of the fact, face to face with it, the thing staring at me – oh, what a pretty drama!
I wondered whether it was peculiar to the earth and if the other planets and suns weren’t in this idiotic situation? … On an external level it would be interesting to know. But I am nearly sure that death, for instance, is something that belongs exclusively to earth life – death as we feel it, as we understand it. Yet animals take part in it, but they don’t have man’s mental deformation…. The taste for drama is exclusively human, because those animals that live with man catch the malady, while those that don’t don’t have it at all….
For two days the sense of not knowing whether you are alive or dead (but these are words on the surface), of not being very sure of the difference it makes…. And then, the body asking this question: “But everyone has his theory: one says death is like this, another says it’s like that, yet another says still something different, but what is our OWN experience like? …” And it was like that (gesture of hanging between two worlds).
Then the body suddenly remembered (that was rather interesting; it’s more recent, it was yesterday or the day before), the body suddenly remembered that it had once been brought back to life. It said, “But you knew at that time, you knew since you brought me back to life.”66 Then I recollected what I used to know (and had stopped knowing because the knowledge was quite incomplete – it was entirely external and lacked the higher knowledge), I recollected the experience, and the two things joined together [the old knowledge and the new]. “Now,” I said, “this is interesting!”
You know, the story of the “soul leaving the body,” what childishness! Because I had that experience, too, of leaving (not the soul! It’s entirely independent, always and in everyone), of leaving the psychic being, the individual psychic being. When I went away from here in 1915, I left my psychic being here deliberately. I left it here, I didn’t take it with me. So the body can live without psychic being (it was rather sick, by the way, but that wasn’t the reason – it’s again the taste for drama! … Oh, always the taste for drama!).
There we are.
So the problem narrows down more and more…. If your most material vital being goes out, it doesn’t make you die – it puts you in catalepsy, but it doesn’t make you die. What makes you die? …
There are two things that make you die. One (the one that precedes the dramatic human existence) is wear and tear. What does wear and tear come from? From Ignorance, obviously. Ignorance and incapacity to renew forces; that’s how the whole lower life works: it decomposes, recomposes, decomposes again…. But it’s only with animality and the beginning of a mental functioning that there arises (Mother takes on a grandiloquent tone) “death,” as we conceive it. But that is when the vital element that gives life (what we call “life”) breaks down. There are innumerable reasons for that, all of which come from the same source. Of course, looking at it as a whole, it is the incapacity to follow the movement of progress: the need to mix everything together again in order to start all over again. But for those who begin to think, that no longer has any reason to exist.
An accident?… An accident to the material combination. But which accident, since the heart can stop and start again? It’s a question of how long the accident lasts.
If, for this wear and tear, this deterioration (which comes from the Inconscient and is the result of the RESISTANCE of the Inconscient), if for this we can substitute the aspiration for progress and transformation (not with words – the vibration) … That experience has been given me several times. Suppose something is quite upset, there is a pain somewhere, something disorganized that no longer works properly; if there is the vision and conception in faith (faith and consecration to the Supreme) that it’s deliberate, that the Supreme has allowed it to be (how can I express it? All words are meaningless), has allowed or willed it, or wanted it to be, because to Him it was the best way to transform the thing, to have it make the necessary progress, if the cells that are somewhat disorganized and “sick,” as they say, are able to feel this … then, instantly, it takes a marvelous turn for the better – instantly, in five minutes, ten minutes. I could give concrete, precise examples, with all the details. So that means bringing the two extremes into contact, I might say. And if that can become the normal life of the elements which make up this outer form, then there is no reason why …
No, there is no need to die, no need whatsoever. There comes a point when death loses all meaning.
And in the small detail, in the little cell or the faint sensation (and when you come to feelings, there is some kind of thing which is the embryo of thought – oh, then …), you catch the taste for drama. Ah, then everything is explained.
The taste for drama, the need for catastrophe.
That’s what was there, pressing and pressing on the earth to bring about all the conditions for a clashing and clangoring grand finale (Mother shrugs her shoulders).
And only one remedy: to broaden into eternal peace … To break limits, become immense….
So it’s not because the soul leaves the body, is it?
Oh, that’s just words!
The soul may very likely make a resolve, noting that the body is either unworthy or unfit or incapable or unwilling or … anything, and the soul may decide that the body should die so it may go; but the soul’s going isn’t what kills the body. There are innumerable people who are without a soul – they have a soul, but their soul isn’t in their body – lots of people. And they go on living quite well.
It’s more difficult to live without the psychic being, on the other hand. The psychic being, of course, is the clothing – the individualized clothing – between the eternal soul and the transitory body; and [from life to life] it grows more formed, individualized, more and more individually conscious. When that leaves the body, the rest generally follows. But I had the experience of doing it deliberately, so I KNOW. One has to know how to do it, but it can be done. My psychic being stayed here with Sri Aurobindo, and I left with my mental, vital and physical beings. It was a … slightly precarious condition. But as I also kept the contact quite consciously, it could be done.
What people call “death” … I see loads of people who, to me, are living dead (they are those who are without their psychic being, or even those who have no contact with their soul). But to know that, one must have the inner vision. But what people call “death,” that is, the decomposition of the cells and dissolution of the form, is when the most material “vital subdegree,” which brings into contact with Life – with vital force, life – goes out. That is how death occurs in animals, for example. And that vital subdegree generally goes away when the external organism is unable to continue – when, for instance, it’s cut in two or the heart has been removed, or anyway when something quite radical has happened to it! Because some people have met with accidents and had many parts missing, yet they lived on. But even cardiac arrest, as I said, doesn’t necessarily mean death, since after stopping, the heart can start up again. Those who have the material knowledge tell you that for a few … I forget whether a few seconds or a few minutes, the heart can start up again; after that, decomposition sets in. With decomposition it’s over, naturally.
So we could correctly say that there are kinds of gradations in death. Gradations in life and gradations in death: some beings are alive to a greater or lesser degree, or if we want to put it negatively, some beings are dead to a greater or lesser degree. But for those who know, oh, for those who know that this material form can manifest a supramental light, well, those who don’t have the supramental light in them are already a little dead. That’s how it is. So there are gradations. What people have conventionally called “death” is just a purely external phenomenon, because it’s something they can’t deny – the body going to pieces.
But I have seen people who were supposedly dead (not many in my family because it wasn’t the custom to let the children see them, and once I was grown-up there were only very few opportunities), but I have seen a few here. And they weren’t all in the same state at all – far from it….
Not very long ago, I saw one or two photographs of someone, then he came to see me. I said, “He is dead, he’s a dead man.” And I don’t mean a dissolution at all (of course not! Since he came in and spoke – he spoke very loudly, thinking himself very alive, in fact): he was dead. So …
We think we are … we think we are so great, so wise, so … Oh, all the virtues we give ourselves! (Mother laughs) So courageous, so enduring, so … An act we put on for ourselves our whole life long.
At that time, for a few moments, there was the certitude of such a simplicity! … A simplicity … (how can I put it?) whose immensity made it all-powerful….
This Immensity, luminous and smiling, an immensity … (“immensity” is a word – “infinite” also is a word), something … absolutely limitless, which simply goes like this (gesture of descent) in a movement of manifestation; then, at a certain point, It encounters a sort of movement from below that seizes hold of It and turns It into … what we see. In the higher part [of the being], it’s a mixture of perverted mind and extremely powerful vital, which obviously enjoys the distortion; as That grows more concrete, It’s turned into all those human reactions; and when It draws near the earth, then … ah, you have the fine mess men have made with the earth atmosphere. So this Thing, this smiling, luminous, marvelous Immensity, so … – a living and conscious bliss … It becomes that.
And if by chance, by miracle, one drop falls without getting completely distorted, it becomes a miracle!
(At the end, the conversation turns to the disciple’s health who is having hemoptysis, – blood in sputum.)
… Tell your cells not to make a drama and you’ll see! If you know how to tell them …
They aren’t bad-willed, they’re idiotic (Mother laughs), that’s not the same thing!
June 14, 1967