2. Life and Death - The Basics

“The soul is neither born, nor does it ever die;
nor having once existed, does it ever cease to be.
The soul is without birth, eternal, immortal, and ageless. 
It is not destroyed when the body is destroyed.”
Bhagavad Gita 2.20
“These bodies are known to have an end; 
the dweller in the body is eternal, imperishable, infinite. 
This truth has been know by those great seers, who see life’s essence.”
Bhagavad Gita 2.16

“The soul is not born, nor does it die; it did not spring from something, 
and nothing sprang from it. It is unborn, eternal, immortal, and ageless. 
It is not destroyed when the body is destroyed.” 
Kahopanihad 1.2.18

“The soul is glorious, unborn, deathless, free from old age, immortal, and fearless.”
Bihadārayaka Upanihad 4.4.25
The Enlightened Understanding of Life and Death
  Death is the ultimate reminder that no thing in the world is permanent. Nothing lasts forever. And yet, saints, saviors, and scriptures in every generation proclaim that the soul is immortal, and that our primary purpose is to locate the Non-Changing, Eternal Field of Life – The Kingdom of Heaven Within – while time allows.

  The educated classes of nearly every civilization in every generation have affirmed the belief in life after death. All the major scriptural traditions teach that the human soul transcends the limitations of its earthly body. The Egyptians, Persians, Greeks, Hebrew Pharisees, Christians, Muslims, Chaldeans, Hindus, and Buddhists all professed belief in a living soul that continues to exist after death. Alexandrian Jews and Pharisees hailed Christ as the incarnation of an earlier prophet. Jesus even gave credence to reincarnation, when claiming that John the Baptist was formerly the Prophet Elias. “If you will accept it, this is Elias, who was fore to come.” (Holy Bible, Matthew 11.14)

Dying in Fulfillment
  The ego is afraid of death, because it is afraid of loosing it’s familiar boundaries. But freedom from the ego’s limitations is the greatest achievement in life. Liberation of the ego means detachment from the physical, material body, and identification with the unlimited universal Self. This is the goal of human evolution.

  When the time has come for the soul to leave the body, it can be as blissful as when a bird is freed from its cage. Or it can feel like “the sting of thousands of scorpions.” It depends on one’s attachment to the body.

  Death means leaving your friends, family, body, senses, thoughts, and everything else in this world. It can be a painful parting if you are deeply attached to the world and are clinging to your body at the time of death. When the soul extracts itself from the five senses, it’s like a surgical operation. If you resist, it can be painful; if you let go, it can be gentle and graceful. 

  An enlightened soul who is fully identified with his or her immortal nature thinks nothing of loosing the mortal body. The enlightened, twentieth century, South Indian master, Ramana Maharishi was dying of cancer. He said: “They say that I am dying. But I am not going away. Where could I go (where I am not already)? I am here.” (established in my immortal Self) (Ramana Maharishi and The Path of Self Knowledge, Arthur Osborn) He did not identify with the changing, physical body; only his immortal Self mattered. 

Pure Consciousness
  The anesthetic to remove the pain of death is the experience of one’s own underlying, peaceful, stabile, unattached, Pure Consciousness. This is the undying, non-physical, transcendental source of thought, where one silently witnesses all change without attachment. Ancient Vedic texts of India describe in detail how our Immortal Self, which persists throughout all the changing phases of life, is eternally stabile - unmoved even by death.

  Chapter Two of the Bhagavad Gita describes the process of leaving the body and taking a new one - like taking off old, worn out clothes and putting on fresh, clean clothes. Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa appeared to his wife Sharada Devi on 15 August 1886 after he had died. He assured her that he had “only moved from one room to another.” Similarly, it’s like moving to another house, or another town or another country. It can be stressful or exhilarating, depending on one’s preparation.

Vedic Rites
  The Vedic texts describe all the preparations, challenges and obstacles before and after departing the body. A departed soul may experience various levels of heavenly bliss - or may experience a kind of purgatory, which is likened to a journey across 16 rivers and 16 plains before arriving back ‘home’ with one’s ancestors (pitris). From there (pitri loka), a soul has the opportunity to take birth again on earth in the home of descendants (such as grandchildren), or in other suitable homes.

  Vedic funeral rites act as cushions to ease and comfort the process of dying and rebirth. The rites are like an efficient courier service efficiently conveying nourishment to the deceased. 

Krishna’s Advice
  In Chapter One of the Bhagavad Gita (1.42 &1.44) Krishna reveals to the Great Warrior Arjuna that families, friends, and Gurus will all die in the impending battle. Arjuna realizes that the deaths of fathers and sons on the battlefield will prevent them from making Vedic Shraddh (funeral) offerings to their ancestors. Deprived of these ancestral rites, the family lineage will fall into chaos and confusion. (Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 1 vs. 40-44)  As a result, Arjuna refuses to fight in such a merciless war.

Transcending Death
  Krishna offers the solution to Arjuna, who is paralyzed with grief. Beginning with the intellectual knowledge of Sankhya Yoga in Chapter 2, Krishna tells Arjuna,

“The wise grieve neither for the living or the dead. (11)

“There never was a time when I was not, nor you, nor these others. Nor will there ever be a time when all of us shall cease to be. (12)

As the dweller in this body passes into childhood, youth and old age, so also he passes into another body. This does not confuse the wise . . .  (13)

“Contacts (of the senses) with the material world give cold and heat, and pleasure and pain. Impermanent, they come and go. Endure them bravely. (14)

“That man is fit for immortality, who is balanced in pleasure and pain, steadfast, and not tormented by these opposites. (15)

“These bodies are known to have an end; the dweller in the body is eternal, imperishable, infinite. This truth has been know by those great seers, who see life’s essence. (16)

“Know that to be indestructible by whom all this (world) is pervaded. No one can destroy this imperishable Being. . . . (17)

He is never born, nor does he ever die; nor once having been does he cease to be. Unborn, eternal, everlasting, ancient, he does not die when the body dies . . ..  (20)

As one takes up new garments after casting away worn out ones, so after casting away a worn out body, the dweller in the body takes others that are new.  (21)

Weapons cannot pierce the embodied soul, fire cannot burn it, and waters can not wet it, nor does the wind dry it.  (22)

“The Self is unpierceable, unburnable, indivisible, neither wet or dry, perpetual, all-pervading, stable, immovable, ever the same.  (23)

The Self is unmanifest, beyond thought, unchanging. Knowing this, you need not grieve. . . . (24)

“Or if you think of That Self as constantly reborn and constantly dying, even then, you need not grieve. (26)

“Certain is death for the born, and certain is birth for the dead. Over the inevitable, one should not grieve.  (27)

“Beings are unmanifest in the beginning, manifest in the middle, and unmanifest at the end. What need is there to lament? . . . (28)

“This indwelling soul in the body of everyone is invulnerable, everlasting. Therefore you need not grieve for any creature. . . . (30)

“This (intellectual) knowledge I have explained in accordance with Sankhya Yoga philosophy. Now hear it in terms of the Yoga of Experience, with which you can relinquish the bondage of action.  (39)

“In this (yoga) there is no loss of effort. Even a little of this dharma protects one from great fear. . . . (40)

“The Vedas are concerned with the three attributes of change (creation, maintenance and dissolution). Transcend all changing states, go beyond the pairs of opposites, ever pure, free from possessions, established in the Self. . . . (45)

“One who muses on the objects of the senses conceives attachments to these. From attachment springs desire. From desire comes anger.  (62)

“From anger comes delusion. From delusion the memory becomes confused. From confused memory the intellect is destroyed. From destruction of the intellect, he perishes.  (63)

“But the self-disciplined one who moves among sense objects with senses free from attraction and repulsion, controlled by the Self, he attains peace.”  (64)

“In that Peace is the extinction of all pains. For one who has a balanced mind, his heart is at peace. . . . (65)

“The roving senses carry away the understanding, just as a gale storm carries away a ship on the water. . . . (67)

“He attains peace into whom all desires flow, as rivers flow into the ocean, which is filled with water, but remains unmoved; not he who desires objects. . . . (70)

“This is the eternal state. Having attained that, one is not bewildered. Whoever is established in that, even at the hour of death, he attains eternal Nirvana. (72)

In Chapter 6 Arjuna asks an insightful question about yogis who aren’t able to perfect Yoga - Unity Consciousness in this life. What happens to them after death? Krishna responds,

“There is no destruction for him in this world or hereafter; for no one who acts uprightly goes the way of misfortune.  (40)

“Having attained to the worlds of the righteous and dwelt there for immemorial years, he who fell from yoga is reborn in a pure and blessed house.  (41)

“Or he may be born into a home of wise yogis, but such a birth is difficult in this world.  (42)

“There he recovers the good characteristics of his former body, and with these he again strives for perfection.  (43)

“By that former practice of yoga he is irresistibly raised up. Yearning to realize union with the Almighty, even the aspirant goes beyond the highest relative world.” (44) 

Note: In this verse Krishna uses the word  'avashas’ to convey the inevitability of one's evolutionary course. It means that in spite of one's circumstances, spontaneously, one will be carried (hriyate) to life’s full glory.

“The yogi is greater than ascetics, greater than wise men of knowledge, greater than successful men of action. Therefore be a yogi, O Arjuna.” (46)

The Final Thought
  In Chapter 8 of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna the secret of reincarnation:

“One is invariably transformed into whatever one remembers
when giving up the body at the end of life.”

  Your final thoughts in this body determine your experiences in your next body. Your final thoughts culminate from the sum total of the deepest impressions in your mind from all your actions and reactions in life.  For example, someone who is deeply connected to God or Guru, will be immensely comforted by those reassuring thoughts at the end of life. 

  However it is as difficult to control your final thoughts in this world as it is to control your last thought before falling asleep . . . or to control your last dream before waking up. All of our past memories and experiences culminate at the moment of death to guide the next step of evolution. 

  Unresolved desires and aspirations are foremost on the mind of a departing soul. These are the seeds of future births. One who has achieved a dispassionate state beyond all desires does not return in search of more satisfaction. But if there are unresolved desires, then the soul will return to fulfill those desires. 

  Sri Sarada Devi, Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa’s wife stated that: “There will be rebirth for a man, if he has even the desire to eat a piece of candy.” The enlightened saint, Neem Karoli Baba mentioned that a person yearning for a mango at the time of death might be born as an insect living inside a ripe mango fruit - insect heaven! Similarly, craving water at the last moment, one may incarnate as a fish in a river or lake.

  The Puranas relate how Maharaja Bharata lived in a remote forest and renounced everything. He was immersed in yoga, until one day he found a baby deer whose mother deer had died, and he nurtured it like a precious child. At the time of his death he was absorbed in thoughts about his pet deer. As a result he returned for a brief lifetime as a deer. Similarly one’s next life/dream will be colored by any deep attachment that the mind holds in the last moments of this life - whether for one’s children, or family, or friends, or loyal pet dog, or guru, or whatever form of God attracts the mind, or the Supreme Transcendental Self; wherever one’s mind is absorbed, that becomes the next reality.. 

One Last Thought
  Most commonly, the last thought is of one's cherished children. As a result, one is reborn in the family that they have created. One intriguing practice that is widely employed in India is to name your children after God. If you call out for your son or daughter with your last breath, and they are named for God - Narayan, Shiva, Ganesh, Mahesh, Lakshmi, etc., then that becomes a very fortunate final thought as you leave the body invoking the name of God. In the Srimad Bhagavatam, Book Six, Chapter I, the Brahmin Ajamila had fallen from grace, but on his deathbed Ajamila remembers his youngest son, named Naaraayan. As Ajamila calls out for Naaraayan, Vishnu’s attendants appear before him, and explain that Ajamila’s devotion to the name of God has earned him a place in heaven.

  In any case, a lifetime of discipline is necessary to control the circumstances of death. Elder Bhishma of the epic Maha Bharat was such a yogi. Arjuna mortally wounded Bhishma in the battle of Kuru Kshetra. But Bhishma refused to die. He lay on a bed of arrows for 51 days, waiting for the most favorable moment to leave his body. At the ideal time, Bhishma summoned all his energies, and left the world in a flash of light with Sri Krishna by his side and all of his family present.

  Before Bhishma left His body, Krishna encouraged Raja Yudishthira to gain as much knowledge as possible from Bhishma while time allowed. See Chapter 12 - Quotes from Scripture.