--a resignation to, and harmony with, God. It is as far as detachment from the ego can go without losing the ego itself.
It is paradoxical that the moment of his death should automatically bring to life again all of a man's past. He has to repeat it all over again, this time from a different point of view, for the selfish, coloured, and distorting operation of the ego is absent. Now he sees it from an impersonal and uncoloured point of view. In other words, he sees the real facts for what they truly are, which means that he sees himself for what he really is. His brief experience over, he then begins to live like a man in a dream. His own will is not responsible for what happens to him as a dreamer and it is just the same with what happens to him as a spirit. He does not personally and consciously choose, decide, and predetermine the course of his spirit life any more than his dream life. It flows on by its own spontaneous accord here as there. This is more vividly brought home to him, if he is an evil man, when the after-death experience turns into a nightmare.
It would be wrong to say that the pictorial review of life experience when dying is merely a mental transference from one's own shoes to those of the persons with whom one has been in contact during the life just passed, as the pictures unveil before him. What really happens is a transference from the false ego to the true Self, from the personal to the impersonal. It is a realization of the true meaning of each episode of the life from a higher point of view.
All possessions are left behind when a man makes his exit from this world. Every physical belonging, however prized, and even every human association, however beloved, are taken abruptly from him by death. This is the universal and eternal law which was, is, and ever shall be. There is no way to cheat or defeat it. Nevertheless there are some persons who, in a single particular only, escape this total severance. Those are the ones who sought and found, during their earthly life, the inspiration of a dead master or the association with a living one. His mental picture will vividly arise in their last moments on earth, to guide them safely into the first phase of post-mortem existence, to explain and reassure them about the unfamiliar new conditions.
I would like to die as peaceably as Lu Hsian-Shan, the Chinese mentalist philosopher. One evening he knew his hour had come, so he bathed, put on clean clothes, sat down and remained in silent meditation until he passed away seventeen hours later.
As the soul prepares or begins to pass out of the body, one of two things may happen. Depending upon the direction and strength of its attachments or desires, it is pulled away from them into unconsciousness, a kind of sleep. Or it recognizes places and persons connected with it, and if knowledge or experience are present, co-operates with the passing and moves out to a higher plane for a blissful sleep. After a while both must awaken to live again.
(a) A lady aristocrat related this story of her uncle who was dying as the result of an accident. He found himself out of the body. It was a delicious experience, but he was told that it was not the time for his exit and although he had lost the desire for earthly life, he found himself back in the body again. He recovered and lived. (b) Another woman of high social standing related that while in deep meditation she passed into a visionary condition in which she found herself out of the body. The condition was satisfying in the highest degree. But she was told that she still had something to do on earth and unwillingly had to return. She felt that with a little effort on her part she could prevent return, but destiny was stronger. (c) An Austrian female homeopath developed the practice of meditation and eventually had an experience of leaving the body and feeling intensely happy as the result. She wanted to stay like that but then remembered her responsibility towards her daughter and came back into the body again. (d) A Jewish lady who had been miraculously saved from death in the gas chambers with her mother while at Auschwitz camp began to practise meditation after being rejected when applying for admission to a convent as a nun. She successfully reached great peace and bliss, but became too sensitive to associate with the world. She had a vision of leaving the body during meditation. She felt as if she were in heaven. She prayed not to have to go back to the world, but she was intuitively told that it was her duty to do so. She accepted it as God's will and is now trying to adjust herself to conditions here.
What was the name of that artist who as he lay dying asked for the window to be opened wide so that he could see the snowy summits of the mountains outside? He wanted his last thoughts, his last consciousness, to be of them. Why?
We may deplore our foolish behaviour in life, our stupid errors or our fleshly weaknesses, but in those moments of dying we have the chance to die in wisdom and in peace. Yes, it is a chance given to us, but we have to take it by keeping our sight fixed on the highest that we know.
Death can open out higher possibilities to the man who leaves this existence in faith, who trusts the Overself and commits himself to its leading without clinging to the body which is being left.
It is better to pass out of the physical body in possession of consciousness rather than in a state of drugged anesthesia. This applies more particularly to spiritual aspirants. But where there is great pain, local anesthesia may be unobjectionable.
Only in those last few days or hours or minutes do most men find out the truth that as one kind of life leaves both them and their flesh, another opens up to them.
The awful aloneness which confronts man this side of death does not exist for the philosopher, nor for the truly devout person.
When he lies almost dying he may receive verification of the belief that a dying votary will see his god or guru or saviour come to take or guide his soul to the higher world.
Death is before me today Like the recovery of a sick man, Like going
forth into a garden after sickness.
Death is before me today Like the odour of myrrh, Like sitting under the
sail on a windy day.
Death is before me today Like the odour of lotus flowers, Like sitting
on the shore of drunkenness.
Death is before me today Like the course of the freshet, Like the return
of a man from the war-galley to his house.
Death is before me today Like the clearing of the sky, Like a man
fowling towards that which he knows not.
Death is before me today As a man longs to see his house When he has
spent many years in captivity.
"Death a Glad Release":
(Translated from the Egyptian of an unknown poet
of four thousand years ago--by James Henry
Rabelais' last words, "The farce is finished," say much in little space.
Drowning persons who were saved and survived have told of the feeling of time slipping backward and their whole lifetime being replayed. This is an experience which is not theirs alone; it happens to all who pass through the portal of death.
Confusion, fear, clinging to the body or other physical possessions, panic, severe depression--they make the passage through the death experience harder than it would otherwise have been.
The aftermath of death
The best way to minister to a dying person depends on various factors: each situation is different and individual. In general it may be suggested that the first thing is not to panic but to remain calm. The next is to look inwardly for one's own highest reference-point. The third is then to turn the person over to the Higher Power. Finally, and physically, one may utter a prayer aloud, or chant a mantram on his behalf--some statement indicating that the happening is more a homecoming than a homeleaving.
Sympathy and understanding go to those who have endured the passing beyond of someone precious to them. Healing will, however, come in time. Those who are thus suffering should resign themselves to the will of Destiny and believe that the loved one is living still, and will return.
A Buddhist method of driving away obstructing spirits is to snap the fingers around the head for a while and utter the mantram "PHAT" ("crack"). This method is also used as part of the deathrite at the moment of the soul's departure from the body.
The student has learned that the death of the body is extrinsic to the consciousness, which lives on unchanged in itself. But when death claims the body of someone he loves, his faith will be put to test. At such a time, he must remember that the loved one has actually evolved to a more highly developed phase of life.
The passing away of a loved one is a heavy blow--one for which most people are improperly prepared, because they are not yet willing to face the inescapable fact that all life is stamped with transiency and loss and sorrow. Only by seeking refuge in the immortality of the Overself and in discovering the truth and wisdom of the Divine Purpose, can we also learn how to endure the suffering on the ever-changing face of life. "Letting go" is the hardest of all lessons to learn; yet it is the most necessary for spiritual advancement.
Although it is painful to lose our loved ones, this is often the only way by which we learn of our deep need to form some inner detachment, as well as the unalterable fact that worldly life is inseparable from suffering. Such bitter lessons are instructive; they make us aware that we must turn to the spiritual Quest if we are to find contentment and enduring happiness.
Loss, as in the case of death of a wife or husband, has been known to be a principle cause of the necessary receptive state of mind with which one has approached philosophy. This is significant to the student on the Quest.
The passing of a loved one is usually a major experience, and one's reaction to it shows the degree of development attained. He must remember that sometimes it is best for a loved one to pass away if in doing so he or she is rid of a serious and painful bodily disease. He must also be happy in the thought that the loved one has now gone on to a sphere of existence where happiness, bliss, comfort, and rest can be found as can only be imagined but not found here. He may be assured that the loved one is really in a better world where only the beautiful side of life can penetrate and where ugly and base things can never find lodgement. He may help best at such a moment by an occasional loving remembrance during the peak point of meditation. For the sensitive aspirant, such an experience as seeing death face to face as it were, is always a great one. It should mark the beginning of a new period, of a more vivid evaluation of the transient character of earthly life, and result in a powerful aspiration to wrest something of an enduring character from the comparatively few years spent on this space-time level.
To someone who believes that life continues beyond the body's death, a funeral seems a useless affair. But it compels the mourners to remember and think of, for a few hours, what they ordinarily forget--that they too must go, that all personal matters come to an abrupt end, and that the person himself must part from every one of his possessions. Such a ritual, otherwise boring and tedious, is a salutary reminder.
One hopes that those bereaved by the death of fine young men in the war may have begun to feel some of time's healing touch. It is a source of great grief to lose someone young and brilliant at such a time. One cannot answer the question so often asked as to why such a man died when he was living so useful a life. This is a mystery of the kind we must leave to the Will of God, with faith. However, this faith is not the same as blind faith, for there is certainly Divine Wisdom underlying the event. These young men still live and will live. They have passed into a brighter and happier world and there is no need to grieve for them.
We must bear with resignation and acceptance the coming of this inevitable visitor, Death, to those we love. It is useless to rebel or complain against a law of life which has been such since time began.
He who has had the good fortune to have a loving companion in marriage should not rail at Destiny when this helpmate is taken away. The same karma which brought the two together has also severed the relationship. But this is only temporary. There is really no loss, as mind speaks to mind in silent moments. Love and companionship of high quality will act as an attractive force to bring them together again somewhere, sometime. Many feel this in the inner understanding.
When death is properly understood, and the immateriality of being is deeply felt, there will be no more mourning funerals. If the deceased has had a long and full incarnation, his passing will be accepted philosophically.
The bereaved person faces the problem of adjusting himself to a new cycle of the outer life. During the transitional period, he may feel lonely and uncertain of the future. At such a time, the inner meaning of both this period and the coming cycle should be sought.
Cremation is a definite and emphatic challenge. If one really believes that the soul of man is his real self, or even if one believes that the thinking power of man is his real self, then there can be no objection to it, but, on the contrary, complete approval of it. The method of burying dead bodies is fit only for one who believes that this thinking power is a product of the body's brain, that is, for a materialist.
I recommend the process of cremation to dispose of the body of a deceased person. An interval of three days should take place between the death and the actual cremation, because that is the transition period which makes complete the passing out of the spirit.
The honour that is shown to a corpse by attempting to prolong its form is misplaced. It is a glaring contradiction to accept the credo of survival and then give to dead flesh what should be given to living soul. A rational funeral would be a completely private one. A rational funeral service would be one held to memorialize the memory of the deceased, and held not in the presence but in the absence of the corpse. A rational disposal would be cremation, not burial. The psychic and spiritual health of a community demands the abolition of graveyards.
In ancient Egypt the common people could not afford, were not allowed, and had no reason to turn their dead into mummies; but they did practise a curious kind of burial. The corpse was put into a shallow round hole with the chin resting upon the drawn-up knees--sometimes in the sitting and sometimes in the reclining position. This was intended to imitate the exact position of the embryo in the woman's womb and to symbolize an impending rebirth into the next world.
Why some are taken away by death at a young age and with a lovely soul is one of those mysteries which we must leave unexplained with the laws of destiny and recompense. Despite the natural feeling of being grievously wounded, the bereaved person should resign himself in trust to the will of God and in faith that the departed will be taken care of wherever he is by the Father of us all.
The passing away of a loved one and what the personal loss means to the bereaved is, of course, beyond the reach of any external comment which can be made. Words seem cold and useless at such times; all one can do is to accept, and humbly resign himself to, the Higher Will.
When some great souls passed away they took with them the spiritual and vital essence which others felt and from which they gained some inspiration.
This attachment to one tomb of a relative is consciously or unconsciously meant to keep the deceased person's memory alive. But this intention can be realized in other more hygienic and rational ways.
He or she who has lost a loved one should concentrate on realizing that distance in no way alters real love, that the mental presence of the beloved must be made as nearly real as the physical presence as he can make it, and that he must rise to the ability of finding satisfaction from these meetings in the mental world. Finally, there is always the old talisman of remembering the Universal and to keep on remembering it; this in time has a curious power, not only of helping to endure the maladjustments of fate but gradually of correcting them.
In great bereavement, it is best not to seek communication with the departed through mediums. One can never be sure that it is genuine. Moreover, it is neither the right way nor the safe way.
The only way to receive trustworthy contact with the spirit of a departed loved one is by prayer and silence, practised at the same time every night. There may only be a sense of the other's presence, or there may be a clear message imparted, possibly, in a dream. Patience is needed. Moreover, this cannot be repeated more than a few times.
The death of the body does not mean the death of the mind. Where there is deep love there can be interludes of mental communion between the so-called dead and the living and there may be meetings from time to time when each is conscious of the other. These meetings take place in a reverie-like state. But some practice in meditative stilling of the mind is necessary, as any emotional excitement would prevent this communion. Nature, however, does not permit a continuous relation, only an intermittent one. For spirits have their own higher destinies to work out.
What spiritualism is mostly trafficking with, where it is not subconscious dramatization of the mind's own content, is less often spirits of dead men as spirits of half-animal, half-human beings who pretend to be what they are not and mislead sitters, and who are antagonistic to the human kingdom because the latter has all too frequently dealt antagonistically with the animal kingdom.
I myself find it is hard to believe that disembodied human entities are permitted by Nature, after so a long a period has elapsed, to take an interest in the affairs of our world, much less interfere with them or inspire embodied individuals. Even reincarnation would be more logical than that.
If familiarity between the living and the dead were as common as spiritualists claim, life would be very difficult for both the living and the dead!
Have the disembodied nothing else to do than to run about hither and thither with dubious messages and stale revelations?
Table-tipping, planchette-writing, and trance mediumship may bring us into touch with friends long gone from our world; but, on the other hand, they may also submit our existence to invading spirits of an evil order who thrust themselves, unidentified, upon our brains and pretend to be what they are not.
I hold with Spiritism that the ego, the personality, does survive the death of the flesh body, but I do not hold with Spiritism that this survival is a most desirable and marvellous thing. Immortality is infinitely superior for it is the true deathlessness, but it can only be had at the price of letting go the ego. Nor would I encourage anyone to use the methods of Spiritism in its attempts at communicating with the "dead," for they are dubious and dangerous.
Those who feel pity for a person who kills himself feel rightly. But when this feeling is not balanced by reason, it may degenerate into sentimentality. For the suicide needs, like all other human beings subject to the process of evolution, to develop the quality of strength and to unfold the feeling of hope. His failure to do so leads to this sad consequence. That some suicides occur from other causes does not displace the truth of the general statement that most of them occur from weakness and fear.
The desire to kill himself may really be a desire to terminate the ego's life, but the man is unaware of this. In such cases, which are in a minority, the quest will be consciously adopted later.
It was not considered by several ancient peoples nor by the Essenes of Judea and the Jain monks of India that suicide was a criminal act if it were performed for valid reasons. These were: a hopelessly crippled condition; an advanced age accompanied by physical helplessness; a grave, chronic, or incurable disease.
It is understandable, when life becomes unbearable, that a man may commit suicide. But that he should use violence when doing so, is not.
A man commits suicide because of one of a variety of causes: he may become completely panic-stricken; he may become utterly hopeless; he may let go of all sense of proportion; or, if to any degree mediumistic, he may be influenced suggestively by an evil spirit.
Is any man given more suffering by destiny than he can endure? Theoretically he is not, but actually we do see cases of those who have killed themselves or gone insane from such a cause. The manner of his death, then, must be a part of his ill destiny.
It was not only the Jains in India who used this form of voluntary departure from the physical body, but also the Essenes in Palestine. When they felt themselves too old, they practised a slow starvation by leaving the community and going into solitude by a river bank or mountain retreat with only a handful of raisins for support. They would eat a few each day until the supply ran out and, often, their life-current with it.
Several Indian mystics, such as Tukaram and Ram Tirtha, have drowned themselves by walking into river or sea, and not always for the common reason that they were too old or too infirm. But willingly starving to death was regarded as a higher way of bringing one's life to an end. However, all this has nothing to do with the barbarous murderous custom of suttee, which is forced suicide.
The would-be suicide seeks personal oblivion, a memory-less and mindless non-existence.
It is not useful to discuss here the ethics of suicide, and the morality of mercy-killing. Those who have borne the crushing misery of chronic disease, or suffered the worst mutilations of war are at least entitled to their point of view. But what shall we say of the priest who urged Hindu widows to immolate themselves by fire and thus attain divinity and spiritual reward or, more recently, of Vietnamese monks who did the same for what was mostly a political cause?
Suicide by starvation was regarded as particularly meritorious by Hindus and Jains. It was not a sin, but the contrary. It was usually preceded by fasting and prayer. It was usually caused by old age, disease, incapacity, or the purposelessness of living. If caused by a great sin it was a penance.
When suffering reaches its zenith or frustration is drawn out too long, when the heart is resigned to hopelessness or the mind to apathy, people often say that they do not wish to live any more and that they await the coming of death. They think only of the body's death, however. This will not solve their problem, for the same situation--under another guise--will repeat itself in a later birth. The only real solution is to seek out the inner reality of their longing for death. They want it because they believe it will separate them from their problems and disappointments. But these are the ego's burdens. Therefore the radical separation from them is achievable only by separating permanently from the ego itself. Peace will then come--and come forever.
The temptation to antedate the journey out of the flesh is sometimes irresistible.
Is life worth living? Even if there is little reason for satisfaction with one's existence, there is equally little reason for bringing it to an unnatural end. Surely the brevity of life should settle the matter anyway.
What the artist may learn from ecstasy, the family householder may learn from tragedy, which brings him face to face with the nature of our existence for the first time. Birth and death are entwined in our lives. In both conditions we cross through the Source of our being.
There are the visible living people and the invisible living ones. None are ever lost to existence or destroyed in consciousness, but only their bodies.
An immortality which does not purify, exalt, and transform his life, which does not give him the new, spiritual birth, will prove as unsatisfactory to the disembodied man in the end as it is already to the embodied thinker.
So materialistic has the religious understanding of many men become, that they will only accept as the highest--if not the only--proof of life after death, the appeal to their gross senses and not to their fine intuition or rational intelligence. That is to say, the bodily form of a dead person has to materialize in front of their own or someone else's eyes to convince them that he has not perished after all.
This lesson, that a man is not his body, will be learnt in modern times through his reasoning intelligence as it was learnt in former times through his believing feelings.
Why did the Egyptians place their Heaven in the unseen regions into which the dying sun vanishes after sunset?
The answers to questions concerning immortality were given in the seventh and eighth chapters of The Wisdom of the Overself. However, certain points are given here again:
(a) Every person maintains his or her individuality during and after the perishing of the body-thought.
(b) The inequalities and injustices, which trouble many, are all balanced sooner or later by the law of recompense (karma). Each person receives in return precisely what he or she gives out; thus there is justice in the world, despite appearances to the contrary.
(c) When others ridicule the idea of immortality, the aspirant should not be upset nor allow his own faith to be weakened; he must remember that these people are merely expressing their own opinions, not passing on knowledge. The fact that many persons are not too happy about the idea of physical annihilation--and fail to take into consideration the fact that the "I" endures--has, of course, coloured their personal tastes. Their opinions are, however, incompatible with truth.
(d) The superstition that a childless person cannot reincarnate is nonsense.
(e) There are two kinds of immortality (so long as the lower self dominates consciousness): first, the "endless" evolution of the ego, gradually developing through all its many manifestations; and, secondly, the true immortality of the everlasting, unchanging Real Self--or Overself--which forever underlies and sustains the former.
(f) My reference to not clinging to the ego simply means that the aspirant must learn the art of releasing what is transitory in himself and in his existence--that which can survive only temporarily. The Real Individuality--the sense and feeling of simply Being--can never perish, and is the true immortality. No one is asked to sacrifice all interest and appreciation in "things": one may continue to appreciate them--provided their transiency is understood and one does not deceive himself into overvaluing them. The prophets merely say that the eternal life cannot be found in such things.
We must find heaven this side of the grave; we must understand that heaven and hell are deep inside the heart and not places to which we go; and we must know that the true heart of man is deathless.
The personal man will survive death but he will not be immortal. The "I" which outlives the fleshly body will itself one day be outlived by the deeper "I" which man has yet to find.
If death is the price of dwelling in this space-time world, then a spaceless and timeless world where there is no "here" and no "there," no "then" and no "now," no change from one stage to another, would also be an immortal one; and if death is the price of being associated with a separate individuality, then an existence which mysteriously embraces the whole world-system in unity must be imperishable.
The man who has studied these teachings does not believe that death can bring him to an end even though it must bring his body to an end. It is both a logical and biological truth for him that his inner personality will survive, his mind will continue its existence.
It seems that Life can very well carry on without any of us, but it does not seem that we could do the same with regard to Life itself. It depends on whether anything or nothing awaits us in the after-play.
The life that is in us goes at death into the life that is in the universe. It is as secure there as it was in us. It is not lost. Thereafter it reappears in another form, another body.