More on Death

More on Death

Death Valley by Peretz Partensky
Death Valley by Peretz Partensky

Over the years, I’ve written surprisingly often about death. This is because there is a lot of fear and misunderstanding around the topic. Yet we’ve all been there before.

Recently a good friend sent me a site on the Vedic approach to death. I wasn’t born into the culture in this life so I don’t follow the rituals much. However, there are useful points we can draw from that understanding to support ourselves and others through this process.

Settled Space
It’s useful to create a settled environment for the dying. Prayers and meditation are more supportive than expressions of grief. This can come later. Assume that the departing is still conscious even if they’re not responsive. Just as hearing is present subtly in deep sleep, so too it’s the last to go in dying.

You want to reassure and support the dying, not distract them and create regrets. Save the old stories also as they can enliven attachments. Focus on their needs, not your own. Sometimes they need silence.

It’s also not the time to work your stuff out with them. That time has passed. Assure them it’s all right to let go when they’re ready. Head to the light and we’ll be OK.

What Dies
We live on after death. First, we withdraw from the body. Then after adjusting and saying our goodbyes, we pull back out of the emotional body, then lower mind. Our form and identity fall away.
All the rest of “you” remains, including your soul (point value in consciousness), your causal nature, your intellect, and your higher mind.

“These bodies are known to have an end; the dweller in the body is eternal, imperishable, infinite. This truth has been known by those great seers, who see life’s essence.”
– Bhagavad Gita 2:16

The Fear of Death
We fear death because the ego fears losing control. How attached we are to this form determines how difficult the transition is. Many of the elderly do a lot of letting go in their last years. Spiritual progress is also very beneficial for letting go of attachments.

“In this (yoga) there is no loss of effort. Even a little of this dharma protects one from great fear…”
– Bhagavad Gita 2:40

Another thing that may create fear is a previous traumatic dying. While death itself is liberation from the limitations of the physical body, dying can create strong impressions.

“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.”
– Bhagavad Gita 2:12

At death, what is unresolved comes to the surface. The desire to fulfill what is unresolved leads us on into the next lifetime and can flavour it. For example, we remain angry about how we were treated. The next life may then be about experiencing the results of that anger or of experiencing the power to mistreat others. Or to do what we couldn’t. Or marry who we didn’t. What arises is to heal what is unresolved in the context of the whole. Through this process, we learn how to be.

“Whatever object one remembers at the time of death, when one gives up the body, O Son of Kunti, that very same object one attains.”
– Bhagavad Gita 8:6

I’ve seen this play out for a few friends who passed. Their regrets, for example, guiding their next steps. Again, this points to the value of healing to resolve what is unresolved and clear the path. Then the end of life is not driven by regret, a difficult transition, and a difficult next life.

The Vedic funeral site suggests one reason Indians name their children after gods. If you think of your child at death, then you will have invoked that god. However, any god could see the difference between a thought of a child and a thought of them. I don’t recommend you try to trick death. 🙂

Conscious Death
There is a great advantage to having a conscious death. It helps us move smoothly through the process and avoids some of the above. But we can’t expect to control our thoughts at the end any more than we did in life. If we’ve made a bed of anger or whatever, that will rise to the surface. Again, this is an advantage of spiritual practice – to be more conscious in the process and to have resolved more of our backlog.

From the Yoga Sutra:
3:16: From Samyama on the three transformations (characteristic, temporal quality, and state) comes knowledge of the past and future.
3:18 From perception of impressions (samskaras) comes knowledge of previous births.
3:22 Karma returns both quickly and slowly. From Samyama on that, or from premonitions, comes knowledge of death.

Death after awakening
For someone who is awake, a conscious death is almost a given. Yet it is our degree of sattva that has a greater influence on what unfolds next. If there are still anger issues, for example, it may be necessary to come back again for a final round with an easy awakening to clean that up. If we’re done, there are various options described in the texts. We sometimes call death the final enlightenment and the end of ignorance but I wouldn’t say it’s the end of the road.

“Out of bliss these beings are born, In bliss they are sustained, And to bliss they go and merge again.”
– Taittiriya Upanishad 3.6.1

The deceased hang around for a few days or weeks, letting go emotionally and saying their goodbyes. It’s good to remain respectful and recognize they may try to contact us. One friend, in front of many friends, had a bald eagle swoop low and up the glass window behind where they used to play the piano.

Support the Living
Always have a will. This allows your executor to follow your wishes, pay your bills, and distribute your assets. Without a will, the government takes over and decides, much delaying the process. Who will pay the rent to store your stuff in the meantime?

If the topic interests you, there is much more on the Vedic Funeral site.

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  1. Celeste

    I had a Buddhist patient who was dying. They played chants while they were dying. We were not allowed to touch the body because it would make the spirit stay. They packed the body in ice and let it lie in state for 3 days so the spirit would be sure to leave. So different from the Hindu belief. Also the Buddhists are trained in dying, they have the book of the dead so they know what is going to happen after death, it’s like a roadmap.

    1. Thanks, Celeste
      Yes, the roadmap. Of course, the actual experience is different from what you might read in a book. Our expectations can have an impact on what unfolds though. In the examples I’ve seen it was all about what the soul most needed next – often focused on healing.

  2. Jeff

    When I went to my mother in law’s funeral, there was an angel above her casket. As people were visiting the casket, she would radiate a feeling love, calm and peace to them. I found the process so interesting, I sat in the front row to witness the process. It was quite beautiful.

    1. Beautiful, Jeff. Yes, there are guides for helping us cross over and others for helping those who remain. Major life transitions are supported quite profoundly. It’s wonderful when we know this directly. Your mother in law must have been blessed to have one so potent to support her friends and family.

  3. Jeff

    Even in life, I have been fortunate to feel the shift in the laws of nature that take place before any major shift happens in my life. This prepares me for the change and helps me see that any change is part of a divine plan. Plus, witnessing silence moving within itself is far more interesting than the superficial details taking place on the surface of life.

    With that in mind, don’t expect my attention at my funeral. Unless it important for my evolution or my family and friends. My attention will naturally be on the divine and where ever I am headed.

    Incidentally, I have always had an intimate relationship with the goddess of immortality. To me, she is the pinnacle of of divine beauty and she totally captivates my attention. Not that I expect to live forever in this body. But she will be with me wherever I end up.

    1. 🙂
      Yes, being able to feel the flows of life is a blessing. The details can be interesting in seeing how it’s being organized to get a certain result. As the shifts deepen, the Divine comes to be found even on the surface.
      Beautiful, thanks for sharing.

  4. Gina Westbrook

    Hi David,
    I thought you might be amused by this: I know someone who’s last thought in his last life was of a particualar brand of ketchup. He was expecting to have french fries for lunch, and liked that brand. In this life his first name is Hienz.

      1. Gina

        Huh, funny you should say that. Actually he was a physicist whose hobby was music in that life. It seems you’ve picked up on something from one of his lives before that, which he seems to still be working out in this life, despite his higher state of consciousness, which relates to similar to similar topics you’ve discussed

  5. John Begg

    I found your comments interesting, as always.
    Recently (May 23, 2020) John Hagelin gave a webinar talk in which used quantum physics principles to discuss (not completely explain) how the subtle body could persist after the physical body ends, and that it can take on another physical body later. Interesting. You can see it at

    1. Interesting, John. I watched his first talk but not this one yet.
      “the subtle body” implies a 3-worlds model – physical, subtle, and causal (consciousness?). I use a more detailed model but simple can work too. Will check it out.

    2. I watched the talk. Quite interesting research and discoveries but there is a strong materialist bias in both the research and the implications Dr. Hagelin gives it. Some of that is misleading, like the idea we start a new life with a blank slate mind. Or that the mind dissipates entirely after death.
      Another that the subtle bodies are very, very cold. Again, that’s a physical quality. They are much more settled than the physical but the idea they’re dark and cold is incorrect.
      Still, it’s interesting to see science moving in a direction that recognizes the subtle.

      1. John Begg

        In the following talk after the one referenced, Dr. Hagelin talks about the unified field as being aware, conscious-almost the consciousness of the entire creation (my extrapolation).
        It is pretty materialistic, but, hey, he is a physicist, after all. 🙂

        1. Hi John
          The Unified Field is better considered universal mind. Consciousness is transcendent to form. But yes, it is fascinating to see the movement towards a holistic perspective supported by science.

  6. Lynette

    So D, after reading this and reflecting on my cat’s death. We actually had to put him to sleep because his bowel movements were getting uncontrollable and he spends time hunkered down in a hole of our couch, and will only come out, when coaxed by my husband. My husband said animals know consciously that they are dying. He hardly eats or if he does he throws up, so we took him to the vet and they said even if they put him in an I.V. he will only last 2 days. So the vet’s advice is to put him to sleep. So we did, then when he is gone, I unconsciously said to my family we probably need to pray. To oblige me they said go ahead. However instead of Christian prayer, I prayed to Buddha aloud. I am just wondering did I kill the cat? Did he die consciously? Is he hovering around us, or where did he go? Because you mentioned all living things have a soul, I hope we did right by him and didn’t think we just killed him (sad).

    1. Hi Lynette
      Your act was one of mercy to relieve suffering. You cannot kill the soul. The cat would have experienced a great relief. The dog I’d mentioned was similar. His body deeply relaxed as he let go, for the first time in awhile.
      Yes, pets do generally know when they’re leaving. It’s not ideal when you can’t communicate more directly. But you do the best you can.
      How conscious he was at death depends on his own development. Usually, animals will hang around for a short time to adjust and say their goodbyes, then cross over like humans. They may hang longer if a bit more attached.
      It’s always sad to lose a loved one but I’m sure you did the right thing.

      1. Gina L WESTBROOK

        My husband and I were also greatly saddened by the death of a dear cat we had to euthanize. However, she appeared to each of us in different ways. To me she appeared to be curled up on her favourite blanket; to my husband sitting prim and proper with her tailed curled round her front feet while he was playing the flute. She thanked us for giving her such a nice life, but, said she couldn’t leave till we stopped being so sad. When I heard this I was filled with great joy. Here’s a poem for Lynette written by a friend of mine upon the passing of her beloved kitty.
        “I’m young again and free to roam
        My fir is sleek, my body strong
        To run and jump, to climb and leap
        No longer frail
        In this last sleep.”

        Although we all know it’s never the last sleep.
        With Love.

  7. Lynette

    D, now thinking about this, if animals can die consciously, can humans die consciously too? Example they will know when it is time to go? So, if we can put animal to sleep to relieve suffering, so can we do this to humans also? When we know the person is in a lot of pain, and that there is no quality of life. What do the spiritual teachings say? I do understand suicide is frowned upon. However if you do euthanasia to a loved one, is that the same as suicide or killing someone? Or is it all a matter of ones intention? Thanks for taking the time to answer my questions.

    1. Hi Lynette
      Keep in mind “conscious” is a matter of degree. For humans, a “conscious death” would usually be an expected death in bed. The opportunity is there to monitor the process. (vs sudden death in an accident or dying in a coma) Similar for a pet.
      But within that is a vast range of awareness. And then after the transition, a range of adaptations. Like Gina’s cat visiting goodbye. Not all beings figure out they can make themselves known or figure out how. But we can certainly say our goodbyes, even if we’re not conscious of their presence.
      From what I understand and have seen, most people are conscious of the process. But how they respond to it can vary. Ready to go or not, conflicting with prior beliefs or not, ease in letting go or not. A fully “conscious death” can happen when one understands the process and lets go easily so the experience can be smooth. We’re awake to the process and not overshadowed by our own reactions.
      Here, it’s legal to choose when to go if you have an incurable condition thats causing pain and similar. But there are lots of rules around it for good reason. 2 doc’s have to sign off on it, for example.
      Spiritual teachings vary on the topic. And people have some pretty strong beliefs.
      Taking ones own life is not a great idea as it leaves you with this life’s karma and no vehicle to complete it. It’s not an escape. In fact it can leave you more stuck. Generally, you end up in a holding pattern until your allotted time, with further karmic weight.
      This topic is highly charged politically, religiously, etc so I’m not interested in debating the pros and cons. But I can observe that keeping someone alive just because we can is not natural and if there is no quality of life, what’s the point?
      So no, allowing someone to die naturally or in peace is not the same as killing. Yes, intent makes a huge difference. You may find reading the Bhagavad Gita illuminating. It explores some related topics, such as when it can be someones duty to kill.

      1. Lynette

        Hi David, thanks for the response. I am more curious on spiritual teachings about death on euthanasia, suicide. I am not interested in religious belief or politics, or other opinions (only yours, since I know you researched a lot of stuffs). Thank you for sharing. I will read the Bhagavad Gita. I find Bhagavad Gita to be a read that one has to reflect on. Hopefully this time I am mature enough to read the whole thing. Thanks again.

        1. Rather than teachings, I lean more on experience. That will of course vary by person and what they’ve experienced.
          I’m not suggesting you were interested that way. But this is a publicly visible forum. I reply to readers in general and am alert to inflammatory topics that attract controversy.

  8. Jeff

    Several months go, I attended a Catholic burial mass for my Father in law. Although I am not a Catholic in this lifetime, my wife and daughter are Catholic. I have found the rituals in the mass to be quite powerful. In the burial mass , I saw a field of golden light that I perceived to be Christ escort my father in law to his stage of evolution. It was quite beautiful.

    1. Thanks for sharing Jeff. Yes, ritual done right is like stepping into a groove and playing out a collective memory. It can be quite potent.
      Interesting they would wait for the mass but if thats the belief, they’re likely to follow it. Some of that unfolds according to expectation.

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