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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13 Responses to More on Death

  1. Celeste says:

    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.

    • Davidya says:

      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 says:

    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.

    • Davidya says:

      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 says:

    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.

    • Davidya says:

      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 says:

    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.

  5. Lorey says:

    I found the Tibetan Book of the Dead to relate to both the path of Enlightenment and death (and reincarnation): as above so below.

  6. Davidya says:

    Someone sent me a link to an article on arrangements for handling digital accounts and assets after death.

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