What Is Death?

Compiled by Swamis Isvaramayananda and Karunananda

Death is the sloughing off of the physical body as the spirit body emerges. There is nothing to fear in death. Death is the great liberator: death brings freedom. You rejoice when babies come into your world. There are many who cry in our world when about to be born into your world. Similarly, there is weeping when people die in your world, rejoicing in ours. Death means that the life has served its purpose, or should have done, and the individual is ready to enjoy the tremendous richness and beauty that spirit has to offer.

You have a physical body that exists because it is animated by the spirit. When the spirit finally withdraws – I stress finally because temporarily it does so when you sleep, but returns when you wake – death comes to the physical body because the animation has gone. When that severance takes place, death occurs. There is nothing and nobody in your world who can by any means enable the physical body to live again. What happens after that is unimportant. If people wish to give their bodies to help knowledge for purposes which can be of service to others, that is a matter for them to decide. But let me also say this:- There is a time to be born and there is a time to die. If that time to die is reached then transplants will not succeed in your world.

But there is the problem of people on a plane which crashes and they die instantly. What is the effect on them?
Those who have knowledge of spiritual realities will not be affected. Those who have not will be affected because of the shock. But in the process of time, awareness and realisation will come.

An accidental death predisposes one to accept reincarnation.
I am not happy about the use of the “accident,” because I know only of cause and effect in operation. Whatever you regard as accidental can be due only to the operation of the Law of Cause and Effect.

When people die, relatives and loved ones meet them and help them over. Does if mean they are all on the same level?
No, because those who love you will in most cases have evolved spiritually since their passing. They will come down, as it were, so as to be able to communicate at the stage where you are when you reach our world. You must try to realise that spiritual growth is always towards maturity. There is no equality with physical age.

Awareness has infinite possibilities. It is an eternal process at work. Awareness is a gradual realisation. It is not a sudden transformation from ignorance to knowledge. It is graduated, and slowly comes as the soul is ready to reach higher stages.
We obviously don’t live as long as we could physically under better conditions. Under perfect conditions probably we could live to a hundred and fifty.
Do not confuse physical age with spiritual maturity. It is not the number of years that matters, but the growth, development and unfoldment of the soul that is temporarily manifested through the body. What should happen is that when the spirit is ready the body will die, just as the apple drops from the tree when it is ripe. So forget the physical years. They do not matter. The whole object and essence of earthly life is to enable the spirit to have the kind of exercise, education and experience that will fit it to begin its life in our world.

It is not easy for people in your world, even when they have knowledge that life is continuous after physical death, to adjust themselves when those who are closest to them are removed to another dimension of the universe. It would be foolish to minimise the fact that inevitably there is sorrow when this physical separation takes place. Death cannot separate those whom love has joined. Of course, there are times in the silence when tears are shed. But hold your head high, and know that the power of the spirit will never desert you. Help will always be forthcoming. Do not worry about anything. Worry blocks the channels by which help can come.
I wish people in your world could become aware of what is around and about them. If only they could see the ones they love who are close to them; shielding them, guarding them, guiding them, ensuring that no real harm will ever befall them. There is nothing in your world or mine that can part those whom love has united. Love, like life, is stronger than death. Love, like life, is of the spirit, and the spirit cannot be destroyed.

 The Soul After Death

What becomes of the soul at the moment of death?
It becomes again a spirit; that is to say, it returns into the world of spirits, which it had quitted for a short time.
Does the soul, after death, preserve its individuality?
Yes, it never loses its individuality.
How does the soul preserve the consciousness of its individuality, since it no longer has a material body?
It still has a fluid peculiar to itself – its perispirit – which draws from the atmosphere of its planet, and which represents the appearance of its last incarnation.
Does the soul take nothing of this life away with it?
Nothing but the remembrance of that life and the desire to go to a better world. The more advanced the degree of its purification, the more clearly does it perceive the futility of all that it has left behind upon the earth.
In what sense should we understand eternal life?
It is the life of the spirit that is eternal; that of the body is transitory and fleeting.

The Soul At The Time Of Death

Is the separation of the soul from the body a painful process?
No, the body often suffers more during life than at the moment of death, when the soul is usually unconscious of what is happening to the body. The sensations experienced at the moment of death are often a source of enjoyment for the spirit, who recognises them as putting an end to the term of his exile.

Can the definitive separation of the soul and body take place before the complete cessation of organic life?
It sometimes happens that the soul has quitted the body before the last agony comes on, so that the latter is only the closing act of merely organic life. The dying man no longer has any consciousness of himself, but nevertheless there still remains in him a faint breathing of vitality. The body is a machine that is kept in movement by the heart. It continues to live as long as the heart causes the blood to circulate in the veins, and has no need of the soul to do that.

Does the soul sometimes, at the moment of death, experience an aspiration or an ecstasy that is a fore-glimpse of the world it is about to return?
Already partially freed from matter, it beholds the future unrolled before it, and enjoys, in anticipation, the spirit state which it is about to re-enter.

What sensation is experienced by the soul at the moment when it recovers its consciousness in the world of spirits?
He who has done evil is overwhelmed with shame for his wrongdoing. With the righteous it is very different. His soul seems to be eased of a heavy load, for it does not dread the most searching glance.

In the case of violent or accidental death, when the organs have not been weakened by age or sickness, does the separation of the soul take place simultaneously with the cessation of organic life?
It usually does so; and, at any rate, the interval between them is very brief.

Chanted at Hindu Funerals:

Lord Krishna Says To Arjuna-
11 Thy tears are for those beyond tears; and are thy words words of wisdom? For the wise grieve not for those who die – for life and death shall pass away.
12 Because we all have been for all time: I, and thou, and those kings of men. And we all shall be for all time, we all forever and ever.
13 As the spirit of our mortal body wanders on in childhood, and youth and old age, so the Spirit wanders on to a new body. Of this the sage has no doubts.
16 The unreal never is: the Real never is not. This truth has indeed been by those who can see the true.
17 Interwoven in his creation, the Spirit is beyond destruction. No-one can bring an end to the Spirit, which is everlasting.
18 For beyond time he dwells in these bodies, ‘though these bodies have an end in their time; but he remains immeasurable, immortal. Therefore, great warrior, carry on thy fight.
19 If any man thinks he slays, and if another thinks he is slain, neither knows the ways of truth. The eternal in man cannot kill: the Eternal in man cannot die.
20 He is never born, and he never dies. He is in Eternity. Never-born and eternal, beyond times gone or to come, he does not die when the body dies.
21 When a man knows him as never-born, everlasting, never-changing, beyond all destruction, how can that man kill a man, or cause another to kill?
22 As a man leaves an old garment and puts on one that is new, the Spirit leaves his mortal body and wanders on to one that is new.
23 Weapons cannot hurt the Spirit, and fire can never burn him. Untouched is he by drenching waters; untouched is he by parching winds.
24 Beyond the power of sword and fire, beyond the power of waters and winds, the Spirit is everlasting, omnipresent, never-changing, never-moving, ever One.
25 Invisible is he to mortal eyes, beyond thought and beyond change. Know that he is, and cease from sorrow.
26 But if he were born again and again, and again and again he were to die, even then, victorious man, cease though from sorrow.
27 For all things born in truth must die, and out of death in truth comes life. Face to face with what must be, cease thou from sorrow.
28 Invisible before birth are all beings, and after death invisible again. They are seen between two unseens. Why in this truth find sorrow?
30 The Spirit that is in all beings is immortal in them all: for the death of what cannot die, Cease thou to sorrow.

From Chapter Two of the Bhagavad Gita
Transl. Juan Mascaro; Publ. Penguin Books