Understanding Death in the Light of Yoga Wisdom

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Death is not a subject that is commonly talked about. In fact, most of us make it a point to avoid talking about death because we do not really know how to talk about it without feeling uneasy or even fearful. But to the yogi, death is not something to fear. Rather, it is an important event in our life path that can and should be thought about, talked about, and correctly understood so that we can approach it with wisdom and foresight.

So, what is death?

To understand what death is, we must first have a understanding of who we are.

We are eternally alive spiritual beings clothed in a material body. According to the ancient yoga scriptures – and all the bonafide scriptures of the world – we are eternal spiritual individuals who are temporarily clothed in a material mind and body. The gross physical body is like an outer layer of clothing and the mind, or subtle body, is like an under layer of clothing.

Just like the actual clothes (shirt, pants, undergarments, etc.) we are wearing at this moment are inanimate, non-living objects, so, too, the material mind and body we are wearing are also inanimate, non-living objects. They appear “alive” for some time because we – the living spiritual person – is inhabiting them for a certain amount of time. When the spiritual individual leaves the physical body, it no longer appears alive. It is an empty shell.

Death is when we leave our current physical body behind, like an empty shell. So death, then, can be described as the event during which we, the eternally alive spiritual individual, leaves our current physical body. Death, or our leaving the physical body, is not the end of our existence – rather, we continue on in our journey of life.

Knowing we are eternally alive spiritual beings and will not die when our body “dies” is an immense relief for us because intuitively we know that being alive, existing, is our natural condition. As spiritual beings, we are always alive. There is no point at which we cease to exist. We have always existed and will continue to exist always.

Knowing we will still be alive after we leave our body at death frees us from anxiety. The reason we find the whole idea of death so unnatural and disturbing is because it is opposite of our natural condition. When we erroneously take ourselves and others to be the physical body, we cause ourselves tremendous anxiety and suffering with the false belief that we will cease to exist some day. When we realize the truth of the situation, we are freed of this anxiety and suffering.

Knowing we are eternal and will never die or cease existing leads us to our next important question about death – where do we go when we leave our current physical body?

Where we go when we leave our current physical body. The answer to this question is a great mystery for material scientists because they have only material instruments and information to work with. They cannot track spiritual energy or speculate correctly about the journey of the spiritual being after he leaves the physical body. Thus, they tend either to just write this off as something that cannot be known or put out false conclusions about death as the end of our existence. Neither of these conclusions are correct.

We can actually know about our journey after we leave the physical body at death through inquiring into what the authoritative scriptures of the world have to tell us about it. The yoga scriptures (Vedas), in particular, contain very detailed information on this subject.

According to the yoga scriptures, where we go when we leave our physical body is determined by our state of consciousness at the time when we leave that body. According to our state of consciousness, we will either remain in the material dimension and take birth again in another physical body – or we will return to our true home in the spiritual realm.

Reincarnation – taking birth in another material body. If we are very attached to material life, then we will remain in this material dimension. If we leave our body clinging to material desires, objects, and the idea that we can be perfectly happy and fulfilled through the temporary situations and forms of the material world, we will be provided with the opportunity to continue in this mode of life. If we have karmic reaction accumulated, we will need a material body to receive the results. We will take on another gross physical body according to these factors, which are held in the mind, or subtle body. Unlike the physical body, the subtle body continues to cover us when we leave our gross physical body, and it shapes the type of body we take on when we reincarnate in the material world. Perhaps we will take on another human body, or perhaps a plant or animal body. With this new physical body covering us, we will start the cycle all over again.

Why reincarnation is undesirable. We may think that being reborn over and over again in different species of life might be fun or interesting, but actually it is not. We do not usually retain memory of our past lives, nor any knowledge of our eternal nature – we simply get caught up, over and over again, in the dramas and traumas of each lifetime. We continue to experience the miseries of birth, disease, old age, and death, we just have a different body with which to experience them. Material life has us endlessly running in circles, chasing after a false promise of happiness that can never be fulfilled through material experiences because we are not made of material energy. We are like a fish out of water in the material dimension. It is not our natural environment.

Returning to our natural home in the spiritual abode. As spiritual beings, our natural environment is in the spiritual abode. The spiritual abode is not an imaginary realm of clouds and winged people – it is a real place which exists beyond the material dimension. There are detailed descriptions of it in the yoga scriptures. It is a realm filled with all varieties of living beings existing in their natural spiritual forms and relating with the Supreme Person in their natural loving relationships with Him. It it is called “Vaikuntha” in the yoga scriptures. Vaikuntha means “without anxiety.” Unlike the material world, beings living there do not experience any anxiety because they are perfectly happy and fulfilled in their life and relationship with the Supreme Person. Because we are so used to life in the material world, we cannot even imagine how such a life of complete happiness, complete freedom from anxiety, is possible. But it is. It is our natural state of being and is part and parcel of existing in our natural environment. Even while still inhabiting our current physical body, we can taste this perfect happiness and know that it is real through the practice of bhakti yoga.

Linking up with the Supreme Person and the spiritual abode through bhakti yoga. Bhakti yoga is devotional service to the Supreme Person. The individual spiritual person links up with the God, the Supreme Spiritual Person, through consciously reviving our natural loving relationship with Him. Through bhakti yoga practice, we cultivate our innate love for the Supreme Person, and it is this active cultivation of sincere and profound devotion to Him which links us up with Him. The more fully we are linked up with Him in heart and will, the more our consciousness becomes spiritualized. In this way, we can actually experience being in the spiritual world and tasting the happiness of it, even while inhabiting our current physical body. And when we leave this physical body at the end of this lifetime, we go to our Supreme Friend in the spiritual abode and continue our relationship with Him there, rather than returning to the material dimension.

Awakening love for God through Mantra Meditation. The heart and soul of bhakti yoga practice is yoga Mantra Meditation – the hearing and chanting or singing of the transcendental Names of the Supreme Person. The Names of the Supreme Person are not ordinary sound vibrations. They are, in fact, the Supreme Person Himself appearing in this world in the form of spiritual sound. The Supreme Person appears in this world as His Names in order to give us the opportunity to reconnect with Him. When we hear and chant or sing His Names, we are actually placing our self directly in His presence. This has a profoundly beneficial effect on us. It purifies our consciousness of material influence and awakens the dormant spiritual love for God which resides within our hearts.

By regularly, daily hearing and repeating the Names of the Supreme Person, our minds and hearts become increasingly attracted and attached to Him. The more we welcome Him into our lives through His Names, the more tangibly we feel His sweet, comforting, loving presence in our hearts. Naturally, our affection for Him grows, and we derive transcendental happiness from our blossoming friendship with Him.

Tasting the higher happiness of our spiritual nature and relationship with God frees us from material consciousness. The more intimately we are linked with God, the more we are able to remember our true spiritual nature, and so distance ourselves from the temporary world of materiality. Being intimately linked with the Supreme Person through constantly hearing and repeating His Names, thinking about Him, relating with Him personally, cultivating our love for Him, affectionately serving Him, and so on, insulates us from the influence of the material energy. Instead of being painfully attached to temporary material objects and situations, we are joyfully, lovingly attached to our friendship with the Supreme Person. Through our loving relations with Him, we are already experiencing the higher happiness of being linked with the spiritual realm, even while living in our current physical body – and we happily return there when our time in this current material body comes to an end.

Resting our hearts in the Names of God carries us Home. This is why death is not fearful to the enlightened yogi. And why it does not have to be a fearful experience for us either. When it is clear to us that we are choosing through our actions in this life, the circumstances for our next life, we will not waste a moment in pursuit of trivial things. We will approach both life and death consciously, with wisdom. We will hear and chant or sing the Names of our eternal Best Friend at every opportunity, resting our hearts in this sublime sound, knowing it is bringing us ever closer to the life we long for.

And when we are compelled by old age, disease, or accident to leave our current body, our dear Friend’s sweet Names will carry us onward. We will not be leaving home and everything we love. Rather, we will be going Home to the Lord of our Heart and the world of endless love that joyfully awaits our return.

 

Here are some relevant quotes from the Bhagavad-gita (Song of God). The Bhagavad-gita is one of the most authoritative of all yoga scriptures.

For the soul there is never birth nor death. Nor, having once been, does he ever cease to be. He is unborn, eternal, ever-existing, undying and primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain.“ ~Bhagavad-gita 2.20

As the embodied soul continuously passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at death. A self-realized soul is not bewildered by such a change. ~Bhagavad-gita 2.13

To those who are constantly devoted and worship Me with love, I give the understanding by which they can come to Me. ~Bhagavad-gita 10.10

One can understand the Supreme Personality as He is only by devotional service. And when one is in full consciousness of the Supreme Lord by such devotion, he can enter into the kingdom of God. ~Bhagavad-gita 18.55

For more information on specific types of yoga Mantra Meditation, simply click on the links below:

Kirtan

Japa Yoga

Gauranga Breathing