Paul Brunton Philosophic Foundation homepage > Notebooks of Paul Brunton > Category 9 : From Birth to Rebirth > Chapter 1 : Death, Dying, and Immortality

Death, Dying, and Immortality

Continuity, transition, and transformation

Life-in-Itself is infinite and unchanging, but there is an end to the kind of experience undergone by the living entity in its finite human phase.

Just as sound goes back into silence but may emerge again at some later time, so this little self goes back into the greater being from which it too may emerge again at another time.

We worry ourselves through the days of an existence which is itself but a day. A profound sadness falls on the heart when it realizes the transient nature of all worldly things and all human being.

If decay and disintegration were not present at some stage, if our life spans were extended to say double their present length, then the old would outnumber all other sections of society. Stasis would overwhelm culture because the bodily slowdown would reflect itself mentally. The World-Mind had a better idea.

Human life steadily and unfailingly burns away like the candle in a man's hands.

It would be a curious state of affairs if the sole purpose of life were to be death, a cessation of all interest in all the activities included under the heading "human existence." Has the divine intelligence nothing better to offer us?

Even stars must die one day, more violently and dramatically than most human beings, for even they come under the law that whatever had a beginning must also have an ending.

We hear of other people dying and make suitable comment, but we do not feel that the time is coming when this fate will be ours too.

It is not so much because death deprives man of his possessions and relations that he dreads it, as the possibility that it deprives him of his consciousness--that is, his self, his ego.

Those who deplore, lament, or wail at the inevitability of death are viewing it in a very narrow, short-sighted way. The more mature ought to be thankful that we humans are not condemned to remain forever confined to a single body: this would indeed become a source of anxiety, if not of hopelessness.

Whether this bundle of personal desires and memories which is the ego, but which some of the pious call their soul, will be annihilated at death or perpetuated, is not an anxiety for the philosopher.

The more they enjoy the world the more they suffer when they leave it--unless they have learnt to put detachment behind the enjoyment.

No force can be destroyed; it can only be rechannelled. Life is a force; death is its rechannelling.

The innermost being of man, his mysterious Overself, links him with God. It does not change with time nor die with the years. It is eternal.

Electrical fields have been detected by the use of newly developed micro-volt-meters around all living things, but there was no field around a dead man. Many years ago in the The Quest of the Overself the existence of an electromagnetic connection between the photograph of a man and the man himself was revealed, and its disappearance on his death was also recorded. Thus science begins to offer a basis for a part of our original statement.

We are tenants in this rented house of the body. We have no certainty of possession. There is no lease on parchment paper with a government stamp to guarantee even a single year's holding.

Individuated life is forever doomed to die whereas the ALL which receives the dying can itself never die.

The voyage of a man's life always ends in the port of death. Let him not forget this when tempted by fortune into undue elation or tossed by misfortune into undue misery.

This dismal fact is the mark on all things, and creatures: that they pass away, have a transient existence, and in this absolute sense lack reality. They appear for awhile, seem substantial and eventful, but are in truth prolonged mirages. If this were all the story it would be melancholy enough. But it is not. That whence they came, to which they go back, does not pass away. That is the Real, that is the Consciousness which gave the universe, of which we are a part, its existence. Out of that stems this little flower in each life which is the best, highest self. If we search for it and discover it, we recover our origin, return to our source, and as such do not pass away. Yes, the forms are lost in the end but the being within them is not.

Ordinarily, the date and even the place where one is to die is preordained.

Dying into annihilation is one thing but dying into another form of consciousness is quite different. It is the latter which happens at the passing away of the life-force from the body.

If the thought of death horrifies so many people, the thought of the void--of the utter annihilation of ego, of the abandonment of everything and of the cessation of suffering, frustration, and anxiety which belong to life in the world--is a welcome idea for those who think more deeply. But since life is only partly suffering, since there are also joys and satisfactions in it and positive values which ought not to suffer destruction, a better balanced view is provided by philosophy and that is that consciousness, real consciousness, cannot die, but only returns to its ultimate source.

We ought to be glad that we do not live forever. It is a frightening thought. If there were no death we would go on and on and on, captives in the body, having tried all experiences which promised much but in the end yielded nothing. No, it is good that in the end we are released from the physical tomb, as Plato called it, and will be able to enjoy a period of dignified rest until we plunge back again into the next re-embodiment.

You raise one of the points on which I happen to disagree with your respected master, and that is his experiment in the direction of attaining physical immortality. From a scientific standpoint, I would not dare to say that anything is impossible or to set any limits to human achievement; but from a philosophic standpoint I follow the Buddha whose words on this point are as follows: 1) "That which, whether conscious or unconscious, is not subject to decay and death, that you will not find." 2) "No Samana, Brahman nor Mara, nor any being in the Universe can bring about the following five things, namely, `That which is subject to old age, should not grow old; that which is subject to sickness should not be sick; that which is subject to death, should not die; that which is subject to decay should not decay; that which is liable to pass away should not pass away.'"

What man undergoes in his physical life seems so real, so lasting, and so intimate--yet it is only a brief episode in the immensely larger span of his cosmic cycle.

Since death is the certain future of all men, being an unalterable feature of the World-Idea, and since life would be intolerable if they were not given such pauses to recuperate from its demands, and lastly since there is nothing they can do to avoid it, they might as well discard the negative but common way of looking at it.

Time is not only the great healer and not only the great teacher but also the true friend for it brings the Messenger of Death, who brings peace.

The sadness of a withered flower, its head wilted, its stem shrivelled, its leaves dry corpses, is a sober reminder of beauty's fragility and our own fatal destination.

Why talk only of rebirth? Do we not experience death just as often?

The end of life, as of journeys, is contained in its beginning.

The philosopher knows the higher worth of life and appreciates it. But at the same time he knows the fleeting value of life and deprecates it.

If life is the last personal hope, death is the last social blessing. Without it the animal and human worlds would become horrors. If with its presence we complain of overpopulation, where could we all live together in its absence? The World-Idea does not include such a fault, fortunately.

The pillage of time can be avoided by no one. It takes his years, and in the end his life.

The confrontation with death is not a pleasant prospect for anyone who is not in a condition of extreme suffering of some kind, emotional or physical. The thought of being parted from everything and everyone seems hideous. And yet, in the event itself, there may happen a beautiful, smooth passing-out.

So long as man listens to his little ego alone, and lets the voice of the Overself remain unheard and unknown, so long will all his cunning and his caution avail him little in the end when the body has to be left and the mind must return to its own proper sphere.

The inner work of philosophy results in liberation from the fear of death--whether the death which comes naturally through old age or that which comes violently through war.

A time comes when the prudent person, feeling intuitively or knowing medically that he has entered the last months or years of his life, ought to prepare himself for death. Clearly an increasing withdrawal from worldly life is called for. Its activities, desires, attachments, and pleasures must give way more and more to repentance, worship, prayer, asceticism, and spiritual recollectedness. It is time to come home.

Nobody has to teach us to hold on to life and to be repelled by the thought of our death. Why?

When a man arrives at the biblical three score and ten years allotted to him, as I have, he is likely to hear, with some frequency, of deaths among those he has known as friends or as questers. Where I have witnessed the passing-out, I have been much impressed by the radiant smile, the strainless peace, upon the face of the dying person.

The ordinary human attitude towards death pushes its very thought as far from oneself as possible, prefers not to consider it; the unpleasantness and distress, possibly the pain, which too often accompany the crossing-over are too unwelcome, if not unbearable.

Even a little perception of, or faith in, the World-Idea redeems the littleness of so many human lives, and at their end, in dying moments, becomes tremendously important.

Nothing can so easily give the thoughtful man detachment from things as the news that he has only a very limited time left to live.

If we have all had many many previous lives on earth, we have also had many many previous deaths on earth. The actual experience of dying must leave some residual lesson or meaning or message behind in the subconscious.

We who find ourselves in old age with brittle bones and shrunken flesh, with wrinkled face and greyed hair, may find this a depressing experience. But like every other situation in life there is another way to look at it--perhaps in compensation for what we suffer. And that is to sum up the lessons of a lifetime and prepare ourselves for the next incarnation so that we shall better perform the necessary work on ourselves when that comes.

It is not pleasant to think of the decay which overtakes the faculties of so many persons who live into their seventies or eighties, yet it is a necessary thought for those who are only half that age or less to entertain. It may act as a reminder or even as a spur to quicken their pace upon the Quest.

It was a man very shrewd, very intelligent, very well educated, a lawyer by profession who, while he was convalescing from a heart attack, said to me, "I have been very ambitious, but I failed in my ambitions; only now however do I see that all that, the ambition and the work and the efforts which followed it and depended on it, was futile activity, mere agitation, a filling up of time." He died a year or two later, not a happy man. He had not been without spiritual feelings and intuitions, but his weaknesses, his sensuality, and his ambition overcame him until it was too late--until the shadow of death became his tutor.

Life is a preparation for death, just as death is a preparation for re-entry into life.

All instinct and all force of will resists the image of one's own ultimate passing away, one's own inevitable death. And yet this attitude depends, in part, upon one's age. Some reconciliation comes with old age.

There is a part of himself which cannot die, cannot pass into annihilation. But it is very deep down. The sage encounters it before bodily death and learns to establish his consciousness therein. The others encounter it during some phase in the after-death state.

Much confusion has been caused, and much atheism generated, by the very limited knowledge and very large ignorance of many expounders of popular religion and spiritualistic cults. They teach that the human being, after a first short appearance on this planet for an insignificant period (for what is seventy years or so against the millions of years which geology proclaims as its history?) will pass into a post-mortem state wherein it will dwell forever, that is, for all eternity. That the little ego with all its attributes and qualities, will keep the personal identity and the personal existence of that brief appearance on earth unchanged, congealed into permanency, outliving the earth itself, reunited with family and friends, finding itself among primitive people of the Iron Age and among the cave-dwellers, is a ridiculous notion. It is so utterly unscientific an idea, so appallingly opposed to real religion, as to be ludicrous.

The multitude are brought up to be pleased with the prospect of living (after death) in eternity (as egos). But a remnant who have pondered long and deeply on what this really means shudder at the same prospect.

The eternity which we are supposed to enter after death, one where a particular form and ego are supposed to be preserved forever, is absurd. But there is a true eternity where form and ego, time and space, are transcended.

Since the Overself is outside time it is also outside events. Nothing happens in it or to it.

Spirit is not entrapped in matter, the soul is not immured in the bodily person, divinity is not asleep in the flesh. It is the ego, the I-thought, we who are entrapped, asleep, immured.

The notion of an immortality that keeps a single personality quite static, perpetuating its failings and foolishness, is small and mean, poor and limited. It belittles God's purpose and shames man's idealism.

This little bit of existence which is mine will not last. The consciousness will be removed from this world, the body will be destroyed, the relationships will be slowly or abruptly severed.

With death, consciousness takes on a new condition but does not pass into mere emptiness, is not crumbled away with the fleshly brain into dust. No! It survives because it is the real being of a man.

The same destiny which brought us to birth will bring us to death. And just as a drama of different phases of consciousness unfolded itself after birth, so a drama of changes in consciousness will unfold itself after death. It is not annihilation that we ought to fear, for that will not happen, but rather the evil in our own self, and the pain that follows in the train of that evil as a shadow follows a man in the sunlight.

The shadow being which emerges from the body at death, which resembles the body and lives for a while an independent existence in the world of spirits, is doomed to decay and die in its own turn.

Whoever has been freed from the demands of his earthly self, and from the desires of his ignorant self, does not need to return here after passing into the disembodied state.

Life between incarnations consists of a dream-like state followed by a period resembling deep sleep. There is, however, no remembrance of one's former birth upon emerging from this state.

The difference between life as we ordinarily know it and as it appears between incarnations is that here we have an apparent mixture of two worlds, the mental and the phenomenal, whereas there only the former exists.

We pass through the dream and deep sleep states after death just as we do before it.

With the understanding of life in the body comes the knowledge of what life is without the body, that is, death. Both are existences in Mind, which is their reality.

When the decreed time comes the body is discarded but the mind remains. It passes through varied experiences and finally sleeps them off. After a while it awakes deeply refreshed. Then the old propensities slowly revive and it returns to this world, putting on a new body in new surroundings.

Concealed behind the passing dream of life there is a world of lasting reality. All men awaken at the moment of death but only a few men are able to resist falling at once into the astral dream. These are the few who sought to die to their lower selves whilst they were still alive. These are the mystics who enter reality.

Those whose thoughts are limited to earthly things, do not change with the change called death. They stay earth-bound, pathetically ineffectual and bored, unless they are able to possess or obsess someone still living in this world.

Whole scenes out of the years from childhood to the present unwind themselves during the post-death experience before the spirit's mental gaze.

Every unfulfilled desire acts as an attractive force to draw us back to earth again after every death.

Death is either unconscious stupor, blank sleep, partially conscious dream sleep, or fully conscious awareness.

So hard are the lessons which earth-life forces us to learn, so hard its sufferings, that it is only fair to say that the bliss to which we shall emerge after leaving it, or even now in mystic states, is not less in any way.

I am sorry to say that the theosophy of latter days has over-emphasized the value of individuality in contrast to the theosophy of Blavatsky, who knew the truth. Let me tell you that the so-called astral plane is equivalent to the dreamworld and nothing more. Hence the after-death state is just like a very vivid dream, after all. Therefore in the true esoteric school we do not pay much attention to such matters but concern ourselves with life here and now, on this earth, with which we have to deal whether we like it or not.

Our troubles are but transitory, whereas our spiritual hopes survive the incarnations and bridge the gaps between births.

If it be asked why this purificatory experience after death does not alter the character that reappears in the next birth, the answer is that it is a half-introverted, dreamy state which only vaguely and superficially touches the consciousness. Only here in the awakened, fully extroverted state of earth-world does experience etch itself in sharp, vivid lines on the ego.

This dream-like progress after death is not valueless. It acts as a reminder during each pre-birth of the true purpose of life.

Pet animals do not end their existence at the body's end. Their invisible spirit form hovers around the vicinity of the master or mistress left behind. They are fully conscious and as far as they know still in the physical world. But with the passage of time, this consciousness gradually fades and they enter a sleep state which ends only with their reincarnation. Their expectation of being fed or petted is also fulfilled for them by their own mental power working creatively.

If you kill a man, the Law of Consequences compels you to carry that man's corpse with you wherever you go. At first you do it in memory pictures that create fear of punishment, but after death you will see the victim and hear his cries all over again.

The third heaven is the loftiest and happiest state to which the spirit of those who have passed out of this body can rise. All that is finest and noblest in an individual being alone flowers here. It is blissfully peaceful but alas! must in its turn also pass and yield to a region where individuality no longer exists, where all previous existences, all personal memories must go. "From God we came, to God we go."

How short a time does an animal need for the rest period between its births by contrast with that needed between human births! In its case just months, in the human case, more years than it lived on earth.

The sense of time between incarnations varies. Five minutes to one is a hundred years to another.

The discarnate man naturally turns towards his memories of earth-life, dreams of those he does not want to let go, and thus unconsciously recreates his former conditions and environments. He lives in his private thought-world and among his personal thought-forms. Is it surprising then that spiritist communications are so discrepant, so conflicting, in their accounts of the other world?

We leave the body with the first death and the ego with the second death. But this is not the end. In the Overself we find our final being.

The event of death

When the end of life comes, and a man goes out of it like a candle in the wind, what then happens depends upon his character, his prevailing consciousness, his preparedness, and his last thoughts.

I have witnessed some advanced souls going through the process of passing to another sphere of consciousness, the process we call death, who spread mental sunshine around so that the bereaved ones gathered at the bedside felt it as a consoling counterbalance to their natural human grief. The truth made some kind of impression upon them that this universal event in Nature can actually be a change to brighter, happier, and freer existence.

The anonymous young airman who wrote to his mother just before he was killed in battle: "I have no fear of death; only a queer elation," possessed something more than mere courage. For the time at least he had passed over from self-identification with the body to self-identification with the mind.

The aspirant whose efforts to attain inner freedom and union with the Overself while living seem to have been thwarted by fate or circumstances, may yet find them rewarded with success while dying. Then, at the very moment when consciousness is passing from the body, it will pass into the Overself.

What sort of a death experience is he likely to have? What if he dies, as Ramana Maharshi died, as Ramakrishna died, as heroes of the Spirit--some anonymous and obscure, others famous--known to this author died, of that dreadful and contemporary malady, cancer? I can only tell what I have seen and heard when present during the last days as privileged co-sharer of the unbelievable atmosphere. To each there came a vision, a light seen, first far off, later all around; first a pinpoint, later a ray, then a wide shaft, lastly filling the whole room. And with the Light came peace; it came as an accompaniment to the cancer's pain, a compensation that as it grew made the peace grow and gave detachment, until to the amazement of doctors, nurses, family, the triumphant words were uttered before the final act, Spirit's victory over matter proclaimed. This is not to say that it makes no difference whether one dies quietly in sleep through nothing worse than age, or whether one dies through cancer, that peace and pain are equally acceptable to the emotions of an illumined man. I do not write here of the extreme fanatical ascetic. To him it may be a matter of indifference.

If there is any loss of consciousness during the change called death, it is only a brief one, as brief or briefer than a night's sleep. Many of the departed do not even know at the time what has really happened to them and still believe themselves to be physically alive. For they find themselves apparently able to see others and hear voices and touch things just as before. Yet all these experiences are entirely immaterial, and take place within a conscious mind that has no fleshly brain.

The dying man should cross his arms over his chest with interlaced fingers. He should withdraw the mind from everything earthly and raise it lovingly in the highest aspiration.

This is the way a man may best die--while resting on a chair or couch or sleeping in a bed, a peaceful expression on his face as if seeing or hearing something of unusual beauty, a pleased expression around the mouth.

It is a teaching in both India and China that by concentrating his thoughts during his dying moments on the name of his spiritual leader with full faith, undivided ardour, and sincere deep attention, a man saves himself some or all of the post-mortem purificatory torments that he would otherwise have to undergo. It is also written that if he prefers to concentrate on the kind of environment in which his next birth is to appear, he contributes toward its possible realization.

At death consciousness passes through an interesting phase, for it really is a passing out from the body and from the world. Memories go, the past blots itself out, faces blur and identifications of their owners disintegrate. Tired, drowsy, overwhelmed by a feeling of withdrawing: mental activities, ratiocinations, imaginings, all crumble away and then there is nothing.

Death is the great revealer. In that vivid but dreamlike experience which follows it, each man is shown what he has really done with his earth-life, what he should have done with it, and what he failed to do with it.

Just when life is ebbing fast away, when death is vividly in attendance, the long-sought but little found state of enlightenment may arise and accompany the event.

The process of dying may become a fulfilment of long years of aspiration for the quester or a veritable initiation into the soul for the ordinary man.

There is a particular moment while a person is dying when the Overself takes over the entire process, just as it does when he is falling asleep. But if he clings involuntarily and through inveterate habit to his smaller nature, then he is only partly taken over; the remainder is imprisoned in his littleness.

The Manicheans of medieval times assisted the act of dying by a complete fast from food and drink.

The act of dying has no suffocating feeling connected with it other than during the momentary swoon. On the contrary, it is genuinely a liberating process.

Deep into the centre of his being does a man's mind withdraw as he passes out of this life, if his karma or his aspiration, his stage of development are not obstructive.

There was in the dying man's room such an air of supernatural forces at work, such an awareness of the presence of another world of being, that almost no one failed to notice it. Even the attending physician, hardened agnostic in religion, a mild sceptic of survival, confessed to these strange feelings.

I have written of the benign peace which death may bring, but not to all. Some enter it with panic, others with fear, yet others with resentment.

I have seen upon the face of certain dying or just-deceased persons, an expression of joyous inner calm that reassures the sensitive onlooker not only about their inner condition at the time but also about death's aftermath.

Dying can be a dull experience or a thrilling one. That depends on the person, on his pre-history and his inner history.

When he was dying, Heisenberg said to von Weizsäcker, "It is very easy: I did not know this before." At another moment he said, "I see now that physics is of no importance, that the world is illusion." He passed away in peace.

The poignant realization that he is separating himself from so much that he prized or loved, regarded as essential or was hoping ardently to attain, afflicts many a dying person. I am reminded of Kahlil Gibran, celebrated author of the powerful poem, The Prophet, and also a talented painter. He was dying of consumption and said mournfully to another poet, who told me later, "There is so much beauty in the world and life, to see or to create, which I shall now never know."

The tremendous event of dying and leaving the body does not interrupt his quest.

When the time for exit from this world-scene duly comes, he will approach it with trust--feeling that the power which supported him in previous crises will not desert him now.

In these closing hours of life with its lengthening shadows, one seeks to collect oneself and be ready for the final passing. How well it is to gather those reserves and foster those perceptions which now support one with, may I humbly say, a wise divine passivity. The end will come but it will be a transformation of form and a passage to a freer higher state.

The process of dying is one to study. It is full of significance. So many things and interests to which the dying person has been attached are now to be left behind, so many persons to whom he has been tied with bonds of affection or repelled by feelings of dislike are about to disappear.

When describing the vision of the past of a dying man, insert at the appropriate place, "For a brief while the ego becomes its own spectator. For a brief time it sees itself unblinded by desire and ungoverned by vanity. Then only does it see and expect the justice behind its sorrows."

In the case of violent or accidental death, there will be a period of unconscious deep sleep for an ordinarily good person, but of being consciously earthbound for an evil one.

If he accepts the decree of destiny quietly and obediently, if he is willing to pass, without rebellion and without fighting, out of this world when the ordained hour arrives, he achieves that peace of mind which the prophet Muhammed called "Islam"--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.