Updated: Apr 24, 2020
Thoughts on our relation to Death (quote above from Sadguru)
A tough topic this is, when death is lingering in the air everywhere.
Death is part of Life, then why are we so afraid of it?
Death is present everywhere and in everything: in nature through the daily and seasonal changes; in the flora and fauna around us, in woman every month through their menstrual cycle and in everyone's body every day on a cellular level.
Even each of our exhale carries the potential of death.
People who have had close to death experience never describe it to be bad, rather a very peaceful one. Then why do we fear it?
We might fear it because:
we don't know what death is exactly, and have no idea about what to expect.
for many of us, our life is associated with our physical body and existence and the material world, which surrounds us and these attachments make this one life so precious.
we think once we are gone, it will be hard for those who are left behind, we have deep attachments to our loved ones.
we might have a belief system, which thought us that we only got one chance, this life, and once its gone, then all is gone.
with death something comes to an end, big change is happening and most of us do not handle well even minor changes and ends in life.
Do you fear death? Why do YOU fear death?
Yoga philosophies originated in India do not see death as we do in the west. This life is not a one time only chance, rather we have cycles of lives, with a new possibility to grow each time and get liberated from these cycles to join the Universal Soul at one point. Our body is considered merely our cloth, which we wear during our different lives and that body is impermanent, but our soul is eternal. Death is not seen as a final end, but as a new beginning.
All the major texts deal with the BIG question of Death. I'll refer to 3 of them here.
My intention is to raise your interest to read or revisit these texts on the topic, rather then providing a dissertation about it.
The Bhagavat Gita, the conversion between Arjuna and Krishna says:
“Death is as sure for that which is born, As birth is for that which is dead. Therefore grieve not for what is inevitable.”
“For the soul there is neither birth nor death at any time. He has not come into being, does not come into being and will not come into being. He is unborn, eternal, ever existing primeval. He is not slain when the body is slain”. 2.20 Bhagavad-Gita
“Even as man discards old clothes for the new ones, so the dweller in the body, the soul, leaving aside the worn-out bodies, enters into new bodies. The soul migrates from body to body. Weapons cannot cleave it, nor fire consume it, nor water drench it, nor wind dry it.”
Nothing actually does die, but we call the soul leaving the body ‘death’.
Katha Upanishad, is a conversation between Nachiketa, a son offered to The Death by his father in his anger, and Yama, the King of Death.
In the Katha Upanishad Lord Yama taught many valuable lessons to Naciketa, who, using one of his boons, wished to understand the final Death:
"20. When a person dies, there arises this doubt:
He still exists," say some; "he does not,"
Say others. I want you to teach me the truth.
This is my third boon.”
12. The wise, realising through meditation
The timeless Self, beyond all perception,
Hidden in the cave of the heart,
Leave pain and pleasure far behind.
13. Those who know they are neither body nor mind
But the immemorial Self, the divine
Principle of existence, find the source
Of all joy and live in joy abiding.
I see the gates of joy are opening
For you, Nachiketa.”
Katha Upanishad teaches that we cannot bargain with death. You can only make peace with it, with character, spiritual aims, restraint, dutifulness, knowledge and purity.
We usually avoid thinking of death and are afraid of it, however it can teach us all something by having a conversation with it, by observing it, by understanding it, by thinking about its significance, the transience of life, and the need for developing detachment, philosophical outlook and an attitude of renunciation.
Katha Upanishad is also about overcoming death by understanding it. Immortality cannot be reached without understanding mortality. Death is here to let us know that we cannot take our lives for granted, we cannot become overly attached to things, that our purpose here is to understand our existence and see how we may use the opportunities to broaden our knowledge and establish a basis for our permanence and freedom from death itself.
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali states fear of death to be one of the greatest obstacles on the yoga path:
"अविद्यास्मितारागद्वेषाभिनिवेशाः पञ्च क्लेशाः॥३॥
Avidyāsmitārāgadveṣābhiniveśāḥ pañca kleśāḥ ||3||
Sutra 2.3: Ignorance, egoism, attachment, aversion, and fear of death are the five kleshas or unwholesome mental states.
स्वरसवाही विदुषोऽपि तथारूढोऽभिनिवेशः॥९॥
Svarasavāhī viduṣo’pi tathārūḍho’bhiniveśaḥ ||9||
Sutra 2.9: Fear of death/clinging to life exists in everyone, both in wise and the ignorant.
Fear of death is deeply ingrained in all living creatures, its natural. It originates out of ignorance about the nature of life and death. This fear is naturally intensified when we attach ourselves to possessions, past experiences, and relationships, all of which are transient."
Death is inevitable for everyone, still, most of us live our life ignoring this fact.
“4.11 हेतुफलाश्रयालम्बनैः सङ्गृहीतत्वादेषामभावे तदभावः
(hetu phala ashraya alambana samgrihitatvat esam abhave tad abhavah)
Fear, agony, despair, helplessness and other feelings embedded are removed.
This Sutra describes overcoming the fear of Death carried from previous lives. Death should not be removed, but its role in life needs to be understood to get rid of the fear."
Accepting death helps one to realise that life is temporary and living is just a passing phase. Making friends with death is the most important part of our life so our existence can focus on creating joyful memories rather then constantly fearing of death.
What is the purpose of yoga as a spiritual practice for me?
To free us from the fear of death so we can embrace it gracefully when the time comes.
To free us from the cycles of lives, to finally be able to reunite with the rest of the Universe.
What is the purpose of yoga as a spiritual practice for you?
“One who doesn't want to embrace death, will not experience life either.” Sadhguru
Bhagavat-Gita as it is, AC Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, The Bhanktivedanta Book Thrust 1986. pp. 93.