What is Death?

ashes, white color, death, digital, astitva, fumes

Click here to read in Hindi
Death is the deepest mystery in the whole of existence. The mystery of god does not go so deep, the mystery of love doesn’t go so deep as death does, because god can be denied, love can be avoided; but no one can deny death, no one can avoid it. It is there, so palpable, so overwhelmingly present all around us, happening all the time. This is why death has become such a challenging question to every conscious human being.
Primarily, death connotes two things: loss and destruction. It is not an ordinary loss, like that of money or property. It is a complete loss, total, absolute. Once you lose a person by death, there is no recovery from that loss. One who is gone is gone forever. This is why, no loss is as great as the loss by death. Secondly, it is no ordinary destruction, it is annihilation, complete erasing of a human being. The dead person is wiped out of existence. Not a trace is left. Everything is finished. This is why, death has become the most terrifying human experience, the most horribly frightening reality.
But whenever we look at death we do so from the outside. There is another angle from which we have to see death: the inside angle. From the outside death appears to be destructive because it seems to be taking away everything that we see as real. For most of us, the body, the physical existence is the only reality. Therefore, we feel that death is very destructive. However, when we look at death from the inside angle, we see that there is a deep silence within, and in this silence there is no death. Death can never touch this inner silence.
These two points of view have created two extreme views about death. One says death is the greatest destructive force in the world and the other does that there is no death at all. Osho says that death is the greatest fiction. If it is fiction, why does it give us so much grief, so much pain? And above all, why does it frighten us so much? The answer is: limited vision. Once you know the inside prospective, you realize for the first time the deathless, that which never dies. And the most important thing is that once you know this silence, this deathless, you in that very moment can see the same deathless element in everybody, whether the others know it or not. And the very moment you are liberated. The deathless element brings the greatest liberation. There was a man in my hometown Katni. A man came running to him to break the news of the latter’s son’s death in an accident. The old man reacted as if nothing had happened. He was absolutely cool, composed. His composure was not so strange as his answer. He said to the messenger, “Well, I am going to buy some sweets for myself. So you people do one thing: just prepare the funeral and take the body to the cremation ground. I’ll join you there.” Look at this attitude! Outwardly it may appear that this old man was hard-hearted. He was not. He was a deep meditator. He had been meditating for years, and he had definitely discovered the deathless element. So how could he grieve? He knew his son’s body only had died. There was no reason for him to cry over “the loss”. Because there was no loss as such. It was so childish as if somebody were crying over the loss of a piece of garment, believing that along with the piece its wearer too had gone missing. This old man had known that the body is just a garment and the conscious truth which is residing inside the body is intact, untouched. There is another similar incident: there is a spiritual teacher in India named Jaggi Vasudev. His wife died a yogic death, that means she left her body on her own free will. She did it publically. She felt that the moment had come–and this moment comes once in thousands of lifetimes when a person can de-identify himself with the body, can see a distance between the body and himself and is ready to leave the body. So she left her body, as easily as we take off our garments. And Jaggi Vasudev, when he was narrating this story, was as calm as if nothing had happened. Both Jaggi and his wife had known the deathless element, therefore they took death so easily, so lovingly! There was no hostility, no opposition, no resistance against death. These people–the old man and Jaggi Vasudev and his wife–represent one extreme of idea of death and the grievers, the lamenters, the mourners represent the other extreme.
What makes the difference? It is witnessing that makes the difference. Through witnessing a person begins to realize the deathless within himself and likewise the same element in others also. Without knowing the deathless, grief of death cannot be cured.
So let us try to explore what it is that death seems to destroy, what remains after death, i.e. deathless, and the process of knowing the deathless.
First of all, we have to understand the different layers of human existence. It is generally believed that there are two layers: one is matter and the other is consciousness. Matter constitutes everything that is physical: lungs, kidneys, heart, feet, hands. All these are made of matter. And the param tatva, i.e. life force is consciousness. However, there is another third layer: the mind. It is the link between the body and consciousness. It is the mind that connects them together. The mind is one of the most complicated phenomena in the world. It is the carrier of impressions that actually are the cause of re-birth. Secondly, it is the creator of identities. Because of these identities, we become attached to the body and forget consciousness altogether. So we will talk about these two aspects of the mind: creator of identities and carrier of impressions.
If you were asked to define yourself, your first answer would be, most likely, your name, then your father’s name, mother’s name, your family and your profession. Now, when you start believing that these things define you, you become attached to them. Then, it becomes very hard to detach yourself from them. When you start believing that these things are you, they have created you, and if somebody destroys these connections, these bondings, these identities, you feel threatened. This threat is as frightening as the threat of death. Imagine yourself to have no name, no family connections, no attachment to your profession. How would you exist? Then you would exist just as silence. That silence is deathless. On the contrary, the more identities you have, the less silence inside; and the less the silence, the more frightening death becomes. So the first thing to be understood is that the mind is the creator of identities and identification causes great miseries. Have you ever observed if your name were A or say Ram and if somebody were abusing Ram, not you, but there were another man near you named Ram and the person were abusing that Ram, you would still feel hurt, something would pinch you.
Why? Because you had become identified with the name. And if somebody were abusing Lakshman, you would be okay, perfectly fine. Why? Again because you were not identified with the word Lakshman. Names create superficial layer of identity. Remember even if your name were not Ram, you would still exist. Or if you had no name at all, you would still exist. That simply means that you can exist without any nominal identity, without any nominal existence.
Next is impressions. Impressions are actually derived from identities. At the point of death, one is filled with certain kind of impressions and those impressions are responsible for re-birth. So impressions are partially created by identities. Partially by desires. The more desires we have, the stronger the mind becomes because the mind is the very breeding ground and the feeding ground of desires. The mind breeds desires and then it feeds them. The more impressions you have in your mind, the more likely you are to be born again.
Now, whether we are re-born or not is open to debate. Anyway, we don’t have to die in order to know how the mind works, how our desires create us, how they prolong our suffering. We can take examples from day to day life. If a person is desirous of buying a big bungalow, a very luxurious car, he will definitely see the dreams of these cars and bungalows. Whatsoever you desire create your dreams. One who is desirous of becoming a PM or a very big businessman will see the dreams of wielding political power or thriving business. And the more dreams you have, the more you have to live. It is very simple. If one has hundreds of dreams, one needs time to fulfill those dreams. That means he needs a long life. Conversely, one who has less dreams can easily die. He can die peacefully because he is not leaving anything undone, unfulfilled. This is why, down the centuries all the enlightened people, rishis, saints have warned us not to desire because desires always create suffering. And remember, it is not only unfulfilled desires that create suffering, even the fulfilled desires create suffering because they create more desires and there are more births. Again re-births, pre-births can be a bit abstract. Okay! Let us come back to the mundane world. Just imagine: you had a dream company or dream destination for your job and you got it. So the mind said, “Well, I am fulfilled now! I have no desires at all! All your saints are crazy when they say desires cannot be fulfilled. See I am fulfilled now!” But then what happens that the mind creates another desire in another direction. Maybe you are happy being in a particular job, being in a particular department, being in a particular company, say Delhi University. However, the mind crops up again and says, “Well! Delhi University is wonderful to work at! The finest university, prestigious! But, you see, Delhi air is very polluted. I wish I could work in healthier atmosphere.” Now the mind has created another desire. And you start looking for a place where you could have as prestigious a place as DU and as healthy a place as a village. And it would be impossible to have a very big prestigious university in a village. This is how you prolong your misery because neither you leave your job and nor move to a village. Desires are so conflictual, they collide with each other.
Once you drop those desires, you see a distance between yourself and the mind. And the less the desires, the less the mind. Slowly and slowly, the mind keeps dissolving. And a point comes when there is no mind at all. That state is called no-mind state or mindlessness. All of sudden you feel that you are just a witness. This is what Krishna has called in the Geeta witness ‘sakshi’. There follows a silence, deep vacuum. In this silence, you become a witness to your own body. This is the strangest experience of all! For a moment you feel you are not. Moreover, you become a witness to others’ bodies as well. Then you feel that you can exist without the body as well. I repeat: you can exist without the body. In this distance, the fear of death dissolves because then you know that you will be still existing, you will be there when the body is gone.
Therefore, we can say that there are two kinds of death: outer death and inner death. Outer death is the death of the body, the physical. Inner death is the death of identities, death of the impressions, of desires, of the mind. Unless we die this inner death, we can never be free from the fear of death. We will have to die again and again. This outer death is the only suffering in the world.
You know the Buddha has said that there is suffering in the world, and he has said so very categorically. He is not talking only about the bad experiences of life. He says that the very fact that you are alive means suffering. Nanak, too, has said in a similar vein: “Nanak, dukhiya sab samsara (O Nanak, the whole world is sorrowful.) The Buddha and Nanak appear to be very negative, cynical rather. What are they trying to say? They are trying to say that as long as you keep dying outer death, there will always be suffering. Why? Because no matter what you do, no matter how much you gather, no matter how many wonderful people are there in your life; as long as death is there, nothing is going to stay. This is what the Buddha called the law of impermanence ‘anitya’. When something is already going to be not, it can never give any long lasting joy because deep down we all know this is going to be over.
There is a word in Hindi kshanbhangur. Kshan menas moment; bhangur to be destroyed. We feel that there are things that are actually finished in a very short span of time, so we think they are kshanbhangur. Like the taste of something, you put something on your tongue, swallow it down, and the taste is gone. Your tongue cannot recall its taste. It is momentary, kshanbhangur. Therefore, we tend to conclude that the things that last for a short time are kshanbhangur. But it is not so. Anything that is time-bound, anything that exists in time is momentary. No matter even if it lasts for a hundred years, a thousand years, yet it is kshanbhangur. Even a thousand years is just one moment. Doesn’t it happen with you that sometimes two month-long vacation just disappears? Even many feel their whole life has disappeared in a moment. A time-bound life or experience is always momentary. On the contrary, that which is beyond time is ‘nitya’ eternal. Eternity does not mean a lot of time, forever. It simply means timelessness. Because no matter how long is this forever it is still kshanbhangur. And this timelessness is immortality. Whenever you transcend time, even for a moment, you have the taste of immortality, that is deathlessness. A moment lived intensely can take you beyond time. And in that intense moment you feel alive. You feel alive because you are beyond time.
Further, try to see the difference clearly between timelostness and timelessness. When you are unconscious, time is simply lost. In that case also you are not conscious of time. But you are not beyond it, you are simply not aware. For example, you sleep for 8 hours or 10 hours. Time passes. When you wake up you feel it was just a moment. This is not timelessness, because though you were not aware of time, you were still existing in it, you were still bound to it. On the other hand, when you are intensely conscious, not of time, you are simply conscious, intensely involved in the present moment, you step out of time-dimension. For example, when you play a game you love, you do it with whole of your being, totally absorbed, then there is no mind left to count time. In that moment, you are, knowingly or unknowingly, beyond time.
Timelessness is ‘nitya’ permanent and time-boundness is ‘anitya’ temporary.
When you start seeing a distance between yourself and the body, when you become witness to the body, you start feeling a certain timelessness, thus, immortality. All dark fears of death are dispelled in the light of immortality.
But again one has to realize it within oneself. Without realization, it is going to cause suffering. There are people who have taken dips in holy rivers, i.e. the Ganga, the Yamuna, the Saraswati, they have done pilgrimages to all the sacred places. Holy books say that if you take dips in sacred rivers or do pilgrimage, you attain salvation ‘moksha’. I have met so many of these pilgrims. All their lives they have done nothing but taking dips in rivers and doing pilgrimage. Yet they are afraid of death. Why? Because they have not realized the deathless element inside themselves. And the gap between information and realization has not only created suffering but also a lot of contradictions. For example, in Manusmiriti, Manu calls Brahmans dwija, twice-born. And, then, at a point, he says that if a Brahman commits a sin, he has to perform certain rituals to purify himself of that sin. Now, this is very stupid. Dwija means one who has lived inner death and is born again. One who has dissolved the mind is twice born. He is born again because all his identities have disappeared, and the aroop (formless) and anaam (nameless) hidden behind the veil has manifested itself. Jesus in the Bible says the same thing, “Unless you are reborn, you cannot enter the kingdom of God”. Jesus says the same thing and rishis are saying the same thing because they have known that dwija tatva inside themselves. But priests like Manu, who have no experience, are going to talk like this: they will call a person dwija and they will assume that he can commit a sin also! Dwija simply means ego is dissolved. Once ego is dissolved, remember, with the dissolution of ego you not only transcend death, but you become one with Existence also. You discover that divine oneness with everything. And one who is merged in Existence can never commit a crime. It is impossible because he is not. He is just a medium, he is just an instrument. How can he commit a crime? How can a knife commit a murder on its own? A person can use it to murder somebody, and the person will be responsible. And in this case the person is Existence itself, Life itself, Super Consciousness itself, that consciousness is using that knife. Therefore, to say that a dwija is committing sin is to say that Existence itself is committing a sin. Read Manusmiriti and you will find such contradictions everywhere. This is the difference between the priest and the man of experience.
So if you want to know the deathless, you will have to discover it within yourself. Once you discover it, death disappears. And the very question: “What is death?” disappears too. Then there is no outer death, no inner death. There is only eternal life.

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