The Process of Death


chapter 2

The Process of Death

What you are calling as life, right now, is like soap bubbles being blown. The entire Yogic process or the entire spiritual process is to wear this bubble thin, so that one day when it bursts, there is absolutely nothing left and it moves from the bondage of existence to the freedom of non-existence, or Nirvana.


What Makes Us Tick

If you want to understand fundamentally how life and death work, you need to understand how Creation works and the role played by the various memories that are present in Creation. When I say memory, it is not only what you remember. Memory runs much deeper in its many layers. According to the Yogic system, memory is basically an accumulation of impressions. Further, there are fundamentally eight types of these memories in Creation. The most fundamental of these memories is Elemental Memory.According to the Yogic system, the first step from the unmanifest to manifest is the formation of Pancha Bhoota s, or the five elements. These elements are: prithvi (earth ), jal (water ), agni (fire ), vayu (air ) and aakash (ether ). The names represent a particular quality and not the substance itself. These fundamental elements have different characteristics and are manifest in all aspects of Creation and are the most fundamental basis of all Creation.

Of these, Elemental Memory is the memory that decides how these five elements interact and play out in life. The next layer of Creation is the material substance that the Universe is made of.

 The rules of how they play out are contained in what we can call Atomic Memory. Today, every child is taught atomic theory in school. The word ‘atom’ comes from the Greek word atomos , meaning indivisible. When modern science discovered the atom, it was believed that atoms were indivisible and the most fundamental building blocks of the Universe. Today, of course, we know that it is not so. Over two dozen subatomic particles have been since discovered and more are possible. Atomic Memory relates to how subatomic particles, atoms and in turn molecules of various physical substances are made and how they behave. Elemental Memory and Atomic Memory together constitute what can be called Inanimate Memory. This memory governs the inanimate aspect of life. The other types of memory relate to animate life and can be called Animate Memory .

Of these, the most fundamental layer of memory is Evolutionary Memory , which relates to how the evolution of life has taken place. This is instrumental in you having two eyes, two hands, taking the shape of the human form and not any other creature, and so on. Upon this layer is Genetic Memory , which comes from the genetic material passed on by your parents that makes you the unique human being that you are among all the other humans. This memory decides the colour of your skin, the shape of your nose and other such things. The next layer of memory is Karmic Memory , which is an accumulation of all the impressions that you have gathered, not just since birth but all through your previous lives, and the process of evolution. This will play out in your life in so many ways beyond one’s understanding.

The next three layers of memory are impressions or accumulations related to your mind or the mental body. There is a large body of memory that you are completely unconscious about, which we can call Unconscious Memory . Then there is another body of memory that is just beneath the Conscious Memorythat we can call Subconscious Memory . And, finally, there is Conscious Memory itself, which you can recollect and articulate. All these eight types of memory will play out in your day-to-day life according to the impressions accumulated and the situations you are faced with. Broadly speaking, these are the layers of memories that make you the life you are.

Now, there are many ways to look at the essential nature of life. One of them is that there are two seeds that make our lives. One is the seed planted by our parents, which gave us a body, and the other is the seed planted by the Creator, which gave us the life within. These are two different types of seeds or, in other words, two different dimensions of Nature. The first is programmed for certainty, while the second is programmed for possibility. The body is physical and there is a sense of certainty of its existence. The life that you are beyond the physical is a debate for most people; most are uncertain of the nature of their existence.

The seed of physicality that was transmitted by our parents has a certain set of rules, traits and compulsions of its own. This aspect of Nature only tries to survive. The survival process includes procreation. It always tries to avoid everything that threatens its survival. Now, our parents gave us just a seed and that became the body. But what the Source of Creation gave us was not a seed in that sense. It gave itself. This is the reason that all the possibilities that the Source of Creation holds are kind of encapsulated in us. Whether that possibility is realized in an individual life or not is questionable, but the possibility is always there.

With these two seeds, when a human being is born a certain software is set within. This software is a combination of time, energy and the information that he or she carries with them from previous lives. These three together will determine various aspects of one’s life. Depending upon the information that is carried, energy is allotted for different aspects of life, which we will look at in a bit. In India, this information that is carried forth is referred to as karma. Of the entire memory or the entire lot of karma that one has, Evolutionary Memory is only significant for the structure of who one is. Let us leave it aside. But if all Genetic Memory and the Karmic, Unconscious and Subconscious Memories that you have flood into your Conscious Memory right now—you cannot deal with it. It will become too overwhelming. So out of this entire load, Nature has a way of apportioning a portion for you to handle or wear off in this birth in the form of different kinds of activity.

Traditionally, in Indian culture, the whole stock of Karmic Memory a person has is called Sanchita Karma. You can say Sanchita Karma is the entire warehouse of karma that a person carries. Out of this stock, a certain portion is allocated to be handled in a particular lifetime. This is known as Prarabdha Karma, or the karma that is allocated for that lifetime, which has some extra urgency to it and expresses a little more compulsion than the rest of the heap. This is Nature’s way of handling something that is extremely complex in simple, intermediate steps. So at birth, Prarabdha Karma creates an orientation and Sanchita Karma creates an unconscious tendency towards various things. However, how much karma you perform daily and with how much awareness either releases you from your Prarabdha Karma and Sanchita Karma or it enhances the same. In a nutshell, these factors are what determine how and for how long a person will live.

In the natural course of life, even if one lives simply in unawareness, Prarabdha Karma will somehow get worked out. With a little suffering here and a little well-being there, a little pain here and a little pleasure there, one will work out one’s Prarabdha Karma. They just need to learn how not to create new karma in this life, that is all. So the next time when another set of Prarabdha Karma is allocated, that also will get worked out. This will repeat lifetime after lifetime. Now, Prarabdha Karma does not per se determine the outside situation, but it definitely arranges many things on the outside because your inner arrangements are always finding expression in the external situations. So in India, whenever one saw someone suffering, they would say, ‘Aiyyo , prarabdha !’ It used to be a common refrain because the suffering is mostly coming from within. In most cases, suffering is a consequence of how one carries their memory and not necessarily the content. Hence, the need to fix the context of one’s life through spiritual processes and not so much the content.

If you want to see how different people come with different karmic baggage, you should observe infants. How much of hand and leg movement one child does is very different from how much another child of the same age does. This is not because of the differences in parents. In fact, how much one baby kicks around in a mother’s belly is very different from how much another baby of the same mother kicks around. Usually, it has very little to do with the parents. In fact, if you observe, a lot of lethargic parents suffer super-active children. This is not because of the attitudes and psychological limitations of the children either. That develops afterwards. This is because each ‘being’ comes with a certain level of energy allotted to activity at birth itself.

Now, even within the allocation of energy to each person at birth, it is further divided into various aspects. Let us say, according to your karmic structure, you came with 1000 units of energy when you were born. Of this, 250 units may be allotted for physical activity, and within that 100 units for involuntary activity and 150 units for external voluntary activity. Out of the rest, 300 units could be for mental activity and another 200 for emotional activity, and so on. This allocation will depend on what kind of software you have. This is why you will see each individual has a certain level of energy for different aspects of life. In children who have not yet been through much influence, this is very distinctly visible. You can see it in adults also, but in adults, this could also be ascribed to many influences in one’s life.

Now, the way the allocated energies are expended within you has serious implications on your life and death. In today’s world, because of the impact of technology, the energy allocated to physical activity is mostly unused in people. If you were on this planet 200 years ago, the level of physical activity that you would be performing naturally to fulfil your day-to-day requirements would be at least twenty times higher than what it is right now. In the tribal village near the Isha Yoga Center, no one has any sleep disorder. They put in so much physical activity that by the time they go to bed, they are ready to die. If they just put their head down on the pillow, they will fall asleep.

If you happen to travel on Indian roads, it is common to see labourers travelling on top of loaded trucks. They would have loaded some stones or bricks or some other material into the vehicle and they would also be travelling in it to unload at the destination. Usually, you will see them fast asleep, lying on bricks or stones or some other coarse material in the moving truck, even under the hot sun. This is because the level of their physical activity is such that they have used up all their allotted energy. Now, if you initiate them into meditation, they will easily meditate. You will see that it is the educated people who cannot sleep or meditate or sit in one place because they are not using up their allotted physical energy. When they don’t use it up, they cannot sit in one place. Right now, you see a huge upsurge in activities like trekking, cycling, running, etc. This is not only for fitness. Most realize that by just being in a demanding activity, they sleep, think and act better. Their enthusiasm and energy for relationships and work are enhanced. In a way, in their consciousness, they have managed to put their concerns about the body aside.

This is why, once you are on the spiritual path, we want you to exhaust your energies allocated for physical activity very fast. Let us say, you have 500 units of energy allotted to your physical activity. We want to finish it off in ten years so that after that if you sit, the body will simply sit. It has no need to move. Without any physical urge to move, it will simply settle down. Most people cannot meditate without sufficient physical activity. So, when we allocate work to people at the Isha Yoga Center, we do it with a lot of care. Some people work four hours a day, some six hours a day, some ten hours a day, some fourteen hours a day, while there are some who work eighteen to twenty hours a day. The idea is to expend their physical energy.

However, if you are full-time on a spiritual path, if you are a brahmachari , we not only want you to empty your Prarabdha Karma, we want you to expend the Sanchita Karma, or the entire stock, too. The idea of being on a spiritual path is to put life on fast forward. We don’t want you to take ten lifetimes to handle this warehouse of memory. We want you to finish it now. So we try to open up other dimensions of memory in you. The reason why so much discipline was always brought into Yogic practices is that even when things that would otherwise overwhelm you come up, you should be able to handle them. If you open up things for which one is not ready, karma can just smother you completely.

Once you are full-time on a spiritual path, we give you sadhana to handle this. Now, you are willing to walk into trouble. You are not dodging trouble any more. People want to avoid whatever is unpleasant in their life because they cannot handle it. Only once we know you can handle your Prarabdha Karma well, then we can open up the entire warehouse of memory. This is also the reason why, when a person walks the spiritual path, if they don’t handle the situation properly, they will suffer much more than other people. While others handle only what is allotted to them, this person tries to take up the whole stock.

Some people who are at the Yoga Center have gone through these phases: when they came, we gave them lots of activity. They went through it for a certain period and then slumped. They could not do anything for some time. They thought they were physically sick. They went to various doctors, though I told them, ‘Don’t go to any doctor, just relax for some time. Something else will happen.’ And after some time, once again they are swept away by activity because we open up another room in the warehouse for them. What they should have done in their next life, they do it now. Actually, there are many more aspects to this—I am putting it in an overly simplistic manner. The main aim is that we want them to finish it all now.

This is also the reason why many spiritual systems in the East always had grammar and mathematics attached to them. Yogis want to develop their body and their mind because if they are born again, they don’t want to be born with small amounts of Prarabdha Karma and go on for many lifetimes. They don’t want to postpone it; they want to fast-forward everything. They want to enhance their mental capabilities, so that this time around, even if they were not able to end it, because they left with very great physical and mental capabilities, when they come next time, they will get a bigger software. They will get more Prarabdha Karma. So along with the spiritual process, people took to grammar, music, astronomy and mathematics, because they want to use their intelligence in every way.

Now, along with the memory and energy, there is a third dimension—time—that determines the duration and nature of one’s life and death. Both life and death happen within the ambit of time. Time ticks away all the time. You can neither slow it down nor hasten it. You can conserve your energy, you can throw it around, you can develop it, you can make it phenomenally big or insipid, but time, it just keeps slipping away. It has its own intelligence, and it flows according to certain parameters of karmic information and the energy allotment that is available in one’s system. So can we not do anything about it? We can, but that is a much more elusive dimension of life than the other two. The other two are much easier to manage and manifest in one’s life. Generating energy and using it the way you want, not allowing your tendencies to determine the nature of your thought, emotion and activity is far easier than taking charge of time. Even Adiyogi took charge of time only when he was in certain states. When he was in such states where he took charge of time, we refer to him as Kalabhairava. 

One who has mastery over one’s information, or mastery over the tendencies caused by the information, has mastery over the quality of one’s life. He or she can determine whether the self becomes pleasant or unpleasant. One who has mastery over one’s energies will determine the nature of one’s activity and how one lives. They have absolute mastery over their life, but not over their death. But one who has mastery over time will determine the nature of one’s life and death. They can determine whether they want to live or die. This is how the three dimensions that constitute your life are connected to your death.

A Bubble of Life and Death

People think in terms of life and death as a binary situation. You are either alive or dead. You are either walking and talking or you are dead and gone. This is a very superficial and simplistic way to understand life and death. In fact, it is incorrect.

Generally, the human perception of aliveness has always been that something must bleed, otherwise it is not alive. Not any more. Slowly, as science is advancing, our perception of what is alive and what is not is changing. Now we know that not just the plants and animals but even the rock and the soil are alive. The air is alive, the water is alive, the soil that you walk upon is alive and the very cosmic space is alive. Today, science proclaims that water has its own memory and intelligence. Someday, when science goes far enough, they will find that there is nothing in the Cosmos that is not alive. The important question is, are you alive enough to perceive it?

For me, even a rock is very alive. It has its own energy and I see that it gathers its own memory over a period of time. It lives with it. It is only based on this, that a Dhyanalinga  is consecrated. It is only based on this that every deity in India exists. If we give this combination of energy and memory a certain amount of vibrancy of energy, it will slowly gather an intelligence of its own. Once it has a combination of all these three, it can have intent. Once it has an intent and the necessary energy to back it, it is capable of action. This is how life is.

Right now, our idea of death is like this: when people say something has died, it only means that something just relapsed from a dynamic to a more inert form of Existence. We recognize life as a certain level of dynamism, intent and capability of action in a human being. If this dynamism sinks below a certain level, then we say they are dead because, as far as our perception and our practical purposes are concerned, the things that we expect from a human being are no longer possible for them any more. He or she may rot, become maggots, become manure and then a mango or a coconut. All of them are life, but still we don’t consider them alive because they are not able to find expression as we expect of a human being.

Essentially, there is a scale of dynamism from zero to infinity. (Actually, there is no zero, that is the whole problem!) Let us say, Shiva—that which is not—is zero, and what we consider as Divine is the highest level of dynamism. There are many levels of dynamism even among human beings. For example, let us say someone has Alzheimer’s disease. They don’t remember a thing, but this does not mean there is no memory in them. It is very much there, but the dynamism of the memory is gone. It has become inert. But if the memory goes away completely, your body also will fall apart right away because what you call as ‘this body’ is held together just by memory.

Right now, if a man eats a mango, it becomes a man. If a woman eats a mango, the same mango becomes a woman. You give the same mango to a cow, it goes inside a cow and becomes a cow. Is this the smartness of the mango? No. There is such a strong memory structure in you that whatever you put in, the memory will make sure it becomes you, not some other person. This is why if you eat a mango, one part of it becomes your skin in the same skin tone as yours; it does not turn yellow because the mango you ate was yellow.

Moreover, biologically also, a certain level of dynamism of memory is needed to bind all organs, cells and atoms together to our intention of living. Right now, you have trillions of cells in your body that are functioning the way you want because there is a strong intent that is holding them together. But if you lose this intent, which is your ability to make all these atoms and cells function the way you want, we say you have died. The deterioration of the body begins to happen. The organism goes through certain disorganization, but it becomes a part of a larger organism of the planet, Universe or Cosmos. As an organism ages, it loses its intent. If you lose your intent, then, gradually, action goes first, then your conscious memory will begin withdrawing and along with that your energies will follow.

The air is alive, a rock is alive, a tree is alive, an animal is alive, a bird is alive and a human being is also alive. It is just that they have different levels of intent, different levels of intelligence and, above all, different dimensions of memory. 5 That is all. The volume of Conscious Memory that you are capable of determines your capability of intent. From an amoeba to a human being, it is only a question of complexity. Every creature has intent, but it is largely unconscious intent. Only with the human being there is conscious intent. That is what sets us apart. Right now, my unconscious intent may be that I want to eat. But my conscious intent is to write this book, which no other creature really thinks of. For them, whatever is their unconscious intent is also largely their intent. Maybe dogs and a few other animals are capable of conscious intent in a small way, but, beyond that, everything is unconscious intent. But if a human being is willing, we can develop a large conscious intent from the banks of memory we have on various levels because there is such a huge foundation for this life.

If you want an analogy, consider this: in a way, what you refer to as life, right now, is like soap bubbles being blown. A rock, a plant and a human being are all like soap bubbles of different kinds. The layer of covering of the soap bubble is the complex amalgamation of memory—various kinds of memory. In that sense, the nine avatars  that they talk about in the Hindu tradition are just different levels of Evolutionary, Genetic, Karmic, Unconscious, Subconscious and Conscious Memory.

The difference between a ‘human bubble’  and a ‘rock bubble’ is just this: a rock bubble is mostly physical, with a thicker covering and less air inside, because all that is there is physical matter. It is only its physical integrity due to Inanimate Memory that holds it together, not so much a conscious web. You can break it with a hammer and it will be gone. But if you break a human bubble with a hammer, only the body will break. The web of Karmic Memory contained within is such that it will always find another way to create another bubble or physical form. The entire Yogic process or the entire spiritual process is to wear this bubble thin so that one day when it bursts, there is absolutely nothing left. It then moves from the bondage of existence to the freedom of non-existence, or Nirvana .

What I am saying might disappoint a lot of people because what I am telling you, in other words, is that there is no such thing as an encapsulated life. This whole thing about the soul, the ‘being’ and other fancy things are all made up to give solace to people. If you tell them there is no substance within them like that, they will become terrified. So what about the person or the personality? There is no such thing as ‘this person’ either. It is only a web of memory that creates an illusion of ‘this person’. This is why when a person’s memory is removed or dislodged in some way, like in Alzheimer’s disease or something else, their personality is one thing that dies immediately. Suddenly, they are not the same person any more. But still they have their own traits. It is like a scorpion has its traits that are very different from a grasshopper’s. Similarly, people who have lost their memory will have different traits but no personality. If the Conscious, Subconscious and Unconscious Memories are gone, if they are either dislocated or maybe wiped out, the Genetic Memory will come into play. If the Genetic Memory is wiped out, then the Evolutionary Memory will play. Even then, life is not completely gone because it has not completely dissolved.

If you take out the memory altogether, if you pull the plug on it, it collapses completely and then the bubble cannot hold the air. Here, what you refer to as air is the fundamental life energy. You can call it consciousness. Consciousness is a quality, not a substance. It is the nature of the Cosmos. You just blew a bubble and caught some amount of it. What we are trying to do with conscious living or with sadhana is catch as much air as possible so that you are one big bubble, and the wall of the bubble becomes very thin. You don’t want to be a tiny little bubble—you want to become one big bubble because dissolution is an imminent possibility for a sufficiently big bubble.

With sadhana, you blow a huge bubble. You want to blow this in such a way that it will never again exist anywhere as the same memory form. For this, you have to grow it really big. Essentially, enlarging a bubble means making the wall thinner and thinner. With sadhana, you wear it out from the inside. You stretch it. You stretch it so much that it will burst one day. You make it so big, where the memory stretches itself so thin, that when it is broken, it is really gone. Suppose, somehow—either due to life experience or intelligence or wisdom or whatever—someone blew a big bubble, and it cannot be ignored any more. The moment such a life rolls out of the mother’s womb, it will depict certain qualities, simply because it is a big bubble. Everyone will be looking at that.

A hundred other bubbles may be floating about, but everyone will look at that. This is what we call an evolved ‘being’.

It does not matter whether one becomes a spiritual teacher or simply walks on the street—wherever the person is, people cannot ignore that being because there is a certain level of activity and intent.

Now, using this analogy, what happens when someone dies? Your physical self is largely an accumulation of Genetic Memory and Evolutionary Memory. The other dimensions of memory are not in it so much. It is the energy body which holds that memory, largely. So when death occurs, whatever memory you gathered on the surface—the Genetic, Evolutionary and other Memories—is gone but the deeper layer of Karmic Memory remains intact. Therefore, it seems to be almost eternal in your experience. It is in this context people say that the soul is eternal. It is not eternal, but in your experience, if something goes beyond your body, you call it eternal. In that sense, this long-term memory within you, which will carry on through death, which will determine the nature of your future life and experience, is eternal.

Of the eight types of memory that you carry, all the seven types of memory will go when you fall dead. Evolutionary Memory, which is instrumental in you taking the shape of the human form, is gone. Genetic Memory, which decides the colour of your skin, the shape of your nose and such things, is also gone. The Conscious, Subconscious and Unconscious Memories are also gone. Once you become disembodied, it is largely only the Karmic Memory which holds you together. In the process of death or disembodiment and the continuation of life process, we must understand that only one memory—the Karmic Memory—remains. Within this, you may categorize something as Sanchita Karma and something else as Prarabdha Karma, but, essentially, it is karma which remains. One way to handle this bubble is to capture a larger piece of life. Now, even if you did not do anything much about dismantling your karma, the karmic wall becomes very thin simply because the ‘life size’ became more.

The other way is to wear down the karmic wall. Very few people with properly intact karmic substance know how to just open the karmic wall and leave one fine day. The rest have to wear it down. The reason why an enormous amount of activity is generally prescribed on the spiritual path is that if you cannot blow your bubble thin from within, you try to wear it out from outside. Either way, you try to make the walls as thin as possible. The reason they said you should go and sit in a sacred place like the Dhyanalinga or some other energetic place or that you should go on yatras, and so on, is to fix your karmic body. The karmic body is subject to influences because this whole thing has happened because of the accumulation of influences. So you can undo the karmic body by the right kind of influences, or by being in the right spaces, in communion with the right kind of people and the right kind of atmosphere.

This is the idea behind structuring spiritual life in a certain way so that one is constantly active, but it is not about oneself. The moment it is about me, karma will grow; immediately, the karmic wall will gather substance. Its walls will become thicker and thicker. The moment it is about me, I will have a strong sense of likes and dislikes—I can do that, I cannot do that; I can talk to this person, I cannot talk to that person; I want to love this person, I want to hate that person, and so on. These kinds of things will become a natural part of me the moment it is about me.

So the whole spiritual path in India has been designed in such a way that the karmic wall does not gather substance. At the same time, you go on enhancing the volume of life that you gather. It does not matter how much brains you have, it does not matter how much knowledge you have, the significance of your life is always determined by the volume of life you captured. So the idea is to increase the real substance of life, so that the cover or package becomes irrelevant. When it becomes irrelevant, it will dissolve. When it dissolves, this substance that was captured, which does not belong to you and which is anyway there everywhere, you become part of it.

When you have a thick wall, you are like a golf ball, because only a little bit of life is there; the rest is all karma. Now, if something pushes you a little, you will bounce all over the place. But if you have become a big bubble, if something pushes it, it will just glide, that is all. It is not going to hit this wall and that wall and go all over the place. This is the way life is happening to people: people who are very enslaved to their karmic structure, if you just pat them on the shoulder, they will bounce all over the place. But somebody who has grown in a certain way, whatever hits them, even if a bus hits them, they don’t go all over the place. They will just glide away.

See, not everybody who takes to a spiritual process, or sadhana, is going to burst into Enlightenment. But why they are living like that is because they are wearing down their karmic bodies. When the time comes, if the bubble becomes incompetent to house Genetic Memory and Evolutionary Memory, then it cannot retake another body. Embodiment is not possible; it is over. All of it may not be gone, but the ability of the bubble to come back is over.

If you burst the bubble completely, it is possible to completely eject out of this cycle. Then we would not call it death. It is the ultimate end of life. To do this, if it was a big bubble, you simply touch it and it would be completely gone. It does not need much action. Simply of its own nature, it can burst. Even with a soap bubble, if you try to poke it when it is small, it will only stick to your hand. It will not blow up. It will take a lot more action to burst it, but big bubbles just burst upon contact or on their own. This is why many spiritual paths try to do just this: they try to blow the life bubble bigger and bigger with each lifetime so that one day it will burst on its own. But even when the bubble is small and the walls are thick, if people acquire the necessary wisdom and the intention, or if they are on to very powerful spiritual processes, they can crush it in the present lifetime itself. They don’t have to wait for lifetimes to grow it very big.

Understanding Life and Death

If you want to understand what happens during death, you must have some understanding of the mechanics of how a human being is built. In Yoga, we look at everything—the entire organism—as the body. This body is a composition of five sheaths. These five sheaths, or kosha s, as they are known, are Annamaya Kosha , Manomaya Kosha , Pranamaya Kosha , Vignanamaya Kosha and Anandamaya Kosha. Each sheath has a distinct purpose and properties.

The outermost periphery or outermost sheath of a human being is the physical body. It is called the Annamaya Kosha. Anna means food, so we call this the ‘food body’. When you were born, you were just 2.5 or 3 kilograms in weight. Now you are about twenty times more. All that came only from the food and nourishment you ingested. So what you call the ‘body’ is just an accumulated heap of food. That is how it gets its name.

The second layer is the Manomaya Kosha. Manameans the mind. This is the mental body. It comprises your thoughts, emotions and all the mental processes, both conscious and unconscious. Today, doctors talk a great deal about the psychosomatic nature of many ailments. This means that what happens in the mind affects what happens in the body. Every fluctuation on the level of the mind has a chemical reaction in the body, and every chemical reaction in the body in turn generates a fluctuation on the level of the mind. When you say ‘the mind’, people generally think it is located in one place. It is not so. The mind is not in any one place. There is an entire anatomy of the mind. There is memory and intelligence in every cell in the body. There is a whole body of mind, which we call Manomaya Kosha. This is the entire mental body.

The physical and mental bodies are like your hardware and software. Hardware and software cannot do anything unless you plug into quality power. So there is a third layer of the self, called the Pranamaya Kosha. Prana is life energy. This is the energy body which powers and drives the Annamaya Kosha and the Manomaya Kosha.

All these three—the physical body, the mental body and the energy body—are physical in nature. It is easy to understand that the Annamaya Kosha is physical because you can see it and feel it. But the Manomaya Kosha and the Pranamaya Kosha are also physical in nature. It is like this: you can very clearly see that a light bulb is physical, but the electricity that runs through it is also physical. So is the light that emanates from the bulb. All three are physical. Similarly, the physical body is grossly physical, the mental body is a little subtler, while the energy body is even more subtle but still of the physical realm. These are the only three dimensions of the self you are aware of right now. All these three physical dimensions of life carry the imprints of karma, or Karmic Memory. Karma is imprinted on the body, the mind and on the energy. It is this karmic structure that holds the being together.

The fourth layer of the self is called the Vignanamaya Kosha. Gnana means knowledge. Vishesh Gnana or vignana means extraordinary knowledge or knowledge of that which is beyond the sense perceptions. This is the etheric body. It is a transitory body—a transition from the physical to the non-physical. It is neither physical nor non-physical. It is like a link between the two. It is not in your current level of experience because your experience is limited to the five sense organs and these organs cannot perceive the non-physical. If you learn to find conscious access to this dimension, there will be a quantum leap in your ability to know the cosmic phenomenon.

The fifth sheath is known as the Anandamaya Kosha. Ananda means bliss. It has nothing to do with the physical realms of life. Only the physical can be here and there. Anything that is non-physical is neither here nor there. It is everything and nothing. So the deepest core is that dimension which is beyond the physical. It is nothingness. When I say nothing, you should put a hyphen between no and thing —no-thing. It is not a thing, it is not physical. It is beyond the physical nature. It cannot be described or
even defined. So Yoga talks about it only in terms of experience. When we are in touch with that aspect beyond the physical, we become blissful. So Anandamaya Kosha is called the ‘bliss body’. But it is not that a bubble of bliss lies within your physical structure. There is no such thing. It is just that when you access this indefinable dimension, it produces an overwhelming experience of bliss. It has no form of its own.

When someone drops dead, only their outermost sheaths—the Annamaya Kosha and the conscious parts of the Manomaya Kosha—are lost. One does not drop dead completely. The rest of the structure is still intact; it will seek another womb and manifest itself once again in the physical plane. This is why death is not dissolution—you will pop back in no time. But if the energy body, the mental body and the physical body are taken away, the bliss body will become a part of the Cosmos. Only if the energy body, the mental body and the physical body are in place can they hold the bliss body in place. When they are no more, the bliss body is also no more. Now, they are completely no more. This is the whole story of life, death and dissolution.

Pancha Pranas: The Five Vital Energies

If you want to further understand how the separation of the physical body happens at death, you need to have some understanding of the Pranamaya Kosha, or the vital energies that govern life. In Yoga, we call this prana. It manifests itself in five basic dimensions. These are called Pancha Vayus , or Pancha Pranas . There are other forms to it, but it will get too complicated to go into it. So we will just look at these five dimensions.

These Pancha Pranas are in charge of various activities or processes in your body. The first one is Samat Prana or Samana Vayu . This Samana Vayu is in charge of maintaining the temperature of your body. By activating the Samana Vayu, you can activate your energies in such a way that you become less and less available to the external elements in Nature. If you have travelled in certain parts of the Himalayas, especially if you have gone to places like Gomukh or Tapovan, you will see some sadhus living there in the extreme cold, in bare minimum clothing. These are glacial, sub-zero-temperature areas, but these sadhus can be found walking around barefoot. This is because, by doing certain kriya s or mastering certain mantras, you can activate the Samana Vayu and create a kavacha , or a shield, around yourself. You can create a cocoon of your own energy whereby the external elements don’t bother you so much any more. This is not only about the cold; even the heat will not disturb you. It is like you have an internal air conditioning where both the heat and the cold do not disturb you so much any more.

Generating heat in the body is one aspect of Samana Vayu, but it is also very healing in nature. If your Samana Vayu is high, your very presence becomes healing for others. Samana Vayu is also in charge of your digestive process. If your Samana Vayu is high, you will notice whatever you eat, your stomach will become empty in about an hour and a half. Your stomach should always be empty because both your physiology and your mind function at their best only when the stomach is empty. So yogis always want to keep their stomachs empty. An empty stomach does not mean you starve yourself. You just burn up the food as quickly as possible.

Samana Vayu is also related to the sun, the basic source of energy and temperature. The sun is the heating source of the planet and the body. Samana Vayu is important because one’s life and its span are related to the cycles of the sun. Through the sun, Planet Earth has also become the source of warmth—or a minor sun—by itself. So establishing a deep connection with the planet will lead to an ageless sort of existence in terms of energy and vitality. With this, a yogi can transcend the solar cycles  and be released from its grip. He can become independent of the physical source of life in the solar system. Such a yogi’s life and death will be most interesting to witness, as, without any transcendental quality, he will manage death with the ease of a breath.

The next aspect of prana is called Prana Vayu , which is in charge of your respiratory process and your thought process. If you carefully observe, for every kind of thought that you get, your breath will change in a subtle way. You sit here and think about the ocean, you will observe that your breath will be one way. You think about the mountains, it will be another way. You think about a tiger, it will be yet another way. The reason why thought and respiration are so directly connected is simply because both these are handled by the same energy known as Prana Vayu. Prana Vayu is related to the Earth. It is earthy in nature. This is the only planet in the solar system to have a breathable atmosphere and therefore the possibility of respiration. So this is the only planet where there is an active intellect or thought process.

The next aspect of the prana is called Udana Vayu . Udana means to fly. You may weigh 70 or 80 kilograms on the weighing scale, but you don’t feel the 70 or 80 kilograms on you because Udana Vayu creates buoyancy and makes you less available to gravity. There are Yogic practices to activate this. There were whole schools of Udana Vayu in China, where those who gained mastery over this prana could float around a little bit. You might have seen this in the movies, where it is a little exaggerated. But the body becomes lighter because of a more buoyant force in the body.

For a martial arts fighter, to be buoyant is important. There have been many cases where certain ballet dancers, footballers and martial arts experts have executed what all physicists believe is simply impossible, by leaping up to incredible heights. They have defied gravity simply by creating more buoyancy within the body. If you have complete mastery over udana, they say you can even fly. But more importantly, if you activate your udana, you become less and less available to gravity. On the weighing scale, you are still the same, but in your experience, you will feel as if the body has become so light. You don’t have to carry it. It is like it is floating around. This is another way of making you less of a body.

Udana Vayu is also in charge of your ability to communicate. Now, if your Udana Vayu is active, your ability to communicate with people will come naturally to you. Udana Vayu is related to the moon. The cycles of the moon are intimately connected especially with the female body. Only because our mothers’ bodies were in sync with the cycles of the moon were we born. The moon, being the manager of the feminine dimension of life on the planet and the platform upon which life is built, becomes the determining factor as to when the body can truly come to an end. Once Udana Vayu has left, the very platform that provided the needed foundation for life to build itself upon is not there. Hence, from this point on, seeking the next womb begins in earnest.

The next aspect of prana is called Apana Vayu . Apana Vayu is in charge of your excretory system and the sensory function. Only when the excretory system is efficient at the cellular level will you have the necessary sensitivity for sensory perception. And hence such importance is being given to the purificatory aspect in Yoga.

When I say excretion, I mean not just the outcome of digestion, but excretion on the cellular level that needs to happen. Every moment, the cells are pushing out impurities at the cellular level. This excretory system will be efficient only when the stomach is empty. When there is food in the stomach and digestion is in progress, the excretory system slows down. So if excretion does not happen properly, the body becomes impure. When the body becomes impure, lethargy and other kinds of dullness will settle. Once this inertia manifests in the body, it will slowly be transmitted to the mind also. So Apana Vayu cleanses the system in a big way.

The next aspect of prana is called Vyana Vayu . Vyana Vayu is that which knits all these billions of cells into one organism. There have been some instances of certain yogis whose bodies did not show any signs of decay for months after their death, even though no preservation was attempted. This is particularly common among Tibetan monks. This is possible because when they die, they leave a certain amount of Vyana Prana in the body, which preserves it for a long time.

You may have heard of transmigration, where people leave their bodies and enter another body. If one has mastery over one’s vyana , one can leave one’s body at will. Now, this leaving of the body is not the pinnacle of Yoga; it is a simple aspect of Yoga. If you activate Vyana Vayu in your body, you slowly become loose inside your body. Now, the question of getting identified with the body does not arise within you. This gives you a completely different sense of freedom in your life because maintaining the awareness that ‘I am not the body’ comes naturally to you. This is like if your clothes are very tight-fitting, slowly, you will tend to think that is you. But if you wear loose clothes, you are more conscious that these are clothes, not me.

Now, another aspect of Vyana Vayu is that it is also in charge of your ability to move or your locomotion. You will see your ability to walk will come so naturally to you when your Vyana Vayu is high, even if you are not a seasoned walker. Vyana Vayu is a very important aspect of spiritual growth. It also enhances your intuitive nature.

There are many more aspects to pranas or vayu s, but, fundamentally, this is how they affect the physical body. A basic understanding of the pranas is necessary to understand how death happens because, at the moment of death, each of these pranas recedes differently and affects the dead differently. The process of death or the process of disembodiment extends well beyond the point where the breath has stopped.

The Sequence of Death

Definitions are central to the progress of modern science. To study anything, they must be able to define it first. But when it comes to defining death, modern science ties itself into knots. The best definition they have for death is ‘the absence of life’. But then again they have no definition for life either. Defining death or being able to determine the point of death correctly is a necessity because of the social, medical and legal aspects to life and death.

In the olden days, they said if the breath has stopped, the person has died. But then some people who were declared ‘dead’ by this definition came back to life and a whole lot of chaos ensued. So they went a step further and said if the pulse stops, i.e. the heart stops, then it is death. But again people came back to life even after their breath and heart had stopped. Today, they have a battery of terms—clinical death, brain death, somatic death, heart–lung failure, whole-brain death, higher brain death, and so on—to hide behind their inability to precisely define death. This problem is essentially because they are only looking at the manifestations of the process of death and not the cause, which is the exiting of the Pancha Pranas from the physical body.

This happened many years ago. A research institute invited me because they wanted to check my gamma waves. Apparently, these are patterns of neural oscillations in the brain that show a correlation to mental activity. At that time, I did not know what these gamma waves were or if I even had them in my brain. I don’t usually put myself through these indignities, but that day, due to an obligation, I gave in.

They connected me with fourteen electrodes and asked me to meditate. I said, ‘I don’t know how to meditate.’ They were a little taken aback. They said, ‘But you teach everyone meditation.’ ‘Yes, I do. But I teach meditation to people because they don’t know how to sit still.’ In reality, there is no such thing as meditation. There is only stillness—many levels of stillness. Because it is very difficult to teach people stillness, the term ‘meditation’ is used as an intermediary. So I said, ‘If you want, I will sit still. Totally still, on all levels.’ Then they said, ‘Okay, sit still; we will check that.’ So I sat down.

After about fifteen minutes, they started hitting me on my knees with some metallic object. Then they tried my ankles and then they moved to my elbows—you know, that funny place where it hurts the most. I thought, ‘This must be a part of their experiment,’ and kept quiet. But it became very persistent and painful. Then I slowly opened my eyes and asked, ‘Did I do something wrong?’ All of them gave me a weird look. I said, ‘Why are you looking at me like this?’ They said, ‘Our monitors have gone flat. According to our machines, you were dead.’ I said, ‘That is a great diagnosis!’ Then they came up with a second opinion. They said, ‘You are either dead or you are brain-dead.’ I said, ‘I will take the first one. “I am dead” is okay with me. But don’t call me brain-dead, that is insulting.’ This is what happens if you let machines decide death. Your breath stopping, heart stopping or your brain going flat on the monitors is not death. Only when the Pancha Pranas exit the physical body completely it is death.

When the breath stops, or when what we call as death happens, the withdrawal of the pranas happens over a period of time. All the pranas do not exit the body at the same time. There is a definite pattern in which they exit. This can be observed in some simple ways. For example, it is well-documented that if you keep a dead body for over two to three days, you will notice that the hair will grow. If it was a man and he used to shave, you can see this from the facial hair. The nails will also grow. Therefore, in countries where they preserve the dead bodies for a longer time, the undertakers clip the nails and shave the beard. This is not because the skin has dried or shrunk. Those factors may make a small contribution, but it is mainly because hair and nails are special in a way because there is no sensation in those parts of the body even when you are alive. There is no sensation in these parts because there is no Prana Vayu in them even when you are alive, but the other vayus are present there. So immediately after death, when Prana Vayu has exited the body, these parts of the body are not affected much. This is why you will observe minimal growth there until the other pranas exit the body.

It is only because the process of withdrawal of the pranas spans over a period of time, there is a window of opportunity for outside interventions and manipulations that can sometimes ‘revive’ the dead person. It is only because of this it is possible to assist the dead in their journey after death or allow for processes like transmigration. We will be looking at this in more detail in Chapter 4.

An overview of the withdrawal process can be summarized as follows:

So with this understanding, how would you define death? Fundamentally, what we call death is a certain line, or a certain stage, in the process of disembodiment. In that context, it is appropriate that in the English language you don’t 
diagnose someone as dead, you declare them as dead. You declare someone dead when he or she does not respond to your stimulus or when you do not have access to them any more.

An ordinary person may feel someone is dead if they do not respond to their calls and other kinds of physical probing. But a medical professional would not accept this. They have a more sophisticated understanding of life and also have subtler tools and probes. They know that with suitable interventions the life can be revived, and the person can be brought back into the body. But if the process of disembodiment has crossed a certain stage, then one will not be responsive to these medical stimuli either. Such a person would be declared medically dead, but this would still not be considered spiritual death in the Yogic tradition.

A person well versed in Yoga and Tantra has an even finer understanding of life. They have much subtler tools and techniques to be able to access that life and possibly restore it. So they would still not declare them spiritually dead. However, if the process of disembodiment has progressed beyond a certain point, then even they cannot restore life into the body. Now, for all practical purposes, that person is completely gone—he cannot be brought back at all. One can only assist their further journey,  that is all.

So the answer to the question ‘When is a person dead?’ depends largely upon what the purpose of the declaration is and what capability does one have to interact with life at the different stages of disembodiment. The more capable you are, the more leeway you will have in the situation.

Chakras: The Gateways of Exit

The pranic system in the body comprises various energy channels and their points of intersection, known as chakras. There are a total of 114 such chakras, 112 of them in the body and two outside the body. The chakras within the body are classified into seven main categories of sixteen each. In life, the levels of activation of these chakras greatly determine the quality of life led by the person. Correspondingly, how energy moves through these chakras in death determines the quality of the death too. So each death is characterized not just by how the pranas have exited the body but also through which chakra or chakras they exited.

Even if you are liberated within yourself, even if you have attained a certain state within you, you still need a lot of skill to leave the physical body consciously. You need to know the science of how life and the body got connected and what you need to do to disentangle it. Otherwise, you will not be able to leave the body consciously. People who are on the Yogic path can simply sit in the open and leave—just like dropping one’s clothes and walking away, because they know the science of how to leave the body. Depending upon how much skill and freedom with which someone left the body and from which chakra they left the body, the situation around each death will be different. For the sake of simplicity, we talk mostly of only the seven main chakras in the body.  Each is given a name and has certain qualities.

For a very gross person, or if someone leaves in fear—which happens to a lot of people—they end up leaving through the Muladhara Chakra , located at the perineum. This is why you will see that at the time of death, many people will pass urine and faeces with a certain force. This is not because of incontinence, as people think, but because the prana has left through the Muladhara Chakra. This is not a good way to die. If we are not able to leave the body at will, at least we should be able to welcome it and allow it to happen rather than resist it and struggle with fear. Generally, if one leaves through the Muladhara Chakra, it is considered a very base exit. But in rare cases, one who consciously exits through the Muladhara Chakra can come back with enormous occult powers.

One who exits through the Swadhishthana Chakra , located in and above the genital organ, can be reborn with extraordinary creative prowess. One who exits through the Manipura Chakra , located just below the navel, can be capable of a very organized sense of action. One may become a great business person or a great general. Essentially, a genius of organization in his or her next life. One who exits through the Anahata Chakra , where the ribcage meets, can become a prodigy in music or the arts. One may also become a very sensitive poet or a devotee who can inspire many. The Anahata Chakra also has the possibility of finding access to all the other dimensions so one could be a potential polymath.

For someone to exit through the Vishuddhi Chakra, situated at the pit of the throat, is very rare. But if that happens, one will possess an incredible perception of this world and the beyond. Such a person will also exist in an absolute sense of dispassion and fearless involvement in all aspects of life. A phenomenal sense of clarity will be predominant in them. Though the Agna Chakra , located between the eyebrows, is of a higher order, it is more common for people to exit through the Agna Chakra than the Vishuddhi Chakra.

A person who is fully conscious will leave through their Sahasrara Chakra , from the top of their head. That is the best way to leave. Normally the prana just leaves, but sometimes it actually leaves a physical hole there at the moment of death. If you know, the bit of the skull at the top of the head is not yet formed in infants for quite some time. That spot is called the brahmarandhra . For some people, when they leave the body, an actual hole will be found there. When one leaves through their Sahasrara Chakra, it means that they were fully conscious.

If you want that moment of death to happen in full awareness, you have to live a life of awareness. Otherwise, at that moment, there is no way you are going to be aware. One who is conscious can leave whichever way one wants, but one who is unconscious simply goes in a fixed way—because their life was a bondage, so death is also a bondage. If at the moment of death, a person can be 100 per cent aware, that person will not have to go through rebirth. They will not take another body—they are released.





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