Assistance for the Dying


chapter 7

Assistance for the Dying

A bodiless being is a completely defenceless life. That is why that aspect of life must be conducted with utmost responsibility. When someone gives this being a little bit of help at the last moment, it will go a long way. Most of their sadhana for the next time will be taken care of at that moment itself.


The Importance of the Last Moments of Life

Why is the moment of transition from an embodied state to disembodied state so important? Let me give you an analogy. Right now, when you are in the body, you are like a river, going in one direction. When you become disembodied, it is like you evaporated and became like a cloud. Whichever way the wind blows, you will go that way. You have no direction any more. At least the river is clearly going towards the ocean, but we don’t know where the hell the cloud is going. Whichever way the wind blows, it will go that way. Leaving the body and losing the discretionary mind is like that. If you had a discretionary mind, you could go either this way or that. But once you die, you are just fluff, floating around according to your karmic tendencies. You know, didn’t they always tell you that angels float around in the clouds? Well, they used the correct analogy!

The significance of being a human is that you have the ability to discriminate and choose the course of your life. If you don’t employ that, then you are not much of a human being. For example, let us say, I am hungry. But if food comes in front of me, I can still discriminate and say, ‘No, I don’t want to eat it.’ Because of the discriminatory capability within me, it does not matter how much compulsion arises in my body, if I don’t want to, I will not eat. That is all. I can discriminate. Without this, you become like air; you will move by tendencies alone.

When you lose the body, your ability to discriminate is gone. All the memory and other mind-stuff are still there; only the discriminatory process is lost. At that moment, if you create even a little bit of unpleasantness, then the unpleasantness will multiply a millionfold. If you create a little pleasantness, the pleasantness will multiply a millionfold. Why is this so? Let us say, today, you get a little angry; you can use your discriminatory mind and control it. But if you did not have this discriminatory mind, the little anger would flare up into madness. The moment of death is a significant factor because whatever is the content of one’s mind at that moment—pleasantness or unpleasantness—it could multiply manifold because of the lack of discriminatory mind. This is why, it does not matter which part of the world you come from, which culture you come from, every culture holds that when a person is dying you must allow them to die peacefully.

During this phase of disembodiment, if your pleasantness multiplies, we say you are in heaven. If your unpleasantness multiplies, we say you are in hell. Hell and heaven do not exist as geographical places but as human experience. You don’t have to be disembodied to be in hell or heaven; even when you are alive, they can exist for you. The advantage of being here with the body is that sometimes when you get into hell in your experience, you can employ your discrimination and get out of that pit. Similarly, sometimes you get into heaven in your experience, but out of your discrimination, however pleasant the experience is, you can drop it and move on to the next thing. Even when in the body, someone who loses their discrimination will stay depressed for long periods of time if they get into depression, while pleasant experiences will turn into addictions.

In Indian culture, great importance was given to how a person who is dying should be treated. They said a person must die in the right space, in the right atmosphere, with the right kind of emotion and with the right kind of thought. When someone is dying, they said you are never supposed to say, ‘Aiyyo, Amma!’  You are supposed to say ‘Rama’ or ‘Krishna’ or ‘Shiva’  or something like that. The idea is to generate some thought to think beyond oneself. It is a phenomenally scientific process. It is not an emotional process, because this last dimension of thought and emotion that you create becomes the major tendency in that being. They said, ‘Even if it is your enemy who is dying right now, you must create an appropriate atmosphere and see how he can die peacefully. Don’t do ugly things.’ Maybe you shot him in battle, but you take off your hat when he is leaving, or you say, ‘Ram, Ram,’ or whatever you know. This is because these tendencies will go on for lifetimes. Whatever life they might have lived, at that final moment, if they generate the right thing, they could go into a good trip, rather than going into a bad trip. So this is a tremendous opportunity to enhance someone’s life.

When someone is dying, at that moment, the whistle has already been blown and the game is over. There is no point kicking now. Moreover, your enmity is only as long as they carried this body. Once they shed the body, the drama is over. They are no more your enemy, nor are they your friend. He or she is just a piece of life, and a life has to be treated as a life. When the play is on, each one of us watches, relates and reacts in many different ways. When the curtains fall, all stand up. Only one in slumber remains as he was. Everyone else, even those who did not enjoy the play, stand up and acknowledge that it is over. It would be fantastic if every act of the play was appreciated or at least looked upon with respect. If you did not succeed in that, at least the last scene—that is what death is—should be appreciated.

That is the reason why, when you see somewhere that even the dead are not treated with respect, something within you is shaken. It is not the body that needs to be treated with respect but the being who is exiting slowly who needs it. It does not matter how they lived; at least the leaving must happen well. Every human being must have that much intention. This is the least you can do for that person or the life that we are. Everywhere in the world, people are reasonably aware of it, but in India it has been a very conscious process.

In the Kurukshetra war,  the Pandava prince Arjuna was the most skilled warrior, but it was his brother Bheema who was considered more valiant and feisty. But that glory got tainted because he desecrated the body of an opponent. In one of the battles, he was pitched against Dushasana, who was instrumental in disrobing Draupadi. So Bheema had taken a vow at that time to avenge Draupadi’s humiliation. On the day of the fateful battle, Bheema not only killed Dushasana in a brutal manner but he also tore open his chest and drank his blood to fulfil the vow. Warriors from both sides were aghast by this act of Bheema. Though he was only avenging an earlier injustice, Bheema’s reputation was tainted forever by his ‘dishonourable conduct’ because he violated the war code by not treating the dead body of the enemy with respect.

Another reason why the way we conduct this moment is very important is because a bodiless being is a completely defenceless life. That is why that aspect of life must be conducted with utmost responsibility. When someone gives this little being a little bit of help at this last moment, it will go a long way. Most of their sadhana for the next time will be taken care of at that moment itself. If you look around, you will see how much struggle people go through just to be loving, or to drop hatred and anger. Sometimes, when I see people struggling with these things, it beats me as to why they struggle like this. Even to drop their old feelings and habits, they struggle. But when you help a person die well, all these things are washed off, just like that. You are born with the right quality. This is the simplest way to ensure a being is reborn pleasant.

This is not all. More things can be done too. Even after one leaves the body, we can guide that being. If that person has sufficient trust in you, during the last few moments, you can also make them earn what they did not earn all their life. All this can be accomplished if you can create the right situation for them and help them to die well. This is a huge contribution to that being’s life. Moreover, if a person truly dies well, then there is no next time for them. That life moves into the nature of limitless freedom. But all this cannot be done with one’s emotions or good intentions. Just because you wish someone should go to heaven, they will not go to heaven. If you want to do such things, then you need to have a different level of understanding, awareness and mastery over life. Otherwise, those things are out of the question.

Helping Suffering People Die

When someone is suffering deeply, should we not help that person die? See, when you were born, your mother suffered immensely. So if we believe it is okay to relieve someone of their suffering by killing, we should have killed her or killed you at that time. Do you think people on their deathbed are suffering as much or more than those in the labour ward? Not necessarily. This question is coming up these days because we are seeing more and more people surviving as vegetables here for a long time. This prolonged suffering would not be there if you did not unnecessarily interfere with the process of life and go on medically pushing death. Without this, no one will stay beyond their natural time.

Does it mean that when you get a disease, we should withdraw all medical support? No, many people have bounced back from all kinds of hopeless situations. Many times, people thought someone would die, but they just bounced back and lived on. So should we not give these people also a chance? Who is to decide who should be helped to die and when? If there is a 100 per cent medical prognosis that there is no way to recover, they can withdraw the medication. But where is the need to push someone into death by injecting a poison or something else? If you withdraw medication, if the body is not fit for life, life will move on. It is not for you to decide whether the body is fit or not unless you are conscious of the extent that you can drop it and go.

If you are afraid of old age and suffering, why don’t you start doing some sadhana now to prepare yourself so that you can leave when you want to? Why do you want to wait for that moment and ask your son or daughter to give you poison? Please see, your asking them to poison you is not fair to them. Even if out of their compassion or love they give you poison, can they ever forget it? You will go anyway, but why are you burdening those who have to live for a long time with all these things? You can live in such a way that you don’t need anyone’s mercy. You can live your life to a plan. You live as long as it is effective and you leave gracefully when you have to leave, not through mercy killing. Why don’t you pursue these options?

Right now, it may seem that this mercy killing is fine. In society today, people may think it is a revolutionary idea. There are always people who want to be progressive, who are advocating mercy killing. If you are really progressive, why don’t you empower individuals with the power to shed their body at will? This is what I am doing—helping people grow into such a capability that they can terminate their life by will when the time comes, but not by poison or by a pillow.

These days, there is another kind of situation: because of modern medical intervention, there are more and more cases of people who remain in vegetative states for a long time. And some of them bounce back to life even after many years in that state. So the people around them go through an enormous struggle trying to decide whether or not to pull the plug on their loved ones. This happened in Morocco: Shankaran Pillai was living in Europe. He had aged a little bit and was watching some programme on the television about old-age homes and hospices. Watching the programme, he told his Moroccan wife, ‘Darling, if it ever happens that I become vegetative, I want you to pull the plug. I don’t want to go through all this. You must just pull the plug.’ She looked at him and got up and pulled the television plug. So this decision to pull the plug can be very tricky.

Now, about the people who bounce back to life from vegetative or near-death states, don’t think that they died and were put back. That is not true. It might have so happened that the life force was so shocked, it became more projected outward than inward. Even in the conscious state, you are partially outward-projected, mostly inward-projected. Inward projection of life energies gives you organic unity and stability of life. Outward projection gives you a strong presence and expression of life. This see-saw is naturally happening with all life, including human beings. But human beings with a certain mastery can make this into a conscious choice of this dimensional shift. Therefore at that moment it might have been so that you were mostly outward-projected, partially inward-projected. So life was making a decision, ‘To be or not to be.’ This is not a philosophical question but a practical question about whether the body is fit enough to be or not be. So after doing this ‘To be or not to be’ seesaw for some time, if it chose to be , it is not because of medical workers or a miracle. Maybe the medical workers made the body a little more hospitable than what it would have been, but it is always life which makes the decision to stay because the body is still hospitable.

If one has an enhanced perception, it is possible to make an assessment of a patient’s life chances, based on the vibrancy of the Pranamaya Kosha, or energy body. It is possible to say if a person’s life energies are intense enough for recovery to happen. On the other hand, even if the body is not obviously unwell but the patient’s pranic energies are at a low ebb, recovery is impossible, no matter what the intervention. It is a question of software. If the software has run out, no matter what you do, it will not renew itself. But not everyone has the perception to make such a decision. It is therefore best to let life take its course, rather than allow people to issue a death certificate for the living.

Now, there are two kinds of vegetative states. In one condition, the body became so inert that you are not able to get it going, but the mind is active, the emotion is active and all perceptions are intact. This is torture for the person because the body refuses to move. This can lead to a lot of suffering because they can see, they can hear, they can smell, they can understand, but they lack the ability to do anything. They want to get up and walk but the body has become inert. Now, it is a very difficult decision for anyone to take. Moreover, many a time, the person understands all the things that are spoken around them—whether to pull the plug or not and all that—it is a very bad situation. It should not happen to anyone, but when it happens, how to deal with it? This is a hard decision to make—there is no particular way to do it because it depends on individual sensitivities.

The other kind is where the body seems to be reasonably vibrant and active, digests food, and everything is happening, but the mind has become inert. So the body cannot act. The body is still kept alive because you are keeping it going with all the medical processes. This is like an empty shell that is kept alive—incapable of any response. If this is the case, you can wait for five cycles of twenty-one days and then take a call. After that, if things are still the same, you can pull the plug. You can be 100 per cent sure that the life cannot be revived. Well, this may sound very drastic to you, but these days many honest doctors are asking the relatives to take the patient home when they know there is no point continuing to meddle with them. But those who just want to serve bills to you would be interested in kicking the can.

Today, advances in palliative care and pain relief have reached a point where most of the pain that a person experiences on the deathbed can be removed with appropriate medication. But people ask, will the use of painkillers somehow affect the quality of death that is imminent? Is there some merit in going through the full suffering on the deathbed? These questions arise because of all those moralistic teachings in the world that enduring pain and enduring suffering are virtues and is a way to atone for one’s sins. This happened: a new batch of people landed in heaven. All of them were golfers. They asked, ‘Is there a golf course in heaven?’ Saint Peter said, ‘Of course.’ They asked, ‘Can we see it? Is it okay?’ He asked the Holy Ghost to drive them in a golf cart. So he drove them through a fabulous golf course, full of flowers, greenery and everything. When they crossed the third hole, they saw that there was a pitful of fire and people were burning, screaming and yelling. They looked at this and asked, ‘What is this? We thought there was no suffering in heaven.’ The Holy Ghost said, ‘They are religious people; they insist!’

So when someone is on the deathbed, is it okay to use painkillers? If it is a non-sedative painkiller and if you are able to maintain a reasonable amount of consciousness, it is perfectly fine to take them. Why do you want to go through pain if there is no medical need to suffer it? But if the painkillers are overly sedative and you are not even barely conscious, then it is not the best way to leave.

About Dying at Home

I would like to see a day where people come to Kayantha Sthanam  and say, ‘I think it is my time. Is there a place here where I can stay and die and go? No one needs to carry me up here.’ That would be a good day. Go there, sit happily, don’t eat or drink anything, just die. No funeral, just cremation. That would be an Enlightened world. Well, that is a faraway thing, that will not happen right now, but at least you must create spaces where people can die peacefully with a certain focus.

What is happening today in homes is that, though everyone is going to die, unfortunately, no one is qualified as to how to handle death. How is that? In the United States, you will see in every dining hall there are first-aid instructions as to what to do if someone is choking on food. But why is anyone choking on food? I have never heard of anything like that in India. No one chokes on food in India, though, generally, people in India are hungrier than Americans. People are choking on food probably because they are talking and eating at the same time. When you try to input and output simultaneously through the same channel, something gets confused. If people just shut up and eat, I don’t think anyone will choke on their food.

Anyway, for something like choking while eating, there is so much care and effort to inform people as to how to handle it, but there is nothing done on how to handle death. Everyone knows people are going to die. You know your grandparents are going to die, you know your parents are going to die, but when it happens, no one knows how to handle it because somewhere they are trying to avoid it. They think by not talking about it, by not preparing for it, it is not going to happen. Very few families have the sense to prepare and say, ‘Okay, this person is going to die, let us prepare for that.’ It is time we prepared ourselves to do at least a few things to ensure that this person who is dying does not have to go through unnecessary suffering.

Now, even when someone is medically dead, they are not existentially dead because death happens slowly. So there are certain preparations that can be made to reduce the choppiness of the moment and assist the withdrawal of life during that time. If you are dying at home, it is best you withdraw into a clean, white room with mild-blue light. No photographs, nothing. If there is a tinge of blue around you, this will help you to die well. Another simple thing you can do to help is to have a lamp burning twenty-four hours of the day, next to that person. A ghee lamp is preferable, but you can also use butter. This creates a certain aura so that the choppy nature of withdrawal can be regulated to some extent.

Next, you can have a chant or something with the right kind of sounds going on. These should be the kind of sounds that will touch the fundamentals of who you are. It would be even better if they are consecrated sounds or chants or mantras. And better still if you have internalized it beforehand. Internalizing a chant can be a very powerful tool in life and in death. This happened in the life of the southern Indian saint called Swami Ramdas. Ramdas was initiated into the worship of Lord Rama by his father, through the chanting of the mantra ‘Rama, Rama, Rama’. Over time, his mantra practice became deep. Once when he was still an unrecognized sadhaka, he was wandering through the countryside. It was evening and some benevolent person in a village offered to host him for the night.

Ramdas ate the dinner that was offered to him and went to sleep. But in the middle of the night, the host realized that someone was chanting ‘Rama, Rama, Rama’ quite loudly. He was annoyed as he wanted to sleep. So he went to check on Ramdas. He was fast asleep. But the owner could still hear the sound of ‘Rama, Rama’. So he slowly went towards Ramdas and sensed that the sound was emanating from Ramdas’s body! His practice of mantra was so intensified that even while he slept, the body was just reverberating ‘Rama, Rama, Rama’.

Such incidents where people have internalized sounds or mantras have happened in the lives of many other saints. This also happened with my Divine Guru. I call him Divine because the element of divinity happened to me only because of His Presence. Palani Swami never told anybody his name—maybe even he didn’t remember. Because people saw him in many fantastic states around the Palani Hills, they called him as Palani Swami. Just by sitting in one place, he drew such large crowds that the local temple priests became a little resentful. They were irked that this man who did nothing, who begged for his food from others, was drawing so many people. Meanwhile, they were sitting in the temple from morning till evening, doing their rituals and duties, but people were not going there; they were going to this man. So they wanted to find something against him. One day, they accused Palani Swami of uttering ‘Shambho’, when doing his morning ablutions, which is something that is considered a sacrilege. So they brought him before the village panchayat and charged him with desecrating God by taking his name when going out to relieve himself in the morning. Palani Swami simply sat there before this ignorant bunch of judges, with eyes closed and mouth closed. Then loud reverberations of the sound ‘Shambho’ could be heard among the gathering. And that was the end of their prosecution.

So you can internalize a chant like this, where your very energies reverberate with that sound. In order to reach the point where it is internalized, you need a certain amount of loud chanting initially. If you do that in your day-to-day life, it can be a great support when death is approaching. We have created a collection of sacred chants called Vairagya . It has five mantras. Listen to the album over and over a few times, paying attention to each one of the mantras. Each one runs for ten minutes. Figure out which mantra really draws you. Just listen repeatedly. When you feel that one of them is really grabbing you, just go by that. Keep this mantra going all the time—in your car, in your home, on your iPad, iPod, phone, everywhere.

Simply keep them going on and on for some time. Initially, you chant it loudly like a song. Slowly, see if you can close your mouth and still keep the same reverberation up. Initially, unless you chant it sufficiently in the louder form with some volume, you cannot take it inward. You must create that memory of the reverberation substantially in your system, where, even if you close your mouth, the mantra is on. After some time, if you just remind yourself, it flows because you have created a memory of that reverberation.

Now, the dying person may not be able to do the chanting themselves. At the moment of death, it takes something for a person to be aware enough to say what they want to say. Most people die in unawareness. So in this culture, if someone is dying, people around always start a chant like ‘Ram, Ram’ or ‘Aum Namah Shivaya’, or whatever they know because they want the dying one also to utter a consecrated sound that creates awareness. So when someone is dying at home or elsewhere, you can set up a chant of one of these mantras at a very mild volume. If they have already chosen their chant themselves or internalized it, that can be used. If they had not chosen one, Brahmananda Swarupa could be played for everyone. This will make sure that a choppy withdrawal of life can be avoided.

We could make more powerful body-exiting mantras available because reverberations can do wonders for a life that is already organizing itself to exit. If you cause powerful reverberations of support, life will organize itself very well, and you will become loose inside the body. So you can at least have a few days or a few hours of experience where you are not the body 100 per cent. This will be a wonderful thing for any human being. But it will also affect people who are around, so no one should be there when this is being used. Moreover, we don’t know how people will use it. There is no way to ensure that it will be used responsibly. They may use it in their car when they are driving, and they may exit by crashing! So it is best to not attempt these things with the masses and instead use something general like the Vairagya chants.

Of the Pancha Pranas, Udana Vayu can be influenced by the right kind of reverberations. As we mentioned earlier, Udana Vayu withdraws between six and twelve hours after the breath stops. By chanting and lighting sambrani ,  one can create the conducive reverberations for Udana to exit swiftly. Otherwise, cremating the person’s body before their Udana exits can cause a certain level of turmoil.

Now, what to do if someone is dying in an ICU or something like that, where the doctors will not allow lamps and chants and things like that? First of all, people should not go to an ICU to die. But if such a situation is inevitable, you could do a few things at home, but they are not as effective. For example, you can keep some clothing of theirs—something they have used—wrap it in a white cloth and keep it in front of their picture and light a lamp. You could play the chant there. It will have some impact, but not the same as being in the physical presence.

This lamp and the chant should continue up to fourteen days after one has been certified dead because one may be medically dead but not existentially dead. Death happens slowly. The withdrawal of the life process from this lump of earth—the body—happens step by step. For all practical purposes, the activity of the lungs, heart and brain stops, so they are declared dead, but it is not yet so. Even if the person’s body is burned, they are still not gone because their movement into the other realm has not yet happened.

Now, when the moment of death is approaching, it is best to move the dying person out of the house into an open courtyard or open space. There you must keep them, preferably on cloth upon open soil in a north–south alignment, with the head to the north. This is to be done when death is certain and you want it to happen with ease. If the body is still in the house, inside constructed atmospheres, the being does not leave the body with ease.

Why put the head towards the north? Traditionally, in India, they tell you not to sleep with your head to the north. This is valid only when you are in the northern hemisphere. If you go to the southern hemisphere, say Australia, you should not put your head towards the south. Mostly, this body is designed in such a way that if you remain vertical, it is ideal. Now your heart is located three-fourths of the way up because pumping the blood up is difficult, pumping it down is easy, and all the arteries and veins that go above the heart are very thin. Blood vessels going down are much thicker. As they go towards the brain, they become almost hairlike. So when you lie down, the blood can be pumped into the upper portion of the body much more easily. The heart also makes some adjustments once you lie down. But despite that there is a certain effect.

Now, iron is an important constituent of your blood. If you are anaemic, your doctor prescribes you iron supplements. As you know, the North Pole has a very strong magnetic pull on the rest of the Earth. Now, if you lie down with your head towards the north, it will pull your blood in that direction, so there will be increased blood flow to your brain. This is not too much, but enough to impact the system. This is why, when you sleep with your head towards the north, you will have disturbed sleep. You can also have nightmares because of disturbed sleep. Old people may even die in their sleep if they put their head to the north. Or they can have a haemorrhage or stroke and things like that. So when you live in the northern hemisphere, you should not put your head towards the north.

However, when a person is dying, you should place the head towards the north because it eases and aids the disentanglement process of the being from the body. During the last moments, even though the physical body has lost its vibrancy, life still tries to stay there and do things, not knowing what to do. But the moment you place it outside in north–south alignment, it just knows it is over. So it will leave the body effortlessly. It also aids in maintaining a conscious state during the transition. These are some simple but effective things you can do to assist someone who is dying.

Rituals from Death to the Disposal of the Body

We already saw that when it comes to death, the usage of language is significant: you do not diagnose someone as dead, you declare that they are dead. It is significant because there is a difference between the two. When you declare them dead, it is only for you that they are dead. As far as that person is concerned, in a way, all that has happened is that he or she is disembodied—they have lost their body. All their life they lived thinking they are the body, never realizing the physical mass that we carry is an accumulation from this planet. When suddenly one slips out of the body, one tends to hover around it, as there is no discriminatory intelligence. It is in stages that life came into the body and it is in stages that it will go away.

It is believed in Indian culture that the moment we are sure that someone is dead, we must do certain things because the situation is rife with possibilities for us to help the departed being. A person who is knowledgeable about the intricacies of the process of death can do a whole lot of good for the departed, but even ordinary people who happen to be around the dying also can make a huge difference in easing the journey of the departed by doing certain things, whether they understand it or not. This will be good for the dead person and also good for the living.

The Laying Out of the Body

Even after death has happened, it is good to place the body in a north–south alignment, with the head to the north. As we said earlier, as far as the dead person is concerned, all their life they lived thinking they are the body, experiencing that they are the body. Suddenly, they popped out and they are confused. Confused existentially, not psychologically. They do not have a discriminatory mind to think. They do not realize that it is over. They linger around because the body is still there. They tend to make attempts to get back into the body, which is unfit to sustain life. This can lead to a certain energy in that place which is neither good for the person nor for the people living around that space.

When you place the body in a north–south alignment, with the head towards the north, the being will be pulled away from the body. Once you do this, certain changes happen more quickly in the physiology of the body that has been discarded. The being realizes that it is futile to hang around that particular body because it cannot access it any more. A certain distance arises between the being and the body, which is very conducive for what has to happen next for the being.

Tying the Big Toes Together

The next thing to do after death is to tie the big toes together. This is because when you are alive, life energies are deeply infused into every cell of your body. When death happens, these energies recede slowly. Functionally, it may be dead, but it does not die totally; it dies slowly because all the cells in the body are not dead yet, and they are still making an effort to live. They will try to draw energy from outside. When they try to draw energy, certain forces may enter the body. In order to prevent these things, people tie the two big toes together in such a way that the outer surface of the big toes are touching each other.

Even now, you will notice that if you put your big toes together, your anal outlet and the Muladhara Chakra will always be tightly closed. If the Muladhara Chakra is not closed, the remaining aspect of the prana tends to leave from that chakra, which is not desirable. Moreover, if the Muladhara Chakra and the anal outlet are open, it tends to become a lower passageway for the being to enter the body again. This can cause a very negative situation, which is not at all good for that being, nor for the living.

Once the Muladhara Chakra is closed, the being cannot get in and repossession of the body cannot happen. This wanting to possess the body through the Muladhara Chakra need not necessarily be by the being who has left the body. There are other beings who seek such a passage. If someone wants to do certain occult practices where freshly dead bodies are used, it is always the Muladhara which is made use of because that is the easiest passage. Other passages will not be as easily available. So tying the toes together will also protect the body from being used by people who are into occult practices, which would bind that being in so many ways.

There is also a practical aspect to this. If you don’t tie the toes together, when death happens, the legs will naturally tend to move apart and spread wide. Once rigor mortis sets in, you will not be able to bring them back together, and handling the dead body will become difficult and awkward. So tying the toes together will prevent the distortion of the body.

Washing and Clothing the Body

In certain communities in India, where they are still aware of these things, the first thing they do when someone dies is strip the body naked. The next thing to do is wash the body with water. One reason is that the person may have been injured and ill during the last moments, so you want to clean that up. But it is not just for hygiene purposes that you give them a wash. See, even when you are alive, if someone tries to give you a bath and they pour water on your face, you will feel like you are being waterboarded. It feels like you are drowning. If there is even any little activity happening in the body, it will all cease. The idea is not to just clean the body, but to facilitate the complete withdrawal of life from the body as running water has the ability to clear many aspects off the body.

Now, once again, you lay the body in north–south alignment in an open space. The body is kept naked, with just a white cloth covering it. This cloth is also for the people’s sake, not for the dead body’s sake. There is nothing to cover, there is nothing to expose for a dead body, but the living people have issues. So one white cloth, just a sheet, is used to cover the body. Why a white cloth? The colour white reflects all light and most of the heat—two factors that can hasten the decomposition of the cells. This hastening of decomposition is not advisable at this stage, as certain aspects of prana are still partially functional in the body. Black or coloured cloth will absorb both light and heat, and should be avoided.

Unfortunately, these days, people have begun clothing and dressing up the body elaborately. Undertakers in the West actually do more make-up for dead bodies than what people would do for Hollywood stars. It has become very lucrative. But in this culture, when you go back to death, you go back naked, as you were born. Even if you did not realize it when you were alive, it is at least a realization for the other people who are watching. It is a knock on their head to tell them that these things do not matter any more.

Things Not to Do around a Dead Body

There are many customs and rituals for the dead in various cultures, but there are some things that you should definitely not do around a dead body. One thing is that you should not sleep near a dead body. This is so because, in sleep, everyone is far more susceptible to everything than in wakefulness. We already saw that death is a process and it is still on for quite some time. If you have kept the body for six, twelve or twenty-four hours or whatever, the process is still on, and life is still exiting. So people who are sleeping near the body become available to such things, which is not good for them.

Another thing is that one should not cook or eat near a dead body. The very nature of food will draw that energy in that direction. So if you are cooking or eating near a dead body where the life energies are still exiting, you will be eating your own relative in some way. This may sound very extreme, but it is so because food will draw these energies. This is why, traditionally, people don’t cook in the house where death has occurred for a period of fourteen days. People bring food from outside, for the people there. But it is not good to eat there either.

The very process of eating itself makes a person vulnerable to influences. The moments of eating and sexuality are the times when a human being becomes far more vulnerable than other times because, essentially, human structure has to open up in some way to take it in. This is the reason why you must bring down the number of times you eat so that you retain the integrity of the system. You can clearly observe this: those who eat all the time, even if they eat less, will not have integrity of system. Sexuality, food and even constantly sipping water opens up the body to various influences that will not always work positively for people. It is in this context that a yogi opens his or her body only when absolutely needed and that too in a structured and disciplined manner. Constant ingestion loosens the general integrity of the subtler dimensions of the body. You will see that the people who keep munching on something all the time will become loose in the head. It is not that they become fat, that is not the point. They become loose in every way, there is nothing of strength or vibrancy or capability simply because they are opening their system all the time. Also, you do not eat simply anywhere and everywhere. Always, in India, you never want to be seen by strangers when you are eating. You don’t eat with just anyone. You eat only with people who know you, with people who have good intentions for you. But today, even if it is your enemy, meetings happen over dinner. But at least around a dead body, you should avoid eating.

One should also avoid unnecessary touching of the dead body. Whatever touching you need to do should be to clean or bathe or move the body, but one should avoid unnecessarily holding the body, hugging, and all that. That is not good for you or that life which is exiting. One more thing is that you do not leave the dead body alone. In India, if someone close to you dies, you are supposed to keep a ghee, butter or sesame-oil lamp burning near the body. People are supposed to sit and watch—no one leaves a dead body alone. The lamp’s flame has a purificatory effect and is like Klesha Nashana Kriya. If it is a regular death, the lamp is to be placed at the feet. If it is an elevated exit, then the lamp is to be placed at the head to have a purificatory impact upon the exiting energy. If there is qualified help, then they may choose to light the lamp over a specific part of the body. The lamp can be lit even up to fourteen days after the body is cremated or buried.

Paying Respects to the Dead

In almost all parts of the world, if someone is dead, people who knew the person come and pay their respects for who he or she was. But in India, a dead person is generally treated as a Divine being and one bows down to them. It does not matter who they were when they were alive. When they were alive, maybe they did not deserve any kind of respect, but now that they are dead, people bow down to them. This is not out of joy that the person is gone. They bow down to him or her because he or she is no more that person. Now, what is left and what is hovering around is of a different nature. This is life. This is the basis of life, and with that you don’t argue. You don’t question its wisdom. You just bow down because it is way beyond you.

The Belongings of the Dead Person

When a person is dead, the articles of clothing that have been intimately in touch with their body, such as the underclothes, must be burned immediately. Other clothes, jewellery and other articles are distributed not just to one person but among many people within three days. Everything is distributed as quickly as possible so that the being gets confused. It will not know where to hang around any more. If you were to give a bundle of their belongings to one person, the being would go there because the energy of their own body still exists in the clothes and they are attracted to it. This is done not only to settle the dead but also to settle the family and relatives so that they too understand that it is over. It does not matter how involved or attached you were to someone when it is done, the game is up.

To Burn or Bury

You will see if someone very dear to you is dead and their body is there, you will keep on hallucinating, ‘Maybe they are just sleeping, maybe they will sit up, maybe some miracle will happen. Maybe something else will happen.’ You know, this will go on unnecessarily. You will see people crying and a big emotional drama happening. But the moment the body is cremated, you will see everyone becomes silent. Always. Because now everyone knows the game is up. The cremation of bodies has also come from a certain understanding of life. The idea of burning is that no trace of you should remain. Once you are gone, you are clean gone. Nothing of you should remain. But if someone exits their body consciously, or even if not consciously, they at least left gently or seeped out of the system, then you can bury them. But if they were jolted out of the system, you must burn the body.

Traditionally, in India, you will see agricultural families bury their dead because most of them would have died of old age—they would have seeped out. Kshatriya families, which were the fighting class, always burned their dead because most of them were jolted out of their body either in a war or while fighting somewhere. Even otherwise, these were people who lived flamboyant lifestyles of drinking and doing this and that, so most of the time they broke the body in some way. Such bodies must be burned immediately. But now there is no one to identify all these things, and moreover if you put them in a coffin and bury them, they will not even become part of the Earth for a long time. So I would say if someone dies when they are still young and vibrantly alive, it is better to cremate them. Only if someone dies of old age, you can bury them.

If you understand life very well, absolutely well, you can exit the body in such a way that you exit completely, you gather everything and leave. If you leave like that, then also you can be buried. You have completely exited, so there is no hurry. We can even keep you for a day or two and then bury you. Usually, people build samadhis for such people so that the energies that they have left behind can be made use of by other people.

Even if we bury someone, we should put a layer of salt and turmeric beneath and above the body. Don’t think we are making a stew out of them; the idea is that we want the body to deteriorate as quickly as possible. If you put it in the ground without these things, the body remains intact for a long time and unnecessarily certain processes happen, which are not good. Also, in India, another fear was that there were people doing various kinds of occult sadhanas, who were always looking for a freshly dead body. If you bury the body and go, as soon as you go, they will come and dig it up. In recent times, you don’t hear much of such things, but it used to happen often in the past. If you put salt, that body becomes useless for them. If they know you put salt, they will not dig up the grave.

There are also certain cultures which practise feeding the carrion to scavenger birds. As we know, among sailors, there is a practice of burial at sea. These practices have come out of convenience. Certain religions originated where there was hardly any wood to burn, hence burial has become big. There was no question of burning because fuel was extremely precious in desert lands. Moreover, burial was easy in the sand. A pit could be dug with bare hands and covered up. Perhaps the custom to bury the dead in a box came into existence as wild animals smelled them and dug out the bodies. Slowly, the boxes became more and more elaborate. With the passage of time, today, most coffins are more and more ornamental, made of hardwood, steel and even concrete. If you bury a body in these types of coffins, they will just rot inside. They will not become a part of the earth for a very, very long time. This is not good.

Another reason for avoiding burial is the question of what you leave behind. You should experiment with this and see. Enter a burial ground and see how it feels, then enter a cremation ground and see how it feels. Let us say, five cremations have happened today, the cremation ground will be very active, alive with energy. This is a lot of life, but if you don’t have a balanced mind, it can be a very fearful kind of energy. Fearful not because of anything else but because in some way it reminds you of your mortality. It is almost like there has been a sacrifice here—that kind of energy. Yogis and tantriks wanted to hang around such places because they had learned to use that energy in a positive way. So what cremation leaves behind is something that is quite alive, but this is not the case with burial.

If you go to a burial ground, you will see there is a rotting kind of energy. Rotting may not be the right word because it is not because the body is rotting. It is a slow release of that same energy. Besides, because the energy hangs around for too long, it has intermingled in so many ways with too many lives and the net result is a very stale kind of energy. Burial grounds do not cause fear in you, but very easily a certain sadness or depressive mood can set in in a person just by visiting there, even if no one dear to them was buried there. This is like the feeling you get in a general ward in a government hospital. It is neither life nor death. This is not a good thing to leave behind for future generations.

Bringing Home the Body

People have this strong sentiment that wherever the person died, his or her body should be brought home for burial or cremation. At one time, this would have had some relevance because many traditional people in this country would not eat anything which was grown in a place that was beyond a day’s walking distance from their homes. Nothing from outside that area was consumed. Whenever they travelled, they also carried their food with them. They did not want to eat food from anywhere and everywhere. So they developed a strong resonance and a very existential relationship with the land on which they were living. If you lived like that, dying in that place and being buried in that place could be very important.

Today, we eat things which come from around the world or at least around the country and, moreover, we are loitering all over the planet. So where you are buried does not matter so much any more. It is more an emotional thing. And if you are already in a foreign country, we don’t know how much of that country you carry. So, existentially, it does not matter as to where you dispose of the body, but, emotionally, it does matter for people. Moreover, there is this element of practicality too. All the family and friends who would have wanted to participate in the funeral are more likely to be around your own home, so it makes more sense to bring the body back because many of them may not be able to travel to the place where this person died.

Cleansing the House

Whenever a death occurs in a place or a dwelling, generally, there are some cleansing processes that are to be done. This is not just for some hygiene reasons; you want to wipe off that energy completely from that place. If you want to cleanse the homes or dwellings, you can do Punya Pooja  or something similar, which will work very well. You can also cleanse it by taking a vibrant fire, like a camphor fire, all over the house. Just like we do klesha nashana for the individual body, similarly, you can do klesha nashana for the entire house. Doing some chants in that space also could be very beneficial.

This need for cleansing is not just for the places where death happens. Traditionally, even if you attended a funeral, you had to bathe, cleanse yourself properly and change your clothes before you even entered the house or touched anything there. In some cultures, the clothes you wore to the funeral were to be never used again. It was burned because it gathers a certain aura of death, and you don’t want to carry that and walk around.

Tonsuring the Head after Cremation

A common after-death Hindu ritual is tonsuring of the head of the male relatives of the deceased. This shaving of the head came into practice when people generally kept a lot of hair on their head. Today, they are anyway cutting it every month or so, so whether you shave or not may not make much difference. But normally people used to have long hair, and hair is one thing that can easily gather a certain amount of aura. You know that hair gathers static. People who have a lot of hair have static—it will be crackling sometimes in certain weather. Hair has this capability. Similarly, if you have been in the house where death has occurred or you are related to that person, you gather an aura of death, particularly in your hair. It hangs around you.

So if you have a lot of hair, you shave it so that the aura is gone. This is the reason why they tonsure the heads of newborn babies also. When you were in your mother’s womb, you gathered that aura. After birth, the aura of that is still there. If it stays with you, you will not grow well. So they wait for four to five months, so that the baby is reasonably grown and stable in health, and then they shave the head. Shaving the child’s head also aids in the development of the brain by moving energies towards the head region.

Spreading the Ashes

After the death has happened, it can take up to forty days for the being to completely leave the body. Even if you have burned the physical body, they will look for certain elements of the body like the ash or maybe their used clothes or something that belonged to them. It could be the sweat or smell of the body because, still the realization has not come that it is over. This is not desirable, so we want to eliminate it. One of the things that is done for this is to scatter the ashes as widely as possible.

After cremation, if you keep the ash in one place, there is a tendency for the being to look for that. So they are put in a river where they get really spread out. That way they cannot be found. The effort is to do everything possible to make the being understand that it is over. This is also for the living to understand that it is all over. Otherwise you will keep the ash in a pot in your house and you will become unnecessarily emotional about it.

Another reason why you disperse the ash is that you want to prevent its misuse. Usually, occult practitioners always gather ash from the cremation ground when they want to do those types of rituals, where they want to attract a disembodied being towards them. They will be waiting—they will be sitting in the cremation ground as if they are out there to help you. Generally, if they want to do a certain type of ritual, they will steal the body itself. It is usually the Aghoris who do this. They are always looking for a young, vibrant dead body so they can sit on the dead body and do sadhana. Using the Vyana Vayu, which is still receding in the body, they will activate that body and they will ride that body in a certain way. Or they want to use their own energies to activate the dead body to do certain things. In the past, it was not uncommon. Another kind of people also look for the ashes: these are occult practitioners who misuse it. This is sorcery.

It is because of all these reasons that when someone dear to you dies, you want to make sure this ash is scattered as wide as possible. You don’t want your dead relatives to come searching for it or become victims of sorcery. So you take the ash and put it in the rivers. Or you go to a mountain and, where the wind is strong, you throw it into the air so that it spreads all over. In the past, this misuse was not uncommon but today there are hardly a handful of people who are capable of it. But still it is best to scatter the ashes so that the being does not get drawn towards it.

Is It All Right to Donate Organs

I would say, even if you have not lived your life in a useful manner, in death at least you could be useful! So if someone can use the dead body, it is fine. We already saw that all people don’t die the same way, just as all people don’t live the same way. If you look at it technically, people can die out of any one of the chakras. One can die in any one of these dimensions. If one has died in a certain way, by consciously exiting the body, then it is not good to dismember one’s body. But if people have died in normal ways, it is all right to do it. The problem again is, who is there capable enough to decide this? Moreover, when someone is dead, can one go and tell someone, ‘Okay, your father has died in a bad way, so you can cut open the body and donate the organs?’ It is not socially advisable or even possible. So it is better that organ donation is open for everyone rather than making exceptions to it. Moreover, if it is going to be useful for someone, maybe it is better to do it. Strictly speaking, there are some disadvantages for certain people if the organs are taken out, but it is okay if someone is going to see through your eyes or live better through your organs.

Now, people ask if one is on the spiritual path, can one donate organs? I think, except for the kidney and a few other things, you are donating the organs only after you are dead. So donate it, what is the problem? The question is: Is the little bit of gouging the body that they do after death okay for a spiritual person? After one is dead, anyway you burn the body or bury it. If you bury it, the organs will get donated to the worms or plants. They also make use of it. If you take away an eyeball, the worms will not miss it. If you die in an accident or something, where the body is broken but still all these organs are fine, we can take them. It is all right. It has nothing to do with spirituality. It is only an emotional problem. If something is useful for someone, if they can see or live making use of it, it is okay. Moreover, for a person to die with the intention—‘Let my body be useful to ten people’—is a good thing.

Some people donate their entire body for research purposes. These bodies will be preserved for a long time and cut open to the maximum. If they start cutting the body within the first eleven to fourteen days, there is definitely a little bit of harm to that person. If that is the case, then we can do something so that they completely exit. After that, how their body is used, it does not matter. But I think it will be well beyond fourteen days before they start cutting it for education or research purposes. At that time, it is just like a piece of vegetable. Whether you give it to the doctors or bury it or burn it, it makes no difference to that individual.

Now, some people worry that if karma is encoded into even the minutest aspect of our lives, then do the organs that are received through transplantation also bring the karma of the donor along with them? People have been doing blood transfusions for ages now. Blood is far more vital than any other organ and in fact goes all over the body, to every organ. It has access to everything, including your brain. But people are doing fine with blood transfusion, so this should also be fine. Definitely, there is something that you acquire, but the benefit outweighs the risks. Is it the best thing to do? No. But is it something that you do if it is needed? Yes. If the organ is not suitable, or in some way not going well with the body, it will anyway reject it.

The problem is that we have too much emotion about these things. Your kidneys are just filters. If you own a diesel car, every 10,000 kilometres or so you replace the fuel filter. So, similarly, you are replacing your kidney filter. The question is, your filter has already been used, it is a second-hand filter. So is there a problem? Maybe. So, now, they are trying to grow new filters in the lab. They are growing the liver, kidney, spleen, and whatever is needed, in the lab and storing it. When you need it, you can have it ready-made. It is a good new filter. You can put it in because the body is a mechanical thing. Maybe you will turn spiritual more easily if you have all organs replaced because you will have no sense of your own body. It is a good thing because you don’t have to tell such people, ‘You are not the body!’ They know they are not their heart, they are not their liver, they are not their kidney!

Dematerializing the Body

All the after-death rituals are mainly for the right disposal of the physical body and for assisting the being in its future journey. However, there are people who help themselves and do not require any assistance from anybody for this. These are highly accomplished yogis—they not only leave their body at will, they also dematerialize it. It is as if they do not want to trouble anyone with the cremation process! Such a body does not get destroyed, it gets dematerialized. It has moved from Creation to non-Creation. The whole process that you see in the Existence is from non-Creation to Creation, from unmanifest to manifest. But here the reverse is happening. A yogi with enough mastery of the five elements can do that to his body.

There have been many yogis like this. When they leave, some people leave ash behind, but many times all that is left is a small puddle of water. How is this done? Essentially, this body is a play of five elements: 72 per cent of it is water, 12 per cent is earth, 6 per cent is air, 4 per cent is fire and the rest is aakash. With aakash, you don’t have to do anything. If you know how to dematerialize these other things, especially the earth, you will evaporate right here. These people dematerialize water also, but because it is a larger part of your body, some amount of it usually gets left out. A little lack of perfection, that is all. This has happened with many of our meditators who have Linga Bhairavi Yantras in their homes. On some days, in the morning, they find a puddle of water near the Yantra. The previous night they would have cleaned everything and lit a lamp and all that, but in the morning, there is a puddle of water there. There is nothing to worry about. This is because some disembodied being has used the Yantra to dissolve its karmic body completely and, in the process, there is some water left behind. It is perfectly all right.

There are also some instances in recent history where such dematerializations have been reported. In the year 1873, a Tamil saint named Ramalinga Adigal, popularly known as Vallalar, delivered his last discourse and announced that he would be ‘leaving’. In January 1874, he went to his one-room residence. Before retiring, he placed outside the lamp he had used to light up his room with, and asked people to meditate with lamps lit from that lamp. He requested that nobody should open his room, and that if they did, they would not find him there. The then British government forced open the room in May, and, expectedly, the room was empty. There are many such instances where saints and yogis have chosen not to bother people with their bodies.

Another such incident is supposed to have happened as recently as 1952 in Tibet. There was a famous Master named Sonam Namgyal. He was a simple stone carver of mantras and sacred texts. He did not belong to any established spiritual schools or tradition. He composed his own songs and chants and sang them instead of the traditional ones. No one had any idea what he was doing. They say he had been a hunter in his youth and once when he was wandering in the mountains he had received teachings from a great Master. Once, he fell ill, and instead of becoming saddened or burdened by it, he became increasingly happy. He called his family and everyone nearby and said, ‘I am going to die soon, and all I ask is that when I die, don’t move my body for a week. You can attend to it after that.’

As predicted, he died within a few weeks and, after that, his family wrapped his body and placed the body in a small room in the house. At that time, they felt he seemed lighter and smaller for his size. Over the week, when they looked into the room, it seemed that the body was getting smaller and smaller. On the eighth day after his death, the funeral had been arranged, and when they uncovered the body, there was nothing but his nails and hair inside. He must have wandered into India and learned this from the Himalayan yogis at some point because this is clearly the hallmark of Indian yogis.

Dematerializing of the body can be done through occult processes also. It has very much been in practice for centuries, particularly in North American tribes. Once, in Mysore, I saw this happen. I was riding my motorcycle and had stopped at some place for no real reason. It was evening time and suddenly this bearded man appeared in front of me, with just a towel wrapped around his waist. I looked at him and he became a flame, just a burning flame. He burned for ten minutes and then, poof , he was gone. Then this guy started appearing in so many ways to me, during a certain period. I would try to offer some money and, poof , he would disappear just like that.

It happened another time also when we were preparing for the consecration of the Dhyanalinga. This was again in Mysore. A friend of mine had opened a new showroom for watches and had asked me to visit it. Vijji and I decided to go there one day. I parked the car and we were walking across the road. When we were about to enter the store, a man approached us. He was also wearing just a small piece of cloth around his waist. He came and asked for alms. I looked at him and immediately knew he was not a beggar. So I pulled out my wallet, took out all the money that was there and put it in his hand.  I did not even see how much money was there. I just took it all and placed it in his hand. The next moment he was gone, he vanished just like that.

Vijji, who saw the whole thing, was aghast. She got so terrified, she could not sleep for a few days. She could not digest that this man was standing there and then he vanished—just like that. I did not pursue this. I regretted I kept the wallet—I should have just given everything to him. I had a few things other than money in it, so I kept it.

These are people who have mastered a certain element. They exist as that. Their manifestation as a physical body is probably not totally in their control and they cannot stay that way for long. This is why it is a momentary manifestation and then it is gone. So either through mastery over the elements, or through Vamachara , people are able to pull off such things.





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