Everybody will die one day – rich or poor, healthy or diseased, nobody escapes passing through death’s gate. In this article we examine what mystics mean when they say, “Learn to die so that you may begin to live and live forever.”
Mystics tell us that everything in this physical realm must change and eventually end – nothing lasts forever. Everything we cling to will be taken away from us. Our body is made of the five elements and must return to its source. The Christian burial rite expresses this as, “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”
From a worldly perspective, such thoughts are considered gloomy. Why would we want to dwell on the moment when life is extinguished? No one has returned from death to tell us what happens. We may be aware that there are people who have had near death experiences or returned from what the doctors describe as clinical death, but their accounts cannot be verified, and we are left with our fears. By taking a narrow materialistic approach to death and seeing it as a purely physical event – nothing more than the extinction of the physical body – it’s no wonder we feel gloomy.
The Masters of Surat Shabd Yoga explain the process of death in different terms. They tell us that we are body, mind and soul, and that the soul is a particle of Shabd. What we call death occurs when the soul that once occupied our body departs to eventually enter another body. A Master who practices Surat Shabd Yoga is one who, in life, can withdraw the soul from mind and body and take it to a reality of the highest order, to the spiritual realm of divine consciousness. Therefore, talk of death is far from gloomy for practising satsangis. Going beyond the physical, or “dying while living” during meditation, is what a practising satsangi aspires to. Death may be humankind’s greatest fear, but for the disciples of a true Master it is a joyous occasion, because they have been practising since initiation. Meditation is preparation for perfecting how to die. In the Bible, Saint Paul referred to his meditation practice when he said, “I die daily.” Christ described that same mystic death, when he said, “If thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.”
Mystics tell us that according to one’s actions through life, one passes after death into the body of a higher or lower being. If we love the world and the things to be found here, we will return here, being reborn into whichever species our mental inclinations lead us. Equally, if our aim is the higher spheres, that attachment will draw us to those regions. The present Master tells us that what happens at the time of death will be the logical conclusion of what we have done during our life, reiterating those words from the Bible, “As you sow, so shall you reap”.
Christ also told us that we go where our treasure is, meaning that we go where our thoughts are. If we are focused on the divine, we go to the Lord. So, if we follow the instructions of a true Master the logical consequence is that our attention will be focused within during that final hour. The idea that a person will go permanently to heaven, after being strongly attached to this world all through life, runs counter to the divine law. We must return to this world, if we are attached to it. So mystics plead with us to “know thyself” – we must attempt to contact the inner reality of Shabd within, whilst living.We must understand that ‘I’ am soul, and not this body, which will ultimately be discarded.
The mystics experience death as the casting off an old, worn-out garment. They are conscious of the fact that human life is temporary, and they prepare themselves (and teach us) how to be ready for death’s inevitable arrival. They describe dying as the end of suffering, the liberation of the soul, a merging into light and love, and a return to ultimate reality.
For the mystics, death is the change from darkness to light. So, when death takes a son, a daughter, a spouse or a parent, they do not question it. The problem the rest of us face is that we are so involved with daily living we find it difficult to accept that, at the physical level, this life is part of an endless chain of events controlled by destiny. Mystics explain that life does not begin with birth or end with death. When we accept reincarnation and karma not as a theory or some mental concept, but as a basic spiritual law, then we understand that death and life are part of nature’s cycles, just like summer and winter. However, the saints and mystics caution us that reliance on salvation after death (entailing no effort in life) is the height of self-deception. They say if salvation is not found during life, it will not automatically be ours after death.
The karmic web is extremely complex, the general rule being that what goes around comes around. Only by direct perception through meditation can we understand that from the spiritual perspective, everything is the Lord’s will, and all is as it should be. It really is possible for all of us to go through this life joyfully and without fear, but we cannot do so until we reach the point when, through meditation, we realize that this body is an illusion; it is not real but is merely a vehicle to be used for the purpose of spiritual realization. And that was precisely the message of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ and indeed all mystics who were physically persecuted.
They showed us through their physical suffering that this body is only a vehicle and we need not be overcome by its hardships. The Masters tell us that we will never find eternal peace and happiness while in this physical body. In the lower species one creature must kill another in order to survive, and even as discriminating humans we cannot avoid a degree of killing. This world was created to be in constant conflict and discord, leaving us highly vulnerable if we rely on material conditions and worldly relationships to give us happiness.
We are all too often let down, disappointed by circumstances, other people, and beliefs in which we put our trust. At the time of death, we experience the total disintegration of all the elements in our body, our whole life dripping away. However, for the disciples of a true Master it is different because they experience his loving care. During the whole process of the physical death of the body, the Shabd Master gives his support.
If our faith is unshakeable and we devote the prescribed time to daily meditation with no worldly desires, then there is no rebirth, no power that can bring us back. For the mystic, rebirth into this world would be the equivalent of death. To be liberated from the cycle of reincarnation is equivalent to life, when the soul is free. Hence it is said that when we contact the Shabd Master within, we will not die when we physically die. Our physical death is the final awakening. Each time we sit in meditation, we can remind ourselves that the Master who initiated us is extending a personal invitation to us to enter the inner sanctum of the court of the Lord, right now in this very lifetime. And that’s why initiation by a true Master is the greatest gift of all. Once initiated, we must make the spiritual journey sooner or later. Whether we are initiates or non-initiates, death is the one thing in our lives that is definite.