Like corn that decays and is born again, the mortal like corn is born again. —Katha Upanishad 1.1.6.
Since we are born, it’s certain that we will all die one day. Yet instead of embracing the inevitable, we deny it and fear it.
Death portends the end of all that we know and are familiar with. We’ll have to leave behind all our relationships, skills and possessions and step into the great unknown. This is why the fear of death is so pervasive.
Our fear stems from a sense of mistaken identity. We think that the body, mind and personality are who we are. But this is only our apparent, temporary identity. Our true identity is something totally different.
The spiritual writings of the Bhagavad Gitatell us that we are the immortal soul expressing in a human body. The body is like a garment that we wear. It’s merely an outer covering that we remove and replace when we don’t need it anymore.
When we come to understand that the life that we live now is only one of the numerous lives we have lived and will continue to live, we won’t fear death. Death will then simply be a bridge to another life and new experiences.
The personality continues to exist after death
When the physical body dies, the soul remains ever-present and unchanging.
In addition, all the following aspects of the individual personality continue to exist and function as before:
- The sense of individuality (the ego)
- inherent tendencies
- emotional and intellectual capacities,
- the ability to hear, touch, see, taste and smell
- physiological functions such as perception, digestion, assimilation, excretion and circulation
- the ability to act such as to speak, to use the hands and the legs.
You can think of this list as the software that functions in the physical body that is the hardware. The soul is the enlivening factor that carries the software from body to body and enables it to function in each body.
Dada (Father) J.P. Vaswani was a spiritual teacher who wrote a book called, Life after Death. The book explains the process of death and follows the journey of the soul after it drops the body up until it is reborn in another body. It’s a fascinating read and I highly recommend it.
Here’s a little summary of what’s in the book:
The etheric double
A subtle body called the etheric double permeates the physical body. It’s identical in form to the physical body but it’s not perceptible to the five senses.
The etheric double takes in cosmic energy through the breath and distributes it to each and every cell of the physical body. This energy keeps the body alive and enables all its functions including breathing, thinking and feeling.
The etheric double serves no other purpose except to keep the body alive. So long as it is in the physical body, the body can breathe and function.
The Silver Cord
The etheric double is connected to the physical body through a silver cord.
At the time of death, the soul leaves the physical body through the silver cord and finds itself in the etheric double.
The silver cord is made of subtle energy and its reach is limitless. As long as it’s unbroken, the etheric double can re-enter the physical body and bring it back to life. In the case of people who’ve had near death experiences, they were able to return to their physical bodies because the silver cord was still attached. But as soon as the silver cord is cut, the etheric double is set free and the body falls down dead.
While in the etheric double, the individual soul is able to see, think, feel and function perfectly because the “software” remains intact. The individual doesn’t experience any of the physical ailments or impediments that he or she may have been experiencing before such as pain, disease or blindness.
After spending some time in the etheric double, the individual soul falls into a deep sleep. When it wakes up, it finds itself in an astral body in the astral world.
The Astral World
The astral world is a vast world with infinite levels of vibrating frequencies. The upper levels vibrate at higher, more refined frequencies and the lower levels vibrate at slower, denser frequencies.
The higher levels are regions with greater light, beauty, joys, choices and opportunities. The lower regions have progressively lesser light, beauty, joys, choices and opportunities.
Each individual soul acquires a certain vibration while living on earth. The more loving, kind, unselfish and noble an individual, the higher its frequency.
The individual soul is allowed free access to any level it wishes to visit. However, it’s unable to maintain its place where the vibrations are not in tune with its own.
For example, if an individual with a lower vibration goes to the higher regions, it feels choked and blinded as the light there is too strong for it. It is forced to descend and seek out the level which is in consonance with its own vibration.
In the astral world, thought is all-powerful. One only has to think of something and it manifests.
This can be a curse or a blessing, depending on the type of thoughts an individual was habituated to keeping while in the physical body. So, if someone was a worrier and inclined to conjure negative scenarios, those things will immediately manifest.
In the astral world, an individual soul goes through certain experiences through which it learns to rise above its desires. This is also where heaven and hell are experienced.
Dada Vaswani explains that there is no actual place called hell where souls are sent to suffer as punishment for their sins. But he does admit that there is a purgatory.
He describes purgatory as a psychic quarantine where Individuals are cleansed of their impurities.
In purgatory, each individual soul is forced to come face to face with the repercussions of its misdeeds. It is made to see and feel how its actions impacted the lives of others. This realisation brings great suffering to the individual.
The individual soul is purified of all the sins that it can bear, and no more. The results of the rest will have to be experienced as some sort of suffering when the individual is reborn in another lifetime.
Heaven is a place of wish-fulfillment. All desires of a higher nature that an individual was unable to enjoy on earth are experienced here.
Creative faculties are given free play. Individuals can readily create what they want from their own thoughts.
And so, individuals with desires to paint, sing, make music, dance, speak different languages, travel and so on, are able to experience and fulfill all those desires here.
When an individual soul has fulfilled its desires, it outgrows them and rises to higher levels in heaven. It also learns lessons in altruistic living here.
In this way the individual soul continues to ascend higher and higher until its desires are overcome and earthly ties are cut.
Then, the individual soul falls into a deep sleep once again. . .
The World of Gods
When the individual soul wakes up, it finds itself in the World of the Gods.
In this world, the individual soul carries only the highest qualities and virtues that it had expressed on earth. These are unconditional love and noble virtues such as divine faith, humility, compassion, truthfulness, patience, and the like.
Here, the individual soul continues to grow in consciousness by acquiring spiritual knowledge. Eventually it realises that it is divine and that it is one with the supreme truth or God.
From this higher vantage point, the individual soul can look backward and forward in time and come to grasp the great cosmic plan and the part that it has to play in it.
In this sublimely serene atmosphere, the individual soul formulates its plans for its next birth.
Dada Vaswani tells us that the sorrows and misfortunes that we experience in our earthly lives are not random. We designed them ourselves during our time in the World of the Gods.
These experiences are all necessary to cleanse us of the negative results of our past actions and for the unfoldment of our own spiritual nature.
The great game of life requires us to realise our own divine nature while we are in our human bodies. Until we accomplish this, we will continue to go through the cycles of birth and death.
Death is like a sunset
It’s clear that our lives don’t end at the death of the body. As Swami Chinmayananda puts it, “Your present life is but one incident in the eternal existence of the soul.”
It’s a good idea to keep this in mind.
Death can be compared to a sunset. Even when the sun appears to set here, it’s actually rising somewhere else. Similarly, death here is actually the start of life elsewhere.
There is life after life.
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