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Life Hereafter

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  • Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati
    From: Conscious Living By Swami Rama ISBN 8188157031 Reprinted with permission of the Publisher Copyright Himalayan Institute Hospital Trust
    Message 1 of 1 , May 1, 2008
      From: Conscious Living
      By Swami Rama
      ISBN 8188157031
      Reprinted with permission of the Publisher
      Copyright Himalayan Institute Hospital Trust

      Swami Rama

      Death is a solemn experience, a change from which no one can escape.
      One who does not prepare for it is a fool.

      The discussion about life after death has been going on since the
      dawn of history, but no definite conclusion about the immortality of
      the soul can be reached by those who are on an intellectual plane and
      are not spiritually awakened. It is not possible to understand what
      exists after death by intellectual arguments or discussions. The
      absolute Truth cannot be scientifically proven because it cannot be
      observed, verified, or demonstrated by sense perceptions. The Atman
      is beyond sense perceptions. Scientific experimentation, confined by
      its own limitations, cannot reveal the highest truth. That is why the
      scientists cannot reach any concrete conclusions on the immortality
      of the soul and life hereafter, and nothing can convince them either.
      The materialist finds it difficult to believe that anything continues
      to exist after death. One who lives on sense perceptions only cannot
      catch a glimpse of the beyond.

      One has certain expectations of life after death according to his or
      her religious beliefs. People dream of immortality and wish for
      heaven. They comfort one another with the thought that the departed
      loved one is now with God forever. The religious hold that in heaven
      there are plenty of watersheds, fruits, beautiful women, music,
      dancing, and so on. Followers of certain sects believe in a heaven of
      heroes where battles are fought against their enemies and against
      ferocious animals. All these heavens are nothing but mental realms
      where one's highest desires are allegedly fulfilled.

      Everyone has certain desires that they consider to be the most
      delectable, and at the same time they wish for a realm where such
      desires could possibly be fulfilled. Therefore, the longing for a
      heaven projects a realm that is a replica of the heaven one has
      sought to achieve. This heaven is a projection of one's own ideas and
      desires that is no more real than are dreams. When a person dreams,
      she may think she is in heaven till she wakes up. On waking, the
      reality of the dream vanishes. Dreams and heavens are realities only
      under certain conditions.

      The idea of heaven was conceived by the ancient seers of India, but
      they did not consider it to be an eternal state, as some religions
      do. Outside of Hinduism and Buddhism, the concept of heaven implies
      an eternal existence. According to Hindu philosophy, the idea of an
      eternal heaven is a practical impossibility. Heaven or any other kind
      of existence after death is not static but is determined by one's own
      thoughts and actions. Those who experience heavenly realms and enjoy
      celestial pleasures can do so only as long as their good deeds and
      thoughts entitle them to. There is always a limit to good deeds and
      thoughts, and likewise, there will be a limit to the results accruing
      from them. The word eternal denotes that which is beginningless and
      endless. According to Vedanta, heaven cannot by its nature be
      eternal, for all things that are subject to the laws of time, space,
      and causation are impermanent and perishable. All worldly pleasures
      are limited by time; they do not continue forever. Celestial
      pleasures are akin to the pleasures of the world. Even though they
      may be experienced for a long time, they must eventually come to an
      end. Those desires that cannot be fulfilled anywhere except in the
      world will bring the soul back to the physical plane of existence.

      At the time of death the soul discards the body, its outer garment.
      Yama told Nachiketa that after the body is dead and destroyed, the
      soul continues to exist. There are spiritual realms where the soul
      remains without the help of the physical body or the phenomena of the
      material universe. These realms are not cognizable to the sense
      organs and can be perceived only through spiritual intuition.

      Unrealized souls remain in the realm of the departed ones for an
      uncertain period after death. They have gone through the ordinary
      process of death because they could not realize the true nature of
      the real Self on this plane.
      Much of the fear associated with death is the fear that death may be
      painful. The process of death itself is not painful; it merely
      changes conditions. Lack of preparation and attachment are the cause
      of the pain experienced at the time of death. Death is never painful
      for one who is prepared and has acquired knowledge of Atman. Such an
      individual remains detached from the body and bodily senses, and is
      unaffected by bodily changes. Death may be painful and lead to a
      sorrowful state when the soul is very attached to the physical plane,
      things of the world, or individuals. At the time of death such a soul
      suffers and goes through agony because it is unable to completely let
      go of those attachments.

      Between life and death there is an intermediate state in which prana
      ceases functioning. If one is not prepared for this moment, he will
      suffer mental tortures and will not be able to explain or express
      anything to others. One who has known the Reality is saved from this

      In the transition of death, before the external vehicle is completely
      dropped, those who are not enlightened experience various temporary
      levels or realms, pleasant or painful, respectively—depending on
      previously performed, positive or negative, karmas. For example, in
      pitriloka we meet our ancestors or dear ones, and in svargaloka we
      enjoy various pleasures. The Tibetan Book of the Dead and the Garuda
      Purana of Hinduism explain extensively the stages through which one
      passes in the process of discarding the body.

      There are different heavenly realms, lower and higher, depending on
      the purity and impurity of one's mental constituents that remain even
      after the physical body is dropped. For the ignorant, death is a long
      and deep sleep, interspersed with dreamlike heavenly or hellish
      visions. Those who claim to communicate with departed souls are
      either hallucinating or lying. When someone is in deep sleep, it is
      not possible to communicate with anyone. Only enlightened souls can
      communicate with others after death because they remain fully
      conscious all the time.

      Those who have performed good deeds, have led righteous and selfless
      lives, and have obtained some perfection in this life, can enjoy a
      clear vision of the divine Self in the highest realm. However, the
      wise say that the highest attainment and realization of the Self can
      be had only in this very life. Heavenly realms like pitriloka and
      svargaloka cannot reveal the highest truth. Liberation cannot be
      attained in these realms and the various pleasures of heaven can
      hinder the soul from realizing the Atman. Self-realization is
      possible only here in this life and not after death. Those who
      believe that they can realize the real Self in the realm of the
      departed soul after death will be sadly disillusioned. Those who do
      not realize the immortal nature of the Atman before the dissolution
      of the body lose the great opportunity which comes through a human
      birth. The attainment of Brahman is possible only here in this life
      and not in life hereafter.

      According to Vedanta the human being consists of five sheaths or
      koshas: the gross, physical sheath (annamaya sharira), the sheath of
      prana (pranamaya sharira), the mental sheath (manomaya sharira), the
      sheath of intellect (vijnanamaya sharira), and the blissful sheath
      (anandamaya sharira). They are called sheaths because they cover the
      Atman as a sheath covers a sword. They are described as being formed
      of successive layers, one upon another. The physical sheath is the
      outermost, and the blissful sheath is the innermost. The Atman
      remains separate and detached from all these five sheaths.

      At the time of death the physical body, along with the conscious
      mind, are separated from the immortal part. There are no sense
      perceptions after death because the sense organs are left behind with
      the body. Senses do not function on the subtle level.

      In the process of discarding the outer vehicles or sheaths after
      death, one comes briefly in touch with the blissful sheath,
      anandamaya sharira. Those persons who have documented near death
      experiences are describing this brief contact when they speak of
      being drawn to a brilliant light that overwhelms them with love. Such
      experiences are possible but they have nothing to do with Self-
      realization or enlightenment. These momentary experiences do not have
      the capability to transform anyone or bestow extraordinary powers
      such as clairvoyance or the energy to heal others. If one remains in
      darkness and ignorance through-out life, how is it possible to come
      in touch with the Atman even for a brief moment at the time of death?
      If a lamp has many coverings, the light can be seen but it is very
      dim. When all the coverings are removed, the light is clearly
      visible. To see the light is not enlightenment, but to realize the
      light within is the real experience. This is not the light of the
      sun, moon, or stars; it is the light of wisdom and eternal bliss.
      There is no other experience comparable to enlightenment. Death has
      no power to enlighten anyone. The seeker should make sincere efforts
      to prepare for the next step and should try to attain enlightenment
      here and now while on the earthly plane, instead of hoping to be
      enlightened after death.

      Ignorant souls go to heaven or return to earth for the satisfaction
      of their unfulfilled desires. He who desires is born. One who does
      not desire is not reborn. According to the theory of rebirth, a soul
      is born again and again, depending on the merits or demerits of its
      actions, so that in every successive birth it may acquire more and
      more knowledge, and in the end attain perfect liberation.

      This theory of rebirth cannot be proved by modern scientific methods.
      A scientific approach can only treat it as a plausible theory which
      is in conformity with the laws of cause and effect, that are the very
      basis of the physical universe. The rishis of the Upanishads were not
      impressed by the theory of eternal retribution in heaven or hell, for
      such a hypothesis is based on a disproportionate relationship between
      cause and effect. Life on earth is short and full of temptations. To
      inflict upon the soul eternal punishment for the errors of a few
      years, or even of a whole lifetime, is to throw to the winds all
      sense of proportion. The ancient seers developed the doctrine of
      rebirth on a rational basis, showing that it is unfulfilled desires
      that bring about a soul's embodiment. The length of time the soul
      must spend in the transition of death before taking another body is
      solely dependent on the intensity of desires. There is no hard and
      fast rule set by nature.

      Many western philosophers such as Pythagoras, Socrates, and Plato
      believed in the theory of rebirth. Nowhere in the Christian Bible and
      Zoroastrian scriptures has the doctrine of rebirth been explicitly
      mentioned, nor has either prophet repudiated the theory of rebirth.
      The reason is that during the period of Christ and Zoroaster it was a
      common belief.

      Believing or not believing is not the important consideration for
      one's spiritual uplift. The fact is that if almighty God is kind and
      merciful and decides human destiny, there should not be any disparity
      in His creation. Equality is the law of the Absolute, and disparity
      is humanity's making. According to the doctrine of rebirth, we are
      all fully responsible for our lives here and hereafter. Each person
      is born into a world that has been fashioned through the personal
      karmas of his or her past.

      The soul, after fulfilling its desires through the manifestation of
      the body, discards the body and assumes a fresh form. According to
      our desires and tendencies, we are born on a higher or lower plane
      consisting of the various gradations in the subtleties, the levels of
      purification, of the subtlest sheaths. We must not forget that we are
      the creators of our future destiny through our thoughts and deeds. It
      is foolish to think that God punishes the wicked and rewards the

      We do not consciously choose the factors of our next rebirth. They
      are determined, or chosen, by our previous actions, thoughts, and
      desires. This accumulation of grooves or samskaras that define a
      person superficially as personality, travels from one birth to the
      next. The grooves shift like dunes on the desert, responding to the
      experiences and will of the person. They change shape and influence
      over great expanses of time, creating different personalities and
      different incarnations, but all moving toward ultimate liberation.
      The grooves determine the characteristics of the incarnation—whether
      male or female, what parents, any siblings, which station in life,
      the lifespan with how much suffering, how much joy, and so on. There
      is nothing arbitrary about it. The birth is perfectly matched to the
      spiritual needs of the evolving individual soul.

      Those who have realized the transient nature of life on earth or in
      heaven seek to avoid the endless repetition of births and deaths.
      They aspire for Brahma loka, the highest reality beyond the heavens
      from which one never returns. The realized individual remains fully
      aware in all conditions—while living in a human body, and during the
      state of death. The knower of Brahman does not go to any realm or
      heaven, nor does the knower become anything other than what it has
      always been—the Atman, the Self of all. After dropping the physical
      garment, the realized soul remains in a state of perpetual bliss and
      happiness, and infinite love and wisdom. The knower of Atman is like
      a person who has awakened from sleep and dreams no more; she is like
      a blind person whose sight has been restored. A liberated soul who
      has direct experience of the Atman does not come back to the physical
      plane unless he chooses to return to serve others. Such a jivanmukta
      is no longer tossed into the dualities like bondage versus liberation.

      The enlightened soul has burned all the strands of karma which bind
      other human beings. Such a one wields free will and chooses whether
      to be reborn or to merge with the Absolute. If the choice is for
      rebirth, the circumstances of that birth are also consciously
      selected. Such souls, according to Buddhism, are called arhats.

      The secret that has been revealed by the King of Death is the
      greatest of all secrets for every human being who wishes to know
      where he will live after death. For ordinary mortals this remains a
      secret for many births to come. The mysteries of life and death and
      life hereafter are known to only a fortunate few.

      Humanity has learned so much about the material world and how to
      overtake nature. They have worked hard to know the secrets of birth,
      and have found ways to make the process of birth easier and less
      painful. However they have not learned to prepare properly for dying.
      Death is not frightening, but that which is frightening is fear of
      death. Death is like a mother that gives solace to those who have
      wasted their time and energy in enjoying the world—just like chewing
      on a husk that has very little content and does not at all quench the

      Death is but a comma and not a full stop. Death is a solemn
      experience, a change from which no one can escape. One who does not
      prepare for it is a fool.

      The real Self cannot die. It continues to exist even when the
      physical sheath is destroyed. The physical self is the gross medium
      that remains latent in the Atman. When the physical body is
      destroyed, the subtle substance of the body remains the same. Nothing
      is ever lost in the universe. Cosmic energy continues from eternity
      to eternity.

      Modern science has discovered that everything in this world is but
      the product of vibrations which impel energy particles to attract
      other energy particles. Solid matter has successively been reduced to
      these empty particles, and then to electromagnetic waves, that have
      ultimately come to be understood to be forms of energy. In the
      philosophy of yoga, all that exists and happens in this universe is
      the result of motions and vibrations, the cause of which is the
      cosmic energy or prana. All animate and inanimate objects of this
      universe are made of the vibration of prana. This vibration of prana
      is at the root of all universal phenomena and is the prime cause of
      all events happening in the universe. Prana is the cosmic life
      principle and it has its own laws. Without prana the universe would
      not exist. The eminent scientist, Sir Arthur Eddington, said that we
      must remember that the concept of substance has disappeared from
      fundamental physics and has been replaced by a concept of the
      periodicity of waves. Modern science has indicated by experiment that
      the world of physics is a mental phenomenon. It is therefore no
      wonder that physics has virtually ended in metaphysics, thus
      confirming the intuitional revelations of ancient rishis: Sarvam
      khalvidam Brahma (Verily all this is Brahman).

      The first manifestation of prana was space, akasha, which gradually
      evolved into the phenomenal universe. According to Vedanta there is
      no such thing as dead matter in the universe. The entire universe is
      a living organism. Yama explained to Nachiketa that whatever exists
      in this phenomenal world is but the manifestation of the vibration of
      prana. According to Rik Veda the cosmic force existed before the
      beginning of evolution and will continue to exist after the
      dissolution of the manifested universe. From one mighty source all
      the forces of nature have burst into manifestation. The universe is
      the manifestation of that One who is the substratum of the universe.
      There is no such thing as loss or gain of the vibration of prana in
      this universe.

      By the power of prana and through the forces of evolution, the
      internal and external worlds come into existence. The whole world is
      eternal in its essential nature, but non-eternal in its external
      form. When all the external forms of the universe are destroyed, the
      formless substance—the mother energy of the universe—will continue to
      exist from eternity to eternity.

      Wherever there is life, there is some manifestation of intelligence.
      Intelligence and life go together. This intelligence is of the inner
      Self, which has as its instrument the life force, prana. It is really
      the Self that lives and functions through the help of the pranic

      The objective world is only one half of the universe. What we
      perceive with our senses is not a complete world. The other half,
      which includes the mind, thoughts, and emotions, cannot be explained
      by the sense perceptions of external objects.

      The five senses are the main doors through which the individual ego
      comes into contact with the external world. These five senses are the
      gates through which we receive the vibrations from the external
      world. These vibrations are first carried into the brain cells.
      Molecular changes take place in these cells and the vibrations are in
      turn translated by the ego into sensations. Next, the sensations are
      formed into percepts, which after a series of mental processes are
      transformed into concepts. This goes on and on endlessly. When you
      think of any object, you perceive instantaneously the mental image of
      that thing. It is called a concept.

      If an intelligent mind does not exist, there will be no perception.
      Vedanta describes the position thus: "Finer than the sense organs are
      the sensations, but the mind is beyond, and beyond the mind is the
      intellect, and greater than the intellect is the cosmic ego. Beyond
      the cosmic ego is the unmanifested One. This is the highest path that
      reaches the ultimate Reality."

      The pranic force has been given five names according to its different
      functions in the physical body—prana, apana, vyana, udana, and
      samana. In the human body the air which rises upward is prana, and
      that which moves downward is apana. Vyana sweeps like a flame through
      all the limbs, maintaining circulation of all fluids and energy,
      throughout the body. Udana conducts the soul from the body at death,
      and by virtue of samana nutrients are assimilated.

      When the soul or jiva departs, it is followed by the vital energy,
      prana. When the prana departs, all the other life supporting organs
      follow. The breathing system is the vehicle of prana. It is the
      breath that establishes the relationship between mind and body. When
      inhalation and exhalation cease to function, death occurs. Physical
      death is a change, but it does not annihilate the subconscious mind
      and soul.

      The subtle powers of the five organs of action (the ability to speak,
      to grasp, to move in the world, to procreate, and to excrete) and of
      the five organs of sense perception, the five pranas, the manas, and
      the buddhi constitute the subtle body. At the time of its rebirth,
      the soul is accompanied by the subtle body. The gross body dissolves
      at death, but the subtle body continues to exist. The subconscious
      mind, which is the storehouse of merits and demerits, becomes the
      vehicle for the jiva, or the soul. All the samskaras of our many
      lives remain in the storehouse of our subconscious mind in a latent
      state like seeds. The relation between the subtle body and the gross
      body is akin to that of the seed and the plant. As the seed contains
      all the qualities of the plant in the seed germ, so the subconscious
      mind retains all the samskaras of our previous lives.

      The Buddhists and the yogis believe in and discriminate between the
      soul, the mind, and the body. The soul has not been created. It is
      essentially consciousness and is perfect. After the dissolution of
      the gross body, everything remains latent. The soul survives. Our
      souls remain after death. If the soul is the real entity and
      existence, there should be some way to experience it. Everyone who
      undertakes the appropriate spiritual discipline can have this

      Life and death are only different names for the same fact—the two
      sides of one coin. One who goes beyond such differentiations can
      conquer death and reach the other shore, that is, eternal life. A
      person who understands the fundamental truth that the Atman is
      immortal and all else is perishable, can solve the mystery of death.
      Life after death can be experienced here in this very life by those
      who have attained samadhi. Those who have realized their real Self
      are immortal.
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