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The processes and experiences of dying.

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When the moment of dying comes, either by mindful and peaceful death, at the end of a accidental coma or in ‘common people’s’ dying, natural processes take over from those chosen by the mind.

In many cases, when a person nearly dies, for example while drowning or falling from a great height, but is still saved in the last moment, so that means actually before the proper natural death processes set in, they report seeing their whole past life pass by in detail in a very short time. Apparently that happens when the personal consciousness has given up on this life and accepted its fate.

Of the stages of dying itself and the experience of the consciousness of the dying person – she or he cannot communicate anything to the people around. The prāṇas or vitalities, which run through 72,000 channels to all minutest parts of the human body, say the Buddhists, gather in the central channel near the back bone and then near the heart, and with them dissolve the elements as represented in the body (the solid element sopprts the bone; the fluid: blood and other fluids; airy: breath; fiery: body warmth, etc.) and the awareness of sense impression related to these elements withdraws quietly and one by one, without effort, without pain1. The externally visible result of the movement of the prāṇas to the central channel near the heart, is that externally the limbs of the dying person become smaller, their body becomes week and powerless, their eye-sight becomes weak and dark, and one has the sense of sinking into the earth. Next one can no longer open or close one’s eyes, and the luster and splendor of the body disappears and all physical powers are gone. It seems to be the same as when falling asleep.

But consciousness itself remains awake and it is said in the above-mentioned text that the dying person sees a bluish appearance, “like an appearance of water when the light of the sun strikes a desert in the summer.” This can not be perceived by or communicated to the outer world. The person may be almost dead from the point of view of the outsider, but inwardly no end to life exists, and the point of leaving the body has not yet been reached.

As soon as this first aspect of the dying process, that of the body, is accomplished, the feelings (emotions, not the consciousness) dissolve simultaneously. The body can no longer experience pleasure, pain an neutral feelings which belong to the sense consciousness. This must be a great consolation to those who die in pain. Pain belongs to the first things to disappear in the dying process. The very awareness of physical experiences disappears as well as the emotions accompanying pain. Physical happiness or suffering do no longer exist for the consciousness of the dying person. The prāṇas or vital energies which have vitalized the sense organs have already withdrawn from their ‘seats‘ or locations.

This happens when externally the water element is seen to dissolve: one’s saliva, sweat, urine, blood and regenerative fluid dry greatly. The processes are related to the water element in the physical body. One can no longer hear.

The inner vision or experience is compared to ‘bluish smoke bellowing forth from a chimney.’

Then dying person loses memory of relatives and friends for now. Dying is something one must do alone, like falling asleep, without disturbance. Externally the warmth of the body gets lost and digestive processes stop. This process is related to the fire element. The dissolution of the air element shows itself externally by that the inhalation through the nose becomes weak and exhalation strong and lengthy. One loses smell. Thus all the external senses and bodily functions stop. The inner experience or vision before the consciousness is called ‘like fireflies.’ It is clear that even when the external sense organs have ceased to function, one can see, like one can in a dream. This seeing however comes from within, no longer from external impulses. The next vision is described as ‘like the glow of a butter lamp.’

The next stages become increasingly interesting for the consciousness. When all the physical elements have dissolved, the conceptions or mentalities or mental habits belonging to the mind during life on earth also dissolve. This is said to take place in three phases, and that the consciousness experiences three subsequent stages of increasing clarity. In the text by Lati Rinbochay 80 mentalities or conceptions are mentioned, some great, some middle and some small. A few examples of disappearing conceptions: a mind going to external objects; mental pain of separation; (mental) peace; fear; attachment; hunger; thirst; compassion; shame; mercy; excitement; flirtation; untruth; heroism; crookedness; depression; doubt eighty in all divided over three categories. You see that it includes mental properties which we regard as positive, such as compassion and mercy – but even these are no more than mental reflections. True compassion and mercy are qualities of the soul which never die. All these dissolve just as the physical properties and sense perceptions have dissolved. What remains is a consciousness ‘as clear as the autumn sky’ (after the great rains) in two subsequent stages. The third and last phase is called ‘near attainment’ because it approaches the ‘clear light of death.’

In the mean time an inner process takes place, where the spiritual essence – i.e. that what is good from a spiritual point of view, all that is of true value – of all that has taken place in the last life, is absorbed and registered by the immortal reincarnating ego which thus takes the true value of what is learned in the last life with it. Almost in every life there is some aspiration, some recognition of the higher, some intuition of the good, the true and the beautiful, and this is what is adds to the growth of one’s spiritual being. But if there was nothing, this life has been, from a spiritual point of view, in vain, but the work one has done on earth of course remain. The reincarnating ego will have no devachan because there were no aspirations, and quickly returns to physical birth. The lower, now separate passionate part of that person, as long as its energies have not yet been exhausted, will experience his or her self-created ‘world of desires (kāma loka)

In front of Osiris in the Egyptian Book, the candidate for admission to the higher worlds has to enumerate all his good deeds in his past life, which are registered by Thoth, god of wisdom. If he is pure enough and stands in Truth, he may continue, if he is not, he is devoured by the monster of his passions.

Reviews of life in the light of wisdom will be part of the death experience of each of us. The first one happens in the beginning before the separation between body soul takes place. We will see our mistakes and understand why certain things happened to us in life. According to Blavatsky this experience is not always without humor. The first review in the light of the wisdom of the soul (or rather the innate omniscient essence of the reincarnating ego) happens before the silver cord between the body and the astral body is broken, i.e. before the connection of prāṇa with the physical body is severed, and will have its meritorious fruition later, and the absorption from the brain takes place even if the coarse brains have been complete damaged by an accident or fire. The subtle-matter model of the brain will fulfill the function.

The clear light of which Buddhism speaks and follows the three ‘autumn-sky’ experiences, is the highest possible clarity of consciousness, and the best opportunity for meditation in the whole cycle of life and death. If sufficiently trained, a good yogi can maintain his meditation for days or weeks – examples of them are still being registered and known in the present time. This clear-minded meditation is done on the ’emptiness’ of illusionary existence, the realization that nothing which one usually regards as true and valuable is ultimate Truth, but only a reflection in our mental consciousness of that what can not be pondered by the mind. The mind creates illusions, apparent beginning and ends in time, whereas time itself is a mind-born illusion. When the aspirant or yogi ‘sees’ this, be emerges beyond the limitations of this mind, he is liberated or freed from all illusions and lives from then on in buddhi – non-divisive wisdom-consciousness. Highly accomplished and pure yogis can use this moment at the verge of leaving the last body for reaching arhatship, or discard arhatship out of compassion for all beings who have not yet reached that stage and become bodhisattvas.

For average people the processes take place quickly, and then the prāṇa separates itself completely from their last resort in the body in the channel near the heart. The will not reach nirvāṇa now, but are left with their mind, both higher and lower. That is, there is but one mind, but it can associate with the lower illusions of personal desire of with the higher ones of ‘high culture.’ Both types of mind will cause their appropriate states of after-death consciousness. Prāṇa can leave the body finally through various body openings, the best of which is the top of the head. It depends on the quality of the excarnating soul which opening it will be, and it has a relation with one’s future mental state. Perhaps this process can be influenced, but one can not become a better individual by changing the exit way forcefully by yogic methods.

Clairvoyants have described that until that moment the physical body is connected with a silver or goldish ‘cord’ of prāṇa with a model of the physical body which is floating on some distance above the physical body. A comparable process takes place during sleep and during out-of-the-body experiences by low type magicians, some drug or psychiatric experiences or during medical anesthesia. It has nothing to do with spirituality, it is only a physiological process of the astral (i.e. just one degree more refined) model body2 of the physical body The living cord becomes thinner and thinner, until it snaps away from the physical body. This is the actual moment of death. This perfect model of the physical body may linger around the dead body for some time because it still feels an attraction to it and which involves some suffering for the part of the dead person’s consciousness which is in that type of astral model body, even when buried in a grave, but after a period this astral model body dissipates also into its composing elements. Burning of the dead body is therefore preferable from that point of view, because the ‘lingering spirit’ (not a true spook or bhūt!) is then immediately liberated.

A popular source of information about after-death especially in the nineteenth century (and indeed of all times by shamans etc.) was that of spiritism. In eastern countries spiritism, the evocation of bhūts (lit.: ‘has been’ or spook), is highly reprehensible, but in the spiritually unprepared occidental world it took high flight. If a spiritist medium enters into a trance this is a passive state and entirely the opposite of the samādi of a yogi. The medium is temporarily deprived of contact with his or her own soul or higher self, and becomes a vehicle for the decomposing subtle-matter remains of the kāma form3 of the deceased. It has no (higher, human) soul. This shadow or spook contains recorded information about the past life, such as perhaps the favorite dishes of the deceased person, but it is a fading record. It is devoid of spiritual information because it is separated from the jīva or soul; even if the message sometimes seems to be genuine because of a registered but soulless record of the persons past or something ‘hanging out’ in the lower astral light. Sometimes this information may be ‘scientific’ and correct, or tell about the ‘astral world’ or spiritual verities. But none of these come from the conscious soul of the deceased. These are just records of what somebody thought or a thought of someone of the attending public of the meeting. It thrives only on the remains of vitality and consciousness within the bhūt. Sometimes it may give information about things that were on his or her mind just before dying, but was unable to say in time. For example about hidden money or a last will. This bhūt has feelings and consciousness and can experience pain and suffering. It is therefore said to be very cruel – and certainly no spiritually oriented person – would ever agree to evoke such dead remains.

This is not all. In that world just ‘under’ the earth (metaphorically) are conscious beings living with ‘funny’ intentions whose special love it is to deceive. They associate themselves with the bhūt and the passivity of the trance medium, and thus can give out all kinds of false information. They derive this information from forms and imprints made by human minds which can be of all qualities, but never spiritual. That is why some ‘better’ trance mediums can give scientific information (without ability to understand it) or find medicine which may be helpful. In the last sense a good shaman may get useful information otherwise inaccessible. Spiritism has nothing to do with spirituality – on the contrary. Spiritism is the absence of the soul, whereas spirituality is only about the soul, the spiritual soul.

In exceptional cases a passed-away person may still want to say ‘say goodbye’ or if it has the strong desire to do so give a sign or message or thought to a beloved person remaining behind. Many people report that they felt their dying mother or father or guru was present for a while. This may be genuine.

Not even the darkest is without a dot of light, and the fact that spiritism arose so prominently in the super-materialistic nineteenth century and was also studied scientifically, may have prevented that part of humanity to sink entirely into absolute materialism. In that case all openness of even the possibility of existence beyond physical matter might have extinguished. Thus spiritism formed a bridge to cross a dark gap and to be left behind as soon as some people in the western world began to understand at least a little of true spirituality.

A modern phenomenon is the so-called near-death experience (NDE). Of course the processes giving rise to such experiences have always existed, but due to modern technology which has reached a stage in which a clinically dead person can still be vitalized – raised form the dead, as it where – thousands and thousands of reports are now available of survivors of cardiac arrest and from surgery in which, without the technology, one would have died. There are even clubs of people who have had such experience. Often they don’t allow outsiders, because whatever they try to describe, the outsider can not understand it really, but only from his mental interpretation. The experience is almost always most pleasant: one feels and sees oneself going through a tunnel (may it be is the ‘inside’ or experience is passing the consciousness carried by prāṇa through the above-mentioned silver cord. At the end of the tunnel is a great resplendent light, or a radiated person is waiting to receive the departing – arriving soul. This is a vision, because it is dependent on the expectation of the dying person. It may be a grandmother or other trusted but passed-away family member, a guru, a Jesus or any ideal protector depending on one’s religion. The experience appears to be so beautiful that many NDE’ers (some of whom prefer to call it an actual death experience instead of near-death-experience – which is incorrect though) regret that they were drawn back and have to continue life in the physical body for perhaps many years. Many die soon after – perhaps they long for their ‘home.’

One may wonder why NDE’s have not convincingly been described in ancient scriptures – at least as far as I know. One reason is no – I presume – that modern clinical skills were not available and it just didn’t happen. Another reason may be that to recall someone who is dying is regarded as against nature and cruel. Another reason may be that a near-death experience is not a real-death experience.

We also need to realize that what the experiencer reports is not the real experience, but the remembrance in his waking consciousness of what was unconsciously being interpreted by his brain-mind and physical consciousness while returning, because in fact the physical brain is unable to register the subtler and truly spiritual experiences of the inner being. The remembered experience is therefore already ‘dressed’ in concepts and forms perceptible or understandable for the physical brain and its memory. For the same reason we remember only remnants of our dreams, often of the coarsest type even if we regard ourselves as quite spiritual people, which are actually reinterpretations by our coarse consciousness when we wake up from sleep. Our real and higher, more subtle dreams can not be registered by our brain and the waking consciousness and not be remembered other than by advanced yogis trained to who have acquired the conscious during waking and sleeping.

In reality the NDE is part of the dying process, not of being dead itself. Once the silver cord is broken, not even a Jesus could bring the person back to life. Prāṇa has been separated from the body by an intricate process of withdrawal from thousands of energy channels permeating the flesh during life in such a body.

Even though nobody (except the decomposing astral shadow or cchāyā) can come back from real dead to tell their experiences to those remaining on earth, we can find some information in ancient Greek literature, where Socrates (Plato) described the vision of a soldier, Er, specially selected by the gods to return to life and report his experiences to the people. He describes how people go – after maximum seven days of tardiness, for a time to an upper (heavenly) or lower (hellish) world, depending on the ethical quality of their last physical life – until they return to the field in the middle from where they started, just before reincarnation. Er sees the wheels of karma with their complex mathematics: the sphere of fixed stars and the seven planets and describes their numbers, sizes and colors. When back from either above or below, the soul can choose his next incarnation. The soul can choose freely – within the limits of karma of course – which karma and duty it will take on in the coming life or what it wishes to avoid and this choice depends on the development of wisdom of the soul through previous existences. It means that before we reincarnate of have even collected one physical atom around us, we have a mind and can choose consciously – one is not like blown around like a feather in a whirlwind. The wise choose wisely, the unwise just follow their impulses. Everyone then goes on their way to rebirth in physical existence through a hot and dry desert and becomes very ‘thirty’. If they finally come to a river, nobody can resist to drink at least a little bit of its water. The river called Lethe, the river of Forgetfulness or Unmindfulness and one loses memory. That is why we as non-yogis do not remember our state between death and rebirth, or even our dreams at night, and the choice we ourselves have made before returning to Earth. Therefore what seems unjust in our lives is the result of one’s own lot (karma) and the wisdom and courage of one’s choice. Nobody else is to be blamed.

Other ancient scriptures given to humankind by such great yogis or omniscients who do remember these worlds of the realm of the dead, report many more details about the processes after actual death and before the next phases of existence.

One reason for paying so much attention to the meaning of death and invisible worlds is that each and all of us are inhabitants of the cycles of life and death, and all of us are fully karmically responsible for their own joy and progress or suffering and retardation. The average period spend outside physical incarnation is much larger (perhaps a 100 times on average, but it can be shorter as well as much more) than inside physical incarnation. We can compare the ratio between life and death with an air balloon floating on water: only the part that touches the water represents physical life, the rest we spend in the extra-physical states of consciousness. Moreover the intensity of consciousness will probably be much deeper, I suppose, because we concentrate without external disturbance. By acting ethically in all walks of life we create ‘paradise’ on earth, but a much greater paradise is composed of the experiences between lives. So if we care for all living beings we should behave, think and teach highest ethics while we can on earth. It will stimulate and inspire all creatures for the better, and that will bring them in better situations and opportunities between incarnations and in earthly lifetimes to come.

In a spiritual approach every living being, including those which are not recognized as living by science, has its intrinsic value that can not be interchanged with that of others. The occurrence of death and birth are natural processes chosen by the soul according to the souls history and purpose. The human being is the only visible creature on earth that has a self-conscious mind and self-conscious ethics (if it is true ethics, not rationalized animal instincts like the territorial and survival instinct etc.). The human being is also the most influential of all. So the human mind is the most important ecological factor on earth. A pure mind benefits and purifies the ecosystem of all beings, including those which are not visibly embodied; an impure mind does the opposite: its is destructive, but also ‘feeds’ the invisible realms. If religions speak of demons or devils, they refer mostly to those who have recently lived as humans and have become cruel and selfish.

The purifying action of the mind is called ethics: the practice of true insight or intuition in the nature of reality. The original motivation for practicing non-violence is compassion: no being should ever suffer injustice and pain. Nature itself also inflicts pain and suffering, but that is justice, not injustice: it is the compassionate working of universal karma which exists to bring us towards true spiritual insight.

What counts is the spiritual progress of all inhabitants of the universe and that universe itself. The ultimate aim is to self-consciously be aware of what the soul, our innermost being is: Know thyself means: know thy soul and the soul of all. Self-knowledge is omniscience. The outer world is but a physical reflection, a minute aspect of the whole system. Physical matter is but an aspect of spirit, whereas spirit itself is substantial, the one being the ‘opposite pole’ of the other, but together they are One. The training of the stainless mind and ethical living are the true points of emphasis of spirituality – nothing else. The mind exists as well outside the physical brain as within it. Immense numbers of invisible creatures posses a mind in some degree or another, and thus can inflict harm or cause benefit to the physical world.

There as many states of existence as there are places of birth of beings, including the hells and a number of heavens. The last have categories in each of which innumerable beings reside under guidance of a spiritual Head. Scores of hell-beings and gods in heaven have been humans on earth, and so have the gods of the higher heavens. Thus all experiences of consciousness in hells, heavens or on earth are influenced by the freedom of the human mind. Happiness and high morality as well as the opposite. At the heart of physical forces are living beings, conscious beings who are directly influenced by mind. The natural forces themselves are conscious but not self-conscious, and often the willing executors of karma. Innumerable other unselfconscious living beings are involved in the execution of every individual karma. Better makes friends with them by harmonizing with the wisdom of the soul !


Article III: How it is to be really dead



  1. See: Rinbochay, Lati and Jeffrey Hopkins: Death, Intermediate State, and Rebirth in Tibetan Buddhism (commentary and translation from Tibetan); foreword by the Fourteenth Dalai Lama. London: Rider, 1979. []
  2. called liṅga śarīra among other names []
  3. kāma-rūpa or form lower desire and passion []