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Chapter 8: The First Stages of Dying

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Death is not an end, nor is birth a beginning. Both are just points or events within the cyclic continuity of life and consciousness. Life and death in Theosophy and ancient cultures which were acquainted with such things do not have the same significance as they generally have in the occidental cultures. The subtle bodies of living beings are invisible and not (yet) measurable by any means available to modern science – the best we have are some photos and voice records of the dead, very few (infrared) films and a number of materialized objects.

Dying is a sophisticated process, in which some things perish and others continue. In the first place dying and being dead is not a failure of life, but an aspect of the cycle of life. During our physical incarnation on the Earth several types of prāṇas – life-energies or vitalities – are streaming into and out of and within our bodies. They sustain our whole system. Death is not the exhaustion and withdrawal of prāṇa out of tiredness. Prāṇa, life itself, never gets exhausted and never dies. In the case of natural death it is in fact one of the prāṇas which actively induces the processes of dying, because that is the phase of life for which it is now the right time. Childhood, adolescence, adulthood, ripeness, are all phases of the cycle of life, and so is what we call death. Just as miraculous as it is that an illiterate crying toddler turns into a great mathematician or human benefactor, it is ‘miraculous’ that life chooses to leave the physical body and continue in a different form and ultimately builds a new body for itself. Within the body of the toddler, subsequent phases of consciousness awaken, while others go more or less dormant. The learning capacities of a toddler are astounding compared to what a middle-aged man or woman can absorb, but its higher thinking capacities are still next to nil. The things that happen during young age, old age, dying and after dying are completely natural. Though old age is not always a happy event, nor are all other phases of life, especially when the body becomes diseased and sick well before death, it is at the same time a preparation for the liberation of our consciousness after throwing away one’s old worn-out body.

From research on near-death experiences we know that most people experience the first processes of death as pleasant: suddenly the pains and physical limitations are over, one may consciously review one’s whole life and understand the meaning of it (because the true mind is not dead at all, even when the brain is) – so dying is an experiential process, not a process of decay and loss of consciousness. Many describe a tunnel experience: going with very clear conscious awareness through a long tunnel at the end of which is an ever increasing light. When reaching that light one is often received by an image or person of light and love – it may be a passed-away family member or teacher, or Jesus or some or other central religious figure in whom one has great confidence. The experience is very real and true, but very much colored by the mind’s expectations. Jesus is seen by Christians only, and never by people who never or hardly have heard about Jesus. It seems to be the person with whom one’s heart puts its utmost trust. Others may see other gods after death, as we know from so many descriptions of the Tibetans, the ancient Egyptians and others. At that point the dying person often would like to proceed (and that is indeed what most of them do), but some are told by an entity – that is really created by their own inner selves – to go back because their duty in physical life is not yet over. That entity, ‘created by their own inner selves’ is often coupled to the astral ‘shadow’ (chhāya) of someone who has really passed away from physical existence earlier, e.g. ‘grandmother’ who ‘knows’ facts – connected to her astral shadow (not the whole of grandmother herself !) – that nobody else can know.

Some have experienced an NDE as so heavenly that they would want to stay there forever. But would you really want to play with your passed away grandmother in a field full of flowers for the rest of eternity? It has nothing to do with heaven or Devachan, Tuṣita, Sukhāvatī or ‘the western paradise’ or Indra’s heaven etc. – at most a foreshadowing of it. Heaven comes later, after the second death, long after the decomposition of the body. We will discuss heaven in Chapter 12.

The entity, in whatever form it may be clad, is really the own undying ‘higher self’ of the dying person, the intuition which knows what should and will happen. In the Egyptian Book of the Dead is the black-headed jackal god, Anubis, who is that silent conscious power in each of us who guides us towards our encounter with our inner deity. Even during our normal daily consciousness this higher self may be perceived in the form of a true intuition – and if not perceived is still certainly present – as ‘that which knows what is best for us’, our ‘inner, or silent, voice’ our conscience, but is usually overshouted by our mental activities and personal attachments that blind wisdom.

When a clairvoyant person looks at the process of dying from a distance, he or she may sometimes see that a finer substance is oozing out of the physical body and ultimately floats as a complete and perfect model above the physical body. It is still connected with the physical body by an ever thinning cord, and as long as that cord is not broken, the near-death person may return or be ‘resurrected’ into his or her physical body. The dying person is not consciously aware of that cord or that subtle body, the liga śarīra ((This body is called liṅga śarīra (among other names) in Sanskrit and the term has been adopted from the Hindus in modern Theosophical writings.)). Then, when resuscitated, if they remember, they can tell the story of their near-death experience. An ancient example of such an experience is the Vision of Er, described by Plato – however this vision is meant as a teaching more than as an experience alone. Also the ‘experience’ is colored by the culture and adjusted to the expectations of Plato’s days.

In the case when this happens, when the thin silvery cord connecting the physical (sthūla) and the subtle (liṅga) body snaps, the person is really dead. It means that all prāṇas have now irreversibly withdrawn from the body. Until that moment – it may take days, and in case of some yogis even much longer – some prāṇic warmth remains perceptible around the heart of the dying body.

The liṅga śarīra is in fact a complete model of the physical, but consisting of atoms of a subtler nature than physical atoms – it even wears the same cloths. It will also die soon, but if there is some conscious attachment of the person who has now left his physical body to his own body, or his friends and family, it may linger around for some time perhaps, as an apparition, around the grave where the dead body is buried, or can sometimes been seen or felt as a ‘good bye’ greeting by those who remain on Earth. This is usually only for a short period. It is not what normally appears on spiritistic séances, nor is it the actual personality, and certainly not the ‘soul’ or eternal aspect of him or her.

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