Home Menu Cart Search
Home Menu Cart Search
Sacred Transition

Sacred Transition

Dying to live or living to die

“For life and death are one, even as the river and the sea are one.” Khalil Gibran

How can we understand death?

Death remains one of our biggest mysteries. Spiritual practice helps us to accept life as it comes and take death as it comes with equanimity. The great spiritual mystics all say that death is an illusion and a dying person should not be pitied because death is really freedom. This freedom is synonymous with the realization that Spirit neither dies nor is reborn. We mostly live unaware of this because there is a thin veil between our conscious Self and our Soul that over time thickens until we forget it ever existed. Perhaps we would come to better terms with our mortality if we were to engage fully with each living moment as an imperishable soul experiencing being human in a body.

“In life we must learn not only how to live, but how to die as well.” Seneca

Saint Benedict advised us to keep death daily before our eyes. This means that to fully embrace life, we must fully embrace death by accepting that this body will inevitably perish. Death is not the opposite of life, but a part of it. Not everyone has such a long life and many people die at a much younger age, but no matter the length of our life span, there is often a fear of our inevitable death. If we become truly conscious of death as living with us from moment to moment, life becomes richer, more meaningful and the fear that was hiding beneath our denial gradually fades. The enlightened beings describe mortality as only a dream and with death; no worldly harm can ever befall us again. The Greek mystic Pythagoras affirmed that death is only a new beginning.

 There is no life without death

Death is not just a part of life; there is no life without death, like night and day, dark and light, there cannot be one without the other. We live only in half of reality.

According to the ancient Yogic scripts, due to spiritual amnesia, we are reborn and completely unaware of our continuation into this embodiment. When we die we take the karmic seeds that have not been scorched with resolution that are stored in our electronic, causal body. This is what keeps us tethered to the reincarnation cycle and coming back to the wheel of existence. The enlightened being perceives death as a transition into another, higher life and a reminder to better utilise this life in order to realise a higher life beyond this one. It is our mistaken identification with the body as our real, eternal Self that causes attachment, which makes us fear death.

The more we avoid the key questions during life, the more puzzling and confusing death will be. This is why it is important to start our enquiry now into dismantling our identity with our body, which will inevitably turn to dust, and instead start to build a legacy of love.

“The word 'death' is a great misnomer, for there is no death.

When you are tired of life, you simply take off the overcoat of flesh and go back to the astral world.” Paramahansa Yogananda

Death merges into the moment itself

What would life be worth if there were no death? How could we enjoy the sun if it never rained? Would we yearn for the night if there was only day? Death is occurring in each moment of life; nothing in the universe maintains itself even for an instant, we need only look to Nature for affirmation of this. To live our death consciously means we will need to cease maintaining the illusion that the identity is permanent. Nothing is more creative than death, since it is the whole secret of life. It means that the past must be abandoned, that the unknown cannot be avoided, that nothing can be ultimately fixed.

If we allow everything to be just as it is, then death merges into the moment itself. When we can meet death in this way, then it no longer exists as a reference point for our fear. The fear of death is a chronic form of subliminal anxiety that haunts us. It's important to flush it out and to let in some fresh air. This happens in Mexico with the Day of the Dead celebration that consists of a set of observances and rituals that create a symbolic mingling of life and death.

The one thing of which we can be sure 

It is astonishing that we humans live so profoundly oblivious to the inevitability of our dying. We behave as if we will live forever even though few of us continue in this life more than 75 or 85 years. Why is death so hard to accept when it is the only thing guaranteed from the beginning? We supress, deny, block it out of our consciousness or procrastinate the notion in the blind faith that it “couldn’t happen to me”. We keep it out of sight and mind until the mortality of the body hits us like a shock.

To reflect that this world is filled with death, and that our body too, has to be relinquished can seem very cruel. We ignore that cellular death is going on continuously, so we never have the same body for very long anyway. Eventually cells no longer regenerate and the body deteriorates. It is because we have become so attached to our fleshly bodies that this cyclic process to which all of nature is bound generates such fear in us.

“I've always had my eyes open and had only seen death, it wasn't until I opened my heart that I saw life” Cory Michael Adkins

We have always existed and always will

The great spiritual sages tell us that we have never been born and we have never died and that all of life manifests from the basis of consciousness. Since beginning-less time we have always been free because awareness neither dies nor is reborn, it is the changeless reality itself. To come to terms with the magnitude of these spiritual revelations means we have to live our life differently. A Native American saying, "Today is a good day to die for all the things of my life are present." A good day to die is when we are living our life instead of only thinking of it, when everything is up-to-date and the heart is turned toward itself.

Socrates welcomed death and remarked that a wise person always stays aware of death and must continuously remind himself of the soul’s precarious existence in the body. Plato, Nietzsche, Heidegger and Sartre agree with the Indian myths known as the Puranas: “What you will do at the hour of death, do that very act daily.”

Spirit is eternal

For Sufis, death is stepping across a threshold and being given another chance to reawaken. If we accept the premise that life and death are both gifts from the Divine, then the prospect of death becomes more a source of wonder than a cause for fear. The Sufi phrase "die before you die" can be interpreted to mean that death reveals what is truly important and what is not, and this is good information to have sooner rather than later.

Science has proved that particles of matter or waves of energy are indestructible and so this also applies to the human soul or spiritual essence. Both matter and the soul undergo changing experiences, radical changes are termed death, but death or a change in form does not change or destroy the spiritual essence. The pure super consciousness of the soul perceives Spirit in all life and the underlying substance that pervades everything in the universe. In death we simply shed the gross physical body, which is only a lower form of mind and the cause of all manner of suffering for the soul. The benefit of undergoing the arduous journey of self-discovery is a grander picture of life and death.

“Have you mistaken life from death? Because you live your whole life escaping from death, while death is the eternal life” Ahmed Al Shareef

The spark of life has left

 When we have been with a loved one who has died, we quickly see that the spirit has left the body. That spirit is forever gone from its earthly body, the spirit that is beyond description that made our loved one who they are. The body we love lies before us; discarded like a suit of clothes they wore their whole life. We are familiar with the look of it and yet we know that who the person truly was, is so much more than the body. It has become achingly apparent that the true being as soul/spirit we love no longer dwells in the body.

The first step in training for death according to some practices in India is to modify our attitude toward the body. The yogi acknowledges the foulness of the body in all its bile, pus, blood, sweat, mucus, faeces, urine etc. and understands that the body is a merely a corpse made alive by the presence of a spiritual force. They take care of the body as their instrument, but for this body itself they have no great attraction or attachment and do not associate it with their “I.” Yogis aren’t interested in the death of the body; they are interested in freedom from the cycles of death and rebirth.

Overcoming our revulsion of decomposition

Most of us are unlikely to take up the austerities of those devout yogis who spent their days in the charnel grounds. This place is an aboveground site for the putrefaction of bodies, generally human, where formerly living tissue is left uncovered to decompose. Charnel ground practice in India or Tibet still exists whereby, the yogi sits day and night in meditation among the bones and decay, contemplating birth, aging, sickness and death, including the reality of his own. They envision their own body in pieces, feel the spirits of the dead, confront fear, the seduction of vanity and having finally surrendered their ego, leave having realized their own non-being.

Thich Nhat Hanh wrote about doing meditation near a decomposing corpse until the corpse was just bones. The Buddhist Sutra of Mindfulness speaks about the meditation on the corpse: “meditate on the decomposition of the body, how the body bloats and turns violet, how it is eaten by worms until only bits of blood and flesh still cling to the bones, meditate up to the point where only white bones remain, which in turn are slowly worn away and turn into dust. Meditate like that, knowing that your own body will undergo the same process. Meditate on the corpse until you are calm and at peace, until your mind and heart are light and tranquil and a smile appears on your face. Thus, by overcoming revulsion and fear, life will be seen as infinitely precious, every second of it worth living.”

Physical death is astral birth

It has been elucidated by the yogic Rishis that at physical death we lose consciousness of the flesh and become conscious of the astral body in the astral plane of existence. We eventually leave from the consciousness of luminous astral birth to the consciousness of dark astral death and awaken in a new physical body. In this way astral death is physical birth. These recurrent cycles of physical and astral embodiments are the inescapable destiny of the unenlightened human being. Life and death are but a passing from dream to dream. They are only thoughts: we are dreaming we are alive and we are dreaming we are dead. The Yoga adept overcomes the illusion death by living life consciously from soul beyond identification with the physical body that is simply perceived as the physical abode of the soul.

A conscious passing

In fact, the Yogic avatars can consciously choose to live in their body until it has fulfilled its mission to spiritually assist humanity. Such masters are able at will and without attachment transcend into the absolute reality of god-consciousness. A yogi gathers all his/her life force through the Sushumna (central spine) channel into his head, opens the fontanelle, and then leaves through that opening. Sri Ramakrishna, for instance, stated that for a sage or enlightened person to give up his body is an entirely different matter than an ordinary person committing suicide. Most of us will not have led such a disciplined life like these great saints who demonstrated their mastery over the flesh to attain such control over the dying process. We can, however, still work towards dying consciously in the life we live now.

Practicing for our death

In yoga after doing asana (poses), it is customary to finish the session with Savasana (Corpse pose) where we lie on the floor in complete relaxation, surrendering the body back to the earth. If we completely surrender to the meditative state of Savasana we slow the active beta brainwaves in favour of the slower states of alpha and theta brainwaves that are connected to creativity. We also peel away deeper layers of conditioning such as our denial of death that obscures the brilliance of our authentic self. Savasana teaches us that the movements of life are only significant in contrast to the stillness of death. We discover in life, that death is a stripping away of all that is not us. What dies is merely our identity, the identification of a collection of parts that we call a person.

We recognize that dying is a continuous process, going on all the time, a “perpetual succession of extremely short-lived events.” To recognize this authentically is to experience some form of enlightenment. The ultimate goal of Savasana is to realise that the soul is Divine, non-material and eternal. The soul cannot die, only our body, its vehicle can die. Our yogic journey is to discover what does not die and the illusion of death can be unmasked.

“Use your own light and return to the source of light, that is called practicing eternity.” Lao Tzu

Letting go of the story of me

Fear of death is worse than death itself. Yoga has a name for our primary fear of death; it is called “abinivesa”, the mother of all fears, the fundamental and entrenched human condition from which all other fears arise. This innate human affliction is hardwired into our biology and affects our lives at a deep instinctual level. It exists as a helpful evolutionary survival tool that has served us through all the evolutionary trials of existence making us cling tenaciously to life. It really means that our greatest fear is the fear of non-being because we fail to know our true eternal nature and crave for further existence. When this primary ignorance about one’s spiritual nature vanishes, one makes life a preparation for death and the transcendent existence beyond.

The ultimate surrender

In Savasana we shine the light of our awareness on this fear so that it will eventually loosen its grip on us as we consciously let go of the story of “me.”  Letting go of a self-centred response to reality brings us into a more realistic, clear and grounded relationship with life, which manifests in intelligent action. Death is only the end if we assume the story is about us. Fear does not stop death; it stops life.

Savasana is the ideal environment in which to practice one of the central principles of the yoga sutras; Ishwara Pranidhara that is the fifth Niyama or personal observance. This can be translated as surrendering our will to God/Grace/the Divine or the higher intelligence to which we dedicate ourselves. It is important to note that the yoga sutras also describe this practice of being unswerving in our devotion, as a one-way path to God-realisation.

Who we were before we were born

To be afraid of death means we cannot know our true soul nature, who we were before we were born. We human beings have been created with a unique endowment that is possessed by no other life form. We all have awakened or dormant spiritual centres of life and consciousness within our spine and brain which give us the ability to express fully the Divine consciousness and powers of the soul. To fully live our blessed life, we can recover our lost soul-awareness of the Divine perceptions and capacities in the subtle cerebrospinal centres – the chakras.  Yoga techniques of breath and meditation enable the soul to regain the memory of oneness with omnipresent Spirit.

We are touched by sacredness of transition

In India a dying person is reminded to bring his or her thoughts to God. All discussion of worldly matters should cease in the dying person’s presence, as he or she is already looking through the window of the future. In the Lakota/Sioux tradition, a person who is grieving is considered awakened and most holy. Indeed when we are struck by the sudden lightning of loss, we feel humbled by the sacred significance of the transitioning soul as if we too stand on the threshold of the spirit world. The prayers of those who grieve are considered especially strong and it is considered good to ask them for their help.

Since antiquity, women in Greece have been called on to voice the collective grief of the bereaved, gathering at gravesides to wail in ritual lament. Greek lore describes a liminal period between a person’s funeral, when the journey to the underworld begins, and the rite of exhumation, when the soul escapes its earthly bonds. The grieving people undergo their own metamorphosis, estranged from society until they relinquish the dead.

The ultimate gift to another

To be with someone who has grieved deeply we can sense how that person has no layer of protection, nothing left to defend. The mystery is looking out through that person's eyes. For the time being, he or she has accepted the reality of loss and has stopped clinging to the past or grasping at the future. In the groundless openness of sorrow, there is a wholeness of presence and a deep natural wisdom. Grief runs like a stream through our life that doesn’t go away. Our grief lasts a lifetime but our relationship to it changes and we can be transformed once we untie its binding knot to discover a time of renewal. In grief we access parts of ourselves that were somehow unavailable to us in the past. With awareness, the journey through grief becomes a path to wholeness. Grief is a catalyst for healing, breaking open our heart in ways that deepen our connection to others and to Spirit.

It is a generative gift to help a dying person die with a calm, happy and positive mind. Anything that we can do to achieve this will benefit the person, whether that is good nursing care and pain relief, massage, the presence of a loving family or whatever. It is said that the best thing we can bring to a dying person is our own quiet and peaceful mind. In this way we will help the dying person make the transition from this life to the next as smooth and as meaningful as possible, recognising the vital spiritual importance of this transition.

“Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. Because for those who love with heart and soul there is no such thing as separation.” Rumi

Dissolution upon death

At the time of death, the winds (pranas) associated with the four elements (earth, water, fire, air) deteriorate, until those elements can no longer act as a basis for consciousness. Upon the death the human being, the elemental body disintegrates back into the earth, but also integrates back into Source. This is interesting because it conveys clear meaning of the concept of space or akasha. To “disintegrate” means to take apart, diffusion that creates more space between molecules; ironically this is also a “reintegration” into the element of space or ether, a dissolving of the dense form of matter to unify with the much lighter wide-spread pervasive element.

The corpse of the human returns to earth and then liquefies with putrefaction, causing combustion and the warmth gives rise to gaseous release, which further disperses into the ether. Here we see how energy transmutes from source to material form - manifest embodiment and from material form back to un-manifest Source.

According to Buddhist teachings all gross conceptuality is left behind and the internal appearance is of radiant white sky. There are meditation practices that emulate this death process with full awareness, a way to help subdue the usual fears associated with death. The dissolution of the all elements back to Source that includes our body and mind is but a transition that we can no longer fear when we know the underlying, Ultimate Reality (Brahman) in the universe as the eternal Soul.

Sacred scent

One of the most meaningful and sacred final acts that we can bestow upon our loved ones after they have passed is to lovingly wash their dead bodies and anoint them in divinely scented oils to honour and bless the bodily vessel that has carried the soul. This is an act of sanctity, deep love and respect that assists the soul on its passage into the next stages of its journey.

Relevant Tinderbox products:

Sacred Scent, Holy Incense, The Peace Within scented beeswax candle, Serenity Blend pure essential oils

Back to News