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The Mystery of Death

A book review by B. John Zavrel



In ancient times, students on the spiritual path received formal education in gurukulas.

The students lived with their guru from an early age and were given not only instruction on an intellectual level, but were also guided in spiritual development and in the maintenance of physical health. In the eastern tradition guru is much more than a teacher. He represents the special energy that is guiding individuals toward their fulfillment as human beings, towards perfection. Grace is the impulse of that energy.

The word guru is a compound of two words, gu and ru. Gu means darkness and ru means light. That which dispels darkness of ignorance is called guru. Guru is not a person, it is a force driven by grace.

The truth is that the relationship of guru to disciple is indescribable. The relationship extends to the realm beyond the world, transcends death, and stretches far beyond the limited karmic bonds asscoiated with family and friends.

Guru sustains, nurtures, and guides a soul through lifetimes to ultimate liberation.

The relationship with the guru is based on the purest form of unconditional love. The disciple comes with full faith and entrusts his whole life to the guru. The guru takes that life and chops it and burns what is not necessary, and then carefully carves what remains into something sacred.

In this chopping and burning, the guru is merciless.

The guru's job is not to hold hands with the disciple and wipe away tears, but to cut into pieces the disciple's ego and all that stands between the disciple and freedom. The guru does not allow dependence.

To be on a spiritual path with a guru is not an easy thing. It is not pleasant. The guru tests the disciples, puts them in the most difficult situations, and creates obstacles for them. All the tests, difficulties, and obstacles are meant to train and expand the consciousness of the disciple.

That is the sole work of the guru. The guru wants nothing from the disciple. Guru is that force moving a soul toward enlightenment. The guru's actions are from pure compassion. As the sun shines and lives far above, the guru gives spiritual love and remains unattached.


Mantra - a priceless treasure

When a spiritual seeker meets his master, the first significant step is that he receives a personal mantra.

Mantra is a syllable or word or set of words. When the mantra is remembered consciously, it automatically is stored in the unconscious mind. At the time of leaving the body, the mantra which is stored in the unconscius mind becomes one's guide. This period of separation is painful to the ignorant. This is not the case with a spiritual person who has remembered the mantra faithfully. The mantra serves as a guide through this period of transition. Mantra is a spiritual guide that dispels the fear of death and leads one fearlessly to the other shore of life.

For yogis and sages death is a minor event. Death and birth are two gates of the same mansion. Coming out from one gate is called birth, and passing through another gate is called death. Fortunate few know the mystery of birth and death.

Accomplished yogis have learnt to cast off the body in a variety of ways. Yogis do not refer to the end of life as dying, but rather as casting off the body, letting go of what is no longer necessary.

The technique of consciously letting go of the body was described in the Kathopanishad to Nachiketa by Yama, the Lord of Death. Yama explained to him that of all the nadis or energy pathways in the body, the most important is sushumna. Sushumna passes upward through the center of the spinal column. Through sushumna flows the spiritual energy or divine force called kundalini.


Sushumna is the key point of liberation.

One who can enter sushumna at the time of death can attain Brahman, the highest goal of life. All other paths are paths of rebirths.

To leave the body, the yogi awakens the sleeping serpent power of kundalini and this energy enters into the path of sushumna. It rises to the ajna chakra, the two-petalled lotus between the eyebrows. Here the yogi gathers together and controls all the other life force energies of the body, known as pranas. He withdraws his consciousness from earth-bound existence and from the senses, and from the five lower chakras. He concentrates on the ajna chakra and then gradually upward toward sahasrara, the crown chakra. While concentrating on the crown chakra, he leaves the body through the fontanelle and rises finally to the realm of the absolute Brahman.

So, at 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.

When the soul departs from the body, the subconscious mind goes with it, leaving the gross body behind. The subconscious mind, which is a storehouse of merits and demerits, becomes the vehicle for the jiva, the soul. All the samskaras of our many lives remain in the storehouse of our subconscious mind in a latent state like seeds. The relationship 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.

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 understand the fundamental truth that soul, the Atman, the Self 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.


The foregoing are selected excerpts from "Sacred Journey" by Swami Rama of the Himalayas.

Swami Rama, brought up in the ancient cave monasteries, was not only a rare yogi but also a scientist and a social reformer. He was the author of numerous books, a poet, painter, master architect, musician, and an expert in many sciences and systems of philosophy. He founded the Himalayan International Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy and the Himalayan Institute Hospital Trust and Medical College.



Copyright 2003 West-Art, Prometheus 88/2003


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Copyright 2003 West-Art

PROMETHEUS, Internet Bulletin for Art, Politics and Science.

Nr. 88, Summer 2003