Death has always fascinated mankind and has always been looked upon with great dread and fears and considered an end of the mortal journey. Death as a new beginning is primarily an Eastern or Oriental concept and is now slowly getting accepted in the West. Upanishad says, ‘we live in accordance with our deep, driving desire. It is this desire at the time of death that determines what our next life is to be. We will come back to Earth to work out the satisfaction of that desire’. There is a way to avoid death and become immortal and this would only happen if somehow one could connect to the universal consciousness and allow the pleasure of love to continuously flow like an open system. The Kundalini power would rise and, no matter what, the person will become beyond cycles like the universe or infinity and zero. Ancient Hindu gods did it and, in future, if many adapt to spiritualism and meditation and are pure of heart, it will again happen. A detailed discussion on ancient Hinduism in a different perspective is given in a separate section where it is emphasised that many of the Hindu gods like Ganesha or Shiva or Vishnu are beyond death and probably left the planet after the time cycle went wrong. It is really amazing to see pictures or sculptures where a head is cut off and still the god seems alive or even has sex (Shiva) with their head cut off. All this really happened and is not a matter of fancy and imagination; there are numerous temples in India that amply demonstrate that all this really happened and gods dwelt on Earth a long time ago and will again dwell if one seriously adopts spiritualism and meditation or Tantra.
Everything generally follows a cycle, but it is only infinity and zero that are beyond cycles. What cycle can zero have and what cycle can infinity have? Products follow a life cycle where there is a beginning, a growth phase and then decline, and then a new product emerges. Stock markets follow cycles of boom and bust. Economies follow cycles of growth and decline; every scientific network, whether it is electric circuit, electromagnetic network or internet, follows a cyclical pattern. Products are recycled to create new products, for instance, cars, trucks and consumer goods are all recycled. Space is curved and a particle thrown in a direction should return to the same point. Most of mathematical functions are cyclical. So it follows logically that life also follows a cycle of birth, death and rebirth. But, as already indicated, the only way to avoid this cycle is to connect to nature or infinity; they becomes beyond cycles.
There are three possible positions that can be taken on human destiny after death. One position: the outlook of materialism. It simply denies that there is an afterlife. It holds that the human being consists of organic matter. It regards mind as a by-product of organic matter, and, after death, with the break up of the physical body, all consciousness comes to an end and the life process is completely extinguished. The second alternative is the view held in religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam, which believe in an eternal afterlife. According to these religions, we live a single life on Earth and, after death, we live eternally in some state of existence determined by our present beliefs and conduct. Then there is a third view, a view that prevails in the religions of the East, Hinduism and Buddhism. This is the idea of rebirth. According to this, the present life is only a simple link in a chain of lives that extends back into the past and forward into the future. This chain of lives is called Samsara.
Which of the above views is correct is subject to religious interpretation and research. According to Hinduism, after death, the soul separates from the body and, depending on our karmic inheritance or balance, we take a new form, which could be a superior or inferior form. Such a view is attracting a lot of interest worldwide. One possible area of research, which could be an evidence to prove rebirth and is now attracting lot of attention, is near death experience. A near death experience is simply the experience of people who almost died and then, by divine intervention, were brought back to life. Whatever was felt by them during the brief interlude with death is called near death experience.
Research on near death experience has recorded many different types of experiences that are felt when you nearly die. Some of them are described below.
A strange sound: A buzzing, or ringing noise, while having a sense of being dead.
Peace and painlessness: While people are dying, they may be in intense pain, but, as soon as they leave the body, the pain vanishes and they experience peace.
Out-of-body experience: The dying often have the sensation of rising and floating above their own body while it is surrounded by a medical team, and watching it down below, while feeling comfortable. They experience the feeling of being in a spiritual body that appears to be a sort of living energy field.
The tunnel experience: The experience is that of being drawn into darkness through a tunnel, at an extremely high speed, until reaching a realm of radiant golden-white light. Also, although they sometimes report feeling scared, they do not sense that they were on the way to Hell or that they fell into it.
Rising rapidly into the heavens: Instead of a tunnel, some people report rising suddenly into the heavens and seeing the Earth and the celestial sphere as they would be seen by astronauts in space.
People of light: Once on the other side of the tunnel, or after they have risen into the heavens, the dying meet people who glow with an inner light. Often, they find that friends and relatives who have already died are there to greet them.
The Being of Light: After meeting the people of light, the dying often meet a powerful spiritual being whom some have identified as God, Jesus or some religious figure.
The life review: The Being of Light presents the dying with a panoramic review of everything they have ever done. That is, they relive every act they have ever done to other people and come away feeling that love is the most important thing in life.
Reluctance to return: The Being of Light sometimes tells the dying that they must return to life. Other times, they are given a choice of staying or returning. In either case, they are reluctant to return. The people who choose to return do so only because of loved ones they do not wish to leave behind.
The common thing about all near death experience is the feeling of a profound light; the light, initially dim, finally reaches an unearthly brilliance. Another common thing is to feel everything that one would have felt while alive, which could include use of all sense organs or the ability to think; the only thing there is, is complete calmness and finally the soul seems to merge with the supreme light. Another common thing reported is a feeling of infinite love. Another common thing reported is to meet with all other dead relatives.
Near death experience has been subject to scientific research and criticism, and a number of theories have now emerged to validate the claims of NDE.
The following are the scientific theories concerning the phenomenon of the near death experience.
(1) Dying Brain Theory
(2) Charles Darwin's Theory
(3) Hallucination Theory
(4) Temporal Lobe Theory
(5) Lack of Oxygen Theory
(6) Depersonalisation Theory
(7) Memory of Birth Theory
I have described two of these theories and leave it to the reader to explore the other theories and carry out further research.
This theory holds that near death experience are just hallucinations of the brain and are caused by hormones that are secreted when one is at the edge of death. According to this theory, the dying secrete endorphins, hormones that act on the central nervous system to suppress pain and create hallucination. The arguments against this theory are that endorphins are not hallucinogens and cannot re-create a state similar to NDEs, so, although they may be involved in the process as a painkiller, they are not responsible for the whole experience. Research on neurotransmitter receptors is highly complex and, in terms of our understanding of the functioning of the brain, in its infancy. It is known that a powerful anaesthetic called ketamine can produce many of the features of a NDE, particularly the out-of-body element, and one theory is that a ketamine-like substance may be released by the body at the time of a near death, and may attach itself to certain neurotransmitter receptors and be responsible for this experience.
Many scientists have rejected the importance of NDEs. They claimed to have reproduced NDEs in laboratory by giving LSD to volunteers, but other researchers say that, although drug-induced hallucinations may have some resemblance to NDEs, they are not the same. For one thing, drug-induced hallucinations often evoke fearful and paranoid experiences, which are not generally found in NDEs. Drug-induced hallucinations distort reality, while NDEs have been described as ‘hyper-reality’.
Temporal Lobe Theory
Some features of the NDE are known to occur in a type of epilepsy associated with damage to the temporal lobe of the brain, and researchers have found that, by electrically stimulating this lobe, they can mimic some elements of NDEs, such as leaving oneself behind, and the sense of life memories flashing past, although this is actually a common feature of NDEs. They believe that the stress of being near death, or thinking that you are near death, may in some way cause the stimulation of this lobe. There is some evidence to support this theory in the lower numbers of NDEs reported by people who suffer strokes, which affect this part of the brain, or have tumours in this area. But there is also a case against: the characteristic emotions that result from temporal lobe stimulation are fear, sadness and loneliness, not the calm and love of a NDE. Also, scientists may be simply discovering the mechanism connected with the mind/body separation thought by some to occur at death. Because a chemical mechanism is present in the brain, this does not mean NDEs are strictly chemical reactions. Science may only be describing the aspect of dying that deals with the brain.
Death as per Hinduism – Hinduism believes in the rebirth and reincarnation of souls. Death is, therefore, not a great calamity, not an end of all, but a natural process in the existence of soul as a separate entity, by which it reassembles its resources, adjusts its course and returns again to the Earth to continue its journey. In Hinduism, death is a temporary cessation of physical activity, a necessary means of recycling the resources and energy and an opportunity for the jiva (the part that incarnates) to review its programmes and policies. When a person dies, his soul, along with some residual consciousness, leaves the body through an opening in the head, goes to another world and returns after spending some time there. What happens after the soul leaves the body and before it reincarnates again is a great mystery about which we can form an idea after studying the scriptures.
The Bhagavad-Gita describes two paths along which souls travel after death. One is the path of the sun, also known as the bright path, and the other is the path of the moon, also known as the dark path. When a soul travels along the path of the sun, it never returns to Earth, and probably goes and takes rebirth in better worlds or planets, while those that travel along the path of the moon return. The path the soul will take depends on the karmic balances and how much of good or bad one has accumulated over all the previous lives.
According to Hinduism, what happens to a soul after the death of a mortal being on Earth depends upon many factors, some of which are listed below:
1. His previous deeds. If a person has committed many bad deeds in his life, he will go to the lower worlds and suffer from the consequences of his evil actions. On the contrary, if he performed good deeds, he will go to the higher sun-filled worlds and enjoy life there.
2. His state of mind at the time of death; that is, what thoughts and desires were predominant in his consciousness at the time of his death decides in which direction the jiva (soul) will travel and in what form it will appear again. It is said that, for example, if a person is thinking of his family and children at the time of his death, very likely he will go the world of ancestors and will be born again in that family. If a person is thinking of money matters at the time of his death, very likely he will be born as a merchant or a trader in his next birth. If a person is thinking of evil and negative thoughts, he will go to the lower worlds and suffer in the hands of evil. His suffering may either reform him or push him deeper into evil, depending upon his previous samskaras (tendencies). If he is thinking of God at the time of his death, he will go to the highest world. Though these examples are very figurative, the rebirth mainly depends on karmic balances.
Note on rebirth – Rebirth is a very complex subject and involves very deep calculations that only nature or infinity can make; there are so many worlds and there are so many different life forms; how we will be born next is really complex and only nature can decide that.
3. The time of his death. The time and circumstances related to death are also important. It is said, for example, if a person dies on a battlefield, he will attain the Heaven of the warriors. If a person dies on a festival day or an auspicious day, while performing some puja or bhajan in the house, he will go to Heaven irrespective of his previous deeds. Again, these examples are very figurative and time of death does matter, but ultimately what matters is how much good or bad you have accumulated.
Heaven and Hell as per Hinduism – Hinduism believes in the existence of not one Hell and one Heaven, but in the existence of many sun-filled worlds and many dark and demonic worlds. Apart from these, each of the trinity of gods has his own world, which is attained by their followers after their death. The purpose of Heaven and Hell is neither to punish nor reward the souls, but to remind them of the true purpose of their existence. In final analysis, the difference between Heaven and Hell is immaterial because both are a part of the great illusion that characterises the whole creation. The difference is very much like the difference between a good dream and a bad dream. In the end, it does not matter whether a soul has gone to the Heaven or to some Hell, because in both cases it learns important lessons and goes back to Earth to continue its play .The ultimate purpose of all human existence as per Hinduism is to attain salvation or Siddhi and become free from the cycle of birth and death. Methods for attaining salvation include meditation, yoga, performing good deeds and remembering that superior force is responsible for our existence. To attain salvation is considered even higher than going to Heaven. It is said in Hindu scriptures that a soul that goes to Heaven will enjoy the pleasure of Heaven and in the end realises that seeking heavenly pleasures is not the ultimate goal, since, however intense these pleasures may be, they do not last long. The best way to reach God, according to Hindu scriptures, is to think of God through dhyana (contemplation or meditation), remembrance and repetition of God’s name. If a person trains his mind to remember God all the time, very likely at the time of his death he will be able to concentrate his thoughts on God and attain Him. Through mastery of their senses and minds, many saints and seers gain complete control on the process of death and develop an intuitive awareness of when and in what manner they will depart from this world. When the time comes, leaving necessary instructions to their disciples, they leave their bodies, immersed in a state of Samadhi or deep trance.
To summarise, death is not an end, but the beginning of a new cycle. The cycle of death and birth will repeat many times till the person attains salvation. The near death experiences that are described in this section could be true, though scientific research provides evidence both supporting such experience and discounting it as mere hallucination. We all carry a karmic balance along with us during death, which would set course for our next life. I really don’t want to discuss too much about death; the consciousness is in the soul, not in the brain, and one must really attempt to connect this consciousness to universal consciousness and then one can attain salvation and avoid death and rebirth, and one becomes immortal.