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Blessings, Nayaswami Hriman
Dear Friends, I have shared below an excerpt from this lesson by Swami Yogananda. Originally intended for his students (those taking his written lessons) I have felt to omit certain parts of the lesson to honor his intention. Nonetheless, it is well worth the read.
Advanced Super Cosmic Science Course (1934): Lesson 5—How to Contact Departed-Disembodied Souls
BY SWAMI YOGANANDA
HOW TO CONTACT DEPARTED-DISEMBODIED SOULS
What happens ten minutes after death.
When the ordinary person dies, his whole body usually becomes paralyzed, just as a part of your body sometimes “goes to sleep.” When your foot goes to sleep, you see it, you know that it is yours, but you cannot move or use it. So, at the approach of death, most people feel an entire paralysis, or a going-to sleep state of the entire body--limbs, muscles, and even internal organs, including heart, lungs, and diaphragm.
In the beginning, the dying man is conscious of the slowly falling asleep of the muscles and limbs. When the heart begins to grow numb there is a sense of suffocation, for, without heart action the lungs cannot operate. This sense of suffocation is a little painful for about one to three seconds, and causes a great fear of death. Because souls reincarnate many times, and necessarily have to experience death in passing from an old body into the body of a little child, they retain the memory of the feeling of suffocation and pain at death. This memory of pain causes fear of death.
Physical and psychological states at death.
The ordinary man, at the time of death, experiences the following sensations:
1. Gradual numbness of the limbs, muscles, heart, lungs, diaphragm, and so forth.
2. During the spreading of numbness in the limbs and muscles, a sense of sadness and helplessness, and a desire to live, comes into the mind.
3. When the numbness reaches the heart and muscles, a sense of pain and suffocation is experienced which causes an extreme fear of death, and an attachment toward possessions and loved ones strongly comes upon the soul and causes extreme mental grief.
4. With the pain of suffocation, there is a great mental struggle to bring the breath back again. At this time, a condensed review of all the good and bad actions of his lifetime comes up in the mind of the dying man. This mental introspection changes into a tabloid tendency which serves to be the guiding tendency in determining the kind of rebirth that the dying man is to obtain in the next life.
5. At this time, the senses of touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing vanish in succession. The sense of hearing is the last to leave the consciousness of the dying man. That is why it is extremely unwise to even whisper within the hearing of a dying person: “All is over; he is about to die.”
6. Since the last predominating thought of a dying man is weighted down with the habit tendency of a lifetime, it is not good to overburden this consciousness with the fear of death.
7. The dying man should be told nothing, or, if he is a brave man, and wants to die, whisper into his ear: “Cross the portal of this woesome life into the vista of an everlastingly happy life.”
8. The ordinary person, after he experiences the sense of suffocation, finds himself suddenly relieved of the weight of his body, of the necessity of breathing, and of any physical pain.
9. After that, the soul of the dead man enters into a state of oblivious sleep a million times deeper and more enjoyable than the state of ordinary deep sleep.
10. A sense of soaring through a very peaceful tunnel of gloom is experienced by the soul.
11. Sometimes, when a man dies quickly, for instance, by hanging or electrocution, or guillotine, or from a shot or sudden accident, he experiences practically no physical pain.
12. The suffering is purely mental when the soul remembers it cannot breathe or live. An imaginary sense of suffocation and pain at death turns into a most painful mental nightmare, which for some time tortures the mental feeling of the dead man, but after a little while, when the soul realizes that its body is gone, it becomes reconciled. If a good soul is murdered, he seldom suffers even any mental agony after a sudden death.
Different souls experience different kinds of death.
When deep thinkers die, they retain their consciousness very slightly after death. Those who are used to thinking only through the machine of the physical cerebrum encased in flesh, cannot think consciously when that brain is missing. However, due to the fact that deep thinkers have a strong imagination and power of concentration, they can unconsciously materialize their thoughts into astral dreams--in the astral realm of death. Deep thinkers sometimes get beautiful dreams in the astral realm after death. They seldom go through astral nightmares.
As in ordinary sleep, a man may experience dreams or nightmares, so during the big sleep, that is, death, a soul may experience either beautiful dreams or nightmares. As dreams or nightmares are experienced during the unconsciousness of sleep with the physical brain as the base, so, also, the ego experiences dreams or nightmares during the unconsciousness of the death-sleep, with the astral brain and latent memory as the base.
The astral body becomes the base of operation after death.
The astral body is a dream within a dream of the physical body. As the dream of the physical body can have human dreams, so, also, the astral body by itself (without the physical body) can create any dream within itself. Though the physical body is a dream of God, still it seems real when it is owned by the ego. Likewise, the astral body in death becomes real and the base of operation for the ego.
Q: Does anybody become conscious after death?
A: Yes. Saints and people of concentration who, during their earthly existence, have practised the technique of meditation, can retain their consciousness even when the heart slows down or stops, and they are eligible to retain their consciousness during the state of deathly sleep. Just as we can enjoy a deep sleep, or watch the working of a beautiful dream, semi-consciously, so, also, in conscious death all astral experiences can be consciously or semi-consciously watched.
Q: What are the experiences of souls who can consciously work in the astral land after death?
A: If, while living in this world, one has hallucinations of living in a different land, that land of illusion becomes real to him, and this world becomes unreal. Likewise, the astral land becomes real to the disembodied soul. [He is not comparing hallucinations with the astral world except as a metaphor.]
This astral land appears to the soul as a very beautiful garden of will. Here he finds an astral climate evenly hot and cold, capable of being controlled by the power of the will, just as modern people can create the warmth of the summer indoors by means of steam heat during winter time, and on warm summer days, they can cool their homes by refrigeration. There is astral winter, spring, rainy season, and summer. The astral winter consists of exquisitely beautiful, fairly cool, white fleecy clouds, or rays, floating around the astral land. The astral snow is ordered by the astral inhabitants mostly for decorating the astral scenery. This astral snow changes the temperature according to the will of the astral inhabitants.
The astral spring and summer are filled with an infinite variety of celestial blossoms smiling on the soil of transparent frozen golden light. The astral flowers blossom and change, or vanish, with an endless variety of blended colours, according to the fancy of the astral gardener. They never die. They only vanish or change when not wanted.
In the astral rainy season, the rays pour down over the golden soil, emanating an ineffable variety of music of the spheres. They form flower shapes as they fall on the astral soil so that during the astral rain one can perceive a sheet of silver threads dangling daisies and roses of light, and showering them on the astral land. Flower-shaped pools of astral light bedeck the astral streets during an astral rain.
In the astral land, there are many mansions or spheres of various multi-coloured luminous vibrations. Just like different neighbourhoods--the aristocratic and slum districts of a city--so the astral kingdom has many quarters of different kinds of dwellings. Unlike clay brick buildings, the astral abodes are made of bricks composed of condensed atoms. The saints live in the aristocratic refined astral realms. Here ordinary souls would freeze to death or suffocate, but the saints can live in extremely cold or extremely warm ways, free from magnetic disturbances. In the astral slums, wicked souls live, unable to enter into the refined atmosphere of the priceless spiritual aristocrats.
Just as insects live in the solidified atoms or earth, and fish live in liquefied atoms or water, and man lives in gaseous atoms or air, and saints live in the luminous electric atoms of space, where there is neither soil, water, nor air, so also in the astral land some astral animals live in solidified rays, some astral amphibians live in an astral ocean, and some astral souls live in astral atmosphere, and some live in glittering astral ether, where there is no astral soil, gas, or astral water. The astral animals live more in harmony than earthly animals and are superior to them. That is why, in the visions of St. John’s Apocalypse, and in the yoga books, we find mention of beasts. Saints in the astral realm can travel in any sphere of vibration, just as the President of the United States is welcome to travel in any part of America.
How long do souls stay in the astral land?
Just as some people do not sleep at all, and others sleep ten; hours a day, and some sleep all the time in sleeping sickness, so ordinary souls get quick rebirths after a short rest in the astral land. Suicide souls are forced to stay longer, experiencing the nightmares of astral life, impelled by their own bad karma. Good souls can remain in the world as long as they want to, and can be reborn on this earth, or may plunge into the Infinite. It is not true that all souls wait hundreds of years after death before rebirth.
Is there marriage in the astral land?
There is an affinity of true souls who commune with each other by uniting their positive and negative life forces. Astral children are born by materializing thought tendencies and life force into astral bodies.
There is reincarnation in the astral land.
There is birth and death and reincarnation in the astral land, just as there is in earth life, only in the astral land life is very long and death, or any change, is not forced upon any advanced soul--the wicked astral souls excepted.
When the soul lovingly remembers earthly experiences, it may have to go back again and experience life and death in the physical world. The astral death has no pain or fear, such as physical death has.
Astral diseases consist mostly of mental moods and mental deficiencies, or astral mal-nutrition. These astral diseases are easily remedied by the powerful minds of almost all astral inhabitants.
What is eaten in the astral world?
In the astral land, the inhabitants eat solidified rays. They drink liquid light. They breathe astral air and roam in the pure, etheric skies. The astral inhabitants study and help one another and send help to the earth, or to different planets that are in trouble, through the invisible mind radio. It is their goodwill and virtue that keeps the earth from exploding with sin.
Astral crime consists in ignorance and in seeking selfish happiness. There are no judges to punish anyone. Souls punish themselves, when they are wrong, by self-imposed discipline.
How can we get in touch with the dead?
Do not try to contact tramp souls who infest the ether with their presence. As tramps can occupy and run to destruction an empty, unlocked automobile, so tramp souls can get into absentminded, shallow-brained people who try to invoke spirits through a passive state of mind. Such tramp souls can possess the brain and wreck it.
Only true souls who loved you, and who continue to love you, should be invited. You need good souls to help you, and you can also send them help. Commune with only the highest saints. The tramp souls who come to you uninvited only want a free ride on your brain-car in order to wreck it. That is why people who passively allow themselves to be possessed usually lose their character, mind, and spiritual power.
How to distinguish between true spirit control and subconscious hallucinations.
In subconscious hallucinations, the sub-mind, through self-suggestion or the suggestion of others, may receive a suggestion by telepathy to act as a dead grandfather or grandmother. In such change of personality a man, through self-hypnosis, or mental derangement, or subconsciousness, thinks himself to be somebody else.
Once a Boston clergyman was sick, and when he became well again, he felt that he was a grocery man, and he disappeared and lived elsewhere with a different name, and sold groceries. Later he became sick again, his mind changed, and he came back to his home, where he remembered that he was a clergyman. These states are marked by extreme emotions.
In real communication with a spirit, one should not lose consciousness, but should consciously commune with the invited soul. These states are usually devoid of exciting emotions. Do not try quick, magic tricks to get in touch with departed souls. That is a great spiritual crime against God and humanity. By deep, incessant meditation try to get in touch with your dear dead ones. Only meditation, and months, and sometimes years, of patience can bring them to you.
The life after death is the greatest mystery guarded by nature, because people would never use their family-cultivated love of one life to give it to new brother souls of another life if they could find their lost lived ones of previous lives. Only broad, all-living, concentrated souls can solve the mystery of life after death.
Q: Can souls be contacted if they leave the astral plane and are reborn on earth?
A: Yes. Even if some of your dead loved ones have reincarnated, you can signal to their ever-awake astral bodies and receive an answer in the form of a dream in sleep, or a vision in meditation.
Thus, by finding friends in this life and following them up in the astral sphere after death, you will learn the mystery of life after death. Then you will know that death separated your loved ones from you so that you might love, not only them and exclude all your other human brothers, but that you might give your love to all the people in all incarnations. Thus when your heart becomes big enough to love all, you will then know the Father who loves all His children alike, and knowing Him, you will know all your many parents and friends that you loved before. With that intense love you will learn to love all your animate and inanimate brothers as your brothers and children of your one, ever-kind, ever-mysterious Father-God.
Most of the readers of this blog know Nayaswami Tushti Conti who, after a battle with cancer, has passed on from this world just a few days ago.
One of the interesting aspects of her process was the understandable desire on her part to "die consciously." It is axiomatic in the tradition of yoga, and presumably all spiritual traditions, that to die peacefully with "God on your lips" is something of the gold standard for the death of a devotee.
Yes, it's true that a liberated master is said to exit his body consciously, knowing even the time and the hour beforehand, but in these thoughts that I wish to share, I'm not referencing that state of consciousness. Only the lesser goal of exiting in peace and with conscious, devotional awareness.
I have no pretense to offer any deep insights into the process of dying but certainly this hope of dying consciously spurs thoughts and reflections in the minds of the devotee-friends of Tushti.
No experienced hospice care giver; no experienced midwife or obstetrician; no thoughtful observer of life itself is unaware of the simple fact that each death, each birth, and each life is unique and personal. It is not reasonable, therefore, to burden one's expectations of death with a judgment of "good" or "bad" or holy or profane based solely on the incidents and attributes of a particular person's dying.
Take the daily example of "falling" to sleep. One simply CANNOT WILL oneself to sleep. To "fall" asleep, you have to let go; relax! Dying must surely have a similar aspect: not in every and all cases of natural death but the basic stages of resistance and final acceptance or surrender are fairly easily imagined and readily observed with even some modest amount of deathbed experience.
We, as devotees, must consider the importance of accepting not just the time but the circumstances of our death. We cannot say what karma of our own might be released by end of life suffering if accepted with faith and equanimity. Naturally we would all like to have a peace-filled, joy infused passing, with friends at our side, and angels and masters above! But whether or not we are granted this grace, we should not judge ourselves or others by its yardstick.
It is also axiomatic that one's thought at death importantly affects one's journey "northward" into the astral realm and, just as importantly, one's next incarnation (if any). The thought of God, and self-offering without reservation into the light, can propel one past mountains of past (bad) karma, or so it is said. (Krishna so states in the Bhagavad Gita and similarly in the Tibetan Book of the Dead and numerous other traditions.) [So, too, as we "fall" asleep our last thought can impact our sleep, our dreams, and the state in which we reawaken in the morning!]
I very much like this thought-at-death "escape clause;" in fact, I have a lot riding on it. Unfortunately I have this nagging thought that "as I have lived, so shall I die!" If one has had no God-remembrance in his daily life, why would it suddenly appear at death: the moment of extreme renunciation of attachment to the body, to loved ones, to fears, attachments, unfulfilled desires, regrets and so much more?
Yet, I think it's one of those "both-and" kind of things. I can picture, for example, a person who truly loves God but has had many challenges in life: addictive habits, for example; or extremely poor health; then, at death, this person makes a heroic effort to surrender to the love of God. At such a moment perhaps all the karma, all the challenges evaporate in this moment of supreme surrender to the light.
As the life force withdraws from the organs and tissues and breath begins to fade, the "I" is beginning to "shrink" as the life force is squeezed, as it were, into the the narrow passageways of the astral body. We do this in a partial way each night as we "fall" asleep and rest in the lower energy centers (the chakras) of the spine. This is in part how and why our senses shut off and are generally unaware or untouched by outer lights, sounds, and so on.
Deprived of the day-to-day and lifetime identification with the body, the senses, passing thoughts, memories and desires, the "I" seems to fall asleep; to wink out, like a light bulb being shut off. Thus it is that many people at death appear or in fact do fall asleep and fade away, seemingly unconscious. That seeming fact however is also illusive; hearing, being the last sense to fade away, gives to the apparently unconscious dying person a link to his or her surroundings such that, he may not be able to visibly respond or react to what is being around him, he may nonetheless be affected, emotionally or otherwise.
Reports of a last minute rush of wakefulness, even when otherwise heavily sedated, is not uncommon: whether immediately before death or within hours or the last day. Thus it is a back and forth between wakefulness and a kind of sleep. There is no end to the iterations and symptoms that can be observed in dying persons when surveying a large sampling of deaths.
Paramhansa Yogananda wrote that the sojourn between earthly incarnations is marked mostly by a kind of sleep state: not unlike what we experience each night. Deprived of a physical body, with its brain, organs and nervous system (including senses) the average person is not capable of retaining consciousness in the prolonged sleep of death. It's like those who can climb Mt. Everest without oxygen. Few can do it. Deprived of oxygen of breath, most people go unconscious (actually, "sub" conscious).
But there are others who live more directly and more frequently in a state of expanded awareness, living, in effect, on the direct current of the intelligent life force that makes life in a human body possible to begin with. Deep meditators who effectively control their breath and heart rate, slowing it down not into the state of subconscious sleep but into an intense state of heightened awareness, will more likely enter back into that state during the dying process. Those whose lives on earth were lived more in the brain and higher centers (say, from the heart upwards), people such as devotees, saints, meditators, inventors, composers, scientists, mathematicians, humanitarians, and the like, are also more likely to remain conscious of the astral realm.
So as we slip towards losing our breath and our heart beat and are being "squeezed" into the astral tunnel from which we came into the body (at conception), it either appears or is in fact most people's experience to go subconscious. I suspect that one can no more by will power alone remain in the conscious, wakeful state during the final stage of dying than one can do so when falling asleep. [As the baby being born is squeezed and pushed through the mother's birth canal, so we, being reborn on the astral plane at physical death, are squeezed in the upward direction through the birth canal of the astral spine.]
The difference however is that, whether by divine grace, good karma, and/or actual life experience, it is possible, I believe and have been given to understand, to exit the body more, rather than less, consciously. But the "more" is not the day-to-day conscious mind and consciousness of the personality version of "I," it is, I am certain, the higher mind of superconsciousness, stripped of attributes but intensely aware with undertones (or overtones) of joy, peace, energy, the astral sounds or inner light, etc. No doubt, as we are taught, there are some who do so in the presence of or guidance of God, guru, etc. Again I say: there is no one set pattern or experience for everyone.
This "squeezing" is like squeezing the water flowing in a hose; by temporarily limiting the diameter of the flow, the flow shoots out with greater force. In an analagous manner, it is commonly reported that upon exiting the body and entering the astral realm, one enters into the "light at the end of the (astral) tunnel [of the spine]." There one is greeted by loved ones; by one's guru; by an angel; etc. There is a moment where a life review takes place and we see the significance of events that perhaps we didn't really notice. We receive a kind of report card. It is not judgmental, it is, in a spiritual sense, simply a review and a report. Perhaps it is a moment to resolve to do better in the future.
How long after that intense experience wherein we have a heightened experience do we retain consciousness is dependent, then, upon the factors described above. Most people, fall asleep for a much needed rest after a long or difficult life, or suffering in old age, regrets, disappointments and so on. Since this topic is worthy of a book, I can only go so far in a blog article.
Mostly my point is to offer reassurance that each of us must face our final exam as best we can with courage, faith, joy and gratitude. We need not concern ourselves for the ideally "perfect" ending. Let us live in the light rather than hope it is there in the end. It will be there one way or the other if we have lived it day to day.
As for our friend, Tushti, we know she is well and in joy. Her life was lived in that consciousness and her dying confirmed it.
Blessings to you and may we each approach life's Final Exam ready to succeed!
PS A further consideration is "What of "Me" survives past death?" Maybe some other time.
Last weekend, May 16-17 (2015), the worldwide Ananda family gathered on the grounds of the Crystal Hermitage at Ananda Village (near Nevada City, CA) to dedicate the small meditation chapel ("mandir") under which is buried the body of Ananda's founder, Swami Kriyananda. It's been two years since his passing in 2013.
I recall many years ago Swami Kriyananda describing his experience after the death of his own father. It was, he said, as if his father's spirit, at last released from his aging and broken body, was re-born fresh and youthful, vigorous and vibrant. Swamiji said he felt his father's spirit as a young man embarking eagerly upon his life's journey.
Ever since then, and with the passing of my own parents, and others, I have tested this for myself and have found it true. Of course the stronger the spirit of a person in life, the stronger the spirit after death. Thus it was that at the dedication weekend many members from around the world remarked upon this phenomenon, saying that since Swamiji's passing two years ago we have felt his spirit even more strongly than when he was alive.
Several times during his life of lecturing I heard him say that when the soul is released from the body into the astral world, feelings and emotions are, as if, uncorked and thus far more intense. In our physical bodies our emotions are distracted or suppressed by other competing feelings and sense-impressions like hunger, heat, cold, missed appointments, unpaid bills, a mosquito buzzing near our ear, or the loquacious uncle attending the funeral whom you find annoying but must politely tolerate.
Consider that the last many years of Swami's life he had to contend with an aging and often seriously ill body. Reflect what your "aura" or energy or magnetism is like when you have a cold, flu, a stomach ache or a toothache! You withdraw within yourself and contract from interactions and activities. Your energy or aura contracts.
Despite his aging and ill health and throughout his entire life, Swami Kriyananda's spirit in life was larger than life, so it is not surprising that after his death, his great spirit has been strongly felt.
Yet it is not as if his spirit contracted or declined in the more ordinary way that aging or ill people find their world shrinks to a small room, to taking medicines, going to doctors, and more or less disappearing from sight having lost interest in the world around them. Swamiji continued his lifelong travel habits serving his guru's work, lecturing and writing. But his focus narrowed nonetheless to fewer outward activities and reduced daily communications with as large a family of individuals.
Yet in his case, his spirit, rather than shrinking, shifted into another form: bliss! Instead of vigorous activities and intense daily people connections, he shone with an inner bliss that he often could not contain and which readily expressed itself in tears of joy or laughter, or deep inner calmness.
Nonetheless, the testimony of many people from around the world is that his spirit is more with us now than ever. It seems to many of us that his wisdom is even more accessible now. We find that he seems to be subtly guiding our thoughts in uncanny but tangible ways.
My way of putting it, for myself, is that I feel as if I think more like him than I did before! There have been times when I could hear his thoughts as my thoughts. So, perhaps he has bequeathed to each us some portion of his spirit--as his legacy and gift!
Thus I conclude that for those souls who, on earth, had an expansive and expanding consciousness, we will find our spirit expanding joyfully and greatly when released from the confines of the body!
The mystery of death, its suffering and its cold finality, have preoccupied humans for probably longer than humanity itself. The possibility of continued existence through successive rebirths is also an ancient belief.
One minute a person, often a loved one or maybe a patient in your hospital, a passenger in a car nearby, or a soldier in the Humvee ahead of you, is there and the next moment he or she is gone. It's an eerie and startling experience.
Once in college as I was studying in my curtained off garage study and meditation room, an accident took place late at night. I heard a scream and then sudden silence. A car had struck a motorcycle outside my house and the cyclist was lying dead on the street. There was no one else around, apart from the driver of the car. The night was silent and this poor soul had been swallowed up by it.
Another time deep in the woods I watched an inexperienced canoeist paddle out to help some boys whose canoe had tipped over as they steered away from the deadly rapids and falls towards the portgage trail. But as we, and his wife and children watched in astonishment from shore, the self-appointed rescuer, not in control of his own canoe, literally paddled out and right over the falls -- never to be found. The look on his face only yards away from us as he realized in horror his slow-motion, surreal mistake will never be forgotten. His wife's tortured screams and shock still ring in my ears.
The lights go out and the building is untenanted. What a mystery.
We, identified as we are with our bodies, cannot help but feel a sense of loss and grief in the face of death's silence. Paramhansa Yogananda, the renowned master of yoga (life force) and author of the classic story "Autobiography of a Yogi," described the death experience on many occasions and in some of his writings.
Meditation as practiced by a master is, quite literally, the conscious reeanctment of the death experience but without its finality. Thus such a one is competent to speak of it. We also have descriptions from those who have had the near-death experience.
Death resembles our nightly sleep experience in some ways. Just as when we fall deeper into sleep, the body and its senses become insensate as our life vitality withdraws from the body. But at death with the last breath our life force makes its final exhalation journey to the base of the astral spine before beginning its return journey and ascension up the central spine (sushumna). In this ascension our life force is squeezed and compressed and many people feel anxious or fearful. In addition, at this moment our physical body has ceased breathing. Much of the struggle against the cessation of the breath cycle has already taken place earlier such that at the final exhalation there is not necessarily further struggle. The life force by this moment is so internalized that awareness of the body and breath has vanished.
As our life force (astral body) squeezes into the sushumna and begins to rise in its tunnel, we are entering another birth canal and often feel a similar level of stress and anxiety as we observe in a new-born during its progress through the mother's birth canal. The near-death report of going through a long dark tunnel is in fact a description of this phase. The light at the end of that tunnel is the light of the astral regions into which we are about to enter: being re-born onto the astral plane!
The light welcome us and comforts us as our life force exits through the region near the medulla oblongata at the base of the brain (the negative pole of the sixth chakra). The expansion of our astral body upon its exit is like the diver, out of breath, breaking the surface and taking in much needed air. It is a relief to come out of the tunnel!
As the physical mouth takes in food and water, the "mouth of God" at the medulla (the astral body) takes in life force to sustain the physical body. Just as food and water cannot revive a dead person or as water into a battery cannot revive a dead battery, so too does the physical body rely most essentially on life force (known as prana, chi, cosmic energy, etc.). Thus there are corroborated stories of saints who, to demonstrate this truth, are given the grace to live without food or water--for decades. Therese Neumann in Bavaria in the 20th century was one such saint who was repeatedly examined by medical doctors.
Still, the death experience can be anxiety filled and dreaded, especially to those unprepared for it especially in how they have lived. The more we live for bodily comfort and pleasure and for ego-affirmation the more we feel deprivation and fear for losing control and awareness in the body. The more a person lives on a higher mental, emotional, or spiritual plane the less attached to the body and the more likely one is to be calm and peaceful. Death, it has been well said, is the final exam of how we have lived our life.
It is not always so, of course: cases of instant death; prolonged unconsciousness and so on. But it is often the case.
One of the great mysteries is to what extent do we remain conscious and to what degree is the after-death experience a pleasant or unpleasant one. This is as varied as the cosciousness of humans and cannot be but merely generalized.
Death deprives us of the body. To the degree one cannot exist without sensory stimuli, one feels the deprivation presumably as loss, as loneliness, and as suffering. This can be temporary as part of the death process or it can remain: depending upon the intensity of one's identification with the physical body. We can call this sensory deprivation.
Like a fish out of water or a climber reaching great heights, our experience depends largely on the degree to which, during life, we have experienced the "oxygen-less" (breathless) altitudes of superconsciousness. Deep and (near) breathless states of meditation are achievable by anyone willing to make the effort to meditate using proven methods of meditation.
Those of great artistic sensitivity or scientific, inventive, philosophical, or other high states of mental concentation and ability also may remain conscious in the astral state. Those who possess great compassion rendering humanitarian service and engaged in prolonged hours of self-forgetfulness which lift them beyond bodily identification also experience more readily the airless astral regions in comfort and joy.
But most people who receive the comfort of the Light upon exiting the body cannot, for very long, sustain conscious awareness in these higher altitudes of the astral region without falling back asleep for having been deprived of the vehicle of their physical body.
Before doing so, however, first two things are commonly experienced. One is some degree of comfort: whether described as being welcomed by loved ones, previously departed, or by God, angels, or one of the masters. Relief at having survived what they thought was death is no small part of the joy one feels upon entering the astral realm.
Another is the reading of the book of life. In some timeless moment we see, if but in an instant, a re-run of the life just lived. We may discover to our surprise important scenes we hadn't noticed. But we receive as if from the soul's even but temporary awakening a God's eye view of our life.
This is the judgment so often referred to. It is Self-judgment however even if we, having failed to become acquainted with our Higher Self, experience that Self as "Other" and therfore as a Judge.
But as I say, those who cannot but briefly sustain this high altitude of superconsciousness then fall asleep. Old age can bring suffering of all levels and many in fact desire and need, as we do nightly, their earned repose. Those who can remain awake on that high plane do so. For those I refer to the chapter, in Autobiography of a Yogi, entitled "The Resurrection of Sri Yukteswar." In this chapter he describes the astral and causal regions.
A sideline to the astral realms relates to the effect of shedding the confinement of the physical body. Swami Kriyananda, a direct disciple and founder of Ananda, describes how, uncorked form the physical form, our feelings and states of consciousness are greatly intensified on the astral plane. If we have a calm, peaceful and harmonious consciousness we expand joyfull into that. If we have lived with lust and desire, anger and resentment, we expand into the seemingly endless hell of such states which, deprived of a physical body, can find no outlet, no fulfillment.
Just as near dawn we begin to stir from our deep nightly slumber, so too souls begin to stir when the time of their rest is soon to be over. And, like we at night, they too may have intermitten dreams of loved ones or scenes from their prior life during this astral sleep. But near dawn, we stir, sometimes fitfully, for the next life's lessons and tasks (and desires) call to us.
Yogananda taught that when a couple unite sexually, and sperm and ovum unite (these are not necessarily simultaneous, I know), a flash of light occurs on the astral realm. I once read in National Georgraphic that when the sperm penetrates the husk of the ovum, an electrical charge goes off! At that moment, those souls whose time it is to return all rush, competitively, to enter that womb. But only those souls who have some relative vibrational harmony with the consciousness of that couple (we could say karmic resonance, too) are attracted to this light. Thus begins, as Yogananda put it, our first race for survival: a portent to the endless contention and effort required to live in a physical body.
What then is reincarnation? Reincarnation posits that individual souls return to new bodies repeatedly over vast epochs of time as the consequence of past actions (which include past desires).
It is said that this process is necessary because our immortal and changeless soul has misunderstood its true nature by identification with the passing drama of its many physical forms and the cumulative effect of the likes and dislikes, actions and reactions which arise from it. These many lives offer the soul the opportunity to learn and grow towards Self-realization (or to postone those lessons). Self-realization is the realization that we are the soul and not the body or personality. This soul, or Atman, is destined to become one with the Creator but this destiny must be obtained by its willing choice, not by compulsion.
Surveys show that the majority of humans on this planet subscribe to or accept as plausible the idea of mutliple births.
Yet the fact of death is undeniably final as it relates to our body and the personality which had inhabited it. Countless, however, are those who claim they have had some post-death contact with their loved one. Many are the stories of near-death experiences attesting to our disincarnate and deathless reality.
What aspect of our Self continues and what aspect is lost? There are remarkable and many stories of children with clear and convincing memories of their past life. (The relatively recent story, "Soul Survivor," is worth reading.)
Since we can safely say that most humans DO NOT remember their past lives (except perhaps in flitting glimpses or oddly familiar feelings about others, places, or objects....but just occasionally), something is lost, to us at least. Of course isn't memory loss in THIS lifetime a serious problem? Why should we fret, then, over loss over memory due to the intensity of the after death sojourn in astral sleep. Interestingly, it seems that dying takes place early as year after year our memories fade, as if in anticipation!
If the power goes out when your are sitting at your computer in the middle of multiple programs, your work is at least partially lost. If a program crashes and cannot be restarted, the data remains on the hard drive but, without the program, cannot typically be accessed. When you delete a file, only the index of how to find that file is erased. The file itself remains on the hard drive. Deleting that index is somewhat akin to the loss of the physical body. But the matrix of the astral body retains the data for later use and recovery. The conscious mind may have no access to it, however.
Each life is indeed unique: as to time, space, circumstances, events, and the resulting combination of attitudes, habits, and insights the grow up around this unique time-space experience. But when we die, those external circumstances whose influence is undeniable disappear and with them those merely superficial incidentals of our personality which depended upon them.
More deeply ingrained attitudes are like data files that remain intact in the matrix of the astral (energy) body of light. We are using light in modern technology as a transmitter of voice, data, and video signals. So it is not difficult to imagine a body of light in which a matrix of qualities, memories, tendencies, and attitudes reside.
Unlike computers, however, that which IS ("I AM"), the Infinite consciousness contains all thoughts, all past, present, and future. Thus in truth (in God's infinite consciousness) NOTHING is lost. But until our souls awaken and then merge into God, we only recover bits of data from our past. Hence it is that Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras explains that one who has achieved perfect non-attachment to his body and all objects remembers his past lives.
This does not mean that those children who are born with clear memories of the former life are necessarily great saints but, for reasons we cannot see, they are blessed with that memory perhaps to bestow a message to their families and others with "eyes to see."
Thus we mustn't feel badly to the degree of our grief and sense of loss, whether for ourselves or for others at the time of death. We can strive, however, to live with faith and to live on the higher plane of God-realization, compassion, concentration, and nobility of character. From the great heights of the mountain peaks of consciousness beyond bodily identification, we see the valleys and hills of life below as one great panorama.