Mind, Body, Soul|Aug 19, 2011 3:36 PM| by:

The Mystery of Death (I)

Death the great annihilator of the works of time is the only thing certain about life. Yet we know nearly nothing about this event with any certainty. For all our modern and scientific development we cannot predict death. It remains as enigmatic as it has been. All that we know is that death is, but what it is we do not know. We have observed something about the processes of death but not the why and how of it. So too we have learnt something about what happens to the physical body after death but we have little clue about the self and its experience after death. Most do not come back to tell us what happened behind the iron curtain that abruptly ended life. The few who return, remember very little. And the rare ones who both return and remember are ignored by modern science. Thus, a useful body of evidence is lost just because it would shake the very foundations of our theory of material reductionism. For material processes are, in the final analysis, only a last step in a chain and series of events that happen simultaneously or successively on other Time-Space domains of our vast cosmic existence.

The law and inevitability of death!

Is death inevitable? We are so accustomed to observing and therefore believing this, that the inevitability of death is taken as a fact never to be questioned. Both philosophy and science would jointly agree on this one issue that all that is born must inevitably die one day.

Let us examine this one settled fact a little more closely. In the plant kingdom there are some trees that have been alive since the beginning of tree life. Not only do they live, but they continue to grow fresh shoots with every season. From a holistic and consciousness point of view, we may say that they have arrived at a certain balance and harmony with their environment and therefore they continue to thrive and grow. In other words, these trees are plastic and adaptable to the demands of life around them. Also certain simple unicellular organisms like the amoeba do not die. They may be killed outright by our drugs (and may kill us too!) but left to Nature and themselves they keep on reproducing ad infinitum rather than dying. Here again, the reason for this indefinite survival is a plasticity to change form before death intervenes. What about multi-cellular organisms including man? Here too we have interesting observations to make. Groups of cells die (are shed off) but the organism does not die. In fact groups of cells die so as to renew themselves and thereby assist in the overall health and harmony of the body! The cells more exposed to the onslaught of the milieu exterior are shed off more frequently and have evolved a natural way of protecting themselves and the body from external attacks. The internal cells do so less efficiently and have a tendency to succumb once their protective coat is disrupted. All the same, death of a group of cells is more often than not a mechanism to preserve life rather than disrupt it. Indeed, certain species like the lizard and salamander can shed off old organs and grow new ones in their place!

All this is a clear hint that death is used in Nature’s economy, like everything else as a process of life and not as its opposite. The sense of the opposition comes to us when we limit our vision to individual units of life. We cut small sections of the whole and derive hasty conclusions. But in the grand orchestral vision of Nature, all life is one and must grow and progress as a single whole. Any group of cells, organisms or species that loses this sense and tries to grow at the expense of other groups without a return in exchange is inviting death.

This apart, the necessity of death arises from another secret impulse in the individual units of life.

Each unit of life, though apparently and outwardly separate, remembers its secret oneness. The material form represents only one of the few facets of the all-life which is potentially infinite in its origin, scope and possibilities of manifestation. This capacity for infinite variation is very evident in Nature. No two patterns of leaf and no two finger-prints are alike (even in identical twins!). Yet each part conceals in itself the whole (potentially). This too we see in the embryonic development of human beings. The foetus repeats the previous stages of evolution anterior to human beings. As recent experiments of cloning suggest, and as is also seen in certain forms of illnesses, the specialisation of cells is only a convenient device of Nature. Even the most specialised cell never fully forgets its totipotent stage of development and can under certain conditions revert back to it! Even what we call congenital malformations are nothing but the superimposition of our past animal forms mated with our human present, albeit anachronistically. The anachronism unintelligible to us may however be perfectly intelligible from a consciousness point of view that holds our past and present life in a single thread linked to the yet unmanifest future. This need for individual life to reconstitute its lost oneness, to experience the infinite on a finite basis is another secret cause of death. An individual consciousness, however vast, needs a succession of lives and corresponding forms to embrace and experience the infinite concealed in life.

All laws, therefore, including the so-called inevitability of death are simply habitual movements of consciousness. Nature has in its wisdom devised these movements as a means to serve its purpose. Change is life, rigidity is death. Whatever is capable of a perpetual change, based upon oneness, can live forever. Whatever remains rigidly fixed in its narrow groove is dislodged one day and dies.

Death — a collective view

What applies at an individual level applies at a collective level too. A certain influential section of the scientific community has however believed (and made us believe too!) that survival is best ensured by competitive struggle. The more capable one is in outdoing another form of life, the more likely one is to survive and live. Modern society (both capitalism and the present form of communism) built largely on this belief, is already beginning to see the ill effects both at an individual and collective level. So is modern medicine! For modern medicine unlike our more patient ancestors is trying to conquer death by violently crushing all that it sees as a threat to the body’s survival. It fails to note that what we see as threats is Nature’s challenge to stimulate and uncover latent potentials. The deer frolicking on the plains of Africa has survived and outlived the tiger, not because of its greater capacity for over-powering the tiger!

For Nature works on a plan of oneness and only that group and species which can base itself on this sense of oneness, will survive the onslaught of death. Missing this secret led to the downfall, disintegration and eventual destruction of the great Roman, Atlantic, Trojan and other empires. Knowing this secret led to the continuity and preservation of the great Indian spiritual traditions, despite outer conquest, domination and mass conversions! Here too, we see the same truth. Rigidity, fixity, narrowness, and separateness lead to death. Plasticity, co-operation, inter-change and oneness better ensure the group’s survival and growth.

Death — a sequel of aging?

We see that death need not be a necessary sequel to aging. Shedding off of the old cells keeps happening in a growing body too. So why does the body gradually become weaker and weaker? Here too we do not find any fixed and unvarying rule. There are people who age relatively early and deteriorate fast. Others retain their youth and vitality for a much longer period. Some simply drop dead in the prime of their youth, while others wither and fade away slowly. There are known instances in the life of certain yogis who have pushed death far beyond the norm of our species; still others have reversed the process, at least for the time being! What are the laws that govern this transition through life?

There is a tendency to pass off our ignorance under the huge umbrella of genes. While we cannot deny the role of genes in fixing much of our physical characteristics, we cannot equally deny the great role our thoughts, feelings, vitality and physical culture, as well as lifestyle and habits have on the aging process. Genes may lay the rough hardware, yet there is a flexibility provided within the species to alter the software we choose. There are people who indulge in every kind of excess yet seem to sail through smoothly enough. Others die soon despite clean living.

That our mind can radically influence matter is now well recognized in medicine, even though many physicians still choose to ignore this. Biofeedback, yoga-therapy and meditation are just some of the established means of influencing matter by releasing, focusing and chastening the energies of the mind. How far can we go this way? Can we alter the genetic sequence, mutate the genes, prolong life, retain youth, suppress the harmful elements, etc. etc.? Where are the limits? Perhaps as far as we believe them to be! Yet since all matter is one, and all life one in essence, perhaps the All-consciousness would not allow an indefinite lease to a species lest it disturb the total balance. Also the mind evolves out of life and matter and is therefore dependent on them for action and expression. That is why most of us cannot think clearly when febrile or with a disordered stomach. Even those who can liberate thought from the influence of matter, are bound to it the moment they begin to act upon it. A power greater than mind and freer than thought is needed to affect the most radical of changes — the material conquest over death.

Processes of life and death

We mistake life for the processes through which it expresses itself in matter. We also mistake death for the cessation of those processes. For example, when the power is switched off, people say that there is no electricity. But electricity exists right there and would still continue to exist as a principle and manifest through the clouds as lightning. So too life exists as a principle, independent of our physical existence. We see life using different instrumentations in different species. What is life-threatening to us, is life giving to another. Even in the same species, we find records of inexplicable modes of living in times of grave life-threatening situations. Thus, in certain exceptionally difficult conditions, like wars or natural disasters, people have lived on despite the absence of external support systems like food, water, or even air (buried under debris for days). Again, during certain religious ceremonies and fasting, people are known to draw energy directly without food and water. Instances are also known of a spontaneous return to life (as well as artificially) following cessation of life processes. As an extreme example, there are well documented records of yogis continuing to live even when the internal processes of life like breathing and effective heartbeat have come to a halt. If this is so, then it is only logical to presume that death is not synonymous with the cessation of the processes of life like breathing, etc. In fact today we do make a distinction between biological (clinical) and cellular death, the former preceding the latter. This distinction has a lot of practical utility, not only for organ transplant, but also from a consciousness based approach to death and dying. It means first that death is not a cessation of processes but a complete withdrawal of the life force animating the body. Therefore, tampering with the body prematurely following biological death, as if it was just a bundle of matter, may not be correct.

(To be continued…)