“The mystery of life lies in the knowledge of death.” These words still resound in my ears. Before I heard them spoken by my gurudeva, Sri Swami Rama, another great yogi had whispered them to me silently, but due to my ignorance I had not heard them.
In October of 1979 I was preparing to fly to the United States for the first time. The day before my departure, I heard that a tantric master known as Datia Wale Swamiji was undergoing dialysis at the All-India Medical Institute in New Delhi. During his stay there the part of the hospital wing where he was housed became a shrine, as this great man was regarded as the blessed son of the Divine Mother. On the days he was not scheduled for dialysis, hundreds of people stood in line to see him. Not wanting to miss this rare opportunity, I went to the hospital and joined the line—but just as I was about to reach his room, visiting hours ended. Deeply disappointed, I turned away.
The next day was his dialysis day and no visitors would be allowed. Nevertheless, before going to the airport, I made one more attempt. My thought was that even if I couldn’t see him, I would pay my respects to the building where he was staying. It was late afternoon and dozens of people, just like me, were standing around without any real expectation of being allowed to see him. But to our surprise, the message came that the tantric master would see us.
“Whose son are you?”
He was sitting on a big couch in his room. People would stop at the door, gaze at him for a few seconds and move on, making way for the next person. When my turn came, I looked into the room and immediately bowed my head with respect and bewilderment. He looked so vibrant and healthy it was difficult to believe he was suffering from kidney failure. As I lingered in the doorway to be in his presence for a few extra seconds, he asked, “Whose son are you?”
Knowing he was really asking whose student I was, I replied, “I am a shishya of Bhole Baba” .
Upon hearing Swamiji’s name, he burst out joyfully, “Come near me, my son. Where is my brother?” I approached him and, placing my head near his knees, told him that these days Swamiji lived in the United States. He began talking about Swamiji in such a loud, energetic voice that his doctors and attendants asked him to be quiet, fearing that he might collapse from the exertion. He roared with laughter. Looking at me, he demanded, “Tell these people what the source of life is.” When I remained quiet, he answered his own question. “Shakti, the eternal and all-pervading divine force, intrinsic to the Almighty Being, is the source of life. She is the Divine Mother. Go, my son. May the grace of the Divine Mother be showered on you. And tell my brother we will meet again on the other shore.”
I paid my homage and departed. The swami was a big man, but his skin hung in folds—it looked like he had lost more than a hundred pounds—yet he was radiant. I was overwhelmed by his vibrancy and apparent good health. He must have been in his 90s, but it seemed that old age was too timid to show her face to him. Still, he was dying. Even more puzzling, he was joyful in the face of death. He appeared to be eagerly waiting to embrace something more precious and delightful than the world he would leave behind, something that would come after death. Later I heard that he died shortly after I saw him.
That same night I flew to the States. I had no opportunity to share my thoughts and feelings about this encounter with anyone until the summer of 1980, when I was with my gurudeva. After I told Swamiji about this incident, I asked him bluntly, “What was he so happy about? How can a person be free from fear and anxiety when he clearly hears death knocking at the door?”
Swamiji replied, “He had no fear of death because he knew where he was going. He was happy because the loss of worldly objects had no meaning for him. Adepts don’t die—they cast off their body at will. Even the shadow of death cannot touch them; they are immortal. They have unveiled the mystery of death long before the actual moment of death arrives. They understand that death is simply a habit of the body—a change which to an ignorant person appears to be a big loss.
“To this tantric adept,” Swamiji continued, “both shores of life were fully known, so he was free from anxiety. He was happy here and will continue to be happy hereafter. Those lacking this knowledge cling to life. Afraid of the unknown, they do not want to move on to the stage of life which follows death. For ignorant people death is like an eviction. It is accompanied by pain. Not knowing how to cope with this, they close their eyes, become unconscious, and die with no awareness of the process of dying. Adepts die with full awareness, and that is why they walk with certainty and security toward their destination.
“He had no fear of death because he knew where he was going.”
In the long process of learning from Swamiji and other adepts, and through contemplation on the scriptures such as the Upanishads, the Puranas, and tantric texts, I have come to see that death is the greatest of all teachers, provided that we remain awake when the lesson is being imparted. The journey of the soul from birth to death is quite straightforward. We are born; we grow; and with varying degrees of pleasure and pain, comfort and discomfort, we become adults; we strive to survive and procreate; we grow old and die. This journey is automatic and leads nowhere but to death, decay, and destruction. If we do not come to understand what lies between death and birth while we are alive, we get sucked into the infinite domain of anxiety and uncertainty. Clouds of insecurity, fear, and grief begin to hover around us long before death approaches. We make every effort to make ourselves secure by hoarding worldly objects and by harboring religious beliefs, yet we know that life is bound to be consumed by death. No matter how desperately we try to ignore this fact, we have to face it eventually, even if only at the last moment of our life. The scriptures claim that the state of consciousness at the time of death by and large determines the state of consciousness in the afterlife. Individual consciousness returns on the same train of thought by which it departed. If we die unconsciously, we have no conscious control over our thought patterns, but instead we are trapped by a powerful wave of thought emerging from long-cherished emotions, which serve as the wellsprings of our thoughts. They stem from the repeated experiences of our actions throughout our life.
Whenever we perform an action we are bound to reap its fruits, which are either pleasant or unpleasant. We either cling to these fruits or attempt to get rid of them, and in the process, we again perform actions. These actions in turn breed fruits, and these fruits breed more actions. Life between birth and death is a field of karma in which we sow and reap and sow again.
If we do not extricate ourselves from this cycle we are one day harvested by the force of time. Then we are no longer the creator of our karmas, but instead are created by them. This is what the scriptures refer to as the bondage of karma. Freedom lies in breaking this cycle, for only then are we able to unveil the mystery that lies in the realm between death and birth. Only then do we truly become the creator of our own destiny. The scriptures have promised (and the adepts have demonstrated) that those who are free from karma can leave their body consciously before death draws near. And while mastering the process of casting off the body voluntarily and consciously, the adepts go all the way to death, and return again and again.
The key to unveiling the mystery of rebirth and reincarnation is understanding karma and its effect on our mind and consciousness.
For an ordinary person death is accompanied by darkness; for “seekers of death” it is filled with light. In that light, these adepts study the interior of their own mind. Their experience bears no resemblance to the near-death experiences reported by those who fall into the jaws of death and somehow escape, and their story of heaven and hell, purgatory and limbo, God, the devil, and angels is different from what we learn from religious texts—and more meaningful.
For the rest of us, the journey of the soul from death to birth is determined mainly by our karmas—the actions we perform in the interval between birth and death. That is why the key to unveiling the mystery of rebirth and reincarnation is understanding karma and its effect on our mind and consciousness. This understanding in turn brightens our knowledge of how we can eventually become the creators of our destiny rather than its product. Discovering the dynamics of karma, its role in the formation of our destiny, and its effect on the process of dying not only sheds light on the multi-layered mystery concealed behind the curtains of heaven and hell, it also determines whether the soul comes back to this world along the muddy path of rebirth, returns along the high road of reincarnation, or descends through divine birth.
Source: From Death to Birth by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait