“Oh, my death, come and whisper to me.”—Tagore

The great sages of the ancient lore knew that this birth is but one bend in the eternal stream of life. In its continuity the stream of life rushes through many channels and finally meets the ocean. Coming out of one channel is called death and going through another channel is called birth. So is the case of human life. After many rounds of birth and death, when we liberate ourselves from the self-created bondage of karma, we finally attain emancipation and perfection.

In the Bhagavad Gita it is said, “Learned is he to whom the mystery of birth and death is revealed.” When the body, senses, conscious mind, and breath separate from the unconscious mind and the individual soul, this separation is called death. Death is but a separation and not complete annihilation. Death is a habit of the body, not of the soul. Death is not painful; the fear of death is painful. Death is but a momentary disappearance of that which is revived again in another form. It is merely a game of hide-and-seek which can never mystify the wise one who knows how to look to himself and beyond.

Egotism, pride, and vanity can only appear when we move around our own orbits and refuse to believe that our real orbits are not around ourselves in narrow circles but on the widest line which goes around us all. Truth consists of the reality of that whole of which we are individual constituents. This does not mean the sacrifice of individuality. It merely means that the true individual, when properly and systematically interpreted, extends further and further, wider and wider, until it permeates through all things in the world and loses itself in the infinite completeness of the whole.

”Death is but a separation and not complete annihilation. Death is a habit of the body, not of the soul. Death is not painful; the fear of death is painful. Death is but a momentary disappearance of that which is revived again in another form.”

The chasm of death obstructs our view. Our sorrow is due to our foolish refusal to see and believe that what comes next is that which is not seen at the moment. The individual soul is self-existent, unborn, and not subject to change, death, or decay. Life is like a manuscript whose beginning and end is missing. But by properly analyzing, practicing, and realizing the middle portion of that manuscript, one can search for the missing pages of this manuscript of life. Who am I? From where have I come? What is the purpose of life? Where shall I go? These are the prime questions waiting for answers. You are here because you were somewhere else. You move from the known to the unknown, from visible to invisible, and from seen to unseen.

The three Sanskrit words, janma, srishti, and utpatti, explain the mystery of birth and death. Birth and death are like two commas in the sentence of life. The sentence of life begins from eternity and is everlasting and never-ending. Janma means that which was hidden came forward. Srishti means that which was already behind the curtain came forward to the visible world. Utpatti means that which already existed in seed form came into manifestation in the plant. For a wise man, death is like a long sleep—probably for several hundred years. All the memories of our lifetimes are stored in the unconscious. That storehouse is used as a vehicle by the individual soul. Anything that is stored in the infinite library of the unconscious mind is called samskaras.

To properly understand the meaning of birth and death is to comprehend the entire cycle of human evolution by understanding the twin laws of life called karma and reincarnation. These two laws should be understood first. In the cycle of the universe, a stage comes when we are born and thus become responsible for our karma. The law of karma means cause and effect mingled together. We can attain liberation here and now if we understand that all bondages, miseries, and delusions are self-created. There is a way of obtaining freedom from these self-created miseries: skillful action done selflessly for others.

If we all learn to do our actions or duties selflessly, we will be doing our karmas but others will be reaping the fruits. Karmas do not bind, but their fruits do. None of us can live without doing karmas, but when we perform the karmas we have to reap the fruits. If we learn to surrender all the fruits of the karmas we will be free forever. Karma in its essential nature is a desire to perform action. Therefore, the world of desire should be understood carefully.

Desire is the motivation for our rebirth. A strong and intense desire to be reborn is the main reason for our birth. We leave our mortal body with many desires in the unconscious mind and those desires motivate us to come to this platform again and again. So the rounds of birth and death depend on the human motivations called desires. If we learn to reduce all our desires to a point of zero, all our motivations will be over and there will be no karma. There will be no bondage and we will not be bound to the fruits of our karma.

”Desire is the motivation for our rebirth. A strong and intense desire to be reborn is the main reason for our birth.”

We live in a world of fear, anxiety, stress, and strain, but these are all self-created. The delusion and ignorance that are created by not realizing the true nature of the self is the main cause of all miseries. When we learn not to identify with the objects of the world and constantly remain aware of the reality or center of consciousness within, we see that birth and death are voluntary actions.

As one changes one’s pillow cover or book cover, so one casts off one’s body. Casting off the body is called death and assuming a new garment is called birth. Attachment seems to be the mother of all miseries. When a human being gets attached to the body, he brings pain to his individual soul. But this pain and attachment can be removed by understanding that the body, breath, senses, and mind are like instruments of the individual soul. We should learn the technique of living in the world yet remaining above it.

When we know that all the things of the world, even the body, breath, senses, and mind, are our instruments, and learn how to use them by realizing that all the things that we have are for us but are not ours, then the strong sense of attachment disappears and the light of wisdom dawns. Such a fortunate one attains enlightenment and freedom from worldly fetters, as well as from the rounds of birth and death.

Source: Introduction to Philosopy of Death & Dying by M. V. Kamath
Further Reading

Life Here and Hereafter: Kathopanishad


“What exists after death? Explain it to me,” insists the young student Nachiketa as he puzzles over the supreme mystery in the Kathopanishad. Swami Rama’s penetrating commentary on the ensuing dialogue between Nachiketa and Yama, King of Death, reveals a clear, profound philosophy of death and immortality.

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