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Death and Dying (Part 1)

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Anshu Bahanda: Hello and welcome to Wellness Curated. I’m your host, Anshu Bahanda. My mission is to empower you with health and wellness, so that you can then go and empower others. In a world that’s often uncertain and ever-changing, some constants remain, death is one of them. So let me share with you this beautiful thought by Sadhguru, who’s a yogi, mystic and bestselling author. He says “every breath you take, you’re getting closer to the grave. But every breath you take, you can also get closer to your liberation.” We got so much invaluable information today.

Welcome to this chat, Divine Soul Sadhviji, renowned spiritual leader, motivational speaker. We explore if there is life after death, the end of life, consciousness, and the different ways we treat the body after death. Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswatiji, I want to ask you a very difficult question-how do you perceive death? 

Sadhvi Bhagawati Saraswati: Death is the end of the physical body, which includes the body, of course, the physical brain, which means that it’s an end not only of my actual limbs and bones and muscles, but it’s also an end to the way that this individual eye, with my particular brain, how I identify that this eye intersects with the world. Because how I interact with the world is dependent on my personality. And that personality is anchored in the physical brain, which we know, of course, because when you alter the physical brain, personalities change. And so it’s an end of the body, it’s an end of the way through this body, my individual lowercase as self, that interaction and experience. But it’s the beginning of the unbodied me. It’s a beginning of whatever, the next unfolding, of the Karmic journey of my soul, of my subtle body as I go on this sacred journey to the truth, to the divine, to oneness. 

AB: We all have to die one day, right? That is a definite. And we will see our loved ones leave this planet as well. I mean, it’s very, very sorrowful for people to see their loved ones go. How do you suggest people prepare for this eventuality?

SBS: I always say, as tragic as it is, when it’s our parents who we lose, we actually, even though we miss them and are sad to no longer have their physical presence, we actually should be happy. And the reason is that there’s only two options. One option is they die first. The other option is we die first. For parents to lose their children is significantly more tragic in the fact that not only is it a loss but it’s a loss that is unexpected. It’s a loss that is, you could say, against the flow of nature. So as far as thinking about our parents, it’s inevitable if life goes according to the way that life is supposed to go. We have loss of spouses, loss of siblings, loss of people where we wish that it hadn’t happened. And then you’ve got the loss of children which is critically and deeply tragic. Honestly, there isn’t a way to prepare other than to connect with them while they are living on a soul to soul basis. The more that I am connected simply to their physical presence, the more I’m connected simply to their personality, their way of speaking, their way of acting, their way of living, the harder it’s going to be for me when they’re not here. Because once they’re no longer here in the body, the only way that I have to connect with them is soul-to-soul. But if I’ve never done that, that’s going to be really difficult for me, especially in the midst of grief and loss. And so the very best thing that you can do and not only is it going to prepare you for the inevitability or the possibility of death of loved ones, but it’s also going to deepen your relationship with them while they’re alive, which is as you interact with them, rather than being focused only on their body or only on the words that are coming out of their mouth or the actions that they’re doing, can you connect with them soul to soul. It also means that I have to drop into my soul to connect with their soul. My physical body can connect with their physical body. We can hug. I can sit in their lap. We can shake hands. We can do all of these physical things physically. My intellect, my mind can connect with their intellect, their mind. We can discuss things. We can debate things. But if I want to connect with their soul, my physical body can’t do that. My intellectual mind cannot do that. Only my soul can do that. So I need to drop into my soul which is even through my heart because of course, the heart is that place where we feel for them. We love them, but we love them in a way that still is this emotional connection of one personality to another personality, whereas if we can drop into the soul, we can connect with their soul. And so not only will it deepen on a very powerful level your relationship with them now but it will leave you not so lost when you no longer have a physical body there is to connect with because you’ll already have that connection with their soul. 

AB: No one’s ever said that to me before. Very powerful, what you’ve just said. How would you suggest we connect to someone’s soul? 

SBS: By dropping into our soul. That’s the thing, your intellectual mind cannot do it. Think about connecting with someone just heart to heart. Let’s start with just the heart. How do I connect with their heart? Well, the only way is to open your heart. You can’t do it with your mind. The only way to connect with someone else’s heart is to open yours. And when your heart is open, then you’re able to actually feel someone else’s heart, which we know. I mean, when you’re with someone in love, whether it’s a family member, a friend, a spouse, whoever it may be, you feel it. When you look in their eyes, you feel something. You feel that heart of theirs, that beautiful sacred heart of theirs and you feel it connecting to your heart. For the soul, we just have to go deeper. So in our meditation, we drop into the soul. We let go of that which is not self, like the physical body, the mental gymnastics, the feeling states, the emotions, all of that, the thoughts. And eventually we drop into that truth of the soul. When you do that, when you are sitting with someone, when you’re sitting from your soul level, automatically you’ll be able to connect with theirs. 

AB: That is one of the most profound things I’ve heard. Thank you for that. And how do we prepare for our own death? We know we’re all moving closer to death every moment. It is just a matter of when. How do we prepare for it?

SBS: First of all, you say we all know we’re going to go and yet ironically, most of us live and act like we’re not going to go. If you see the way that most people live, yes, on an intellectual theoretical level, they know they’re going to die. But most people don’t actually live with an awareness of death because it’s really hard. I mean who wants to hold that awareness all the time? But we actually have to because if I’m not aware that I am dying, I’m not actually going to know how to live. If I keep living in this illusion that this physical body, this drama, this story, this personality is here forever, well then all I’m going to want to do is keep padding it. I should make some more money, I should have some more power, I should have better relationships, I should have more people following me on Facebook. We’re always just going to look for things to pad the false self. If we believe that that’s actually the eternal self, that I’m never going to die, that this is here to stay, and that’s when we end up living our lives in illusion and in ignorance and in falseness. And so the question simply becomes well knowing that— “how am I going to live?” That it’s not “I’m going to live in this illusory world just accumulating and padding for 85 years and then in the few months or few years before I die, I’m suddenly going to start reading the Bhagavad Gita and chanting a mantra, and then I should merge with God. First of all, you only live at the end of your life the way that you’ve lived your whole life. So when you ask about how to prepare, it really is an awareness that “this day could be my last day and therefore am I living it the way that I would want to?” Now, that’s not a licence for decadence that you’ve been given 24 hours. So do all of the wild and crazy things because of course, hopefully you’ll live a lot more than a day. But it’s a way to see your day. It’s a filter through which a lens through which we look at our life, the way we speak, the choices we make, the way we think, the things that we get upset about. And you really ask yourself, “if this were my last day on Earth, would I really yell at this person about that? Would I really give this one a hard time? Would I really waste it being angry or jealous or competitive or would I realise those things are not important?” So that awareness is critical. Here in Rishikesh, where we have the Ganga aarti every evening, where I keep my eyes closed. But the cremation ground for Rishikesh is across the river from us and then down maybe 500- 600 metres. So it’s a long way down. But in the night, as the sun sets and it becomes dark, if you’ve got a blazing fire down there, we can see it. When the cremations are going on, I always try to keep my eyes open and to meditate upon that. Because the first time I saw it, I remember thinking, “oh, my God, those family members standing around a cremation of their loved one, they must hear us in the aarti, because, of course, it’s broadcast and loudspeakers and what not, singing, dancing, celebrating and they must think, ‘my God, the audacity of these people to sing and dance and celebrate when my loved one has died’” And yet if I can meditate in such a way where I stay anchored and grounded in these singing and dancing and celebrating and I realise that’s me over there, mourning my loved one, that I am the one singing, dancing, celebrating and I am the one mourning. If I can go deep, I am also the one burning. I am the one higher but not losing the presence of me here singing and dancing because there isn’t that distinction. And I realised that it was only my western sensibility that would have been insulted at the audacity of people to sing and to dance while a cremation was taking place because in India we understand it’s the river of life. And yeah, over here there’s cremations, over here there’s aarti and it feels very separate. We feel very safe over on our celebratory side of the river. But the truth is that you just go a few feet above the river and the flames of the cremation and the flames of the aarti, they’re intermingling and you can no longer tear them apart. So to really meditate on death, is realising you’re going to be the one mourning and you are the one burning and you are the one over here dancing, it’s all happening simultaneously. 

AB: So you’re talking about India and Hinduism and about how people feel. So in Hinduism, people believe in life after death. Tell us about that, because that gets questioned so much in the western world. I mean, there are a lot of people in the west moving towards that philosophy. So how do you explain it to someone who doesn’t believe in it, no matter what religion or culture they come from? 

SBS: So if someone really doesn’t believe something, you’re going to have a really difficult time convincing them. People are very stuck in their ways of thinking. And by people, I mean, of course, all of us, not “they”, but it’s all of us. It would take a tsunami of evidence to convince us otherwise. And sometimes in the face of a tsunami of evidence, we still are not convinced otherwise. So what I would say is there’s actually so many stories, true stories. I was just reading one of a child, a young child who vividly remembered his past life. He had a birthmark on his head, an interesting shape of a birthmark, and he told his parents that that was where he was hit by an axe and he was murdered. He actually remembered the name of the village where he was murdered and he remembered who did it to him. And he took his parents there and they spoke to the people in the village who said, “yeah, I mean, the boy was maybe four” and in the village they said, “yeah, this many, few years ago, there was this disappearance of a man” and nobody knew he had been murdered. They just thought that he had disappeared and this young boy was able to actually show them where his body was. He knew where he had been murdered and it was way out in the woods somewhere. But they got the police and all of the forensic people and they actually found the skeleton and they found the axe that he had been murdered with that actually matched the birthmark that the boy came into this life with. And they found the person who the boy said, “this was the guy who murdered me.”

AB: That’s amazing. 

SBS: There’s lots of stories like this, but I think the best way to convince them is really to just show them so many of these stories, because otherwise, if somebody doesn’t remember their past lives and doesn’t believe in it, there’s not going to be anything else that you have to convince them. But I would say, also, don’t worry so much about convincing other people. Everybody’s here with their own karmic unfolding. What’s important is that you know and that you live your life with an awareness that we are going through these cycles of birth and death until we actually experience moksha, until we actually let go of the falsehood of the false identifications of the ego, of the history, of the grudges, we finally let go, and then we can be free. That’s moksha. The body is not the problem, the mind is the problem. Nobody ever is kept from moksha because of their elbow or their knee. We’re kept from moksha because of our mind. It’s said so beautifully “mana eva manuṣyāṇāṃ kāraṇaṃ bandhamokṣayoḥ”, which means the mind is the key to your bondage or to your freedom. 

AB: Again, it’s a fabulous way of putting it. You’re talking about a universal consciousness, when you say that, I am also the person in the funeral pyre, and I’m also the family member grieving, but I’m also here celebrating the aarti, right? So talk to us a little more about consciousness and death. 

SBS: When we use the word consciousness, there’s a lot of ways that we use it, but two main ways. One is a product of the brain, where you say, “oh, she’s out of surgery, is she conscious?” meaning, essentially, is she awake? Is she back? Is she still under anaesthesia or is she out? Did he get hit in the head with a baseball, he was knocked unconscious? But the way that we’re talking about it here is not that it’s not the level of awake asleep here, not here. It’s that which really is the truth of who I am, that which I experience through my body, meaning I experience my consciousness through my brain. If I were brain dead, consciousness would still exist, but I wouldn’t be able to be conscious of it. I would not be able to interact with consciousness. I would not be able to anchor in consciousness or to live consciously. Consciousness is that which we know through the body, but it doesn’t depend on the body. It doesn’t need the body. It’s not dependent on any in any way. It’s beyond the body. It’s just that I use my body to understand it, to interact with it. Consciousness is one when you look at it on that level of consciousness. And so when we speak about soul and we speak about spirit, there really is only one soul. I mean, we talk about souls like it’s plural, but it’s actually one. It’s one infinite ocean in which there are waves, and these waveforms are what you could consider jeevatma, our individual soul. It’s here for a while and it changes. It takes on a body, and then it no longer has a body and it takes on a body. But even as it’s jeevatma, ultimately it’s aatma, meaning if you took a spoonful of water out of a wave or a dropper full of water from a wave and you looked at it under a microscope, what you would see is the ocean. The scientist isn’t going to say, this is a wave. They are going to say that this is the ocean. We identify as the body, as the personality, but ultimately we are consciousness. It’s like identifying as the wave when really we are the ocean. Body is here, it’s got weight, height, and density. I mean, there’s all these different ways of measuring it. It exists in physical form. The illusion is the idea that that’s who I am. It’s like saying, “I’m the wave” but the wave is the ocean. And so we are the consciousness. 

AB: Incredible. You know, when a child is born automatically, we teach them fear of death, like “oh, my God, this person might be going, this person might not have too long to live”, so how would you suggest we teach children about death?

SBS: I think we should teach them it’s nothing to fear. I think that the Indian way of doing it is actually really so beautiful because it makes it a part of life. There isn’t a separation the way that in the west, we really keep it. Having children witness death and be at Cremations and be there’s just a flow of life and death here that I think is actually a lot healthier than the way that we do it in the west. So I would definitely not teach children to be afraid. I would teach them to be afraid of not living while they’re alive. So if you’re saying to them, for example, so and so only has a little bit of time left, or so and so may not be with us for a while, they shouldn’t fear that that person’s going to die. They should fear that they haven’t told the person, I love you yet. So you turn it into an opportunity and say, “They might only be with us for a short period of time, make sure you tell her how much you love her” or “Make sure you give her enough kisses, make these last days, weeks, months, years really precious for her.” That would be the way that I think we should teach children, introducing them to death at a young age so that they become aware from youth that this is temporary. This is temporary, we are not permanent here. Yeah, people we love are going to die. A good practice is you buy kids goldfish because they keep dying. You’re going to have to have the conversation over something that isn’t quite as dear to their heart as a grandmother or a grandfather or, God forbid, a mother or father, teach them about it. It’s going to help pad the way for when you start teaching them about loved ones in the family. 

AB: Do you know how different religions have different treatments for the body after death? So whether it’s burial, cremation, feeding it to the crows, et cetera, once the consciousness is gone, does it matter how the body returns to the ecosystem? 

SBS: You could say it doesn’t matter because the soul has already left. And yet I’m very hesitant to go against those sages and saints and rishis and yogis who have done so much meditation and have channelled such divine wisdom that they’ve given us these rituals, these vidhis, that they’ve said this is how it needs to be done. So, yes, some of that is for the family members, some of that is to give the family members the sense of ritual. But if what they say is that the soul needs this type of a pooja or this type of cremation, why not? But the dilemma with that, of course, is that we don’t always get to decide. People die in aeroplane crashes. There is no body. People drown off a cruise ship that capsized or something, or whatever it may be. We lose people where we don’t have a body to do that with. To me, I don’t think that someone who died by drowning in a cruise ship or by an aeroplane crash somehow that their soul was unqualified disqualified from attaining moksha because their final rites had not been done the way that it’s deemed by our scriptures. So I do think you’re right that once the soul has left the body, it probably doesn’t matter much. And yet, out of reverence and love for them, we do these things. The rituals, rituals are much more about us who are performing the ritual than anything that actually God needs from us, or that a soul who has now united back with God needs from us.

AB: Do you have any other words of wisdom?

SBS: The question is about how much life is in our days rather than how many days in our life. Stay healthy, stay safe, we take care of ourselves, we take care of our loved ones. But rather than being so focused on one more day, one more week, one more month, let us realise that we don’t know how much time we have, regardless of how old we are. This could be any of our last days, so let us really use the time that we have as a precious gift. 

AB: And that’s such a beautiful message. Thank you, Sadhviji, for this incredible, incredible chat. Thanks for joining us. Hope you enjoyed the Wellness Curated podcast. Please subscribe and tell your friends and family about it. And here’s to you, leading your best life.