Death, Dying and the Meaning of Life
Death, Dying and the Meaning of Life
“Death is the baseline of life. If you do not understand death, you will never know life, nor can you handle life.”
Death and Dying
Sadhguru: Death is a very fundamental question. Actually, death is closer to us than the statistics we read about it. Each moment, death is happening in us at the organ and cellular levels. This is how, with just one look at your insides, your doctor knows how old you are. In fact, death began in us even before we were born. Only if you are ignorant and unaware does it seem like death will come to you someday later. If you are aware, you will see both life and death are happening every moment. If you as much as breathe a little more consciously, you will notice that with every inhalation there is life, with every exhalation there is death.
Upon birth, the first thing that a child does is to inhale, to take in a gasp of air. And the last thing that you will do in your life is an exhalation. You exhale now, and if you do not take the next inhalation, you will be dead. If you do not get this, just do an exhalation, hold your nose and do not do the next inhalation. Within a few moments, every cell in your body will start screaming for life. Life and death are happening all the time. They exist together, inseparably, in the same breath. This relationship goes even beyond the breath. Breath is only a supporting actor. The real process is of the life energy, or prana, that controls physical existence. With certain mastery over prana, one can exist beyond breath for substantial amounts of time. Breath is a bit more immediate in its requirement, but in the same category as food and water.
Death is such a fundamental aspect, because if one small thing happens, you can be gone tomorrow morning. Why tomorrow morning? One small thing now and you could be off the next moment. If you were like any other creature, maybe you would be unable to think about all this, but once one is endowed with human intelligence, how can you just ignore such a significant aspect of your life? How can you avoid it and live on as if you are going to be here forever? How is it that after living here for millions of years of life, human beings still do not know a damn thing about death? Well, they know nothing about life either. We know all the trappings about life, but what do you know about life as such?
Fundamentally, this situation has come about because you have lost perspective as to who you are in this Universe. If this Solar System, in which we are, evaporates tomorrow morning, no one will even notice it in this Cosmos. It is that small, just a speck. In this speck of a Solar System, Planet Earth is a micro speck. In that micro speck, the city you live in is a super-micro speck. In that, you are a big man. This is a serious problem. When you have completely lost perspective as to who you are, how do you think you will grasp anything about the nature of life or death?
Q) But Sadhguru, death upsets me so much, even if it is a pigeon on my balcony or a dog on the highway. Why do I feel this way?
Sadhguru: Mortality is the basis of all fear. If you were not mortal, there would be no fear in you because even if you were cut into pieces, you would still not die. But what is there to be afraid of? Death is a wonderful thing. It puts many things to an end. Right now, because of the way you are, you may think it is a terrible thing, but if you were to live for a thousand years, you would see death as a relief. If you are here for too long, people will wonder when you are going! Death is a tremendous relief. It is just that it should not happen untimely. We do not want to fall dead when we are still able to create, contribute and make things happen.
Death is Inevitable
If you want to fall dead at an appropriate time, you need to do sadhana so that you can determine when you will fall dead. Otherwise, even when you see a dead pigeon, it will remind you of your own mortality. What was flying yesterday is dead and dry today. Imagining that you could become like that one day could be scary for you because your identification with what you have gathered has become so compulsive. When I say your identification with what you have gathered – the very body that you carry is just a piece of earth. The soil that you have gathered and made into this body, as well as your identities, have become so strong that losing it looks like a terrible thing.
Suppose you are overweight and we helped you drop ten kilograms, would you feel terrible and cry about it? Definitely not, most people are ecstatic when they drop ten kilograms. Now suppose you dropped your whole fifty or sixty kilograms, what is the big deal? If you know life the way it is, and you are not lost in the heaps that you have gathered, shedding the body is not such a big thing.
The dead bodies of birds, insects, dogs and human beings is just soil being put back to soil. It is not some great drama, it is a natural process. You have to return and recycle what you picked up. You may attach much significance to your birth, life and death, but as far as Mother Earth is concerned, it is just recycling. It pops you out and pulls you back in. You may assume too many things about yourself, but you must return what you have gathered. It is a good habit. Whatever you take from anyone must be returned at some point. Death is a good habit, believe me.
Q) But what does knowledge of death have to do with living well?
Sadhguru: Death is the baseline of life. If you do not understand death, you will never know life, nor can you handle life, because life and death are like inhalation and exhalation. They exist together, inseparably. Spiritual process begins only when you are confronted with death – either your own one or that of someone who is dear to you, someone you thought you could not live without. When death is approaching or when it happens, that is when the question comes up in most people’s minds, “What is this all about? What will happen beyond this?” As long as the experience of life seems so real, you cannot believe it is all going to be over just like that. But once death is near, the mind will project that there must be something more. However much the mind projects, it really does not know because the mind functions only based on the data that it has already gathered. The mind has no traction with death because it has no authentic information – only gossip.
You have heard gossip of how when you die you will go and sit in God’s lap. If that is so, you should go today. If such a privilege is going to be conferred upon you, I do not see why you should postpone it. You have heard gossip about heaven and hell. You have heard gossip about angels and whatever else, but no confirmed information. Do not waste your time trying to think what happens beyond death, because that is not the realm of your mind.
Dying in Awareness
The only way to know is through pragna, as we would call it in Indian languages. In English, we would say “awareness”, but do not take the word in its normal sense. If you are aware, you have a way of knowing things without thinking about them, without getting information about them. If you are a close observer of life around you, there are so many things that every creature knows without thinking about them. Actually, if you had to think about it, you would not even know how to breathe. It simply happens. That is not your intelligence – that is the Creator’s intelligence. If such a complex machine like your body was left in your management, it would be a disaster.
A whole lot of things happen without your assistance, understanding, or thoughts. Pragna is beyond thought. Pragna is that which is the very source of creation. If you find access to that, you can cross what we think is the boundary between life and death. Actually, there is no boundary – you are living and dying right now. On the social level, in the limited experience and perception of people, someone may be here today and gone tomorrow. But in terms of life, in terms of existential process, there is no such thing as living and dying. It is all Leela – a play.
The Divine Play
When we say that this is all divine play, it does not mean the Divine is a sadistic force playing with your life. We call it a play because everything is intertwined. Existentially, you cannot separate childhood, youth, middle age, and old age – it is all enmeshed. What you call an individual and what you call the universal cannot be separated. What you call atomic and what you call cosmic cannot be separated. In that sense, it is a play.
But once you put boundaries between one thing and the other, there will be no play. When you sit here, the breath is playing between you and the tree. You cannot separate it, in the sense, “I do my breath – let him do his breath.” This is happening in many homes, “I do my thing – you do your thing.” The moment you try to restrict the play, life will slip out of your hands.
All kinds of things have been done in wanting to know the nature of life and death. But you cannot grasp it by doing experiments or thinking about it. You can grasp it only by experience. Whenever people ask me questions about death and what happens after death, I keep reminding them that it is best to know it by experience. I am not suggesting they should die. What I mean is, you must experience the jeeva, the life within you. If you only experience the body, then whatever I say, you will come to wrong conclusions. If your experience of life is limited to your mental and physical structures, you cannot access this dimension. Death and that which is beyond it are not a secret that is hiding somewhere in heaven or hell – it is right here, right now. It is just that most human beings have never paid enough attention because they are too busy with other things.
Their career is much more important than their life. Their love affair is much more important than their life. A petty problem they have with someone next to them is far more important than their life. What clothes they wear is way more important than their life. These are just examples. Because you have wrong concepts about life, life is eluding. But actually, life is not eluding – you are dodging life. Life is not trying to avoid you – you are trying to avoid it in so many ways.
The bitter, painful experiences of life were never, ever caused by life. They were only caused by your inability to manage your mind and your body. Life has never caused any pain or suffering to you. It is just the body and the mind. You do not know how to manage your mental structure and your physical structure. Two wonderful instruments were given to you, but you are messing it up. All the pain and suffering have come from yourself, not from life.
Pragna is a dimension of perception that gives you access to life, the nature of life, and the source of life. These are not different things – these are just different names we ascribe to life. There is no source and there is no manifestation – it is all the same. There is no such thing as life and death. It is neither life nor death – it is just a play of all these things. You can play a game on it and stop it one day. Life plays up and stops, plays up and stops, but the essential life is not a certain activity, not a certain happening. It is a phenomenon that is simply there. It is the background of creation. It is the source of creation.
Q) I had a near-death incident when I was saved from being hit by a car by seconds. In those few seconds, I experienced everything in extreme slow motion and in extraordinary detail. Why were those seconds experienced in that way, and can I experience life in that level of detail consciously?
Sadhguru: This happened – two old men met in a tiny little town in Indiana, in a local bar. Both of them were sitting grumpily at two different tables, drinking. Then one guy looked at the other and saw a birthmark on the other person’s temple. He looked at him and said, “Hey, are you Joshua?” “Yeah, who are you?” “Don’t you know? I am Mark. We were in the war together.” “Oh my God!” and they lit up suddenly. “In World War II, we were together. It’s been fifty years since then.”
They sat down at one table and started drinking, talking and eating. They had seen about forty minutes of action in World War II in Europe. Forty minutes of blitz. They talked about this forty minutes in so many vivid ways for over two hours. After they were done with all this talk, one guy asked the other, “What have you been doing since then?” He said, “Oh, I have just been a salesman.” Forty minutes of war, they spoke for two hours with great excitement. Forty years of life – “I have just been a salesman.” That is all that happened.
Practicing for the Grave
Unfortunately, for a whole lot of people, they come alive only when you threaten them with death – whether it is war or a car crash. When mortality confronts you in a big way, that is when you become fully alive – unfortunate! When you truly, genuinely confront your mortal nature, you understand that your aliveness is the most important thing.
When I watch people, it looks like they are all practicing for the grave – what kind of pose, what kind of facial expressions they must have when they are in their grave. They do not understand they are mortal. They think they are going to be here forever, so they are practicing death when they are alive. But when you threaten them with death, they will become alive. Why do you think Krishna chose to give his teaching in a battlefield? Not in the quietness of an ashram, not in the beautiful jungles of India, not in the Himalayan cave, but on a treacherous battlefield – because without being threatened with mortality, most human beings do not have the intelligence to look at their life.
I think when these self-driving cars come, a lot of people may get realized! After some time, maybe you will learn to sleep on it, that is different, but initially, you do not know whether it is going to brake or not. You do not know whether it will stop in time or it will crash. I think in the first few months after self-driving cars become legal, there may be some realization on the planet! We must be ready for some enlightened people.
Coming Alive to Life
Do not wait for a car crash. You must know you may collapse and die right now. I am not wishing this on you. I will bless you with a long life. But it is possible. Every day so many people die like that. Sitting, standing, lying down – they die in all kinds of postures.
When you realize that you could die, suddenly you value life, becoming alive to it. I keep reminding people, in this life you cannot fail, everyone shall pass. You never saw anyone who was detained because they did not do life properly. Everyone passes. But most will pass without ever knowing what they passed through.
When you were about to crash, for a few moments you knew what you were passing through. The rest of the time, you do not know. Right now, your cerebral drama is overlapping upon everything. That means your silly creation is overlapping the magnificent creation that we are living in. When your silly creation broke, when you could not think or emote because of the sheer danger of the situation, suddenly it felt like you were truly alive.
All the Yoga we are teaching you, all the processes were are initiating you into is just to help you distance yourself from your own drama, so that the cosmic drama comes into your perception. Without this, there is nothing to this life.