Meditation and the art of Dying

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Item Code: IDC981
Author: Pandit Usharbudh Arya, D.Litt.
Publisher: The Himalayan Institute Press
Edition: 2005
ISBN: 0893890561
Pages: 195
Cover: Paperback
Other Details 8.9" x 5.5"
Weight 230 gm
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About The Author

Swami Veda Bharati is the spiritual director of Sadhana Mandir, Swami Rama's Ashram, Rishikesh and spiritual guide of the Himalayan Institute Hospital trust, Dehra Dun. He was born into a Sanskrit speaking family and raised in the centuries-old Sanskrit tradition. From the age of nine he has captivated audiences with the depth of his knowledge and intuition in the Vedas and Patanjali's yoga sutras. He holds an M.A. from the University of London and the prestigious D. Lt. from Holland and has authored many books.

He was initiated into one of the highest paths of meditation and yoga by his master, the celebrated yogi Swami Rama of the Himalayas. He was honored by the swamis of India who conferred on him the title of Mahamandaleshwar, placing him among the top 30 or so swamis of India. The only title above Mahamandaleshwara is that of Shankaracharya.

Swami Veda Bharati combines the best of the ancient and the modern. He is an inspired and loving teacher, prolific author, poet and international lecturer. Drawing on his immense experience and scholarship, Swami Veda lectures on a wide variety of topics and can conduct meditation in 17 languages.

A unique personality, radiating peace, divine love and joy wherever he is. His ability to guide students to calm states of meditative stillness is well-known in the centers he has established around the world.


Death is not a process apart from being born and living ; it is included in birth and life. As Carlisle said, an author has the right to call black white so long as he is consistent with it. I will refer to the process of birth, new birth, rebirth by the term "death," only to follow the general convention.

There are many kinds of death. One, the process of constantly dying and regenerating our bodies. Some years ago my eldest daughter, Sushumna, burned her hand by spilling scalded milk on it. Our doctor at the hospital, whom she had to visit repeatedly, was a member of the Meditation Center. Later, as some dead flesh was peeling off her arm, the doctor said that that part of the skin was always changing in us. That is what we leave as the ring around the bath rub-so many dead cells.

This we can easily call the process of continuous "reincarnation," new flesh being created to replace the old one that we shed constantly. We never have the same body with which we were born. We may give this process the name of cellular death.

Two, the final termination of the body when the cells no longer regenerate and the light of the spirit must abandon its accustomed home. For those who have lived in attachment to their flesh, this death is involuntary and the fear of it is very painful. They have no control over the dying process because they had exercised very little discipline during the life-process. This is the way most of us die, clinging and crying pitifully.

Three, there is the practice of daily meditation in which initial glimpses of the face of death occur, some- what vaguely. Our daily meditation is a withdrawal of senses, a spiritual awareness in which the body conscious- ness gradually dissolves. It is as though minute doses of this daily death innoculate us against the larger plague. As the meditator advances in his practice he learns to control the processes of dying. He is not yet liberated, and bound to the karmic process he must yield to the hour of death, he has developed a certain control whereby he may direct his pranas, the vital forces, to leave the body in the manner of an expert. Such a person dies in medita- tion, often guided by a Master.

Four, in order to be so guided in the death process the disciple is sometimes prepared many years or decades in advance through a diksha-mrtyu, initiatory death, which is an experience received by a few through the Master's grace. Such an initiation into death is the beginning of a new spiritual life. In fact, until we die at the Master's hand, we cannot begin to live spiritually. Here, the narra- tive of my father's guru may clarify the point.

My father's guru was born in a Muslim family and became a judge in British India, which was very rare at that time. He used to go out hunting with the British judges and officers. One day this arrogant man, a man of high power and position, went out hunting with his friends. While returning they got lost and were very thirsty. They rode their horses toward a hut, climbed down, asked for and received some water given to them by an old Brahmin. (Brahmins are philosophers who perform priestly functions.) Having quenched their thirst, they mounted their horses and were preparing to leave. But when the Muslim judge mounted his horse, the Brahmin looked him straight in the eye and said, "You cannot go!" "Who is this man?" thought the high court judge. "Here is a little man with a sheet wrapped around a bag of bones, living in a little hut. I just took a drink of water from him and he tells me I can't go!"

But there was something compelling in the Brah- min's glance so the judge dismounted. He told all his colleagues to go on without him, and that he would return later. The Brahmin hermit took him by the hand, led him into the hut, and before he knew what was hap- pening, he saw his own body all in pieces, lying around scattered. A leg here, head there, arms elsewhere. He saw that body lying strewn and scattered, limb by limb, just for a few moments. Then every limb was put back to- gether again. This is called initiatory death. The Brahmin looked at him and said, "You were a great Brahmin philosopher in the past life; what are you doing with this gun? Remember yourself! Now you may return home." The judge, very surprised and astonished, mounted his horse and went away. After that incident, he refused to go hunting with his friends. He stopped drinking and eat- ing meat. The moment he finished his daily work, he rode out to see the hermit. For six months he did that, and was trained into meditation. He withdrew from life, renounced everything, and took the name Shivananda Swami. (Not to be confused with the Shivananda of Rishikesh.) He went away and lived in the desert for the rest of his life. People came to him to receive high yoga initiations. My father received his initiation from this man.

This initiatory death is a conscious process in yoga whereby a hale and hearty person may experience death for a little while. Not everyone can withstand it. But those few who are given that kind of initiation under the power of a guru, who can alter the disciple's states of conscious- ness, are never the same again. The meaning of life and death completely changes for them.

Five, there is the death of a Master, like the Buddha and the other enlightened ones, those who have risen above the karmic process. The body is their instrument totally.

In ordinary terms death is generally understood as "a passing away" of a body, someone who was there but is no more. He was alive, but now is dead, ready to be buried, and that is the end. This is only a minor part of the death process however. Let us extend the definition of death to include ideas of freedom, rebirth and liberation: death as a gateway to infinity, an opening into eternity. In order to understand death as only a part of life, birth, passing away, rebirth, and so on, we have to develop a certain attitude throughout life. We have to understand the fear of death. Where does this fear come from?

The yoga technical word for fear of death is abbi- nivesha, a state of being completely possessed with body- consciousness so that death appears to be a terrible wrenching process. It is as though one's essence is being pulled away from the physical identity that is mistaken to be the self. In the Sankhya system this abhinivesha is one of the five hells, andba-tamisra, that of the darkest night. In Patanjali's system it is one of the five kleshas, afflic- tions and stains on the mind which begin with avidya, ignorance, at the head of the list. Avidya is fourfold: mistaking the impermanent, impure, painful and non-self for permanent, pure, pleasant and the self; the body mis- taken for the spirit and the spirit mistaken for the body causes the attachment leading to the fear of death. It is in the field of ignorance that the tree of death grows.

It is not strange that the learned and the fool equally suffer the pangs of the fear of death. Each one wishes: "May I not cease to be." This fear is a natural effect of the hidden memory of the experience of the death of one's last body in the previous incarnation.


Death in Western Spirituality1
Birth and Death: Cycles20
Why Grieve over the Body?43
Actions and Transitions 69
Immortality of the Masters 100
Conquest of Death 124
The Yoga of Dissolution147
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