Part I: The realm of death

Question: Why is death necessary? Why can’t the soul keep on progressing and evolving in the same body?

Sri Chinmoy: Right now death is required; death is necessary for us. We cannot do anything for a long time at a stretch. We play for forty-five minutes or an hour and then become tired and have to take rest. It is the same with our aspiration. Suppose we live on the earth for sixty or seventy years. Out of sixty or seventy years we may meditate for twenty days or thirty days and, even then, for only a few hours. An ordinary human being cannot aspire in his meditation for four hours, two hours, or even one hour at a stretch. How can he have the aspiration or reality or consciousness that will take him to the eternal Truth or undying Consciousness all at once?

Right now death helps us in a sense; it allows us to take some rest. Then when we come back, we come back with new hope, new light, new aspiration. But if we had a conscious aspiration, a mounting flame burning within us all the time, then we would see that physical death could easily be conquered. A day will dawn when there will be no necessity for death. But right now we do not have that capacity; we are weak. Spiritual Masters, liberated souls, however, do have mastery over death, but they leave the body when the Divine wants them to.

An ordinary man who has shouldered the burden of a whole family for twenty, thirty or forty years will say, “I am tired. Now I need a rest.” For him death really has meaning; the soul goes into the soul’s region and enjoys a short rest. But for a divine warrior, a seeker of the Ultimate Truth, death has no meaning. He wants to make his progress continuous, without halt. So he will try to live in constant aspiration, eternal aspiration. And with that eternal aspiration, he will try to conquer death so he can be an eternal outer manifestation of the Divine within him.

Question: Is it possible for a man to learn what death is while still living, by actually entering into death?

Sri Chinmoy: What death actually is one can easily know when one is in the very highest stage of meditation. Hundreds of times I have experienced what death is. I have also passed beyond death in my meditation many times when I have had to help my disciples. In trance one goes to many worlds, many planes, many regions beyond the domains and boundaries of death.

Sometimes we can actually follow a soul when the soul leaves the body, and then we can get the full experience of death while remaining in the body. I had my first experience of this with one of my sisters, who died when I was eighteen. I had this power, so I followed my sister’s soul for about three hours in the world of death. What happens is that you feel that you are actually dead. Your body does not exist for you; only with your consciousness you are flying, flying like a kite. When you have this power, you can have the real experience of death in this world. During your meditation you can easily go. You can keep your body in the world of life and your consciousness-light in the world of death.

Question: Guru, would you explain the spiritual significance of this practice or the need for it?

Sri Chinmoy: There is no need for it, but if one wants to learn it in this world, one can easily do so. These things will not help us even an iota in our God-realisation, but if we have time, if we have patience, if we have eagerness, then there is no harm. It is like travelling on a road. We can go directly to the Goal or, if we want, we can walk around and look at the scenery or have some fruit from the trees, and while eating the fruit, continue on towards the Goal. Everybody in the spiritual life will have the experience of death at least once before Self-realisation.

Question: Is death painful?

Sri Chinmoy: It depends on the individual. If the individual has not prayed and meditated and has not followed the spiritual life, then it is really painful to part with this life because he does not want to surrender to God’s Will. First of all, it is not in him to know or feel what God’s Will is. Also, he does not feel God’s conscious Protection, Guidance and Concern, so he feels that he is totally lost. In this world he cannot do anything; in the other world all is uncertainty. If there is no aspiration, there is tremendous fear, for ordinary people feel that death is something totally unknown. They do not know where they are going. But seekers know that they are going to the Supreme, to the Lord’s abode. It is temporarily unknown to them, but that consciousness, that plane, is a realm of peace and rest. It belongs to the Supreme, their Eternal Father. So they have no fear.

Then, of course, there is physical pain. At the time of death, even right up to the last moment, if somebody is suffering from a disease and if he cannot throw this disease into something higher or deeper, naturally his last days will be extremely painful. Even the last moment will be very painful because the death-being will come to him in a very destructive form. The death-force, death-being, appears before each individual in a different form according to his soul’s achievement and realisation on earth.

Ordinary people who are not aspiring, people who are absolutely wallowing in the pleasures of ignorance, will feel death as a terrible, ruthless being, a dark and awful figure. Sometimes the death-force has many subordinates which come before the dying person, and people very often see tigers or unimaginably huge beings, and become frightened. But sincere seekers see their spiritual Master or a luminous being, like an angel, taking them in a chariot. These seekers have worked hard on earth for many years and now Mother Earth consciously wants to offer them her blessingful and divine gratitude. Their Inner Pilot or their Guru takes them, but they see the benign Hand of God right in front of them, carrying them in His Golden Boat to the other Shore. Some people see their long-departed relatives at the actual time of death. Their dearest ones come, and it is just like somebody who knows the way taking them to a new world.

When we are caught by the fetters of ignorance there will be pain both within us and without us at the time of our physical death. This pain is due to the ignorance in the human mind and human body which prevents us from entering into the realm of death and then going beyond the realm of death consciously and deliberately. But if the veil of ignorance is removed, then there can be no pain, either in death or in the world-atmosphere. If we can enter into the root of our suffering and pain — which is ignorance — and if we can transform ignorance with our soul’s Light, then death will be just like a passage leading us to another shore. This other shore is the Light Eternal which guides, protects, shapes and moulds us through eternity.

Question: Why is it that so many linger in pain for a long time before dying?

Sri Chinmoy: Many sick people want to die because their pain is unbearable. They want to be free from their suffering. But why do they still linger and suffer? It is because purification of the nature has not been completed. Through purification we enter into a higher life and a more fulfilling divinity. This is where the law of karma operates. In our past series of lives, we have done many things wrong. It is through this physical torture that we are purified. This experience is necessary, because through it a new wisdom dawns in the person’s consciousness. But when someone suffers bitterly we should not think of his past actions — that he led a bad life and had a bad character, and for this he is suffering. No, let us become one with the experience that he is going through. When we are one with the experience, we get true satisfaction in our human existence.

Again, I have to say that the law of karma is not simple; it is very, very complicated. Some souls are very pure and spiritual, but still they suffer when they die. Is it because of their past wrong karma? No, it is because they identify with humanity and want to experience for themselves the bitterest kind of suffering. Most of the great spiritual Masters have had very painful deaths. Why? At their own sweet will they could have left their body, but they did not do it. Instead they contracted cancer and other serious diseases, and only after much suffering did they die. In their case, what they were doing was entering into humanity’s suffering and trying to feel how humanity suffers. Unless we enter into the suffering of humanity, everything is theoretical; nothing is practical. But if ordinary people suffer, we see that it is the law of karma, the wheel of karma, that is operating.

Nevertheless, if someone dies of sudden heart failure, that does not necessarily mean that he was very spiritual or religious. No, God wanted to have this particular experience through him, and perhaps through his loved ones, at that particular time. Here there is no question of good or bad, divine or undivine, but of what kind of experience God wanted to have in that particular person. Ultimately everything is an experience of God that we are seeing or having.

Question: Is it possible for a spiritual person who is dying a painful death to transform his pain into joy through meditation?

Sri Chinmoy: If one is a sincere seeker, then even while he is dying, great joy will come. Although the physical may suffer, the delight of the soul will come forward enabling one to meditate consciously. Sometimes, when one consciously enters into the pain, then one’s own inner courage in the pain itself is transformed into joy.

One can consciously enter into pain even while undergoing a serious operation. When I was a young boy, eighteen or nineteen years old, I did this during a serious operation. While the doctor was operating on me I consciously entered into the pain and felt real joy. I was smiling at the doctor, and he simply could not understand it. This anybody can experience.

Question: In one of your meditations from your diary you mentioned that death was an obstruction. I always thought you considered death to be a transition that just enables us to be reborn and make continuous progress.

Sri Chinmoy: Wonderful. I have said that death is a transition. I have said that life and death are like two rooms: life is my living room, and death is my bedroom. When I say that death is an obstruction, here I am speaking of death from a different point of view. What is an obstruction? An obstruction is something that prevents us from going farther. It is a limit which we cannot go beyond.

This life is a golden opportunity given to us by the Supreme. Now opportunity is one thing but achievement is another. Our spiritual evolution, our inner progress is very steady, very slow and at the same time, most significant. Naturally there are people who for hundreds or thousands of incarnations will follow a normal, natural cycle of birth and death. Then one day, in God’s Eternity, they will realise God. But some real, sincere, genuine aspirants make a soulful promise that in this incarnation, here and now, they shall realise God. They say this in spite of knowing that this is not their first life or their last life. But they know that there are people who have realised God and they do not want to wait for some distant future incarnation. They feel that it is useless to live without God-realisation and they want to have it as soon as possible. In such cases, if death comes and they are still unrealised, then death is an obstruction. If somebody who is destined to die at the age of fifty is aspiring soulfully, if he can push his death back, with the kindest approval of the Supreme, for another twenty or thirty years, then during this period what will he be doing? He will be continuing his sincere aspiration, his deepest meditation, his highest contemplation. He will be like a racer running towards his Goal with no obstruction. During these extra twenty or thirty years he may reach the farthest end, where his Goal lies.

But if death interferes, then he does not realise God in this life. In the following incarnation very few souls can immediately take up the thread of their past aspiration. As soon as one enters into the world, the undivine cosmic forces come and attack, and the ignorance, limitations and imperfections of the world try to cover the soul. In the formative years of childhood, one does not remember anything. A child is innocent, ignorant and helpless. Then, after a few years, the mind starts functioning. When one is between eight and twelve years old, the mind complicates everything. So for the first eleven, twelve or thirteen years of the next incarnation almost all souls, despite being very great and spiritual, forget their past achievements and deepest inner cry. Now there are spiritual Masters or great seekers who get a few high experiences in their childhood or who start thinking and singing about God at a very early age, but usually there is no strong connecting link between the soul’s achievement on earth in its previous incarnation and these childhood years in the present incarnation. There is a link, a very subtle link, but this link does not function significantly for the first twelve or thirteen years.

Some souls do not regain the aspiration of their past incarnation until the age of fifty or sixty. From the spiritual point of view, these fifty or sixty years in their following incarnation are absolutely wasted time. So in this incarnation if one loses fifty years, and if in the past incarnation one has lost twenty or thirty years, then it is eighty years wasted. In this case I say that death is a real obstruction. We have to remove that obstruction with our aspiration, our unbroken aspiration. Aspiration should be like a bullet. It should pass through the death wall.

But even though it may take some time, eventually the inner being will come consciously to the fore and the person in his new incarnation will start praying and meditating on God most powerfully and sincerely. At that time he will see that nothing from his past has really been lost. Everything has been saved up in the Mother Earth-consciousness, which is the common bank for everyone. The soul will know how much it has achieved on earth; and all this is kept very safely inside the Earth-consciousness, the earth bank. You deposit money here in the bank. Then you can go to England and after six years or more you can come back and take out your money. The soul does the same thing after having left the earth for ten or twenty years. All the soul’s achievements are kept here intact in Mother Earth. Then Mother Earth gives them back again when the soul returns to work for God on earth.

Nothing is lost except time, in most cases, during those few years of childhood. But it is better to realise God in one incarnation so that we do not lose our conscious aspiration again in this transitory period. If we can continue on earth for fifty to one hundred years with tremendous, sincere aspiration, then we can accomplish much. If we get real help from a spiritual Master, it is possible to realise God in one incarnation, or in two or three. If there is no real Master and if there is no aspiration, it takes hundreds and hundreds of incarnations.

Question: When we die, what is the best thing to do?

Sri Chinmoy: For a spiritual person, the best thing for him to do is to remember the presence of his Master. The near and dear ones should place the picture of his spiritual guide right in front of the seeker, and let the Master be with him spiritually when the seeker breathes his last. Let the Master be inside the very breath, the very last breath of the seeker. Then it is the duty, the responsibility of the inner guide to do what is necessary. Long before you leave the body your Master will have left the body. So you can meditate on me and I will help you.

Last year your father died. If you had been physically present what you should have done at that time was to meditate most soulfully. Although your father was not consciously my disciple and had not accepted our path, who knows what he will do in his next incarnations? You know that there is somebody who can help your father while he is dying, so you should have meditated on me. One always knows who can help in any situation. When somebody is sick, one calls the doctor. When somebody is in legal trouble, one gets the help of a lawyer. If you had wanted to help your father, immediately you should have thought of me and meditated on me. If you had tremendous aspiration or spiritual power, you would have given him all your spiritual strength. But your spiritual strength right now is your aspiration, and the source of your aspiration is inside this Master, your Guru. So if you want to help your dearest ones, you have to do it in this way.

But if you are speaking of other people, then in order to know what is best to do when they are dying, you have to know who gave them the greatest joy on earth, or in whom they had their greatest faith. If somebody had all faith in Christ, even though you may not follow the path of Christ, immediately you have to consciously and most devotedly invoke the presence of Christ. You have to help your friend at that time to increase his faith in Christ. You can repeat the name of Christ out loud, and bring him a picture of Christ and read from the Bible. In this way you will be able to help his aspiration. If somebody spiritual who knows me is dying, at that time you should read my writings and speak about me. But if it is someone who is just an acquaintance, you should increase his faith in his own way.

Question: Is there any special way we should meditate on a person who is dying?

Sri Chinmoy: Suppose you have gone to see a casual acquaintance in the hospital. At that time you should concentrate on his heart. You do not have to look at the person, but put your whole concentration on his heart.

First try to imagine a circle at his heart, and try to feel that this circle is rotating there like a disc. That means that life energy is now revolving consciously in the aspiration or in the vessel of the person who is sick. Through your concentration and meditation, you are entering into the heartbeat of that person. When you enter into the heartbeat, then your consciousness and the aspiring or dying consciousness of the other person rotate together. While they are rotating, pray with your whole being to the Supreme who is your Guru and everybody’s Guru, “Let Thy Victory be achieved. Let Thy Will be done through this particular individual. I want only Your Victory.” Victory does not necessary mean that the person will be cured. No, God may have decided that this person must leave the body for a very good reason. If you pray to God in a surrendered way and if the person leaves the body, then you are fulfilling God and you are fighting for the Victory of God. If God wants to take him to Heaven to do something for Him there, then naturally it is God’s Victory when the person leaves the body. If you pray for the Supreme’s Victory, with your aspiration you are giving all the responsibility to the Supreme. And when you can consciously give the responsibility to the Supreme, you are doing the right thing.

Question: What should be the attitude of the dear ones when somebody close is dying?

Sri Chinmoy: We are all like passengers on a single train. The destination has come for one particular passenger. He has to get off at this stop, but we still have to go on and cover more distance. Now we have to know that this hour of death has been sanctioned by the Supreme. Without the approval or tolerance of the Supreme, no human being can die. So if we have faith in the Supreme, if we have love and devotion for the Supreme, we will feel that the Supreme is infinitely more compassionate than any human being, infinitely more compassionate than we who want to keep our dear ones. Even if the dying person is our son, or our mother or father, we have to know that he is infinitely dearer to the Supreme than he is to us. The Supreme is our Father and our Mother. If one member of the family goes to the father and mother, the other members of the same family will never feel sad. If we have taken to the spiritual life and want to have real joy, we must know that we can have this only by surrendering our life to the Will of the Supreme. Now we may not know what the Will of the Supreme is, but we do know what surrender is.

If the Supreme wants to take somebody away from our life, we must accept this. “Let Thy Will be done.” If this is our attitude, then we will have the greatest joy. And this joy does the greatest service to the one who is going to depart. When we totally surrender to the Supreme, this surrender becomes additional strength and power for the departing soul that is suffering here in bondage. So if we really surrender our will to the Will of the Supreme, then this surrender will verily bring peace, an abiding peace, to the soul that is about to leave the earth-scene.

Those who have started meditating and concentrating are getting glimpses of their past incarnations. If we believe we had a past and we know we have a present, then we can also feel that we will have a future. Knowing this, we have to be always conscious of this truth: that there is no death. In the Bhagavad Gita it is said, “As a man discards his old clothes and puts on new ones, so does the soul discard this physical body and take on a new body.” When we know that the person who is going to die is just leaving aside this old body before accepting a new one, and if the person who is dying also has the same knowledge, how can there be any fear?

We do not know what death actually is; that is why we want to stay here on earth as long as possible. But real death is not the dissolution of the physical body. Real death, spiritual death, is something else.

Question: Guru, I had a young friend who died just six weeks ago, and the day before he died he told his father that he would die the next day, and he did. How could he know?

Sri Chinmoy: Why not? Is he not God’s child? At the time of death, if one thinks of God all the time, one may get the message from one’s own inner being. When my own mother was passing away, I happened to be at my uncle’s house, six miles away. My mother was suffering from goitre. Early in the morning she said, “This morning I am leaving the body. Where has Madal gone? Send for him.” Then a cousin of mine brought me the message and I came. She took my hand, then gave me a smile, her last smile. She left about a minute after I arrived, as if she had waited for me. Now I must be truthful. My mother was very, very spiritual, and used to practise the inner life in the strictest sense of the term. But about your friend, I must say that hundreds and thousands of people have known in advance when they were going to die. And for spiritual people it is very easy. They often know a few months in advance.

Question: When a person is sick and, medically speaking, there is no hope of recovery, is it good to tell the person he is going to die and to start helping him get ready for departure?

Sri Chinmoy: This is a very complicated question; each case has to be considered separately. Most people want to live; they do not want to die because they do not know what death is. They think that death is a tyrant who will torture them in every way and finally destroy them. When somebody’s karma is over and the Supreme wants that particular person to leave the body, if the person has vital hunger and unsatisfied desires — even though the soul does not have these desires — then the person wants to stay on earth. He does not want to obey the Will of the Supreme. So what should you do when a person has this kind of standard? If you tell him that God does not want him to stay on earth anymore, that he has had all the necessary experiences in this body, then he will misunderstand. He will say: “God does not want me to leave the body; it is you who want this.” He will think you are cruel and merciless. So if you know that it is the Will of the Supreme that this particular person should leave the world, the best thing is to silently speak to the soul of that particular person and try to inspire him to abide by the Will of God.

But if the person is very spiritual and a sincere seeker, then he himself will say to his relatives and dear ones: “Pray to God to take me away. I have finished my play here on earth. Read me spiritual books — the Scriptures, the Bible, the Gita. Let me hear only divine things, spiritual things, which will help me start out on my journey.” There are many, many people in India who, when they feel that their days are numbered, say: “The sooner He takes me, the better.” When my mother was dying, she read the Gita constantly during her last few days with the attitude, “Now I am going to the Eternal Father. Let me prepare myself.” A patient of that type receives greater joy in knowing and obeying the Will of the Supreme.

Question: Can you postpone with your willpower the time of death?

Sri Chinmoy: Certainly.

Question: Can you postpone it indefinitely?

Sri Chinmoy: Spiritual Masters can postpone it indefinitely if it is God’s Will. A spiritual person gets this power when he has attained to spiritual Perfection, because then he is absolutely surrendered to God. A disciple comes to a Guru and surrenders entirely to him. Similarly, a Guru has to make absolute surrender to God the Infinite. In this surrender he becomes one with God. He does not break the Law of God; he only tries to fulfil it. If God says, “I want you to leave the body now,” he leaves the body. But if he sees that some hostile forces are attacking him and are untimely causing his death, then he uses his power because God wants him to live on earth to help humanity.

Having this power is of no use if you just want to stay on earth for two or three hundred years to live an ordinary animal life. A turtle lives for hundreds of years, but that does not mean that it is better than a human being. What we need is direct illumination, the knowledge of Truth, the knowledge of Light and the knowledge of God. It is not the years, but the achievements, that count.