This may be called the computer age, but it could as aptly be called an age of death. If you honestly examine your own world, you’ll observe many ways that death hangs heavy in the air.
The twenty-four hour news business and the mind’s lack of detachment and discrimination have combined to make the fear of death and loss a cultural obsession. The media’s constant coverage of terrorism, domestic violence, recession, war, disease, natural and man-made calamities, the ineptitude of government and the decrepitude of old age serves up endless, disturbing reminders of our own mortality. Generally, when faced with this relentless barrage, our automatic response is to avoid any thoughtful examination of the issue. Instead, we tend to distract ourselves with some short-term pleasurable experience that consumes our attention. But this diversion from examining the hard facts of life also leaves unintended painful consequences in its wake.
Because death plays a part in so many important relationships in our lives, there is an imperative to confront and examine our notion of what death really means. As response-able individuals we need to consider how we will act when finally we must face the prospect of our own death. Yoga Science does not segregate us from death. Instead, it provides both a science and a philosophy that teach us how to become spiritual warriors. Yoga instructs us how to do battle with the very concept of death, and ultimately, to put death itself to death. In the process, we are rewarded by becoming exquisitely skilled in the art of living.
More than two thousand years ago this noble confrontation with death helped transform Prince Siddhartha Gautama into the Compassionate Buddha. According to legend, Prince Siddhartha was sheltered as a youth in a palace of luxury and pleasure by his father, the king. When Siddhartha, at age 29, ventured out of the palace for the first time with his charioteer Channa, he came upon an old man. When the prince asked about the decrepit condition of this person, Channa replied that aging was something that happened to every human being. For the pampered prince, the sight was thought provoking.
Siddhartha next came upon a sick person suffering from a disease. The prince was again surprised at the sight. Channa told him that everyone is subject to disease and pain. This second sight further troubled the prince’s mind.
Then Siddhartha saw a corpse lying on the side of the road. Channa explained that death is the inevitable fate that comes to everyone. After viewing these sights the young prince grew quiet, sorrowful and contemplative about the sufferings that have to be endured in life.
As he pondered these three sobering sights, Siddhartha encountered an ascetic who had devoted himself to finding a way beyond human suffering. Hearing of such a possibility, the compassionate prince felt an inward call. For Siddhartha the experience of these four sightings was profound. The curtain that had once limited his consciousness was torn open, and as a result, he set out on a quest to discover for himself how a human being can become free from decay and death.
After years of study and experiments with Truth, the answer came to him in the climax of meditation called samadhi. Blessed with clear vision, the Buddha––now a reflection of the Supreme Physician––saw death as a terminal illness of the body, an illness that can be conquered. Through his earnest practice of Yoga Science, he finally knew that death of the body is a process that begins at birth. As Prince Siddhartha, he had suffered from the emotional pain of this terminal illness because of his identification with the body. But he was cured through the practice of meditation. Then, as a teacher relying on personal experience, he could prescribe a treatment for anyone who believes that death of the body is annihilation.
Your own all-consuming desire to conquer death can lead you to experience the great adventure that beckons with the promise: “You were born to put death to death.” You don’t need to buy or find anything. You don’t need to travel to far-off lands. You need only to remove the veil of ignorance that now conceals the real, eternal You.
Death, like birth, the sages say, is simply a habit of the body. For those who have the will to undertake the supreme scientific experiment in the laboratory of their own mind, with their own mind, it is possible to go beyond death––not after physical death, but here and now, in this very lifetime. As the great mystical poet Kabir wrote, “O Friend, know Him and be one with Him while you live. Don’t dream that your soul will be united with Him because the body-house is demolished by death. If He is realized now, He is realized then too; if not, you but go to live in the Land of Death.”
When the mind is swept away by the media’s fear mongering, we must never forget that the goal of human life is nothing less than the conquest of death. There is no more monstrous superstition on the face of the earth than the belief that, “I am the body; I am the mind.” In the Judeo-Christian-Muslim traditions this phenomenon is referred to as The Fall. It is a forgetting and forsaking of the Truth that the “Real I” is immortal and eternal in favor of the delusion that “I am the mortal and separate body that some day must die.”
The great value of this human life is that it provides both the capacity and the means to end our suffering. We no longer have to remain victims of the pernicious superstition that “I am the body; when the body dies, I die.” Right now we have a human body, mind and discriminative faculty––all the requisites for making the transition from the mortal to the immortal. The sages promise that we can be free from death in this very lifetime. Further, they urge us not to postpone the endeavor. “Enlightenment,” Swami Rama of the Himalayas said, “is our birth right––a state free from pains, miseries and bondages. It is not something to be acquired or something new. It is already within us.” Each of us can realize this eternal state by becoming spiritual warriors, bravely transforming our habits and purifying our personalities. Providence has granted us this rare opportunity to make ourselves fit to receive our full inheritance. This is our primary challenge as human beings.
To be free from all limitations––including death––and to fulfill the purpose of your life, you must recognize that you are a citizen of two worlds. Clearly, you are a citizen of the ever-changing material world of animal, vegetable and mineral matter. In this familiar environment, the body is your vehicle for action and the mind is your most powerful instrument. For every action your body-mind-sense complex takes, a consequence results that can lead us toward happiness and security or toward unhappiness and insecurity.
You are also a citizen of the distinctly non-material, yet profoundly real world of consciousness. Within this subtle world exists an intuitive library of knowledge that unerringly identifies which of your possible actions will lead you to victory over death, and to peace, happiness and freedom from fear in life.
When, as a citizen of the material world, your outer actions reflect the perfection of your inner, quantum wisdom, you will be led for your highest and greatest good. The choice to base your outer action on your own inner wisdom is the essence of all forms of Yoga Science. Yoga means union, and the heart and science of Yoga provides a reliable blueprint for building a trustworthy, ever-accessible bridge to the super conscious portion of the mind. As you rely more completely on your own inner wisdom, you enhance your confidence and skill in dealing with common, everyday situations and effectively remove death’s sword of mortality that now dangles over your head.
Contemplating “Who am I?”
Your present desire for unbounded peace and security––even through the great transition of death––can be fulfilled if you earnestly contemplate the question “Who am I?” This inquiry, called vichara in ancient yogic texts, has been esteemed for thousands of years as a reliable method of knowing the true Self. If you are sincere and persistent in posing this question to yourself, the answer will come. And, as the truth of that answer motivates you to steward the energy of your innumerable desires, large and small, you will begin to experience freedom from your fear, anger, anxiety and dis-ease.
This process occurs differently for each human being. Guided by the teachings of Yoga Science, you will begin to follow your own distinct path to Self-realization and freedom from death. Each of us has been born with a unique body-mind-sense complex, and through this vehicle each of us experiences a different reality. Yet, through that ephemeral individuality, each human being has the capacity to know union with the Eternal.
Absolute peace is the fruit of earnestly seeking the answer to the profound question, “Who am I?” The contemplation of this question begins the systematic, step-by-step procedure that focuses your mind. With this focus, you can transcend the indiscriminate call of the senses and the ego’s fascination with the past or future. Then, as your mind becomes ever more focused, you will enter a timeless state as you become present to the joyful and creative oneness of your own true nature.
Begin this practice by repeatedly asking yourself the question: Who am I? During the contemplation, remember this: I have a body. I am aware of the body, but I am not the body. I have a mind. I am aware of the mind, but I am not the mind. I have thoughts. I am aware of thoughts, but I am not the thoughts. I have desires. I am aware of desires, but I am not the desires. I have emotions. I am aware of emotions, but I am not the emotions. Who, then, is aware of the body? Who is aware of the mind? Who is aware of the thoughts, desires and emotions? Who is the thinker of every thought? Who is the experiencer of every experience? Who is asking these questions? Who am I?
Beginning today, and for the rest of your life, contemplate the question “Who am I?” If you are earnest in your effort––allowing consciousness to observe consciousness––the wordless answer will appear, because the question and the answer are two sides of the same coin.
If you find consternation in your mind, you are reacting from the limited perspective of the personality. It’s a clear indication that the ego––not the Eternal You––has its hands on the wheel of the bus. When thoughts, desires and emotions arise in your awareness, do not automatically pursue them with your attention, but rather, inquire: “To whom did this thought arise?” It doesn’t matter how many thoughts arise. As each thought arises, inquire with diligence: “To whom has this thought arisen?” The answer that will emerge is: “To me.” If you earnestly inquire “Who am I?” at this point, the mind will go deeper to consider its Source, and the thought that arose will become less seductive. Seeking the answer to the question “Who am I?” will eventually give rise to the realization that within you dwells an Eternal Witness which is the Supreme Reality.
This dialogue requires attentive introspection. Be sensitive and patient as you consider your feelings and thoughts. Be gentle with yourself, as you would with any good friend. Don’t condemn yourself or be judgmental, and you will begin to trust your inner Self and realize that there is a constantly faithful companion and guide residing within.
Twentieth century sage Eknath Easwaran referred to the ancient Katha Upanishad as “the perfect medical manual of immunology against death.” In this scripture the King of Death himself provides us the instruction to begin the conquest of death. “You are neither the body nor the mind, which are subject to change and death,” he says. “Both are given to you for the purpose of discovering the seed of immortality which is in you––which is the Real You––having a human experience.”
For the man or woman who puts death to death, all the debilitating limitations of age, race, gender, family, tribe, religion, country and species lose their power. You are neither elated by good fortune nor depressed by bad. You are grateful for support but are not fearful or agitated when you encounter opposition. You do not allow your vital energy to be sapped or misdirected by stress, anxiety, doubt, greed, guilt, depression, fear or anger. Such is the spiritual warrior.
When you accept the challenge of putting death to death through the daily practice of Yoga Science as mind/body medicine, you receive immense motivation to keep the mind and body healthy, happy, free and active so that both can serve skillfully and lovingly in every relationship. When you have slain the dragon of death, you, like St. Francis of Assisi, spontaneously sow love where there is hatred, pardon where there is injury, faith where there is doubt, hope where there is despair, light where there is darkness and joy where there is sadness. In medical terms, your life becomes a living testament to the fact that “death” is a disease against which we can all build up immunity.
Finally, after a life of sacrificing attachments and of selfless service, the man or woman who has conquered death can gracefully pass from this world into the next. At the time of that great transition the spiritual warrior can depart with a gentle exhalation––free of attachment and fear. At that auspicious moment, without the slightest break in consciousness, you will know that as life’s mission in the world of time and death has been completed, the Supreme Reality remains within––eternally.
Here is the way Sufi mystic Al-Ghazali explained his impending death to his students nine hundred years ago: “Say to my brethren when they see me dead and weep for me, lamenting in sadness: ‘Do you really think I am this corpse you are about to bury? I swear by God, this dead body is not I. Know that when I walked with you, this body merely served as my garment that I wore for a while.’”
Speaking as the Lord, Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita reminds us that time is the destroyer of all. Everything manifest in the material world will, at some time, pass away. Time is death. It pursues each of us from the moment we are born. As we grow older and watch family and friends pass away, we can no longer deny that life and death are two sides of the same coin. And every death we experience reminds us of our own inevitable passing. As seventeenth century writer John Donne wrote, “Ask not for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for thee.”
If you are among those who are sensitive to this Truth, it means that Grace has already provided you the infinitely powerful motivation to become the spiritual warrior who is destined to compassionately put death to death. Are you ready to fulfill your destiny?
“Master of Nurenberg,” by Jenness Cortez Perlmutter ©2007,
Homage to: Albrecht Dürer (1471-1528)