Types of Death
Types of Death
This page contains the following:
—Three Types of Death:
Abnormal: accidents, murder, war and suicide
—More about Suicide
—No Such Thing as “Premature Death”
—Death Is Like Changing a Coat
—True Death and Immortality
Three Types of Death
“Regardless of the abnormality of the circumstances which may lie back of it, no type of death can really damn the individual forever. It is never more than an incident in his long spiritual journey.”—Meher Baba
From the psychological point of view, death entails no slightest curtailment of individual existence. This does not mean that the surviving mind remains unaffected by the kind of death which severed the individual from the body. Both the condition of the mind, as well as its capability to progress further in the life after death, are often substantially determined by the conditions surrounding the death.
From the standpoint of its psychic after-effects, death can be classified into three broad types: normal, abnormal, and supernormal. [Meher Baba explained later that there was one other kind of death, circumstantial death. For more about it, see below.]
Normal death. Normal death follows an illness which ultimately renders the physiological functioning of the body impossible. Generally it involves some kind of warning to the individual, for if the illness is severe, he often anticipates that death is at hand. Although by no means true of all deaths caused by illness, when the individual has some anticipation of impending death, he usually has a chance to tie up loose ends and prepare his mind for this new crisis.
Abnormal death. The second or abnormal type of death is that which results from accidents, murder, war and suicide. In accidents and murder, there is generally no anticipation of impending death. Being unexpected, death involves in such instances a shock which can shatter the very roots of the sanskaras seeking expression through the physical incarnation of the individual. In unanticipated accidental death, the ordinary ego-mind has a moderate tendency to gravitate towards the Gross sphere and cling to it because of the ego-mind’s attachment to the Gross world.
In anticipated (abnormal) death, when resulting from murder or war, the ego-mind can become bound to the Gross world by the chains of unfulfilled revenge. There is less tendency for such binding to occur in death due to war, than in that resulting from murder. In war the combatants on both sides are often impersonal in their actions, and aware that they are fighting for some cause, rather than through personal enmity. If this awareness is clear and steady, death in war does not yield the mental reaction of revenge.
Suicide. Among abnormal kinds of death, suicide deserves special attention. Suicide may be divided into four grades: lowest, low, high and highest.
The lowest type is a last measure in escaping punishment or ignominy or utter frustration after the individual has tried unscrupulously to satisfy his own selfish desires. Thus one who has committed murder for lust or power may commit suicide when he is caught. Even after leaving the body, such a person does not succeed in severing his link with the Gross world for hundreds of years.
These individuals live literally as ghosts in the Semi-Subtle sphere, which lies between the Gross and the Subtle world. They experience agonizing suffering because of their unfulfilled desires. Due to the link which they preserve with the Gross world, they continue to desire various Gross objects keenly, a desire which can never be fulfilled. This suffering is even more acute than the intense sufferings in the hell-state* that the individual experiences after he severs his connection with the Gross world. [*Neither hell nor heaven should be regarded as places. They are mental states, and imaginary in the same sense that the world of duality also exists in the realm of illusion.]
A somewhat less acute class of suffering in imagination is experienced in the hell-state by suicides who have been slightly better motivated, but who are still classified as ‘low.’ In this group are those motivated by sheer disgust with life. Thus a person suffering from bad health, or stricken by a loathsome disease, or one who is poverty- stricken and ashamed of being a burden on others, might put an end to his life through lack of will to live. Since the cause of such a suicide is revulsion from earthly life, the ego-mind does not continue to maintain any enduring link with the Gross world beyond the normal three or four days following death. After that normal period, the link is snapped, and the ego-mind then begins to experience the intense suffering of its bad sanskaras, usually termed the hell-state.
Although a ghost caught in the Semi-Subtle sphere suffers even more acutely than does the ego-mind experiencing the hell-state, the latter achieves some exhaustion of evil sanskaras, while the former does not. Further, the sufferings of the ghosts who maintain their link with earthly life are more tantalizing, because the link constantly holds before them the prospect of fulfillment of Gross desires, without actual means for their satisfaction.
The general belief that suicide is bad is due to the fact that it is usually the result of low motives and a cowardly attitude towards life. When suicide is employed as an escape from dilemmas brought on by failure to cope with the needs of life, it is not only ignoble, but far-reaching as well in its demoralizing effects upon the victim.
The third or high type of suicide is in no way rooted in inferior motives, and is therefore free of their deteriorating effects. It is inspired by altruistic motives alone, and is a sacrifice made to secure the material or spiritual well-being of others. One who meets death through, e.g. a hunger strike, in order to better the welfare of the masses, is a suicide of this high type.
The motives of such a suicide are not far different from those of martyrs who lay down their lives on the battlefield for country, society or religion. The total absence of base motives in this high type of suicide makes it entirely different from the lower grades. As in other noble acts of self-effacement, such highly motivated action entitles the departed individual to the privileges and pleasures of the heavenly state, and also constitutes a definite asset in his spiritual ongoing.
A suicide inspired by ordinary altruistic motives is not the highest type. The fourth or highest class results from intense desire to see God or to unite with him. This is an extremely rare occurrence. In most cases in which suicide is believed to have been committed for the sake of God, there is an admixture of other motivating factors, such as dissatisfaction with conditions in earthly life.
If and when suicide is embraced purely for the sake of attaining God, it can have the effect of achieving Liberation or Mukti. The Masters have always warned aspirants against resorting to suicide in the intensity of their longing for union with God, for there is too great room for self-deception and inadvertent mixture of inferior unconscious motivation.
Regardless of the abnormality of the circumstances which may lie back of it, no type of death can really damn the individual forever. It is never more than an incident in his long spiritual journey.
[For more on Suicide, see below.]
Supernormal death. The third or supernormal type of death consists in leaving the body voluntarily. This is done by the advanced yogis who wind up their earthly careers after fulfilling their mission, much as the student locks up his textbooks after passing his examination. The supernormal or voluntary death of the advanced yogi is definitely anticipated and willed, but is entirely different from suicide insofar as motives, results and manner of leaving the body are concerned.
Friends and relatives of a departed one often are seriously upset by his death, because the dissolution of the form may seem to them to be the extinction of life itself. All of their attachments had been related to the form. It was because of the form that they had contact with the soul, and it was through the form that their various physical and emotional needs were fulfilled. The disappearance of the body that had acted as the vehicle of the soul is therefore often interpreted by them as the annihilation of the individual himself. From the purely physical point of view, death does not involve annihilation of even the body, but physiologically it has become unfit to be the continued dwelling place of the spirit, and has therefore lost all importance.
From the point of view of the individualized soul as mind, death does not involve any loss whatsoever, as the mind and all its sanskaras remain intact. The individual in essence is thus in no way different. He has only cast off his external coat. Nevertheless this severance from the physical body is fraught with two important consequences. It is a means of introducing the individual to a new type of existence, and it is also in itself an incident of the utmost importance because of side effects of the greatest practical consequence.
When others die, the individual loses only one, or at most a few friends who have played an important role in his earthly existence. But when he dies, he loses at one stroke all the persons who had entered intimately into his own life. He also loses all his possessions, and is broken away from the achievements on which he had built the very foundations of his sense of accomplishment in life. As the crowning touch, he must also leave behind the very physical body with which he had identified himself so completely that he was rarely capable of imagining himself as anything but that physical body. This complete annihilation of the entire structure of the individual’s earthly existence is therefore a crisis without parallel in his life.
This critical turning point, which occurs at death, is attended by both advantages and disadvantages. The greatest disadvantage lies in the fact that the individual must leave incomplete all the undertakings of his earthly life. He must leave the entire chessboard without taking any further interest in it. The scene of his life is blotted out, and the chain of his mundane interests is hacked apart.
From the standpoint of objective achievement, the continuity of his undertaking has undergone an abrupt break. Advancement of the projects he has left behind must come from his previous associates, and can no longer be his concern. It is rare for the individual to be drawn back through a sanskaric linking to the identical task which he had begun in a past incarnation, to develop it on from the point where his successors had left it.
It would be a mistake to think that death brings nothing but disadvantages. Death also brings about a general weakening of attachments by shattering all the sanskaras which were fed by the earthly objects, because the mind is now torn away from them. While it is true that many of the sadhanas [spiritual practices] undertaken by the individual during his earthly life have the effect of unwinding previous sanskaras, still it is only in extremely rare instances that he succeeds in completely erasing the present and future effects of these sanskaras. This erasure is effected within certain well-defined limits by the sudden transplanting of the individual that occurs at death.
If the lessons inherent in a single death were to be thoroughly assimilated by the individual, he would benefit by the equivalent of several lifetimes of patient spiritual effort. Unfortunately, this does not happen in most cases, because after death the individual usually tries to revive his accumulated sanskaras. Through these revived sanskaras he recaptures the experiences through which he has already lived. The period immediately following death usually becomes, therefore, an occasion for the repetition of all that has previously been lived through, rather than a period of emancipation through understanding all that has been lived out. . . .
If death has any value, it is to teach the individual the true art of life. It would be wrong for the aspirant to seek death with the hope of making further progress thereby. On the other hand, he should not fear death when it overtakes him. A true aspirant neither seeks death nor fears it. And when death comes to him, he converts it into a stepping stone to the higher life.
Some people are particularly afraid of the exact moment of death because they anticipate unbearable pain at that instant. In reality, all physical suffering experienced during illness or just before death terminates at the moment of death. The process of the actual dropping of the body is quite painless, contrary to the superstition that a person experiences indescribable agonies in death.
However, the severing of the individual’s emotional entanglement in the Gross world is not found to be easy. The various religious rites observed after a death have primarily the purpose of helping the departing individual disentangle himself from these ties. For instance, the repetition of the name of God or of scriptures, often practiced after the death of a person, has a wholesome effect both on those who have been left behind as well as on the one who has passed away, because they help to free both parties of their mutual sanskaric attachment to form. On the other hand, the lamentation and wailing that is often observed has a degrading and depressing effect both on those left behind as well as on the person who has passed away, for it tends to strengthen mutual attachment to form.
The thought or wish the dying individual holds at the moment of death has special importance in determining his future destiny. If the last thought is of God or the Master, the individual achieves Liberation. [See also the page Take His Name.]
It is quite common for an individual not to have any specific thought at the moment of death. Even if he has had thoughts or wishes before death, he will tend to forget them at the time of death. At that moment some people hope they may not return to earthly life, but they are not exempted from rebirth by mere wishing. They are reborn, but exhibit a pronounced disgust for life, and tend to lead the lives of ascetics or recluses.
Rebirth. If the good and evil sanskaras* of the individual are almost balanced at the time of death, he may take on a new physical body almost immediately. He may even enter a new incarnation as early as the fourth day after death. In such urgent cases of rebirth the individual can enliven a ready fetus any time between the sixth and seventh months of embryological development. It is important to note that both father and mother give only prana or vital energy to the fetus. In addition to receiving prana, it must be enlivened by some individualized soul. Ordinarily this takes place during the later stages of embryological development.
[*Good actions leave sanskaric residues in the individual’s subconscious as surely as do bad actions. Therefore the individual may be bound just as surely by the ‘golden chains’ forged by good actions as by the ‘iron chains’ of bad actions.]
When the individual is ready for reincarnation, he is automatically drawn to his future parents by sanskaric links. The parents act as a magnet due to their previous connections with the reincarnating individual. Occasionally the strongest sanskaric or karmic link which the reincarnating individual has with incarnate individuals is not with the parents, but with a brother or sister. It is this link, then, that determines the family in which he takes birth.
In times of emergency, as in wars or epidemics, when thousands of individuals may seek immediate reincarnation, it is not always possible for all to be born into families having strong previous links with them. But if the sanskaric status of the individual is precipitating him towards incarnation, his taking on of a body is not postponed merely because parents are not available to provide a suitable previous link. It is possible through the intervention of the Masters to make infinite adjustments through mutual exchanges. . . .
For most persons the period between death and birth is one of absorption in subjectivity. As mentioned before, after death the ego-mind of the individual normally retains its tie with the remnants of the physical body for three or four days. After this period the connection is completely severed, and the individual then exists entirely in the subjectivity of his mental states. This subjective phase is brought about by the resurrection of all the sanskaras which the ego-mind has brought along with it after death.
The sudden transplanting of the ego-mind from one sphere to another does wear out the scars of the sanskaras to some extent, but for the greater part they remain intact. If death had resulted in the complete wiping out of all the sanskaric scars on the mind, it would have resulted in emancipation of the individual from all limitation. But this does not happen. Not only are the sanskaric imprints retained after death, but they may unroll unhampered in the life after death. . . .
—Meher Baba, before 1956, Listen, Humanity, pp. 97-111
In the book Listen, Humanity Meher Baba enumerated the different types of death. Later he said that there was one more type of death that had not been included in Listen, Humanity — this he called circumstantial death.
There is only one case of circumstantial death among the Perfect Masters, and that is with Dnyaneshwar [also Jnaneshwar, Jnanadeva, 13th century].
Dnyaneshwar was very beautiful physically. His personality was also dynamic and captivating. His presence was such that everyone flocked to him. They could not be persuaded to leave him, even though Dnyaneshwar would take great care to tell those people who had a connection, a link, with other Masters, to go to them and not stay with him.
As Baba explained, in spirituality, the most important point is the link that one has with the Master. You may go to any Master, and, of course, you will derive benefit from the contact, but if you have no connection with that Master, you will eventually have to go to the one with whom you do have a link. This ensures further progress on the spiritual path.
So Dnyaneshwar would dissuade people from staying with him when this was a barrier to their spiritual progress. But his beauty, his language, and the expression of his personality were such that they persisted in staying with him. Eventually, so his personality would no longer be a hindrance in the spiritual development of some people, he asked that he be sealed alive in a small crypt. That is the one case of circumstantial death among Perfect Masters.
It is said that many years later, a certain person had a persistent dream of Dnyaneshwar telling him to open the crypt. The dream or vision continued to occur, and so, in time, the elders of the time decided to open the crypt. Dnyaneshwar was still there inside, but a root of a nearby tree had entwined itself around his neck and was choking him. It was cut off. It is also said that Dnyaneshwar said that the crypt was not to be opened again.
But then we might ask, do not all Perfect Masters have appealing personalities? Why should one have more appeal than another? It seems from the story of Dnyaneshwar, that some do.
The answer is that our Gross eyes see the surface, but not that which is inward. So some personalities are more appealing than others, even though all are one in consciousness.
—Eruch Jessawala, before 1985, Is That So?, pp. 44-45
More about Suicide
Suicide is not the solution. It only entails rebirth with the same problems all over again. The only solution is God-realization, to see God in everything. Everything is easy then.
—Meher Baba, 31 December 1934, Hollywood, Calif., to Mercedes Acosta. Lord Meher 6:1940.
The condition of one who arrives at death through suicide requires special explanation. Such a one goes neither upwards nor downwards, neither does he immediately reincarnate, nor pass into heaven or hell. Such spirits remain suspended closer to the earth plane, inasmuch as no entry is possible for them in any of the aforementioned states. Their condition is pitiable in the extreme, because they too feel the pull of their sanskaras, but unlike those on earth, they have no Gross body in which to fulfill their desires. These are the ones which in common parlance we call ghosts or disembodied spirits. It is these spirits whom mediums sometimes contact, and they prove a source of harm as well as good. Sometimes such a spirit tries to possess a human body with which it feels an affinity due to similarity of sanskaras.
If, for example, a person who is otherwise eligible for the heaven state commits suicide, he remains suspended near the earth plane, and if he comes in contact with a human being does him no harm. But if one who, through his bad sanskaras, was eligible for hell dies before his time, then he may become a source of harm and pain to those whom he contacts. The relatively good spirits, however, usually seek redress through yogis, or they seek to serve a Perfect Master in the darkness of night. Yet, owing to the karmic law, it takes many cycles for such suspended spirits to have the chance of reincarnating again in human form through the aid of the Master. The evil spirits run as far away as possible from a Perfect One.
Both good and bad suspended spirits can sometimes work out their sanskaras through a human being, if they can find one with similar sanskaras and suitable past karmic connections. However, the ignorant victims of such possession by a suspended spirit may suffer physically and materially, though spiritually they are benefitted to the extent of dispensing with three or four incarnations.
—Meher Baba, 1926? Quoted in Jean Adriel, Avatar, pp.105-7
Suppose a man is destined to have a life span of forty years, but he commits suicide when he is thirty. Consequently, for the remaining ten year period of unexpressed sanskaras, his spirit inhabits the lower planes, and at times is seen by some people as a spirit or ghost. To hold seances or to talk with the dead is no great thing, because such spirits are always among us on this living plane.
—Meher Baba, 2 June 1925, Meherabad. Quoted in Lord Meher 2:720.
No Such Thing as “Premature Death”
Harjiwan wrote a very heart-rending letter to Baba. In it he expressed his concern that perhaps he had failed in his duty to provide the best medical treatment for his very dear wife, a soul that had lovingly surrendered to Baba. He was often tormented by remorse at the thought that she had died a ‘premature death’ because of his negligence. . . .
Baba . . . in answer dictated several points to Kishan Singh to be conveyed in a letter. In his consoling reply, Baba . . . assured Harjiwan that there was no such thing as “premature death.” No amount of medical assistance or neglect could alter the divinely ordained moment of one’s coming to Baba. Harjiwan’s wife was destined to come to Baba on that day, so there was no need for Harjiwan to worry. Rather, he should feel happy at her return to him — the eternal life.”
—Bal Natu, Glimpses of the God-Man, Meher Baba, vol. 6, pp. 6-7
If anyone is executed by the government, he enters a state of samadhi. It is temporary. For instance, when a person is being hanged, there is a clash during the execution between the functioning of inhalation and exhalation. Becoming lifeless, the person enters a samadhi state.
This type of samadhi has nothing to do with anything spiritual, for as soon as this state is over, and according to the sanskaras of his past life, the soul takes rebirth. If he has murdered anyone, he must pay for those sanskaras of murder. If the person is innocent, yet is executed, he is then freed from the sanskaras of murder.
It is quite different in the case of people who commit suicide by hanging. When a suicide’s samadhi finishes, he remains “hanging” — waiting between the Astral and Gross worlds. The person becomes a ghost, and does not acquire a physical body for ages to come.
—Meher Baba, 1931, Lord Meher 4:1353
If a person dies by a sudden accident before he would have died naturally, he immediately takes birth again and completes the remaining time of his past life, after which he dies. Some live for one, two, three, four or five years. And after finishing the period remaining from their past life, they take another body according to the sanskaras of the life which ended suddenly by accidental death. However, they cannot live longer than it takes to complete this remaining time. This is why some children die, some in a few days, some in a few months, and some after a few years.
—Meher Baba, 1929. Lord Meher 4:1255
Death Is Like Changing a Coat
People die in all sorts of ways, but it is nothing to be upset about. They are born again and again in different Gross bodies. But during one’s lifetime, one should do whatever one honestly feels without getting attached to actions.
Changing bodies between lifetimes is similar to changing a coat. Some die young, such as those who died at the time of the partition. Some live long lives, they do not change their coats soon, like Gustadji.
—Meher Baba, 1952; quoted in Bal Natu, Glimpses of the God-Man, Meher Baba, vol. 3, pp. 162-63
Death is like throwing away clothes which have become useless through wear and tear. Just as a traveller may stop at different places, and at each halt may change clothes according to his needs, so the individual goes on changing his bodies according to the needs of his sanskaras.
—Meher Baba, Listen, Humanity
True Death and Immortality
The true death of the individual occurs at that moment when he transcends his limited individuality or separative consciousness by being taken up in the truth- consciousness of the unlimited and undivided being of God. The true death of the individual consists in the complete disappearance of the limiting ego-mind that has created the sanskaric veil of ignorance. True death is a far more difficult process than physical death, but when it occurs through the grace of the Master, it takes no longer than the twinkling of an eye. This dissolution of the ego-mind and the freeing of the soul from the illusion of separative limited individuality are known as Liberation. . . .
True immortality is not the survival of the limited individual in the period following the death of the physical body. It is true that the ego-mind persists unscathed through death, but the individual cannot and does not thereupon attain to final freedom from birth and death. Survival should not be confused with deathlessness, which is true immortality. The chain of alternating incarnate and discarnate life is only a survival of consciousness plus ignorance, and ignorance makes true life impossible.
Life in ignorance is the very negation of existence in Truth. It is so basic a curtailment of true existence that when judged by the standards of the true existence in eternity, it had best be termed a continuous death. Only in Realization is consciousness emancipated from the tyranny of this continuous death which nullifies the true life in eternity. And only in Liberation can consciousness arrive at that true immortality which lies beyond all curtailment and obscurity.
—Meher Baba, Listen, Humanity