Life is Eternal. Considering death - the cessation of functions of physical body - as the end of life is a great delusion. The soul (atma), which is the upholder of bio-energy in the physical body, is ageless, timeless and indestructible. The fear of death ensues from the misconception that with the end of physical existence, the individual loses its identity in totality. A firm conviction in the continuity of life after physical death frees man from the fear of death
Man is afraid of many things, but the fear of death is the greatest, the very thought of which makes him shiver. The reason for this unusual reaction is the ignorance about the environment of life beyond the physical death. In this short article extracted from the book "Life after Physical Death" (by Pandit Sriram Sharma Acharya), an attempt has been made to remove these misconceptions and enlighten man about the facts he is curious to know about the unknown future.
The task of educating people about the invisible realms of existence is, however, not easy. The subject pertains to paranormal phenomena and is, therefore, much beyond the reach of physical sciences and intellectual disputations.
Life is like an eternal stream. Each one of us has been living since time immemorial and would continue to do so for millions of years in future. Ignorance of facts makes us believe that life begins in the womb of mother during pregnancy and ends with cessation of functioning of heart and brain. It is a myopic point of view – a misleading concept. Modern medical science would make us believe that soul has no independent existence of its own, that the body itself is the totality of a living entity and the being is lost forever on death of the body.
But Alas! Physical sciences themselves are even today in infancy. Take for instance the subject of velocity of electricity. So far, over three dozens theories have been advanced in this context, each contradicting the earlier ones. No doubt man has learnt to make use of electrical current, but he is still uncertain about its mode of propagation. To the material world the ever-changing theories of physical sciences may not matter much but it would be unfortunate for mankind to apply the same norms to research in spirituality. Whereas scientists consider body itself as the total existence of a living being, a research scholar of spirituality
puts forward evidences of paranormal activities of the departed, defying explanation by material sciences.
Then there are authenticated versions of small innocent children, who have identified places and people of their past lives proving beyond doubt that a being goes through cycles of birth and death again and again. Sucking milk from mothers breast immediately after birth itself indicates the presence in the infant of a memory from previous life. Extraordinary talents of many young children too are indicative of knowledge acquired in an earlier incarnation.
Soul (not mind which is erroneously considered as soul in the West) and body are not one and the same entity. Just as one is required to change clothes according to the requirements of occasion, the soul too changes bodies. As it is not possible to wear the same clothes throughout ones life, the soul with its infinite continuity in time, cannot dwell in the same body. That is why it seeks to find a new body again and again. Though, generally, one discards the old worn out and torn clothes only, at times it becomes necessary to do so prematurely, when they are accidentally damaged, torn or have become unusable on account of some other reason.
Likewise, though the soul continues to live in the body till it becomes infirm due to old age or diseases, it may also leave it at a younger age in a contingency.
The moments of death
How does one die? In this context Indian Yogis (saints) having paranormal perception hold the view that for a short duration preceding death, man experiences a great deal of restlessness, pain and writhing. There are a few reasons for this phenomenon. The event of death necessitates total withdrawal of the current of bio-energy (prana) from all over the body, which before death, is accumulated at that particular part of the body, through which the soul is about to make its exit (discussed later), whereas, because of prevailing disposition of biological functions, this current tends to flow back to respective neurons.
The impact of this struggle creates the agony or the spasm at the moment of death. The other reasons for the misery preceding the moment of death are diseases, shock or other physiological factors rendering the body unfit for retention of soul. Whether or not the dying person is able to express, the being does suffer for a few moments before death. However, soon thereafter, the person falls into a kind of coma and the soul departs in this state of unconsciousness. When death becomes imminent, all external functional powers of man become introverted and then cumulatively escape along with the soul through any exit in the physical body.
The Yogis of the West are of the view that the subtle body of the being comes out of the body as a violet shadow, whereas the Indian spiritual Masters see it as a brilliant white aura akin to luminescence of a burning lamp escaping at the moment of death. Because of cumulative withdrawal, all forgotten memories of life lying buried and dormant in the finer cells of brain are stimulated and revived. This phenomenon proves the extraordinary capability of human mind, when the dying person relives all experiences of life in a short moment like a playback of a cine-film, whereas while living it is impossible to remember even fifty percent of lifes events in a long time. Each activity of a person, whether mental, verbal or physical, leaves an imprint on the soul.
The sum and substance of these events, deeds accompanies the soul as its sanskaras (intrinsic mental and emotional impressions) at the time of its departure from the physical body. In this process, it is said, one feels unimaginable pain, like that inflicted by a thousand scorpion bites. While looking at the activities of bygone human existence the soul feels extremely miserable- because the soul feels extremely repentant for not having utilized lifes precious moments fruitfully.
As mentioned earlier, the body becomes insensitive to all feelings of pain and disease much before death when the energy of sense-perception becomes introverted. Thus all sufferings of the body end before death. The bond between the body and soul with diseases, shock or old age begins to loosen. The fruit drops to the ground when it is ripened and its stem is unable to bear its weight. In the same manner, in the normal course, an individual dies when the body and its functional capabilities loosen their grip on the soul. The soul generally departs through the apertures in the upper part of the body, principally from the mouth, eyes, ears or nostrils. Souls of sinners have been found to exit through the anus or organs of sex. The soul of a Yogi leaves through the Brahmarandhra (near top of the cranium).
The habitat of departed soul
On coming out of the body, the soul finds itself in a strange environment. Just as after a prolonged period of hard work one seeks a comfortable bed, in order to relax after the lifelong engagement with the body, the soul needs rest and sleep (a period of inactivity). This period of sleep provides the soul a great deal of rest; hence the prayer for the departed soul to rest in peace. However, the soul does not fall asleep immediately after death but takes some time in doing so. Generally, the duration lasts for about a month. It is because the habits and memories of earlier bodily attachments (Vasna) are fresh and strong at the time of death and only gradually loosen their hold. As an analogy, consider the state of body after hard labour. The circulation of blood is fast and one cannot fall asleep even on a comfortable bed till blood circulation becomes normal.
After its separation from the physical body (Sthul Sharir) on death, the soul assumes an astral body (Sukshma Sharir). The form of this body is somewhat similar to that of the physical body. The being is pleasantly surprised to find a sudden acquisition of levity. Now it can move freely in space like a bird and reach anywhere simply by willing to do so. After abandoning the physical body, the soul hovers around the mortal remains. Finding the near and dear ones mourning, it makes a vain attempt to communicate with them or re-enter the dead body. The following narration of a departed soul illustrates the point. "After death, I found myself in a strange situation. On account of my previous attachments with my physical body and dear ones, I wanted to interact with them but found myself helpless.
I could see and hear everyone and I talked loudly, but found that I had become invisible and inaudible to the embodied living beings. Though it disturbed me to some extent, I felt very happy in my newly acquired body in which I felt very light and could fly around with great speed. I recollected, that while living I was afraid of death, for which now there did not appear any reason, whatsoever. Having acquired the new subtle body, I became less interested in the older one, since this astral (Sukshma) body was in every way much superior to the previous one. I felt that I was existing as before and could see and move my limbs as earlier. It convinced me that there was nothing to fear about death and dying was only an ordinary natural process involving change of body."
Ghosts and spirits
Because of earlier long attachment the soul continues to hover around the dead body till it is cremated. After it is reduced to ashes, it reluctantly seeks a diversion. On burial, however, it remains infatuated with the mortal remains and hovers around them for many days. Souls of less enlightened persons and of those having deeper involvements in worldly matters haunt the graveyards and crematoriums for many days. Longing for the earlier body draws them again and again towards the place of cremation, and unable to control their emotions, they wail around the grave. Then there are also individuals having deep affections with close friends and relatives. Souls of such persons prefer to stay near the favourite persons rather than around the place of cremation.
An aged person, while living naturally, develops a greater detachment from worldly affairs. Consequently, the soul of such a person is more relaxed and falls asleep soon after death. On the other hand, youths having strong desires and attachments, especially those dying of shock or suicide, suffer for longer durations, before having rest.
In the event of sudden death associated with pain, quite a few particles of the physical body (Sthul Sharir) cling to the Astral Body (Sukshma-Sharir), as a consequence of which, the soul retains the characteristics of both the former physical form as well as the astral form. It, therefore, has some physical as well as astral (Sukshma) components. Such souls, at times, become visible to a living person as apparitions. However, this is not true about a person dying a natural death. In order to make themselves visible, the latter category of spirits have to make great efforts and carry out specific spiritual exercises. Persons dying of unnatural death, on the other hand, exist as spirits (ghosts) and they are unable to sleep because of troubled emotional state.
Seeking opportunities for taking revenge or fulfillment of insatiated desires through the body of a living person, they hover around old "Pipal" trees, caves, ruins or some reservoirs of water. They make their presence felt to the desired person or persons at opportune moments. The exorcists (Tantriks) bring such spirits under their control with the help of witchcraft and make them work like slaves. The spirits, however, do not work willingly for the exorcists. They remain ever resentful and even kill their captors in their unguarded moments. No one likes to be in bondage. The spirits perform like the caged lion in a circus. The spirits generally tend to stay at a particular place, and do not change their abode frequently unless there is some specific reason to do so.
The rest before rebirth
The souls of modest persons and of those having religious disposition sever links with the earlier worldly milieu after cremation and easily reconcile to the changed environment. Detaching themselves from the past, they easily fall asleep for recuperation. Nature has not specified any fixed duration for this period of rest. It depends on the state of spiritual growth of the soul. As children and hard working persons need a longer period of sleep and rest, so do the souls in various states of spiritual growth. Generally a duration up to three years is found sufficient for this rest. During the first year, the soul sleeps soundly. During this period the soul is able to recuperate from the exhaustion of earlier physical incarnation and the finer perceptions of the new astral body begin to respond efficiently to the requirement of new levels of sentience.
In the second year of rest the soul recapitulates the wrong deeds (sins) of the earlier physical existence and prepares itself for working in the new environment, in the light of past experiences. The third year is spent in looking for the milieu in which it desires to return to this world by taking birth in a new body. The durations mentioned here are averages. Occasionally, in specific cases, persons have been found taking rebirth even after six months, whereas others have taken as long as five years. The maximum age (period of existence) of spirits (Prait) is believed to be twelve years. Thus the maximum gap between the death of a person and rebirth could be taken as twelve years.
Almost all major religions of the world believe in immortality of souls. However, how individual life continues after shedding the physical form is a jigsaw puzzle – different philosophers and religions having given different viewpoints. The Creative Spirit of Life is multidimensional and ever-changing. The essence of life is change and growth. May be we are spiritual beings going through human experience and through numerous incarnations, ultimately we are to be the perfect expression of our innate Divinity!
Sri Aurobindo has put it thus in his Essays on The Gita –Ch. 2-30:
"……… The Eternal is manifesting itself as the soul of man in a great cycle of its pilgrimage, with birth and death for milestones, with worlds beyond as resting places, with all circumstances of life – happy or unhappy, as the means of our progress ……. and with Immortality as the Home to which the soul travels."
 Maranottar Jivana : Tathya evam Satya. Pandit Shriram Sharma Acharya Vangmaya. Vol. 16. Publ. Akhand Jyoti Sansthan, Mathura. 1995.
 The Life After Physical Death. Translation of a Hindi book (by Pandit Shriram Sharma Acharya) "Marane Ke Bada Hamara Kya Hota Hai?). Yug Nirman Yojna, Mathura. 4th Ed. 2000