Death and Immortality

Radha Burnier –  India

 Theosophy RB 2 RBS 2

Radha Burnier (© Richard Dvořák)  

There is no creature, no little worm or plant, no human being who does not want to live, unless the body has become too painful. Every creature, every person likes life, but is that all? I wonder, because to live is to be aware. How many of us would like to live if we could not be aware? If the body lies as if dead, we cannot sense life around us. If we cannot know something more than we already do, which is all awareness, if we cannot learn through experience, would we care to live?

Life means also to proceed in whatever way is possible to allow what is potential within our own consciousness and being to express itself, to grow and expand through expression of the seed of perfection which is within every individual. Is life, or the desire to live, merely an unconscious participation in a bitter struggle to live, to fight with each other as many creatures claim territory or supremacy and lose one’s life or get hurt? Certainly not!

Perhaps this will to live, this deep unconscious instinct in everyone is an intuition of our own immortality, that immortality of what is real within us, that perfection which is now in seed, but which will later bloom. So bodies are born and die, but the dweller in the body, who is aware and can expand into an extraordinary sense of happiness by experiencing and knowing more deeply, that dweller in the body is indestructible.

The outer mind, which is working through this material body and brain, thinks of immortality as belonging to what we know as ourselves, that is, this flesh, bones, encasement in which the dweller, for the time being, gains experience. We want this to be immortal, and so all kinds and means are investigated. How extraordinary that knowing what happens to the body, we want it to go on and on: toothless, hairless, afflicted by disease, with bent back, and moving with crutches. We know what can happen, but still this is what is attempted.

It is right to appreciate life, and it is wrong to extinguish it, for it is meant, as we said, to know more, to grow in happiness and knowledge, and in many other things. Because every creature has the right to live, no one has the right to kill, and that is what every religion teaches. The first of the Christian commandments is “Do not kill”.

Once someone asked a sage who lived in a small place called Tiruvannamalai in South India, Ramana, a wise man: “How am I to come to realization, to realize the self, truth?” Ramana replied: “You are already realized; you have only to know it. Give up the idea that you are not realized, that you are suffering, that you are unwise, all the things that you think about yourself in connection with your life which makes you ask that question.” Perhaps we can begin that way, that if we think of ourselves in a variety of ways as mortal creatures, we may live in the field of mortality and not be aware of anything else, but if we begin to have an intuitive perception of our own eternal being, then we would be different.

Recognizing that deep within us is that which is immortal, that the totality of life is present inside, the question arises, what we can do to fully become aware of it? A story is told about the Lord Buddha, who it is said was staying in a potter’s shed, where he found a young monk. The Lord Buddha gave him a discourse which was illuminating. He said: “The way to that which is undying and real is by not clinging to impermanent things.”

So think carefully over what is impermanent and what is unchanging, real. Contemplate this, and then turn towards the eternal, the immortal, and the infinite. Meditate upon it, and as we meditate we will also find subtly arising within our consciousness formulations about the immortal and the infinite — they are not real. We may not even recognize that these are mental formulations.

So when we realize that, then we stop contemplating the impermanent, the eternal, and the immortal. There is no thinking, no craving for immortality, no attachment to the transient, the mind is not tethered to anything, then it may get assimilated to that which always is, and that is Nirvana. It is said that Nirvana, which has often been equated with immortality, cannot be reached. No one can say, “I will go to Nirvana”, and get there.

Nirvana literally means extinguishing all desires, cravings, lust, even for the highest of things. But we cannot extinguish it. Therefore the advice is given: “Stop feeding it with fuel.” Then Nirvana is, immortality is. If all our attachments to impermanent things, to unreal things, to the moods and fancies which arise in us, to the ideas which appear petty or grand, if all that ceases, then there is something else.

When we seek the things of the world, which come and go, and we are distracted trying to see whether this flower is better than that one, running here and there, this is distraction, it is stress. When we do that we are as if dead. Death then sweeps away that person, because, as we said, to live is to be aware, and to die is to be unaware.

When we are plucking the flowers of worldliness we are all dead, because we are so absorbed in the self-centered activity that we are not sensitive or alert to the beauty of existence or its mystery. Therefore the Buddha said: “Mindfulness is the way to immortality.” Mindfulness means being fully aware, alert, giving attention to everything that happens, both outside and inside, responsiveness. The absence of mindfulness, or attention, is death.

So this knowledge that the self is One is a sort of awareness which makes the consciousness blend with the boundless, universal consciousness which can never come to an end. Immortality is not something which pertains to the world of form. It is a state of consciousness which nothing can touch, which is unpolluted, invulnerable. To come to that state of consciousness it is necessary constantly to negate mindfully all attachment to impermanent things.

There is a tale about someone who is said to be immortal, who took the body of a crow — what significance it has you may try to guess — but this person was immortal, and he made a number of statements to show why nothing could afflict him inwardly or outwardly. He was in a state of perfect health morally, spiritually, and in every way. Death could not come near him, he said, because “I have no sense of possession or attachment.” When we do, the mind then gets clogged up with these images which are all of passing things. My mind does not say: “I’ve got this now and I will reach to that in the future.”

We are told that in the minds and perceptions of all enlightened people, past, present, and future exist simultaneously. One may wonder how, but mystics have had experience of that, of a “now” in which everything is. Then, finally, this immortal, perhaps mythical being, says: “My mind neither praises nor condemns, it does not rejoice over pleasant things nor does it grieve over the unpleasant. It just is, it watches, it is fully aware of all that happens in the shadow world. Being aware is to be happy, to be aware of the vast universe, with its immense depths, the subtle realms of which we have no concept at all, is to be happy, and it is tranquil, free of illusion, and it is bliss. Immortality, or Nirvana, is supreme bliss. If we proceed from the unreality, imagining that passing things are very real and important, we may cross the boundary to the real.

If we proceed from the darkness of imagining that everything is separate, because this perishable body is separate, if we free ourselves of this illusion, we may find Light, and thereby we go from mortality to immortality in our inner being. So the body is born and it dies, but the consciousness, which is free, lives forever, it is immortal.

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