I spend half the year living in a beautiful mountain valley community in the North of Thailand. A few days ago, on October 13, 2016, the revered King of Thailand passed away. Bhumibol Adulyadej ruled the country for 70 years, making him the longest reigning monarch in history. Throughout all of Thailand you see photos of the King in restaurants and stores; people stand for the royal anthem before films at the cinema. He is a big part of the people’s everyday lives.
The King was, and always will be, a symbol of compassion, love and honor. Now begins a one-year period of mourning, as well as a month of no big celebrations or entertainment.
This monumental event got me thinking a lot about death, and thus is the inspiration for this blog post.
So what is the yogic view of death?
An ancient Sanskrit text called Ashtavakra Gita says, “Not only am I not the body; but the body is not mine.” The yogic tradition teaches us that the body is merely a vessel for our true self, Atman. Atman is the unborn and undying life-force. Atman is the Supreme Self that is pure consciousness and infinite. It can not be manifested, for it manifests everything.
Therefore, we do not die, only the vessel that we inhabit dies. There is no need to fear death, then, because we are Atman; we are truly immortal.
To explain further, Arya, from the Chandogya Upanishad, states: “Abandoned by the life-force the tree dies. It is not the life-force that dies. So is the whole universe permeated by one life-force. It abandons (its operation in) one body, that body dies. The universal life-force does not die…”
So, in this light, death is not something to be feared, but rather, it is something to be welcomed. The wisdom yogis have gained and passed on for years and years teach us that this physical body actually keeps us prisoner from showcasing our true potential. As we are Atman, we are transcendent and omnipotent. The universal life-force does not die…
The book, Autobiography of a Yogi, demonstrates this well. In this book, Paramahansa Yogananda shares his profound, spiritual life experiences. In one instance, he shares an extraordinary story of Sadasiva, a fully-illumined yogi of South India.
He writes, “Sadasiva never spoke a word or wore a cloth. One morning the nude yogi unceremoniously entered the tent of a Mohammedan chieftain. His ladies screamed in alarm; the warrior dealt a savage sword thrust at Sadasiva, whose arm was severed. The master departed unconcernedly. Overcome by remorse, the Mohammedan picked up the arm from the floor and followed Sadasiva. The yogi quietly inserted his arm into the bleeding stump. When the warrior humbly asked for some spiritual instruction, Sadasiva wrote with his finger on the sands:
“Do not do what you want, and then you may do what you like.”
The Mohammedan was uplifted to an exalted state of mind, and understood the saint’s paradoxical advice to be a guide to soul freedom through mastery of the ego.”
Sadasiva did not feel pain when his arm was cut off. How could that be? He then proceeded to effortlessly put his arm back on his body without issue. What? “No way,” you’re thinking, right?
Clearly this great master understood something that many of us may not understand yet. He knew that he is not his body. And because he was aware of his Supreme Self, Atman, this enlightened yogi was able to perform what appeared to be miracles.
Our attachment to this life, this physical body and our egos make it very difficult for us to accept death. In doing so, we do not prepare ourselves for this inevitability nor do we realize our capacity to end our own suffering. Because our life-force never dies and because it is infinitely powerful and omnipresent, we can live our lives in such a way that we do not fear death and we learn to harness the essence of what we truly are.
One way to do this is through the practice of daily meditation. During meditation we withdrawal consciousness from the body, which is a preview of death. If we can get a daily dose of what this feels like, we can develop a deeper understanding of death. This will help relinquish our fears while at the same time reinstilling our powers of manifestation.
During this period of mourning for King Bhumibol I am reminded of how inescapable death is, but the yogic perspective of this certainty reassures and comforts me. Our true nature is not our bodies; our true nature extends beyond this physical realm into the eternal.
The infamous chant sung by the Thai people couldn’t be more meaningful and true, even in the wake of his passing. “Long live the King.” Yes. He may have left his body and this kingdom, but he still lives on for eternity.