Death is one of life’s most profound mysteries. It is often surrounded by intense fear, a sense of irreparable loss, and heartbreaking grief.
We are confronted with the dark abyss of the unknown when we are unexpectedly confronted by death. In that moment of grief and loss, we may wonder, “What happens now? What happens after death and what has happened to my (parent, relative, friend, or child) who has just left this world?”
What happens after death and how can we prepare for it?Our own deaths, too, may become a dire ordeal. For many of us, the hidden fear of death lurks in the subconscious mind throughout our lives. That fear lies at the root of a host of other fears, anxieties, tensions, and insecurities. These fears are often the backdrop to the perception that life is threatening and dangerous.
Nevertheless, coming to grips with death is of major importance to us all. For a moment, let’s look straight into its mystifying face. What do we discover as we gaze intently into death’s visage?
Mr. Death is that apparently black, cruel, and terrifying enemy who ironically turns out to be a wise friend. Mr. Death is a kind redeemer and a luminous healer. He is the most misunderstood of all friends — being dreaded, rejected, and despised. In truth, death brings us only blessings, freedom, and wisdom.
In this article, we will set two very ambitious goals for ourselves to:
- Prepare for death so that we may go through the transition in a conscious, dignified, and even sacred way without unnecessary fear.
- Face the passing of our dear ones without a sense of finality, knowing that we are only bidding them farewell for just a little while. In fact, the less attachment we have and express, the easier we make it for our loved ones during their times of transition.
We can practice this together. Are you ready?
Look fear in the face and it will cease to trouble you.Swami Sri YukteswarThe great yogic masters have always tried to reassure us by calming our innate fears. The word death itself, they say, is a complete misnomer. Nobody ever dies. Our souls cannot know death in the sense of extinction. All we do is shed our physical bodies like heavy garments as we enter into subtler, more beautiful realms.
So let’s immediately get busy educating ourselves: “Look fear in the face and it will cease to trouble you!”
Facing Death With a Deathless Consciousness
Close your eyes and vividly imagine that you are — right now — facing your own passing and verbally or mentally say: “My moment has come.” As you do so, inwardly smile at death, accept it, welcome it, and embrace it as you affirm over and over these lines from Yogananda‘s Metaphysical Meditations:
The reality of my life cannot die
for I am indestructible consciousness.
The entire cosmos dies and reincarnates. As we gradually assimilate the intuitive certainty of our deathlessness, the passing of our friends and relatives will also be less tragic. Of course, in such moments sorrowful tears will flow but the event will not be nearly as devastating as it often is for us.
To better understand the truth of our soul-immortality, let’s look at how physical dissolution is a natural part of the cosmic structure while “death” itself actually never occurs anywhere.
The entire creation consists of an immortal Super-soul (Param-atma, God, Spirit) which has three bodies:
- Causal (thought) universe
- Astral (energy) universe
- Material (physical) universe
In regular patterns (each 314 trillion years, one age of Brahma), Spirit’s “bodies” die (called pralaya, dissolution), only to “reincarnate” again in a new cosmic body, but God Himself never dies. He remains alive forever.
We see the exact same pattern with our planet Earth. Paramhansa Yogananda describes the life cycles of our planet in which there is “the young Mother Earth, the middle-aged Mother Earth, and the old Mother Earth.” Finally, Mother Earth physically “dies” through partial dissolution, then she reincarnates again to give human beings new life, new strength, and a new habitat in which to work out their karmic destinies. Her soul, however, never ceases to be.
Human beings duplicate the same cosmic design. Our souls are “dressed” in three bodies:
- Causal body (made of blissful thought)
- Astral body (made of luminous energy)
- Physical body (made of solid matter)
In regular cycles, our physical bodies die as we enter into the luminous astral world only to later be reborn on earth or on another physical planet. After many incarnations, when we have learned all of our earthly lessons we finally become free. During this process, our souls never die. How could they? They are a part of Spirit. Can Spirit ever die?
Let us free ourselves forever from the fear of extinction using the following exercise.
Conquering the Fear of Death
In Yogananda’s Whispers from Eternity, he specifically wrote a text for “Conquering Fear of Death,” called “The Dying Youth’s Divine Reply.” Listen now to Swami Kriyananda‘s reading as you deeply assimilate its liberating message.
After you have listened to the reading, resolutely affirm with Paramhansa Yogananda:
I shall fear no more,
for through many deaths and many incarnations
Thou hast shown me that I still live,
and that I shall live forevermore.
—Inner Culture, January 1941
When your life retires from the body, and your soul retires from the body, really you feel very happy because you have been lugging around this bundle of flesh all your life and the soul is tired of it and wants to be free.
What exactly will happen to us at the moment of our deaths?
Essentially, as Yogananda explained in his Pantajali discourses, it is a happy moment. It is important to understand that physical sickness is often painful and uncomfortable but death itself really is not. Death is not as scary as it may appear to be. Remember, we are completely familiar with the process: each night when we fall asleep we have a death-like, enjoyable experience of leaving the body and withdrawing into a subtler dimension.
“Sleep is a temporary death and death is a prolonged sleep.”Paramhansa Yogananda
Yogananda further explained that sleep is half yama (half life-force control), while death is complete yama (complete withdrawal of prana from the body) which is why in India the god of death is called Yama. Ecstasy is “yama by your own will.” The highly advanced yogi learns to “die” (leave the body) at will in meditation by consciously stopping his breath and heart-beat, after which he can freely return to his physical frame.
For the yogi, the whole experience of death is highly enjoyable. Our main suffering is mental. We have to leave behind our attachments: our friends, family, possessions, and worldly enjoyments. This is one reason why the regular inner practice of non-attachment is so essential for us all. So it is always good to consider, “Naked have I come into this world, and naked will I go.”
Now take a deep breath! We will take a major leap forward in meeting death face to face. Step by step we will courageously live through its process as outlined by Yogananda in his Advanced Super Cosmic Science Course as he describes “the sensations of the ordinary man” during the time of transition. However, our experiences as prepared yogis will be quite different.
Imagining Our Own Death
Read one point at a time, vividly entering with your imagination into each phase of transition. The corresponding yogic practice to apply for that moment is highlighted beneath each statement.
- Gradual numbness of the limbs, muscles, heart, lungs, diaphragm, etc. Visualize that you are relaxing into it.
- During the spreading of numbness in the limbs and muscles, a sense of sadness and helplessness and a desire to live comes into the mind. Instead affirm joy, freedom, and the new life awaiting you.
- When the numbness reaches the heart and muscles, a sense of pain and suffocation is experienced. Yogananda specifies that: “It is a little painful for about one to three seconds.” This contributes to the extreme fear of death and an attachment toward possessions and loved ones that strongly grips the soul and causes extreme mental grief.
Practice a smiling fearlessness, non-attachment, and a sense of liberation.
- With the pain of suffocation, there is a great mental struggle to bring the breath back again. At this time, a condensed review of all the good and bad actions of his lifetime arises in the mind of the dying man. This mental introspection changes into a tabloid tendency which serves as the guiding tendency in determining the kind of rebirth that the dying man is to obtain in the next life. Be happy about all the good you have done and love yourself in spite of the errors you have committed. Don’t at all judge yourself.
- At this time, the senses of touch, taste, smell, sight, and hearing vanish in succession. The sense of hearing is the last to leave the consciousness of the dying man. That is why it is extremely unwise to even whisper within the hearing of a dying person, “All is over; he is about to die.” This inner withdrawal is a blissful moment. Consciously try to enjoy it.
- After experiencing the sense of suffocation, the ordinary person finds himself suddenly relieved of the weight of his body, of the necessity of breathing, and of any physical pain. Deeply enjoy your newfound freedom.
- After that, the soul of the dead man enters into a state of oblivious sleep which is a million times deeper and more enjoyable than the state of ordinary deep sleep. Yogis who have meditated don’t fall into that sleep. They remain awake and enjoy the astral beauties. Rejoice!
- A sense of soaring through a very peaceful tunnel of gloom is experienced by the soul. This tunnel is the sushumna. Enjoy soaring through it into the astral world!
Now, together with Yogananda’s affirmation (Inner Culture, January 1941), gladly affirm your inner freedom — first in a loud voice, then more softly, then in a whisper, then mentally.
I will not take birth and death seriously.
I know they are but changing scenes
in the drama of my immortal soul.
If, however, a sense of fear or uneasiness continued to assail you during the preceding practice, repeat this affirmation (East-West, April 1933):
The eternal protection of God
surrounds me always like a robe,
no matter whether my soul moves
through the corridors of life or death,
disease or health, sorrow or happiness.
The Life Review
Let’s now take a little closer look at the life-review, as it is extremely important. Yogananda describes this crucial moment in his explanation of the Bhagavad Gita:
A man, suddenly finding himself at death’s door, reviews in a flash the thoughts, desires, habits, and actions of his entire life. He is quickly invaded by one overwhelming feeling or desire, whose nature will be in accordance with the character of his life. He may, for example, feel predominantly guilty for his evil actions; or predominantly happy because of all his good deeds; or predominantly worldly because of his material activities.
Whatever his feeling, it is the determining cause which will lead him to a particular part of the astral worlds and then to another corresponding incarnation on earth.
Persons who have had near-death experiences also describe a tunnel in which they moved upward towards a light. There a loving being welcomed them, with whom they experienced a rapid panoramic review of their entire lives. Yogananda hints at such a welcoming being when he recounts how he visited a deceased disciple in the astral world. “An angel was leading her away from me.”
At any rate, during the life review, we clearly realize that all that really mattered on earth were our soul qualities, especially the quality of love.
God will ask us, “How much have you loved?”
Swami Kriyananda expressed it this way: “When I will leave the body, God won’t ask me, ‘What have you accomplished?’ His only two questions will be, ‘How much have you loved?’ and ‘How much do you love Me?’”
Entering the Astral World
When we leave our bodies, we linger for a while on earth. Yogananda, for example, stated the following after the death of a disciple: “Some time afterward [after her death] I saw her glowing astral form; she was sitting in one of my classes, just as real as she used to appear in life.”
Then we cross what the Greeks called Lethe, the river of forgetfulness of this life. Later on, some remembrance may return but most people simply pass on to a completely new life:
At that point, we enter the astral world of light. Materialistic people, however, whose only reality is matter, fall into a deep sleep. If they wake up at all later on, they may find themselves surrounded by darkness or by a kind of grey mist.
—Swami Kriyananda, The Essence of Self-Realization: The Wisdom of Paramhansa Yogananda
The more we become intuitively aware through meditation, the more we will immensely enjoy the luminous astral beauty, with all its amazing tastes, sounds, colors, nature, beings, freedom, and wonders.
One beautiful promise of the yogic masters is that the magnet of love will always draw our dear ones back to us again and again. In other words, our true friends and beloved family members who have passed on are never lost to us. In the Ananda Astral Ascension Ceremony, Swami Kriyananda uses this farewell greeting:
We shall meet again! Once more we shall laugh together, rejoice together and share in the joy of seeking Him!
You who have gone before us, have entered a realm which our souls remember: a place of freedom, light, and laughter.
Deep within us, in other words, we all remember these celestial realms. Let’s reawaken our hidden memories using Yogananda’s vivid description from the Advanced Super Cosmic Science Course.
Preparing for Our Astral Journey
Please read Yogananda’s words slowly and carefully, clearly visualizing the luminous world you will enter after death. Try to familiarize yourself with it. Enjoy its marvelous atmosphere, feeling with anticipation that it will someday be your own home.
This astral land appears to the soul as a very beautiful garden of will. Here he finds an astral climate evenly hot and cold, capable of being controlled by the power of the will, just as modern people can create the warmth of the summer indoors by means of steam heat during wintertime, and on warm summer days, they can cool their homes by refrigeration. There is astral winter, spring, rainy season, and summer. The astral winter consists of exquisitely beautiful, fairly cool, white fleecy clouds, or rays, floating around the astral land. The astral snow is ordered by the astral inhabitants mostly for decorating the astral scenery. This astral snow changes the temperature according to the will of the astral inhabitants.
The astral spring and summer are filled with an infinite variety of celestial blossoms smiling on the soil of transparent frozen golden light. The astral flowers blossom and change, or vanish, with an endless variety of blended colors, according to the fancy of the astral gardener. They never die. They only vanish or change when not wanted.
In the astral rainy season, the rays pour down over the golden soil, emanating an ineffable variety of music of the spheres. They form flower shapes as they fall on the astral soil so that during the astral rain one can perceive a sheet of silver threads dangling daisies and roses of light, and showering them on the astral land. Flower-shaped pools of astral light bedeck the astral streets during an astral rain.
In the astral land, there are many mansions or spheres of various multi-colored luminous vibrations. Just like different neighborhoods – the aristocratic and slum districts of a city – so the astral kingdom has many quarters of different kinds of dwellings. Unlike clay brick buildings, the astral abodes are made of bricks composed of condensed atoms. The saints live in the aristocratic refined astral realms. Here ordinary souls would freeze to death or suffocate, but the saints can live in extremely cold or extremely warm ways, free from magnetic disturbances. In the astral slums, wicked souls live, unable to enter into the refined atmosphere of the priceless spiritual aristocrats.
Now absorb the following words from Whispers from Eternity, in the poem “The Bird Of Paradise.” It too is a part of Ananda’s Astral Ascension Ceremony and will help you to smile lovingly at death when it finally comes.
True Masters Know the Astral Lands
“Death is really beautiful,” Yogananda assures us. “If it were a bad thing, God wouldn’t let it happen to us.” He also adds, “I am making death very charming!” But he advises that we shouldn’t seek it. Rather we ought to take both life and death as it comes.
The words of such great yogis are not hollow or theoretical. The astral world is their daily reality. For example, Swami Kriyananda stated, “The astral world is more real to me than the material.” Yogananda freely visited deceased disciples in the astral world. And he gave this celestial promise to disciples who leave their bodies: “For those who stay in tune to the end, I, or one of the other masters, will be there to usher them into the divine kingdom.”
As long as we are still on earth, it is important that we gradually conquer our deep-seated fears of death. Shakespeare wrote, “So shalt thou feed on Death, that feeds on men: And Death once dead, there’s no more dying then!” Let’s, therefore, sumptuously “feed on” it day by day by centering ourselves firmly in our soul’s immortality.
Immortality in Daily Life
Listen carefully to the words of Swami Kriyananda in his talk “Preparing for Death:”
In the coming days, consciously try to put the following words into practice by living in your inner deathless core as you go about your activities. Frequently repeat Yogananda’s affirmation from Inner Culture, January 1941:
I am a child of immortality
sent here to play the drama of birth and death,
remembering always my deathless Self.
The Special Boon of Meditation
Do you truly want to prepare for a happy transition? Then certainly one important practice is meditation:
Having raised their own vibrations by good deeds, [spiritual people] are attracted to higher vibrations in the astral realm. Those souls, especially, who in this life have meditated even a little bit, go to regions of great beauty after death.
We can also heed Lahiri Mahasaya’s wise counsel in Autobiography of a Yogi: “Prepare yourself for the coming astral journey of death by daily riding in the balloon of God-perception. Through delusion, you are perceiving yourself as a bundle of flesh and bones, which at best is a nest of troubles. Meditate unceasingly, that you may quickly behold yourself as the Infinite Essence, free from every form of misery.”
Affirm Your True Being
As a final practice, listen to Swami’s words recorded below. Let us together celebrate the Infinite Essence that we are “…the changeless spirit at the heart of all mutation.” Let us joyfully affirm that we are indeed ageless, deathless, and free: “Hallelujah, we are the immortal children of God!”
The Final Exam
Death is our “final exam,” as Swami Kriyananda taught, and, just as for all exams, we should diligently prepare. You might consider returning to this article from time to time to practice for your own peaceful transition. In that way, when Mr. Death eventually comes to knock at your door to take you with him, you will perceive your time of transition as a great moment of glory.
For advanced yogis, Swami Kriyananda offered an even higher goal:
Feel that, through all outward changes that you, the immortal soul, remain the same. Death itself will be but one more change — be not identified with it. Then, when death comes, you shall rise in Eternal Freedom!
Losing the Fear of Death Through the Science of Yoga
Come explore life’s deepest mystery on Wednesday, March 10, 2021, with a webinar from Brahmachari Sagar that offers practical insights on how to understand, prepare for, and befriend this mystical transition that each of us must one day experience.Learn more