Death and Dying in the Concept of Consciousness
by Shanti Shanti
Kaur Khalsa, Ph.D.
On a cool Tuesday morning in January 1990, Jonathan called. I had been
teaching yoga to people living with serious illness for about five years
in Los Angeles.
"I'm calling to let you know I may not make it to
class on Friday, " Jonathan began in his soft British accent. "I've
gone to the doctor this morning and he told me I have just three days
to live. Mind you, I
am not actually canceling. If the doctor is right, my partner David will
give you a ring.
If the doctor
is wrong, I'll be in class, in my usual spot." Jonathan spoke with
ease and calm. From the time he had first started classes in Kundalini
Yoga for people living with HIV, he took to heart
the yogic perspective on living and dying. He used this time to explore
What was he afraid of? What
was holding him back from fully enjoying the gift of his life? Jonathan
used the practice of meditation to help him become aware of his feelings,
beliefs, decisions, words, and actions and to transform them.
He then made a conscious
choice to live in a way that honored the sacredness of his life. He was
39 years old. When it came time for death, he was prepared. It was with
this fearless depth that Jonathan heard the doctor's prognosis.
the early evening on that same Tuesday, David
called to let me know that Jonathan had passed away peacefully in
When I first started to teach Kundalini
Yoga to people with HIV, cancer, and other life-threatening illness,
a renowned health care leader told me bluntly, "Death is a medical
failure. We don't want our patients to die, so when it looks
as though they will, we start to pull away. We turn our attention to
where we can win."
At that point, there was nothing in my life experience that had taught
me how to serve people facing death, and I was seeking the wisdom of
those in the field. I stood in front of a leading representative of modern
medical health care, astounded.
So, I thought, this is how medical people are
from a dying person. How would a yogi respond? Simple. Move closer. Closer
to the dying person, and especially move closer to the
realization and acceptance of one's own death.
Yogi Bhajan says that to know how to live, we must know how to die. To a person
following a yogic way of living, life is a conscious preparation for death.
When we remember in life that we are to die, our awareness does not allow us
to do a wrong act. We remember the preciousness of our life and choose right
Roger was a chemical engineer and a methodical man.
For him, everything had to have a reason, an explanation, and it had
to make sense. When
a diagnosis of stage IV colon cancer, he approached his treatment with the
same one-step-at-a-time system that he used in his lab at work. When his oncologist
told Roger there was no further treatment he could give him, Roger said, "I'll
just keep turning over more stones, until I find a solution."
His efforts led him to meditation and yoga practice
and the inner work of facing death and finding new life.
"I have discovered a world
beyond my intellect and this has been an extraordinary experience. Now,
to me every place is an altar, every experience is a blessing. Life has
become magical, even though I am doing the same routine." Roger
encouraged his family, friends, and colleagues to explore this process
with him. He made new friends along the way and continued undaunted,
even when others around him did not share his enthusiasm for addressing
" I was an old guy, 68, when I was diagnosed.
I didn't think there was anything more I could learn about life. I
never thought spirituality or religion had any
value. I was mistaken. After I reached the limits of medical treatment, I learned
to see and to serve the purity and piety in all. Shocked the hell out of me
and everyone who knew me."
"Facing my death has been the most important
work I have done in my life. I believe death needs to be more openly
discussed and planned
for in families, the same way that education of the children, retirement,
and buying a home are discussed and planned for. Understanding death
has such an impact on living life that we need to give it more attention."
Roger lived four years longer than his doctors foresaw, and at the
time of his passing he was surrounded by loved ones who were at peace
with his death,
and who could support him calmly. His wife, Melinda, described his last moments.
"His breathing became difficult for a minute or two, then calm and even
it stopped altogether. I noticed he had a slight smile on his face. Though
I was right next to him, it was clear that he was not smiling at me."
What happens when we die? According to the yogis, at the time of death, each
of the nine gates close, one at a time, until the energy of spirit is consolidated
at the crown chakra. The soul is carried with the subtle body through the tenth
gate. The person exhales, the soul is released. There is no next inhalation.
At the time of the passing of the soul from the
body, each of us experiences 30 seconds of "divine grinding." This
divine grinding comes in three stages. During the first 10 seconds
you face the entire panorama
of your life. The next 10 seconds, you judge yourself. During the final
10 seconds you take your last breath, your last exhalation, and your
soul and subtle body pass.
Once the soul passes from the body, it enters
a "cylinder," the tunnel
of white light described by so many who have had near-death experiences. As
it moves along in this space, the soul may sense the passing of other souls.
At the end of the tunnel, there is a choice.
The left side is hot; the right
side is snowy cold. On both sides are your relatives, calling you.
of the yogis is, "Go toward the snow."
At 17 days after death,
the soul chooses to stay in the electromagnetic field of the earth,
or to cross
through the electromagnetic field, into the blue ethers. Most souls
remain in the first level of blue ether for a period of time before entering
In the process of death, it is important to keep
connection with the neutral mind. This is the time to be deep in our
the infinite, undying self. Yogi Bhajan says, "You and your mastery
must come through at the moment of death." We develop mastery when
we wake up during the early morning hours, take a cold shower, and meditate
before the sun rises.
In the darkness, in the resistance of that time
of the day, meditation practice gives us skill to penetrate the mind
with the light of the soul. This ability is necessary during the divine
grinding just before the soul leaves the body.
It is also said that
chanting Wahe Guru or the pran sutra, Nanak too lehna too hai, guru
amar too vicharia,
(You are Nanak, Guru Angad, and Guru Amar Das) at the time of death
helps to connect us with the neutral mind, and release the soul.
Long Ek Ong Kars
The chanting of Long Ek Ong Kars, for example, is part
of the Aquarian Sadhana and is an excellent means to command freedom
within one's self,
increase vitality, and break through blocks. Yogis recommend practice
of it to allow ease and vitality into the process of dying.
Also called the Morning Call, this is the 2 and 1/2
cycle mantra of Ek Ong Kar available on most sadhana CDs from Ancient
Yogi Bhajan describes death as "a process where
your consciousness does not exist within the control of your ego." This
means that we must have a relationship of trust with the unknown, the
unseen, in order
to die peacefully. Much of yogic life practice is to deepen this trust.
Nam Simran, the repetition of the sound current, such as a mantra, with each
breath develops such trust. The practice of the one-minute breath can have
this benefit as well. The practice of giving to the unknown, such as in charitable
giving, and the practice of taking right action without attachment to outcome,
are examples of deepening the relationship of trust with the unknown.
Instead of judging oneself and others, practice
blessing and forgiving so you can bless and forgive all that you see
in the panorama stage.
Practice releasing all attachment to what happened or did not happen
during the course of your day and forgiving and blessing every person
and every event.
Roger found that this practice became his greatest power
in life. "My best achievement is that I can bless all, forgive all.
It has brought boundless joy to my life." And a peaceful, transcendent
The poetic words of Guru Nanak convey the feeling of vastness, joy, and
deep calm that is the movement of the soul from life into death.
The nine gates are closed by the True Lord's Command
and the Soul Swan takes flight into the skies.
Be at peace.