What Happens When We Die – Part Two

Brihadaranyaka Upanishad IV.iv.4 & 5

The One dwells in the Heart of all beings (Bhagavad Gita XV.8). Your soul is an ‘apparent’ portion of the One-ness – this is only the appearance of separateness, a temporary perception, as the One remains one. The soul is called the Self/Atman and when it departs the current body it does so in the vehicle of the subtle body (puryastaka).  The subtle body retains the mind and the five senses that operate through the physical body, and the subtle elements that produce it. (Abhinavagupta, Bh.G)

As gold can be melted and one ornament transformed into another, so our new physical bodies are created from the subtle elements and reflect the impressions (samskaras) of our previous lives, those ‘fragrances’ we carry with us as the wind carries the scents of a garden (Bh.G.XV.8).


We are the One-ness, we are Brahman

This Self/Atman that transmigrates from one body to another, via the subtle body, is none other than the all pervading One. That which seems far away is in truth, ever so near in the Heart. Even as portions of the One, our essence is never lost. We are always part of the imperishable totality that is our source.

In this text the One is termed Brahman. Brahman is not the deity Brahma, who is the Creator god and generally depicted as a wise old man sailing about the cosmos in a perfect lotus.

Brahman is the principle of Fullness that creates Space and Time. The universe cannot exist without space and time. Brahman is the great Immensity, the equilibrium between the centripetal and the centrifugal, between concentration and dispersion, between the forces of creation and those of destruction, between light and the darkness. Brahman is the principle of Space-Time. (Alain Danielou)

The Self-Atman is Brahman. We are that Brahman!


The Subtle Body - Puryashtaka

As the soul leaves the body, it can no longer use the data-collecting mechanisms of the physical body, i.e. the five senses, seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touch. The subtle body (puryashtaka) is our vehicle between lives. It functions as a magnet and attracts whatever it resonates with – like attracts like. Whatever we have thought, whatever acts we have done while in the physical body generated the impressions (samskaras), which have formed the subtle body.

The subtle body is made up of desires (kama). The One-ness manifested this universe to play. This ‘play’ or the Divine Lila, as it is called in Sanskrit, exists for the fulfillment of our desires. As long as you want to play in Space-Time, you will return through endless cycles of death and births (samsara) to fulfill your dreams.

Desire (kama) is the powerful driving force fueling your continued existence in this universe. Kama is often depicted as a deity who is not easily overcome by the puny human mind. Our desires constantly delude us. Essentially, we can rationalize anything we want.

It takes a great will to overwhelm the desires that are programmed into our DNA. Sometimes they lie latent for life times, even in the most advanced souls. Sometimes as you reach the end of your journey Home, they are fulfilled in the most surprising manner, and once fulfilled they can be easily renounced.

All acts are born of desire (kama) and every act leaves an imprint on and subtly alters the DNA, thereby passing on through the generations of bodies, corporal forms allowing every kind of experience. The soul (Atma) transmigrates to those bodies it resonates with based on similarity of consciousness and utilizes the DNA to create a fresh holographic reality. The subtle body carries these desires. Eventually through experience, we come to understand that no desire can fulfill. What we were desperately seeking externally, resides within us from the start.


The Pain of Death

The amount of pain experienced at the time of death is said to reflect the level of attachment to those desires that have been driving us throughout life. Individuals who are holding onto to the anguish of unfulfilled desires are said to endure greater pain.

This is one reason why forgiveness is often urged at the time of death. Those who are stuck in the desire of exacting revenge on others are themselves more vulnerable to suffering. We all know that some pass peacefully, while others suffer in agony. Desires based in greed, anger and hatred produce great pain.

The path to a painless death is said to be renunciation of desire. The more you “let go” of your attachment to things and people based on your attitude towards them, the less painful will the moments of your death be.

The letting go of your desires, and not wanting anything, is not likely to occur at the last moment of your life unless your have cultivated this understanding via your thoughts. This consciousness of non-attachment develops over time in the mental renunciation of all desires, through practice and your actions in daily life.

What you do in every moment every day contributes to the totality of your consciousness. That totality generates the quality of your death and the location you will find yourself in after you leave this plane.


The Objects of the Senses

The physical body operates through the five senses, which transmit information to the brain via electrical impulse. The five senses are always searching for an object of desire and in the Sanskrit texts, objects themselves are often referred to as “the Objects of the Senses.” This phrase encourages us to recondition our thinking into a higher understanding, which leads to wisdom and liberation.

“The object also promises a tentative satisfaction on account of the misconceived affection which the senses have for the object. But no object can satisfy any sense, because the senses are mere agents of the desires that exist inside. The senses themselves are not responsible for our bondage. They are used as tools …” (Krishnananda)

We have forgotten who we are. We have forgotten the God-within us. We have become identified with our desires and their objects of the senses. We are deluded, lost. In this state we transmigrate endlessly in the ocean of death and birth (samsara).

We are like children playing in the twilight. The night is coming and our Mother calls us to come inside. We sigh and beg – “Only a few more minutes, Mom.” And wisely our Mother allows us more time, until we see the darkness moving in and weary of playing, come inside. It is up to each one of us to decide when to come Home.



The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Swami Krishnananda; The Divine Life Society, Uttaranchal, Himalayas, India, 2006.

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, commentary of Sankaracarya, translated by Swami Madhavananda; Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata, India, 2004.

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Commentary of Sri Madhvacarya, Translated by Rai Bahdur Srisachandra Vasu Vidyarnava; Chowkhamba Sanskrit Series Office, Varanasi, India, 2001.

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Swami Sivananda; The Divine Life Society, Uttaranchal, Himalayas, India, 2002.

The Brihadaranyaka Upanishad; in The Upanishads, A New Translation by Swami Nikhilananda, Vol. III; Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center, New York, 1990.

Siva Sutras, The Yoga of Supreme Identity, translated by Jaideva Singh; Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, Delhi, India, 1991.

The Gods of India, Hindu Polytheism, by Alain Danielou; Inner Traditions International Ltd., 1985.

The Bhagavadgita in the Mahabharata, translated by J.A.B. van Buitenen; The University of Chicago Press, 1981.

Abhinavagupta’s Commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, GITARTHA SAMGRAHA; Translated from Sanskrit with Introduction & Notes by Boris Marjanovic; Indica Books, Varanasi India, 2004




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