What Happens When We Die – Part Three


Brihadaranyaka Upanishad IV.iv.6

From the previous verses we have understood that when we leave the body we take a subtle form of the mind and the five senses with us. After their death, people realize that they are the same person as when they were in their body; only they can no longer use the body to interact with the living. They can see and hear us, even though most of the living cannot see and hear them. They have become invisible, and they cannot touch or taste anything in this material plane.

The subtle body is made up our desires, and the five senses are the mechanisms through which we fulfill those desires. Thus the subtle body requires the mind and the senses to experience the various worlds we are drawn towards after one life has ended - heavens and otherwise. The subtle body, its desires and the technology of the mind & its senses will also draw us into our next incarnation as we transmigrate through Space-Time.

“The mind, which is the ruling principle in the subtle body, carries with it the results of its actions…” (Krishnananda). We cannot shake off anything we have done; and those acts, which are the expressions of desire, must find completion in a new lifetime and a fresh body. For example, we may for a time find ourselves in bodies made up of light. There are myriad worlds in which we can exhaust the results of our actions. However, eventually we return here to this world, the earth plane, because this world is the microcosm of all the others.


Liberated from Desire

Those who are attached to the results of their acts are caught up in endless cycles of transmigration. But what of the few who have come to the end of their desires, who are weary and long to return to their Source? The few who understand that everything in this universe is God, and who have therefore become solely devoted to the Self, the God-within, they have no desire other than the Self/Atman. They experience death in a very different manner.

When you Know as experiential knowing that God pervades and permeates the All, then temporal desires cease to compel you. You simply lose interest. You are no longer ‘owned’ by the objects of the senses. No external and material things can hold our interest in the best of circumstances.

Why would you want to possess incremental fragments of this universe when you are Becoming the Creator of it? Real gold lies within in the Heart. Real happiness and fulfillment are within each and every one of us, waiting for us to turn inward, to Remember who we are.

“Desire cannot be satisfied unless it is directed to the Self … If your desire is for anything other than the Self, it is not going to be fulfilled, because you are asking for that which is not there.” (Krishnananda)

It is not there. Everything you are experiencing with the mind & senses is your own self-generated temporal illusory hologram. The world of desire is not the Real. When you understand and shift your consciousness into this higher, deeper Truth, you lose interest in external desires.

You only desire the God-within you. This frees you from all other desires, which will literally back away from you. Freedom is salvation! Once you have seen the Real, the objects of the senses turn away from you (Bh.G.II.59). You have lost interest and therefore you no longer magnetize them into your consciousness. We only think about what we want.

There is no need to act - and no need not-to-act (Bh.G.III.17). We no longer need other people (Bh.G.III.18). We have Become that which is the Source of every person and thing. All our desires are fulfilled because we have Become “merged in the Universal Self” (Krishnananda). As desire-less beings, we no longer need the vehicle of the subtle body, the mind & the senses. We do not require a new data-collecting vehicle to inhabit in order to work out our previous actions.

We are liberated from the illusions we have created to play in. Our subtle body and its mechanisms get dissolved “like bubbles in an ocean”. (Krishnananda)


Why are we driven by Desire?

All of us to one degree or another are ‘owned’ by what we want. At times it seems that our possessions own us far more than we own them. Who has not experienced wanting some thing or someone for what seems like an eternity and then once we have gotten the thing or the person, we slowly but surely lose interest. Our passion for it fades. What is it that drives us to want what never can fulfill us anyway? Are we just stupid?

There is a terrible longing in all of us. This longing gets masked and confused as the need for power and possessions.  Our consciousness becomes deluded as to the real nature of the longing, and it is transferred and projected out into the external. We want lovers, gold, power, attention and praise.

Most humans idolize the rich and famous, and yet how often do we learn that so many of our idols are never satisfied. The stories of beautiful unhappy women are endless. Great athletes, politicians, and financial wizards are never what they appear to be – and occasionally worse than we could imagine. As long as the media can make money off these people, they will continue to be raised up and then vilified; but it is only about profit.

What are we missing? An earlier verse in the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (II.iv.5) answers this question and is interpreted beautifully by the astutely wise Krishnananda. Everything is consciousness. The mind is nothing more than a state of consciousness that has been formed over many lifetimes. Its job is to allow the soul to explore the adventure of Space-Time through the senses. The mind is made up of defined proclivities that draw its attention to specific objects or people. The mind is directed outwards to the external.

As we progress over many lifetimes through the Cycles of Time, the external, the temporal illusory hologram we ourselves have projected, distracts us. We forget that we are the creators of all this. We lose our Joy, that sublime feeling of being immersed in the God-within us. We begin to feel isolated and alone. The emptiness inside of us grows and we flail around seeking anything that will ease that restless ache.

As we transmigrate from one body to another, we long to fill that yearning. When our desires cannot be realized, we become angry. Desire (kama) and anger (kroda) go hand-in-hand. Anger leads to more delusion, to hatred, to war, and the litany of greed and violence that make up our written human history, the last 6000 years.

We have forgotten that we are the source of all we seek. We have forgotten the God-within. The form our mind’s consciousness has taken is the cause, the reason we are magnetized to one object or person and not another. We all are attracted by a wide variety of different objects of desire. In astrology this is easy to see. We are constructed to have certain likes and dislikes based in our past life experiences, those fragrances, impressions (samskaras) that follow us down the pathways of Time.

The person we fall in love with holds the promise of fulfilling our emptiness. But this can never be. For what we want is ‘completeness of being’ (Krishnananda), not the person or object. They too are seeking this ‘completeness’ and so how would they be able to give it you? There is a temporary satisfaction, which is merely the result of the feeling that we have won the thing. This never lasts.

“… nothing external can give you happiness … You have missed the point in asking for the things of the world. … it is a wild goose chase from birth to death …” (Krishnananda)

Everything in the external world will leave you. This is inevitably a world of sorrow, the proverbial valley of the shadow of death. The people you love will die, you will die, and thus lose the possessions you have sold your soul for. There is something particularly insidious and evil about advertising in this regard, as people cannot be urged to conspicuous and compulsive consumption when they have recognized this truth. Things promise us eternal youth?


We do not understand that finite objects “are only appearances of a single Reality” (Krishnananda) which we in fact are! 



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

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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.

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