Death in Bondage

In nature death follows life and life proceeds from death. Death as a cessation of life in one form is but a prelude to re-living in another, and generally at a higher level of existence than before, and in better and more congenial environs.

Evolution is the Law of Life and it consists in active flowering of the latent possibilities in the spirit-matter, and comprises in its compass, not only evolution of the spirit-matter which grows more plastic and translucent in its onward march but also evolution of forms from minerals to human entities and lastly expansion of self-consciousness. The so-called dead matter is not really dead though the spiritual energy in it may for some time be in a congealed state.

A worn-out garment, that has outgrown its utility is to be cast off and replaced by a new one, moulded in a fashion one desires the most. Such is the Law of Dame Nature, the handiwork of God. The kindly Father, it is said, hath ordained that His children may have what they ardently wish for.

In providing the essentials of life on the earth-plane – Love, Light and Life and the necessary adjuncts thereto, like earth, water, sun, air and space, together with all the means of sustenance – the Supreme Lord of the universe is munificent beyond measure, and provides the same freely to all, though each one gets according to his need and measure of descent. His bounties are innumerable and inexhaustible, and for ages man has fed upon them in diverse ways. Not satisfied with the limitless gifts, man ever craves for more – more of silver and gold, more of amenities and conveniences of life and more of everything else, and he struggles and strives endlessly for them. 

Instead of being grateful to the Lord for all that He has, by His grace, provided for us, we curse ourselves, curse those around us in better and more affluent circumstances than us, and curse the innocent stars above and do not hesitate to cavil at and criticise in stinging terms our own fate or destiny which we have by our own actions, forged for ourselves. 

With all his possessions, one loses his head for just a pittance.

Human life is a great privilege and a rare asset and blessing. It comes after passing through a long evolutionary process extending over time unending. It is an opportunity for amassing the riches of spirituality that lie hidden within us and of which we are hardly aware. But the majority of us are after ephemeral non-essentials – the sense-pleasures of the earth-life – and not real happiness. For these short-lived and fleeting pleasures, which we may or may not get, we, by all means, fair or foul, try to move heaven and earth, and more often than not pay dearly, even with our own life, and quit the stage of life with many a deep regret for one thing or the other and for the unworthy means employed and for the sorrows suffered in the attempt.

Nature is not extravagant in her design and purpose:

As one thinks, so he becomes. 

Our feelings and emotions, thoughts and passions, desires and aspirations do not die with the death of the body. They constitute an inner vest, an undergarment (the astral body), beneath the physical cloak; and the spirit clothed therein, goes out to be covered by yet another mantle, drawing upon the karmic seeds lying in store in the causal or seed-body, the precious Treasure-chest. It is this causal or instrumental body with its vast resources that helps its inmate, the spirit, in fashioning a new mould, a fresh tabernacle of flesh, which may serve as a fitting vehicle for the fulfilment of what lies uppermost in the unconscious self. 

The curtain finally rises unfolding the entire panorama of life down to the minutest detail ere one passes out of sight from the stage of life. On death-bed one may get a glimpse of reality, but then it is too late to comprehend it. This process works on and on giving at the end of each span on earth, fresh momentum to the wheel of life and death with its natural concomitants of joys and sorrows, weal and woe – sometime up and sometime low – moving in interminable gyres, as one is never satiated with all that one gets in one's sojourn on earth, and goes on adding new hopes and new desires mixed with many a regret for what he wanted and did not get. He is thus unwittingly engaged perpetually in sowing the dragon's teeth, and life after life, he spends in fighting his self-started battles with the self-raised armed bands which, like shadows, follow on his heels as untamed furies or the avenging spirits. 

Nature, like the potter's wheel, provides the means in the form of many clayey pots, one after the other, for slaking the insatiable thirst and expectation of each individual. Weighed down by countless desires from top to toe, one makes a slave of himself. Without them one could revel in his Godhood. What is man after all? – God plus desires. And conversely what is God? – Man minus desires.

The great philosopher-poet, William Wordsworth (1770–1859) draws a beautiful pen-picture of a growing child in his memorable Ode on Immortality:

The soul that rises with us, our life's star, hath had elsewhere its setting, and cometh from afar; not in entire forgetfulness, and not in utter nakedness, but trailing clouds of glory do we come from God, Who is our home: Heaven lies about us in our infancy! Shades of the prison-house begin to close upon the growing boy […]. Earth fills her lap with pleasures of her own; yearnings she hath in her own natural kind, and, even with something of a mother's mind, and no unworthy aim, the homely nurse doth all she can to make her foster-child, her inmate man, forget the glories he hath known, and that imperial palace whence he came.

This then is the sordid picture of life on earth as we witness from day to day. Ever having our fill, as preordained, we are yet hungry – ravenously hungry for more and more of pelf and power, more of ephemeral pleasures and sense-enjoyments. Far from being thankful for what we have of the bounties of nature, we look before and after, and pine for what is not. Nature cannot remain a silent spectator of our unappeased gluttony and with her magic wand turns us, Circe-like; into swines so that we may have our fill of the piffle and be done away with. It is only some wise Ulysses armed with a magic-flower from Mercury (the messenger of gods) who can fight the enchantress on her own ground and rescue his followers, getting them reconverted from swines into men and along with them, all others held in captivity by the sorceress in many different forms, each according to his or her innate nature. It is the type of the ruling passions that determine our course of life, not only here right now in the living present, also in the here-after.

Now let us have a look at the inevitable process of change called death. This transference from one state of life to another is a necessary adjunct of life; and takes place in its own good time but with a swift and stunning suddenness the more so when it is least expected. Death knows no calendar, and no one can predict it nor can anyone escape from it with all his cunning and wit. Each living thing has its own allotted span of lifetime. We all live, move and have our being in time and when, the sands of time run out, this change comes and continues to do so, time and again, until one gets beyond the farthest bounds of time and arises into timelessness.

Death then is something terribly real and unavoidable. It perhaps seems to be the only real thing in the midst of the unrealities of the world. Everyone, rich or poor, king or beggar, young or old, healthy or diseased, has to pass through the death's trap-door, whether one likes it or not. One may live long or short, a hundred years or just a while; but one cannot live on eternally in one and the same life form which in course of time is sure to decay and become wearily burdensome, a millstone around the neck as it were, and one in sheer desperation may cry out in anguish for a quick riddance from the heavy load hanging around the self in him:

Neither kings nor beggars remain, all go, each one in his own time.

Guru Nanak, Ramkali M1

A Muslim darvesh therefore advises:

All thy life thou hast bemoaned the death of others, why not thou sit for a while and ponder over thy own fate?

Is death a painful process?, is the next question. Generally speaking it is so with most. The scriptures tell us of the excruciating pain that a dying person suffers at the time of death. In the Bhagwad Purana, it is said that one experiences the horrors of death-pangs as if one is bitten by a million scorpions at once. The holy Quran likens the throes of death to the condition of a person when a thorny hedge were to be pulled through the alimentary canal from one end to the other. The Sikh scriptures also speak in much the same strain: The life-currents are wrenched out. 

All such statements are merely illustrative of the immensity of the torture that one experiences when the demons of death appear to forcibly take the spirit out of the body. What actually happens at that time it is only the dying man who knows. No one after the actual experience of death has ever returned from across the borders of the death-land to tell us of the exact nature of his sufferings. Each one suffers unto himself and becomes silent forever. To be on the death-bed is a veritable nailing on the cross, and the death-chamber is a charnel-house. 

One can scarcely stand unmoved, when some people toss restlessly for days on end with a death-rattle in their throat, writhing in extreme agony on the death-bed. Who can assuage the tortures of death? All stand helplessly by; the best of physicians administering drugs to the last, the attendant nurses standing on toe-tips, the nearest of kith and kin with tearful eyes and woebegone looks and sombre faces, awaiting the inevitable end. Who hears the piteous cries of the poor victim and his life companions, his wife and children?

As the wife with hairs dishevelled moans, The solitary spirit wings its way alone.


Of Alexander the Great (356–323 B.C.), King of Macedonia and conqueror of the world as known at the time, it is said that it had been prophesied that he would die only when the earth would be of steel and the sky of gold. As neither of these two phenomena could be possible, the King was lulled into a false sense of perennial security. He imagined and believed that like the Olympian gods, he was immortal. After long and wearisome campaigns in the Far-East, as he was passing through the desert near Babylon, on his way back to Greece, he was stricken with fever. Being unable to hold on to the saddle, he was helped to dismount and one of the generals spread his steel coat-of-mail on the ground, lined as it was with velvet on the inside, and made the King lie thereon, and held up outstretched his gold-embroidered umbrella over his face to protect him from the scorching rays of the fierce desert sun. 

It was then that Alexander, the great hero of many a battle, the invincible conqueror, realised that his end was near, for he was now lying on the steely ground with a golden awning over him. He was overtaken by consternation. Addressing the best of the physicians who were attending upon him he, with tearful eyes, begged that something should be done to save him for the time being, so that he could reach home and meet his mother whom he greatly loved. But one and all expressed their helplessness. He then offered to them at first half his Kingdom and then the whole if they could by their medical skill procure for him that much of a respite. But who could help to stay the divine decree? On the tenth day of illness, as his generals one by one, passed through the tented chamber of the dying King, he bade them good-bye and directed that at his funeral, both his hands be kept out of the shroud so that all could see that a great emperor was leaving empty-handed just the way he came into the world.

Similarly, we hear of the sad story of a great and talented queen who ruled over vast dominions. She was adored by her people for her dazzling beauty and admired for her sagacity. She had ruled wisely and well for quite a long time. Brought up in the lap of luxury, with hundreds of attendants, she could not for a moment believe that there was such a thing as death. When her end came, she was stricken with great sorrow and overtaken by poignant grief. The royal physicians by her bed-side could do nothing to assuage her fears and torments. 

As death stared her in the face, they tried to console her and advised her to prepare for the last journey.


in her horror she exclaimed. And where was she going, she wondered. 

Alas! to the land from where there is no return,

was the simple reply. She could not believe her ears. 

Am I dreaming?,

she enquired. 

No, you will have to go, your majesty.

– Is there a land of no return? And if so, where is it? 

It is far off from this world,

said the courtiers. 

Could not you locate it for me in time? And what preparations have you made to make my stay over there comfortable?,

asked the queen. 

None, your majesty.

– How many of you will accompany me to that land?,

enquired the terrified queen. 

You will have to go alone and by yourself madam,

said the courtiers. 

– How many attendants will I be permitted to take with me?

None, not one.

Such indeed is our ignorance of the realities of life. We are clever, very clever, in the workaday affairs of the world. But strange as it may seem, we know next to nothing of the stern retribution that awaits all of us and we have, like all others, to go all alone and empty-handed.

Naked I came into the world, and naked shall I go,

Ecclesiastes 5:15

says the hymnologist.

That, indeed, is the inevitable fate of all. Weeping we come into the world and weeping we depart from the world.

To come weeping is understandable. A new-born babe does weep as he emerges from the chamber of the womb for he is severed from the Light of lights, the Light of life that has been sustaining him right through the period of gestation in that chamber, suspended upside down. This is why we generally keep some sort of light on for a few nights after the birth of the child, and whenever he cries, we turn his face towards that light, or at times, we play the rattle to amuse the baby and quieten him. 

But why should we weep at the time of departure, when on the way back to the parental care of the loving Father? It was open to us to re-link the strands of life in us by consciously working for that end. This, willy-nilly, we do not care to do, and the human existence from cradle to the grave runs by as a waste. Once this opportunity is lost, we go down in the scale of existence. 

To fall from the top rung of the ladder, more often than not, proves fatal. Snapping ties with acquired relationships of the world, spread over a number of years, is painful and the departure terrifically poignant, the more so as we are quite unprepared for the quit notice that is sprung on us. We do not know how to quit the rented house and where we are to go? The prospect of being thrown out into the unknown as we take the life after death to be, bewilders us. All this works up a state of horror, unimaginable horror of the worst type.

This is why it is said:

Remember thou the day you came weeping into the world to the jubilation of those around thee; live thou a life that you may depart laughing amidst the weeping and wailing of all.

Francis Quarles (1592–1644), a mystic poet, speaking of death tells us: 

If thou expect death as a friend, prepare to entertain it; if thou expect death as an enemy, prepare to overcome it; death has no advantage, but when it comes a stranger.

Herein lies the difference between the eastern and the western thought on death.

St Paul, describing death as the last enemy of man said that he died daily swallowing death in victory and mockingly asked:

Oh grave, where is thy sting?

1 Corinthians 15:55

The eastern savants hail it as an occasion for union with the Beloved. The conclusion, however, is the same in both cases; viz., that death claims an advantage over us only when it comes suddenly and swiftly as an unexpected stranger, neither as an expected friend nor as a dreaded foe, and we are entirely unprepared to receive it or to meet its challenge. 

Those who are prepared for it and are ever ready, they receive it, welcome it, taking it as a home-going and a means of union with the Beloved. A true lover of God even when condemned to death for heresy cheerfully lays his head on the block and beseechingly calls the executioner, praying, to make a short shrift of his body with his sword as he sees reflected in it the Light of his Beloved (God).

After all, what is death?


says Euripides,

is a debt we must all pay.

This being the case, why not pay off the debt and be forever free from the obligation? The body is the ransom or the dowry which the soul has to deliver to obtain ultimate release from the Law of Retribution.