(The principal of a large school in Bombay gave us a list of frequently asked questions by 13 year old children in her school and asked us whether we can prepare answers in the light of a spiritual perspective. When we looked at the question we found that they are not mere “kid-stuff.” Most of them are either fundamental and existential questions related to world and God or psychological problems faced by most of us. This series is an attempt to answer these questions from the children’s perspective in the light of a spiritual vision of life. We don’t know how far we have succeeded in communicating to the children. Nevertheless, we hope these answer may be of some help to teachers and parents who have to deal with children. There are around thirty questions with answers given in the light of a spiritual vision of life. We will post these questions at regular intervals.)
What happens to people after they die?
There are only two kinds of people who can answer this question with some certainity. The first one are those who have died or very close to death, had some experience of after-death states and somehow miraculously got back to life into their bodies with a full awareness or memory of their after death experiences. The second categories of people are seers, sages and yogi who can consciously enter into these after-death states or worlds. The answer given here is based on the experiences, descriptions and insights of these two categories of people.
There are a group of people who had what is called as a “near-death” experience. They are clinically declared as dead by doctors, but somehow survived and got back to life. During this period of transition from clinical death to life, they have gone out of their bodies and had some glimpse of the after death state. There are some scientists who have systematically and scientifically studied and analysed their experiences. One of the common themes which emerges in these people who have experienced the near-death state is what is called as “Out-of-Body-Experience” (OBE). In this OBE states, the inner being of person who is thought to be dead by doctors, gets out of its body and able to look at its own body lying on the bed. The other common experiences are that of passing through a tunnel; coming into contact with a being of light which is full of compassion; rapid recall or review of the past life.
These near-death experiences of people show that there is something in us which survives the death of the body. Our inner being or our mind and soul do not die with the death of our body. What we call as “death” and make such a tragic fuss over it, is only a discarding our physical sheath. But our mind and soul pass out of the body and move on to another world. These worlds into which we enter after the death of our bodies are made of subtler energies than the energies which make our material world. These world interpenetrate our material world, but invisible to our senses.
But the near-death experiences studied by modern scientists and researchers are incomplete and partial. For a more complete understanding of what happens after death we have to examine the insights and experiences of spiritual seers and yogis. Here comes the importance of the insights of Sri Aurobindo and The Mother on the subject.
But to understand what Sri Aurobindo and The Mother have said on the subject, we must have some understanding of the structure of our own self. We are as individuals are not mere bodies but four-fold beings with a body, life, mind and soul. The body is our most external physical sheath; life is the source of our sensations, emotions, desires and vital energies mind is the source of our thoughts, perceptions, ideas, ideals and values; soul is the deepest and innermost spiritual source of our being. Each part of our being derives its energy and substance from the corresponding worlds in the universe. Our body is part of the material world. Similarly our life or vital being is part of the life-worlds and derives its energy and substance from the life-world; our mind is part of the mental world and derives its energy and substance from the mental world; our soul is part of the spiritual worlds and derives its energy and substance from the spiritual worlds. In other words, we can say we live simultaneously in four worlds: physical, vital mental and spiritual.
We are now in a better position to arrive at a more complete understanding of what happens to a person when he or she dies. His soul discards its physical sheath which disintegrates and merges with the material world of which it is a part. After this physical “death”, the soul enters into the vital and mental worlds. After dwelling sometime in these subtler worlds, the soul discards its vital and mental sheaths which go back to their corresponding vital or mental worlds. And finally the soul, naked and pure, goes back to its own native spiritual worlds. In its native home, the soul assimilates the essence of all the experiences of its life on earth and prepares for its next life.
Thus death of the body is not the end of life but only a brief interlude. Life goes on after death and the soul travels towards its divine goal. Both Life and Death are instruments of the soul to gain the experience needed to grow towards its divine destiny.