Emeritus Professor of Physics
University of Virginia
Charlottesville, VA 22904-4714
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10.4. About death
Because all bodies die, if we identify with the body, we will fear death. When we see that we are not the body, we will be indifferent to death. In Chapters 20 and 23, we shall see directly that we are Awareness, which is unchanging and cannot die. We are not what changes, which is unreal and must die.
All sages attempt to answer the seekers’ question, “Where was ‘I’ before the birth of the
body?”, and, “Where will ‘I’ be after the body dies?” Ramesh Balsekar teaches that, when the body dies, Consciousness simply disidentifies from it. Indeed, the death of the body is the result of Consciousness disidentifying from it. Since there was no separate “I” before death, there is none after death, so there is no entity to continue after death. Thus, there is neither an after-death nor a before-death state for the “I” since it has never existed in the first place. Without a body there is only pure unmanifest Consciousness.
In the meditation for April 13 in A Net of Jewels (1996), Ramesh says,
"Once the body dies, manifested consciousness is released and merges with the
impersonal Consciousness like a drop of water merges with the ocean. No individual
identity survives death."
In the meditation for May 20, he says,
"When you are dead, you will be back in the primordial state of rest which existed before
you were born, that stillness before all experience. It is only the false sense of a limited,
separate "me" that deprives life of its meaning and gives death an ominous significance
which it really does not have."
In the meditation for June 19, he says,
"What is born must in due course die. The objective body will thereafter be dissolved
and irrevocably annihilated. What was once a sentient being will be destroyed, never to
be reborn. But the consciousness is not objective, not a thing at all. Therefore,
consciousness is neither born nor dies, and certainly cannot be 'reborn'."
And in the meditation for October 14, Ramesh says,
"Although one may be afraid of the process of dying, deep down one very definitely has
the feeling, the intuitive conviction, that one cannot cease to exist. This feeling has been
misrepresented as the basis for the theory of rebirth, but the fact of the matter is that
there exists no actual entity to be either born or reborn or to cease to exist."
Since there never is a separate "I", there can be no entity either to incarnate or to reincarnate. Ramesh explains the existence of individual characteristics of the body-mind organism as a result of conditioning and heredity (see also Section 5.14). [Note: Ramesh says that heredity includes differences projected from the "ocean" of consciousness (see Section 8.1) as well as genetic differences. (The "ocean" is a concept that cannot be verified; see Section 8.2.) Ramesh uses this concept to try to explain the origin of body-minds that are strikingly similar to previous ones, as in the concept of reincarnation. From the "ocean", he says the body-mind may inherit characteristics from previous body-minds, but there is no previous lifetime of the "I" since there is no "I".] Some sages teach that, in the absence of the body, Consciousness is still aware of itself. The evidence they cite is an awareness that they say exists during deep (dreamless) sleep. For example, in I Am That (1984), p. 28, the following dialogue ensues between Nisargadatta Maharaj and a questioner:
Questioner: What do you do when asleep?
Maharaj: I am aware of being asleep.
Q: Is not sleep a state of unconsciousness?
M: Yes, I am aware of being unconscious.
Q: And when awake, or dreaming?
M: I am aware of being awake or dreaming.
Q: I do not catch you. What exactly do you mean? Let me make my terms clear: by
being asleep I mean unconscious, by being awake I mean conscious, by dreaming I
mean conscious of one’s mind, but not of the surroundings.
M: Well, it is about the same with me, Yet, there seems to be a difference. In each state
you forget the other two, while to me, there is but one state of being, including and
transcending the three mental states of waking, dreaming and sleeping.
In Truth Love Beauty (2006), Francis Lucille says,
"Consciousness knows itself, with or without objects."
However, note that, in the February 4 meditation in A Net of Jewels (1996), Ramesh states,
“The original state of the Noumenon is one where we do not even know of our
beingness.” This is the state before birth and after death. Since there is no body in this state, there is only Noumenon. This state is not identical with the states in dreamless sleep, under anesthesia, or while comatose, because, objectively speaking, in those states there is still rudimentary sentience associated with the brainstem. Dreamless sleep, anesthesia, and coma are examples of the presence of absence as depicted in Figure 1. These are not the same as death because, before the body was born and after it dies, there is a double absence--the absence of the presence of the manifestation and the absence of the absence of the manifestation. The only way to describe this state is that it is neither presence (waking) nor absence (sleep), neither existence nor nonexistence.[How does he know this? Is he contradicting Nisargadatta above where he implies that consciousness remains aware of itself?]
Question: What is the experience of dreamless sleep? Can you remember it? What is the
experience of being under anesthesia? Can you remember it?
Although all religions attempt to give some picture of what we will be after death, they are all based on ego fears and desires rather than on personal experience. The ego may insist that it will continue to exist after the death of the body, but in so doing, it defies the direct evidence of everyone’s disappearance during deep sleep or anesthesia. If the reader cares to imagine some picture of personal life before birth and after death, he or she should be aware that there never can be any kind of direct proof of such states. Some people think that thought can exist without a body, so that the “I” concept (the soul) may prevail after the death of the body. But if that state cannot be verified, how can it be said to have existed at all? Many Buddhist teachers claim that the Buddha taught that, after death, the individual is reborn in another body. To them, this seems logical because of the Buddha's teaching of karma (or causality, see Section 12.3). However, because he taught that there is no self, there hardly could be a rebirth of the self. In the words of the Buddha (see
What is it, Venerable Sir, that will be reborn?
A psycho-physical combination, O King, is the answer.
But how, Venerable Sir? Is it the same psycho-physical combination as this present
No, O King. But the present psycho-physical combination produces karmically
wholesome and unwholesome volitional activities, and through such Karma a new
psycho-physical combination will be reborn (Milinda-Panha 46).
After-death states, such as those described in the Tibetan Book of the Dead, by necessity are intuited or cognized by a living person, so the reliability and motives of that person must be considered. Any intense, personal experience, such as a near-death experience, cannot be proof because such experiences by definition and necessity are not death experiences. [True]
The appearance of discarnate entities, such as spiritual guides, deceased relatives, or religious figures, are also not proof because they always appear in living body-mind organisms and therefore could merely be mental phenomena. Because near-death and out-of-body experiences require the presence of a brain, they cannot reflect what happens after death. In fact, out-of-body experiences can even be produced at will
by electrically stimulating the right angular gyrus region of the brain (see Blanke, Ortigue,
Landis, and Seeck, Nature 419 (2002) 269 - 270); and by video camera and 3D goggles (H. H. Ehrsson, Science 317 (2007)1048; and Lenggenhager, Tadi, Metzinger, and Blanke, Science 317 (2007) 1096-1099). Near-death experiences have been shown to be more common in people for whom the boundaries between sleep and wakefulness are not as clearly defined as in those not having near-death experiences (see Kevin Nelson, Neurology 66 (2006) 1003).
Thus, in near-death experiences, the REM (rapid eye movement) dream state of sleep can intrude into normal wakeful consciousness.
In the April 7 meditation of A Net of Jewels (1996), Ramesh says:
“There are many reports of what are popularly considered ‘death-experiences’,
which are mistaken as evidence of what happens after death. These are in fact
only hallucinations experienced by the ego arising from stimulation of certain
centers of the brain before, not after, the completion of the death process. Most
of the mystical phenomena recorded as yogic experience are of the same order,
movements in consciousness experienced by the ego. But when man finally
surrenders his miserable egoic individuality, there is no experience of anything.
He is the Totality itself.”
In the April 4 meditation of the same book, Ramesh says:
“My relative absence is my absolute presence. The moment of death will be the
moment of highest ecstasy, the last sensorial perception of the psychosomatic
On p. 181 of I Am That (1984), Nisargadatta (Ramesh's guru) says:
"Everybody dies as he lives. I am not afraid of death, because I am not afraid of life. I
live a happy life and shall die a happy death. Misery is to be born, not to die."
And on p. 122, he says:
"To be a living being is not the ultimate state: there is something beyond, much more
wonderful, which is neither being nor non-being, neither living nor non-living. It is a state
of pure awareness, beyond the limitations of space and time. Once the illusion that the
body-mind is oneself is abandoned, death loses its terror; it becomes a part of living."