Lecture by Radha Burnier, 2nd of August 2005, in Bristol, England. President of the Theosophical Society, Adyar. (Freely transcribed in Sweden from a recording.
So is dying and living. When the body dies there is a process of assimilating the experiences and understanding those experiences in the subtler worlds, where consciousness still continues to function. So without that, if we continue to go on having experiences, it will not make us more mature, wiser, purer, and less selfish.
We need to experience, and we have to learn from that experience. And every life cycle is meant for that. The body dies and the consciousness broods over the nature of the experiences and gains perhaps small insights, if it is not a developed consciousness, and deep understanding, if it is an evolved consciousness. So that process is part of the whole cyclic nature of existence.
From the evolutionary point of view, if creatures do not die evolution itself will come to an end.
In the days of dinosaurs a long period of time passed before these animals died. Mutations could not take place, quickly. Changes could not be brought about. It was a very slow process. So the length of life must not be too short, so short that there is no experience. Nor must it be too long, because as a result of experience and understanding no change can be brought about, when the physical vehicle can not change. And therefore they say death is very important from the point of view of evolution.
There are many teachers from many cultures, many religious traditions, who speak about the necessity to die.
Physical death is necessary, so that we learn from our experiences. So that evolution can progress. But psychological death is also essential.
Why is their need to be afraid? The great Sufi and mystic teacher Rumi said, and you may be very familiar with the statement: I died a mineral and became a vegetable, I died a vegetable, a plant, and became an animal, I died an animal and became a human, I died a human and became an angel, or greater than human.
When they die, and become less, that is the question we ask.
Death is part of the movement of growth. But in another context Rumi said Oh man, go die before thou deist, so that thou shall not have to suffer death, when thou shall die.
How does one die before one dies? That is a major question which we have to understand. And similar statements have come from many people who knew people with great insights, penetrating vision of the whole purpose and meaning of life. Angelus Silesius, a pronounced Christian mystic says: Die now, before thou dyest, that thou may not die when though shall die. Socrates say that also, that welcome death as a friend, because you will only be the better for dying. Of course that means dying in due time, for committing suicide is most undesirable.
There is another mystic poet, Hafiz of Shiraz, and he says: He whose heart is instinct with love never dies. So what does this dying mean?
Before we examine that question from the psychological and spiritual point of view, let us take note of the fact that the brain declines as more and more information and memories are stocked up in it. Some years ago in Russia they made a research and they announced that when the brain is all overloaded with information it deteriorates faster. Like any kind of machine. If you use a motor car continually it will of course have to be replaced much earlier or something like that. And all during life, this brain is trying to collect information, because in all the earlier stages of evolution it was necessary. An animal living in a forest does not know what information will be of value to it in order to escape an enemy or to find food where food is scarce. An animal has to store up information about what a friend is like or an enemy. If the deer does not know the difference between a tiger and a lamb, then it will die very quickly. It has to divide the world into friends and enemies. But as man develops this division must become less and less strong, until it disappears all together. Madame Blavatsky in her Diagram of Meditation says that one of the results of meditating on infinite space and time is, that the reality of certain things – sensation, causation, personality – all that disappears. And one of the things that will disappear is the idea, that there are friends and foes. But the animal brain must know this difference between friend and foe. What is familiar and safe, and what are unfamiliar and concealing dangers, unknown. So all this is in the brain. It is continually recording information. The very structure of the brain is like that. We know, I am sure if we look at ourselves we know, that all the time we are gathering information which is utterly useless. Let’s say, so and so have changed her hairstyle. Is it necessary to remember that? And there are countless bits of information like this and which are kept in the brain. Because it goes on unconsciously, collecting information, recording information. Under hypnosis it has been found, that people have far more memories than their conscious brain is able to bring up. So when the brain is loaded like this, it is unable to be aware.
If you look at a marvellous flower which is absolutely new, let us imagine there is a glorious flower which one has not seen before. When you see it for the first time it makes a tremendous impact on the consciousness of beauty, of delicacy, etc. but the next time you see it, the impact is less. If you see it a hundred times it makes no impact at all. There are people who live next to the alps or the wonderful HimalayanMountains and who are not conscious of it.
All our daily life is dependent on recognizing things. You must recognize your house when you go near it; otherwise you may enter into somebody else’s house and be unwelcome. But that can not happen because for practical purposes we need to score certain things, remember, recognize and act accordingly. But this recognition applies to totally unnecessary things, like as we said what hairstyle somebody has or what is the food that person eats and so on. You know all sorts of gossip and everything. Then that memory works like that. All recognition means memory and then the mind is not able to see afresh. To see the texture of the leaf, the symmetry of it, the cloud in the paper, and so on. It becomes obtuse and what does the death do? When the body whether and it is cremated or buried, all memory disappears with it. We have the privilege of coming into a new incarnation with a fresh brain, so you can look at everything afresh, so that you can experience things without that memory and that is how understanding growths, because in everything there is something hidden.
In the great scriptures of India called Upanishads they said: There is a truth of truths, a supreme truth hidden in all things. In the Mahatma Letters they say: There is a latent meaning and a hidden purpose in all things. But we are not aware of it. And only by being aware of it will we have right relationship.
We can not have relationship if we do not see things well and truly. And that relationship is the biggest problem in the world today. And that is why the Theosophical Society has an important role to play in the world.
There is no real problem for example of poverty. Mr Gandhi said:”There is enough in the world for everybody’s need, but not for everybody’s greed.” And this is true. Even economists probably will agree with that and he was a sort of economist. And poverty exists, miserable poverty. You must go to the slums in Brazil or India, or any of these countries, and see how people live there, while there are others who are so enormously rich, they don’t know what to do with that money. There are people in the advantage states with enough money to by up a whole country. I was reading a short time ago in News Week that the very rich don’t go to the five star hotels in the holiday resort. They take on higher and entire Caribbean islands, with all the staff and everything that they need there. So wealth exists next to poverty. All this is because something is utterly wrong with our perception and therefore with our relationship. When our perception is not clear we don’t see the truth of things, our relationship can not be right.
One of the very known examples given by the Indian tradition is the demonstration of the snake and the rope. When a person sees something coiled up, and he thinks it is a snake, he can become violent. He may push other people away so that he can run away more quickly, but when he realized it is a rope he wouldn’t act like that.
So to be aware, to see clearly, to be able to penetrate into the depth, the essence of all things is very important. And that is what living means. We can not learn that without dying. Without allowing our brain to be completely replaced, with a new brain, in a new body. And passing through many incarnations, coming to understand much more of the Truth of truths. The hidden noumenon, as Madame Blavatsky calls it. And that is the whole purpose of human life. To come to that wisdom which transforms our entire outlook on life.
An outlook of a realized person who is full of compassion, radiant with love, love which is not selective, limited, but boundless, is very different from that of an ordinary man. So I think it is important that we contemplate this question of living and dying. If we live properly, it will give great joy. It will be a full life. And if we understand death, we can die peacefully. Not struggle against it. Not be afraid. But learn through that process.
In theosophical writing it is said the moment of death is very important. As you know many people have experienced the Near-Death-Experience. They say coming to a light, which shows them what is what. What they did wrong and what is right. And Blavatskys says that that light is the light of our own immortal nature, and for a short time the privilege is given of coming into contact with our true self. So apart from everything else that carries with it, it is a wonderful gift. Even if it is a momentary insight, we should never be afraid of it. Never moorn the loss of people who died, but take it calmly, as part of the whole cycle of living.