DEATH - AN ART TO LEARN AND PRACTICE

Kabeer, the world is afraid of death - that death fills my mind with Bliss. It is only by
death that Perfect, Supreme Bliss is obtained ||22|| (sggs 1365).
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The Gurbani wants us to learn and practice the art of death, before we are overpowered by it. Thus, before death overpowers us, we have important things to accomplish by living a Gurmukh Lifestyle: becoming Gurmukhs, linking our unit consciousness with God or Realizing our True Nature as Pure Consciousness (Joti-Svaroopa), etc. It's said that the death for an ordinary person (one in material consciousness or the Manmukh) is very painful experience. The SGGS (Sri Guru Granth Sahib) says that this most painful experience can be turned into the "Perfect, Supreme Bliss" experience, just like other Joyful moments of life! The SGGS says that it's possible to attain this state of the mind while living in this body, hear and now. In fact, the SGGS not only talk about it, but also shows us as to how one can go about attaining it. Hence, in the Sikh thought, not only the birth, but the death is also celebrated. Instead of mourning, a true Sikh rejoices death, thus smiles at it. As the Gurbani says, the thought of death should fill one's mind with the "Perfect, Supreme Bliss" (Anand). How the death (Maut) can fill a person's mind with Bliss?

It will if one is free of attachments, otherwise it will be the worse torture.Upon the thought of death (Maut, Maran, Mrityu, etc.) if a person's mind can feel Joy, it signifies that that person is a true Giaanee or Wise (not because others call him a Giaanee; nowadays people call anybody Giaanee or Gurmukh!) who is free of all attachments. It implies that a Sikh is supposed to be a true Giaanee. If he is not a true Giaanee yet, he is not a true Sikh yet! The Gurbani declares that one who dies in the Shabad (Naam-consciousness) is truly dead. He is a Jeevanmukta (living-liberated). Death of the physical body does not crush him. With constantly hearing, perceiving and contemplating the Truth, his individual light links to the Supreme Light. In this process disappears his false ego-sense (Haume), the notion of "I, me, mine, you", and Vaasnaas of material life he lived in this mirage-like world of names-forms-time-space-and-motion. Only the Spiritual Silence and Intuitive Peace remain over. Then His Joy becomes Divine, and his suffering becomes Divine too. Accordingly, a true Sikh treats both happy as well as sad events equally in his life! Thus, known as a Gurmukh (Self-realized person) in the Gurbani, the whole life of such a person becomes a celebration itself.

  • ਕਬੀਰ ਜਿਸੁ ਮਰਨੇ ਤੇ ਜਗੁ ਡਰੈ ਮੇਰੇ ਮਨਿ ਆਨੰਦੁ ॥ ਮਰਨੇ ਹੀ ਤੇ ਪਾਈਐ ਪੂਰਨੁ ਪਰਮਾਨੰਦੁ ॥੨੨॥: Kabeer jisu marne te jagu darai mere mani anandu. Marne hee te paaeeai pooranu parmaanandu ||22|| (sggs 1365).
  • ਇਹੁ ਜਗੁ ਮੋਹ ਹੇਤ ਬਿਆਪਿਤੰ ਦੁਖੁ ਅਧਿਕ ਜਨਮ ਮਰਣੰ ॥: Ihu jag moh het biaapitam dukh adhik janam maranam: This world is engrossed in attachment and (transitory) love; it suffers the terrible pains of birth and death (sggs 505).
  • ਸੋ ਮੂਆ ਜਿਸੁ ਮਨਹੁ ਬਿਸਾਰੈ ॥: So mooaa jis manahu bisaarai: One who has forgotten the Divine, is already dead (sggs 292).
  • ਬਿਨੁ ਸਬਦੈ ਮੁਆ ਹੈ ਸਭੁ ਕੋਇ ॥: Bin sabadai muaa hai sabh koe: Without the Shabad, everyone is dead (sggs 1418).
  • ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਹੋਇ ਬਹੁਰਿ ਨਹੀ ਮਰਨਾ ॥: Gurmukh hoi bahuri nahee marnaa: Become Gurmukh, and you will never die again (sggs 872).
  • ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਗਿਆਨੁ ਤਤੁ ਬੀਚਾਰਾ ਜੋਤੀ ਜੋਤਿ ਮਿਲਾਏ ॥੩॥: Gurmukh giaan tat beechaaraa joti jot milaaye ||3||: By becoming the Gurmukh (spiritually Being), who engages in Vichaar (Contemplation, Inquiry, Reflection, etc.) of the essence of spiritual wisdom (ਆਤਮਕ ਜੀਵਨ ਦੀ ਅਸਲ ਸੂਝ ਨੂੰ); his individual light merges into the Supreme Light ||3|| (sggs 1131).
  • ਜੀਵਨ ਮੁਕਤੁ ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਕੋ ਹੋਈ ॥: Jeevan mukat gurmukh ko hoee: How rare are those who, as Gurmukh, become Jeevamukta - liberated while yet alive (sggs232).
  • ਕਟੀਐ ਜਮ ਫਾਸੀ ਸਿਮਰਿ ਅਬਿਨਾਸੀ ਸਗਲ ਮੰਗਲ ਸੁਗਿਆਨਾ ॥: Katteeai jamm faasee simar abinaasee sagal mangal sugiaanaa: Meditating on the Imperishable Lord, the noose of death is cut, all auspicious (or happiness springs forth within), and wisdom (about the spiritual life or Aatamic-Jeevan) is obtained (sggs 781).

Simply the Gurbani is telling us here not to lose strength by grieving on what is the nature of this body. The nature of the body is to die. Any object that can be seen with our material eyes is bound to perish; it's just a question of time. This is the nature of material objects. No denying that one feels pain upon the death of his love ones. But what the Gurbani is trying to tell us here is that our pain is due to our emotional attachments (selfishness) and doubts - more attachments and doubts more the pain and suffering.

  • ਦੁਇ ਰਾਹ ਚਲਾਏ ਹੁਕਮਿ ਸਬਾਏ ਜਨਮਿ ਮੁਆ ਸੰਸਾਰਾ ॥: Due raah chalaaeae hukam sabaaaeae janam muaa sansaaraa: All follow these two paths, by the Hukam; the world is born, only to die (sggs 688).
  • ਕਉਨੁ ਮੂਆ ਰੇ ਕਉਨੁ ਮੂਆ ॥ ਬ੍ਰਹਮ ਗਿਆਨੀ ਮਿਲਿ ਕਰਹੁ ਬੀਚਾਰਾ ਇਹੁ ਤਉ ਚਲਤੁ ਭਇਆ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥: Kaoun mooyaa re kaoun mooyaa. Brahm giaanee mil krahu beechaaraa ih tayu chalat bhayaa ||1|| Rahaou||: Who has died? O, who has died? Meet together with the God-realized being (i.e. the Gurmukh or Brahm-Giaanee), and inquire (Vichaar) into this; (upon Vichaar, you will know that) this (birth and death) is the nature of life! ||1||Pause|| (sggs 886).

The true Giaanee understands the fact that death is a part of life. Birth and death are but two points in time. Life and death, joy and sorrows, pain and pleasure, etc., are real to the man in bondage. But to the true Giaanee, they are all in the world-play (Jagat Tamaashaa or Leelaa). As the Giaanee is already dead while living in the body, what death can do to the man who is already dead? We Agiaanee (ignorant or unwise), on the other hand, feel sad when faced with death because we identify the Joti-svaroopa with the finite frame of the body. In other words, a true Giaanee thinks himself to be the Soul and has a body. To the contrary, the majority of us think we are the body and have a Soul. So long there is the identification with the body (error), there will be the fear of loss and death. But the same death fills the Giaanee's mind with Bliss; for he knows at last he is going to his True Home! Basically, the Gurbani here wants us to learn and practice the art of death as a real Giaanee does. Throughout the SGGS, the emphasis of the Gurbani is on practice (Karnee), not mere reading, listening and idle talking. Our Haume (false ego-sense) thinks we know the art of death, but nothing could be farther from the truth. As a matter of fact, the very nature of Haume is to be fearful. Therefore, in reality it's the Haume that repeatedly suffers.

  • ਕਬੀਰਾ ਮਰਤਾ ਮਰਤਾ ਜਗੁ ਮੁਆ ਮਰਿ ਭਿ ਨ ਜਾਨੈ ਕੋਇ ॥: Kabeer martaa martaa jag muaa mar bhi na jaanai koi: Kabeer, the world is dying - dying to death, but no one knows how to truly die (sggs 555).
  • ਹਉਮੈ ਵਿਚਿ ਜਗਤੁ ਮੁਆ ਮਰਦੋ ਮਰਦਾ ਜਾਇ ॥: Houmai vich jagat muaa marado maradaa jaae: In egotism, the world is dead; it dies and dies, again and again (sggs 555).
  • ਹਉਮੈ ਸਭੁ ਸਰੀਰੁ ਹੈ ਹਉਮੈ ਓਪਤਿ ਹੋਇ ॥...: Haumai sabh sareer hai hayumai opati hoi ...: Ego is within all the bodies; and through ego the beings are born. Egotism is total darkness; in egotism, no one can understand anything (sggs 560).
  • ਹਉ ਨ ਮੂਆ ਮੇਰੀ ਮੁਈ ਬਲਾਇ ॥: I (Jot, ਜੀਵਾਤਮਾ) have not died (because) the evil or calamity (of my ignorance, doubt, ego, Maya ...) has died (sggs 152).
  • ਤਤੁ ਬੀਚਾਰੁ ਕਹੈ ਜਨੁ ਸਾਚਾ ॥ ਜਨਮਿ ਮਰੈ ਸੋ ਕਾਚੋ ਕਾਚਾ ॥: Tatt beechaar kahai jan saachaa. Janami marai so kaacho kaachaa: One who Reflects (contemplates - Vichaar) the Essence of Reality, is said to be the true person (ਉਹ ਸਚ-ਮੁਚ ਮਨੁੱਖ ਹੈ). (But, the one who) takes birth (just to) die (without realizing the Essence of Reality) is totally false (ਨਿਰੋਲ ਕੱਚਾ) (sggs 288).
  • ਗਿਆਨੀ ਜੀਵੈ ਸਦਾ ਸਦਾ ਸੁਰਤੀ ਹੀ ਪਤਿ ਹੋਇ ॥: Giaanee jeevai sadaa sadaa surti hee pat hoi: Only the Giaanee lives forever (the spiritual Life, ਆਤਮਕ ਜੀਵਨ ਸੂਝ ਵਾਲਾ ਮਨੁੱਖ ਸਦਾ ਹੀ ਆਤਮਕ ਜੀਵਨ ਜੀਊਂਦਾ ਹੈ); he is honored for his intuitive awareness (that he ever and ever keeps engaged in the Truth) (sggs 1412).

The human body is a combination of matter and Spirit (Soul). The idea that there is such a thing as Soul (Self or Aatmaan) independent of the body is shared by almost all world religions. Although the word Soul has different meanings in different contexts, it is, however, generally agreed that the Soul is nothing material, and that it is the nucleus of our very Being. As indicated in the Gurbani, Soul is Eternal, Perfect, Pure Consciousness, Untainted Life Force that sustains the body, Immortal, Unborn, Ever-existing, Primeval, Non-destructible, Unbreakable, Insoluble, Changeless, Immovable, Invisible, Inconceivable, Immutable, Imperishable, free from limitations and conditioning. Being Eternal in nature, the Soul is never born nor will it ever die. It can neither be cut nor slain by any weapon, nor burnt by fire, and nor withered by wind. It is the True Image of the Divine Light ("Joti-Svaroopa"), which is unaffected by the movements of the body or the mind (Haume or ego).

  • ਨਹ ਬਿਨਸੈ ਅਬਿਨਾਸੀ ਹੋਗੁ ॥: Nah binsai abinaasee hogu: The Soul does not perish; it is imperishable (sggs 885).
  • ਆਤਮ ਮਹਿ ਰਾਮੁ ਰਾਮ ਮਹਿ ਆਤਮੁ ॥: Aatam mahi Raam Raam mahi aatam: God is in the Soul, and the Soul is in God (1153).
  • ਜਿਨੀ ਆਤਮੁ ਚੀਨਿਆ ਪਰਮਾਤਮੁ ਸੋਈ ॥: Jinee aatam cheeniaa parmaatam soee: Those who understand their own Soul, are themselves the Supreme Soul (sgg 421).
  • ਓਹੁ ਨ ਮੂਆ ਜੋ ਦੇਖਣਹਾਰੁ ॥: Ouhu na mooaa jo daekhanahaar: But the One who sees does not die (sggs 152).
  • ਓਹੁ ਨ ਮੂਆ ਜੋ ਰਹਿਆ ਸਮਾਇ ॥: Ouhu na mooaa jo rahiaa samaae: The One who is pervading everywhere does not die (sggs 152).
  • ਜੋ ਦੀਸੈ ਸਭ ਆਵਣ ਜਾਣੀ ॥: Jo deesai sabh aavan jaanee: All that is seen is movement - coming and going - of consciousness (sggs 1021).

The majority of us have not yet become Gurmukhs, therefore we are tortured by the fear of death or loss. We are asked by the Gurbani to inquire into this death and find out what it is. If we follow the Gurbani's instructions and inquire: "To whom is this death?", then we will find out that which dies is not real us! What actually dies is the body which depends on the movement of the Praan or life-breadth. The body never has its independent existence. As we know, anything that depends on something else for its sustenance, must eventually decay and end. With the death of the body (Mirtak), dies the world of names-shapes-time-space-and-motion. God dwells within the cave our Heart as the Divine Self or Aatmaan. Unaffected by the movements of the body or the mind, the Aatmaan is not subject to our grief, despair, disease or ignorance. The Gurbani declares that the Pure, Perfect, free from limitations or conditioning, the Aatmaan is one with the Infinite Consciousness. However, as the body is made of five elements, it is bound in the framework of time and space. Upon its destruction, each element goes back to its respective source - the earth merges with earth, the air merges with air, the fire merges with fire, the water merges with water and the space merges with space. Only the Real Self remains over.

  • ਰਾਮਕਲੀ ਮਹਲਾ ੫ ॥ ਪਵਨੈ ਮਹਿ ਪਵਨੁ ਸਮਾਇਆ ॥ ਜੋਤੀ ਮਹਿ ਜੋਤਿ ਰਲਿ ਜਾਇਆ ॥ ਮਾਟੀ ਮਾਟੀ ਹੋਈ ਏਕ ॥ ਰੋਵਨਹਾਰੇ ਕੀ ਕਵਨ ਟੇਕ ॥੧॥ ਕਉਨੁ ਮੂਆ ਰੇ ਕਉਨੁ ਮੂਆ ॥ ਬ੍ਰਹਮ ਗਿਆਨੀ ਮਿਲਿ ਕਰਹੁ ਬੀਚਾਰਾ ਇਹੁ ਤਉ ਚਲਤੁ ਭਇਆ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥ ਅਗਲੀ ਕਿਛੁ ਖਬਰਿ ਨ ਪਾਈ ॥ ਰੋਵਨਹਾਰੁ ਭਿ ਊਠਿ ਸਿਧਾਈ ॥ ਭਰਮ ਮੋਹ ਕੇ ਬਾਂਧੇ ਬੰਧ ॥ ਸੁਪਨੁ ਭਇਆ ਭਖਲਾਏ ਅੰਧ ॥੨॥ ਇਹੁ ਤਉ ਰਚਨੁ ਰਚਿਆ ਕਰਤਾਰਿ ॥ ਆਵਤ ਜਾਵਤ ਹੁਕਮਿ ਅਪਾਰਿ ॥ ਨਹ ਕੋ ਮੂਆ ਨ ਮਰਣੈ ਜੋਗੁ ॥ ਨਹ ਬਿਨਸੈ ਅਬਿਨਾਸੀ ਹੋਗੁ ॥੩॥ ਜੋ ਇਹੁ ਜਾਣਹੁ ਸੋ ਇਹੁ ਨਾਹਿ ॥ ਜਾਨਣਹਾਰੇ ਕਉ ਬਲਿ ਜਾਉ ॥ ਕਹੁ ਨਾਨਕ ਗੁਰਿ ਭਰਮੁ ਚੁਕਾਇਆ ॥ ਨਾ ਕੋਈ ਮਰੈ ਨ ਆਵੈ ਜਾਇਆ ॥੪॥੧੦॥: Raamkalee Mahalaa 5 || Pavanai mahi pavan samaaiaa ....(sggs 885).
  • ਓਹੁ ਨ ਮੂਆ ਜੋ ਰਹਿਆ ਸਮਾਇ ॥: Ohu na mooaa jo rahiaa samaai: (The Brahm) that pervades (within) does not die (sggs 152).

The true Giaanee takes this body and the material world as only a reflection of the Reality. However, most of us take this body and the world real (permanent), and live our life cycle only to find death at the end! To the contrary, the real Giaanee takes the life cycle backwards; he dies first, thus gets the death out of the way, and then he goes on living as Jeevanmukta.

To put it otherwise, the Gurbani wants us to understand that what comes and goes is unreal. That which is Real never dies, and that which dies is not Real. Since the true Giaanee's mind is already dead, he has no reaction to death. For him it's natural for the body to die, as it is natural for the incense stick to burn out. Therefore, the event of death itself is of no importance to a true Giaanee; for he does not react to events. It's not that the Giaanee has no feelings or that he has a stone-heart. In reality he is very compassionate for the suffering beings. If someone dies, he suffers with those who suffer. But he is aware that the for the Soul there is neither birth or death. The real Giaanee understands that which is born must die. Thus, death for him is a change in time and space. Since the majority of us identify with time and space, we are afraid of this change. The Giaanee, on the other hand, is unafraid because his state is beyond time and space. He is already dead (Jeevanmukta) to the phenomenal world. Consequently, the loss of this world does not affect him. The Giaanee is fully aware of the fact that death does not mean non-being. Therefore, he loves death as he loves deep sleep. To the contrary, an Agiaanee (an unenlightened being) loves sleep but not the death, because he does not perceive the world like a Giaanee. Since the instinctive mind (false ego) functions in the frame work of time and space, birth and death pertains to the body or mind only; but mistakenly they are superimposed on the Pure Self, giving rise to the delusion that birth and death relate to the Self. The Self exists before the birth of physical body and will remain after its death. Thus the birth and death are phenomena in the Self, but the Self ever remains unbroken and unaffected.

The majority of us are fearful of death, because we do not possess steadfast spiritual wisdom (Giaan). However, a true Giaanee is afraid of nothing; for he is fearless. It is natural for the Self to be fearless, but to be afraid of death or anything is not. Only the body-conscious person (Agiaanee) is afraid of death. Since the Giaanee knows he is neither the body nor the mind, the event of death has no effect on him. He is the Changeless Reality, beyond time, space and motion. He is Immortal, thus untouched by death. Knowledge, fearlessness and humility are inseparable in an Enlightened being (Giaanee). Enlightenment is attained when one identifies one's Soul with the Eternal Reality and detaches oneself from worldly objects. A Giaanee or a Realized being remains indifferent and does not expect reward for all his actions, either at present or in future. He accepts what comes his way and neither rejoices nor is sad. There is neither attachment nor repulsion, neither desire nor dislike. He feels Bliss from the realization of the Aatmaan (Soul-Nature) within.

  • ਬ੍ਰਹਮ ਗਿਆਨੀ ਸਦ ਜੀਵੈ ਨਹੀ ਮਰਤਾ ॥: Brahm Giaanee sad jeevai nahee martaa: Brahm Giaanee ever lives and never dies (sggs 273).

Gurmukhs tell us that real Bliss (Anand) can only be experienced when all the thoughts (Phurne or wanderings) of the mind subside. Such purified mind (the state of Joti-Svaroopa or no false"I" or Haume) is eligible to be engaged in unwavering meditation (Naam -Simran or Jap) on the Eternal Truth. Knowledge (Giaan) alone is not enough - it needs to be accompanied by a clear understanding of what is the higher aspect of life and getting involved in the act of meditation (Karnee). Usually what happens is that we somehow attain knowledge (Giaan), but if the will for application (Karnee) - to meditate - is lacking, then there will be no real spiritual progress. In other words, despite of the knowledge (Giaan), if temptations and yearning of the senses continue then the knowledge is useless. In fact, such useless Giaan is nothing but ignorance. Meditation is like hitting the bull's eye. It demands arduous attentiveness. The wavering or restless mind full of thoughts is unable to concentrate. Meditation leads to the grasp of the Truth of the Ultimate Reality when one is able to overcome the mind's delusions that negatively affect us in life. The Self-realized person feels Bliss from the realization of the Aatmaan (Soul-consciousness) within. Thus, integrity of the mind, self-discipline and constant abidance in God-consciousness are the hallmarks of a true Giaanee. Death cannot fear such person. The Gurbani sums up the nature of the Giaanee as follows:

  • ਪ੍ਰਣਵਤਿ ਨਾਨਕ ਗਿਆਨੀ ਕੈਸਾ ਹੋਇ ॥ ਆਪੁ ਪਛਾਣੈ ਬੂਝੈ ਸੋਇ ॥: Pranvati Nanak giaanee kaisaa hoi. Aapu pashaanai boojhai soi: Prays Nanak, of what nature is the Giaanee (the Wise one, the knower of the Truth...)? (A true Giaanee is he who) recognizes his (Mool-ਮੂਲ, Source, Origin, Essential Nature, etc.), such (Giaanee-ਜੋ ਆਪਣੇ ਅਸਲੇ ਨੂੰ ਪਛਾਣਦਾ ਹੈ) Understands God (sggs 25).
  • ਕਬੀਰ ਮਨੁ ਸੀਤਲੁ ਭਇਆ ਪਾਇਆ ਬ੍ਰਹਮ ਗਿਆਨੁ ॥: Kabeer man seetal bhaiaa paaiaa brham giaan (sggs 1373).
  • ਮਨੂਆ ਡੋਲੈ ਦਹ ਦਿਸ ਧਾਵੈ ਬਿਨੁ ਰਤ ਆਤਮ ਗਿਆਨਾ ॥: Manoo-aa dolai dah dis Dhaavai bin rat aatam gi-aanaa: The mind wavers and wanders in ten directions, without loving devotion and Self-knowledge (sggs 1013).
  • ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਹਉਮੈ ਮਾਰੀਐ ਮਨੁ ਨਿਰਮਲੁ ਹੋਈ ॥: Gurmukh houmai maareeai manu niramal hoee: The Gurmukh conquers his ego, and his mind is immaculately pure (sggs 230).
  • ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਗਿਆਨੁ ਬਿਬੇਕ ਬੁਧਿ ਹੋਇ ॥: Gurmukh giaan bibek budh hoi: The Gurmukh is blessed with spiritual wisdom and a discerning intellect (sggs 317).
  • ਉਲਟ ਭਈ ਜੀਵਤ ਮਰਿ ਜਾਗਿਆ ॥: Ulatt bhaee jeevat mari jaagiaa: (When the mind) turned away (from the worldly ways), (it) became dead while yet alive and (it) has Awakened (ਆਤਮਕ ਜਾਗ). (sggs 221).
  • ਗੁਰਮੁਖਿ ਜਮਕਾਲੁ ਨੇੜਿ ਨ ਆਵੈ ॥...: Gurmukh jamkaal nerhi n aavai ..: Death (Spiritual death - ਆਤਮਕ ਮੌਤ) does not even approach the one who has become the Gurmukh. Through the Shabad, he burns away his ego and duality. Attuned to the Name, he sing God's Glorious Praises (sggs 231).

As long as one identifies with the body and the world of gross objects, there will be the constant fear of death and of losing one's possessions. It's through the Guru's Grace that one can hope to get relief from the fear of death. The Gurmukhs tell us that God is not to be reached by the fearful mind. Thus, unless one turns inward and seeks to know one's True Nature (Self-realization, fearlessness etc.), one cannot hope to link with God.

— T. Singh
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