By David Frawley (Vamadeva Shastri)
The greatest fear that all living beings have is the fear of death. The fear of death casts a shadow over all that we do and undermines all our peace and happiness. But what is death and who is it that dies?
Actually death is the greatest of all illusions. The fear of death is the root of all ignorance. The shadow of death is not a curse but a misunderstanding of the real nature of existence. Our true being never dies. Death is only the end of one body or another, but not of the being who is embodied.
Vedanta boldly teaches us that no one dies. No one has ever died and no one will ever die. That is to say, your real being, your true Self, soul or essence never dies. In your inner being, you are not subject to birth and death, time and space, coming or going. You are eternal, immutable, pure existence, awareness and bliss. It is only the body that dies, not you as the embodied soul. You are not a material object that is subject to the disintegrating influence of time. You are a spiritual being, a conscious subject that is the witness of all time, space and action.
The Bhagavad Gita states right at its start, “Of that which exists there is no non-being. Of that which does not exist, there is not being.” This is perhaps the greatest statement of spiritual knowledge ever given. Krishna tells Arjuna that the true Self never dies. The embodied soul does not die. Only the body dies, which for the soul, is like casting off one set of clothes for another. You do not weep and think that all is lost if your shirt is irreparably torn. Yet for the soul, our inner being, the physical body is but a vesture that it wears for a time. If that vesture gets worn out or irreparably damaged, the soul must get another one. There is not cause for lasting remorse.
You have always existed and you will always exist. Your body, mind or the world in which you take birth may change, but your inner essence will endure forever. This proclamation of deathlessness is the greatest message of freedom possible for human beings. You do not die. Death cannot touch you. You can freely cast away all the anxiety about death. You are the deathless Self. Nor need you worry about the death of another. No one dies. Our true being stands above all such temporal and material limitations. Even outer sufferings of body and mind are transient, however painful they may feel for a time. We can always take refuge in our inner witness, the deathless Self at the core of our being, which is not affected by these.
To think that one will die is a great misunderstanding of who we really are. You are not the body or the mind. The body has birth and death. The mind has its fluctuations. But these do not relate to your real essence. They are only part of your outer manifestation. You are the being who uses the body and mind as instruments but itself is not affected by them. The body is like the car you drive, we might say. The mind is like your computer. But you are the operator of these instruments. When they break down, you do not suffer any loss of your own being or yourself come to an end.
Our inner being, the Supreme Self or Paramatman, has absolute immortality, absolute existence. Our inner being is changeless, immutable, homogenous, and pure. It can never be stained, harmed, limited or disturbed. It is the detached eternal witness of all events in the universe. It was there when the Sun first shone, when the first creatures arose on the Earth, and when the first human being looked out upon the sky. It has witnessed the beginning and end of entire universes, not to mention innumerable worlds and creatures.
Even our soul, the reincarnating entity within us, has relative immortality. It moves from body to body, birth to birth, but itself never dies. As the Supreme Self you have absolute immortality, as an individual soul you have relative immortality. Death cannot take you away in either case; it can only take you on to another level of existence. Learn to access your immortality so that your life partakes of eternity.
Why is it that we do not know our deathless Self and live in its freedom and happiness? It is because we wrongly identify our inner being with our outer body and mind. This is a mistake of judgment, a wrong perception. We see the body as the Self when it is but a vehicle for the Self. Once this misidentification is removed, there can be no more sorrow. It is like a child thinking that its toys are real and crying when they break or get lost.
Being never dies. Existence never comes to an end. And that eternal and timeless being is your being. You are not limited to this body or this particular incarnation. Your being is everywhere in the universe, in all creatures and beyond. It is beyond all fear. Death cannot reach it. Suffering cannot shake it. Rest in that deathless Self. It is your Divine right.
Take refuge in your inner being beyond the body and mind and witness their play as a Divine sport. Observe the world and all its changes from the central point of your eternal essence. And you will find beauty and wonder at every moment.