What is Death?
Undoubtedly one of the greatest discoveries of the twentieth century was the double helix structure of DNA – the so-called building block of life. The beauty and elegance of two single strands of DNA spiralling around one another provides a wonderful symbol of life processes, not just of the construction of biological forms but the evolution of the indwelling consciousness too. For if we add the forward thrust of evolution to the rhythm of nature’s cycles, the circle of life is transformed into an ever-revolving spiral through which consciousness expresses itself.
Taking this symbol a step further, if the two spiralling strands are seen as intertwining spirit and matter, consciousness could be viewed as the product of their evolving interaction. Here we have a fresh perspective on the noble middle path as taught by the Buddha, the challenge being to tread equidistant between these pairs of opposites – the two great lines of force – as they express themselves at any level, balancing and relating them to one another in harmonious expression. As with the Buddha, the Christ and other great spiritual luminaries, so does each unit of consciousness evolve through this great spiral process – the sum-total of planetary manifestation slowly moving forward on a journey of spiritual redemption.
This all-embracing evolution requires the constant shedding of forms and the acquisition of fresh ones, as new combinations of matter and spirit provide more refined vehicles to express the unfolding consciousness. As the potential in one form is exhausted and no longer adequate, so is it cast off and a more suitable one acquired. This is the fundamental principle behind the process of death and rebirth at all levels throughout nature. Exactly where this spiral leads or ends no-one truly knows; all that can be said is that the next step is always just on ahead, slowly coming into view as we are propelled forward by the power of life itself.
Unfortunately, secular society has increasingly insulated itself from the cyclic process of life and death that characterises our ascent of the spiral. Ever in search of new sensations, our unrestrained following of materialism has resulted in too strong an identification with our coat of skin; we’ve become enmeshed in its senses and consequently lost touch with our inner nature. The senses are meant to inform, not to imprison, and only by disentangling ourselves from them and internalising our line of enquiry, can we hope to regain any true understanding of the nature of death. We have to awaken the inner, esoteric senses and follow their lead in order to touch the eternal core of our being that stands unmoved and serene throughout the long cycles of life, death and rebirth. Then we can know first-hand entrance into greater life – the beautiful secret that the death process veils.
It is only by understanding the afterlife as an extension of this life that death can be understood as simply a transition – a re-location of consciousness from one area of the divine spiral to another. In this sense death is simply the release from limitation, of which we have a partial experience every night during the hours of sleep. As G Purucker put it “[D]eath and sleep are fundamentally the same, not different except in degree; . . . sleep is an imperfect death and death is a perfect sleep. This is the main key to all the teachings on death…Death is not the opposite of Life, but actually is one of the modes of living – a modification of consciousness, a change from one phase of living to others in subservience to karmic destiny…. [O]ur bodies are in a state of constant change, their atoms are in a continuous process of renewal . . . Even while embodied we are living in the midst of innumerable tiny deaths.” 1
In summing up the nature of death, Alice Bailey gives us a very deep and powerful thought: Death is really deterioration in time and space and is due to the tendency of spirit-matter to isolate itself, whilst in manifestation. This statement reflects the whole process of the journey of Life – ‘involving’ into form and an ever more individualistic, separate state of consciousness, and then ‘evolving’ back to unity carrying the fruits of our experience with us as enrichment and added quality. When we recognise this cycle we can, with deliberation, align ourselves within the evolutionary tide, and overcome this isolating tendency of spirit-matter. By focusing on the soul, the relating point of consciousness midway between the two, our expanded vision reveals the great truth of the Ageless Wisdom teachings that spirit-soul-matter are a Trinity synthesised by Life, which pervades them all. Death is then understood as part of the life process, the great force of liberation that refocuses consciousness at steadily higher points of the spiral between the poles of spirit and matter.
The fear and horror of death can then disappear as the guiding spiritual consciousness, the soul, becomes a known reality in our awareness. For fear is the result of identification with the temporal nature of form – our own form which gives rise to the sense of personality, the forms and personalities of those we love, and the familiar forms of our surroundings and environment. Yet the soul’s type of love runs counter to this attachment, and the hope of the future and our release from past limitations, lies in this shifting of emphasis to the soul’s transcendence. As we work towards that time when the incarnated aspect of the soul can live consciously, constructively and divinely within evolving material vehicles, the sorrow, loneliness, and sense of loss at death will steadily fade. We will then regard the form as simply a temporary facet of divine opportunity, the personality a temporary mask of the soul, and we will know a new and more joyful approach to the great experience that we call death. Death will be understood as part of the spiritual journey – the soul repeatedly casting down to earth a fragment of itself to learn, to serve, and to enrich its experience and then, through death, absorbing the fruits of its endeavours to further progress into the spiralling mystery of life.
1. Fountain-Source of Occultism, G. de Purucker, TUP, 1974
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