SOME MYSTICAL TEACHINGS ABOUT DEATH
Death fascinates the living. We want to know as much about it as we can. We do not want to believe that death is the end, so we explore wisdom teachings that are thousands of years old to find a clue. Almost all traditions suggest that death is not an end but a transition. It is intriguing that the world wisdom teachings agree on this point. Despite a wide variety of interpretations of what happens, how it happens, or where it happens, the end result is that death is a gateway to other realities. We do not know what part of us death takes, or even if we should identify with what is taken. We cannot say that there is something to "look forward to." Yet, mystical traditions throughout the history of humankind have said that reality as we experience it is nothing but a drop in an ocean of possibilities.
In the Talmud, Rabbi Jacob said, "This world is like an antechamber before the world to come. Prepare yourself in this antechamber so that you may enter the banquet hall."10
The question that arises is, how does Rabbi Jacob know about the world to come? Where do the Buddhists get their information about the bardos, or the Hindus about the astral worlds? How do Native Americans know about the power of Medicine, or Aboriginal tribes about spirit gods? Why did the ancient Egyptians dedicate so much of their lives to death?
Is this a cross-cultural, international conspiracy that has been perpetrated on the consciousness of humankind to deceive us into thinking that we are not living useless lives? Is it that we want so much to believe in such ideas that we will grab at any straw placed before us? Perhaps.
Or perhaps there is a universal message built into our genetic code that initiates a particular tape loop when human consciousness enters certain levels. People who have experienced this level say that there is an ocean of mystical fragrance. It has a scent to it, a special aroma that alerts the soul.
The whisper of a mystical experience is quickly recognized. The language is soft, yielding, inclusive and saturated with love. This is what mystics say:
"At once my physical body lost its grossness and became metamorphosed into astral texture. I felt a floating sensation...I gazed at my arms and moved them back and forth, yet could not feel their weight. Ecstatic joy overwhelmed me...My realization deepened that the essence of all objects is light."10
"I was...indissolubly one with all nature. Deep in the soul, below pain, below all distraction in life, in a silence vast and grand, an infinite ocean of calm which nothing can disturb."10
"I stood enraptured in ecstasy, beside myself, and my every sense was endowed with understanding."10
"What talk is this? How could the lover ever die? That would be truly absurd--to die in the water of life!"10
"Strong trembling seized me and I could not summon strength; my hair stood on end...and behold, something resembling speech emerged from my heart and came to my lips... I said: 'This is indeed the spirit of wisdom.'"10
As a well known teacher was about to die, he sat in a lotus position and called out to those around him: "Don't be misled! Look directly [at what is about to happen]. What is this?" He repeated this so that they would pay close attention, and then he calmly died.11
Do we need to say whether these ecstatic quotes comes from a Muslim, Christian, Hindu or Jew? In fact, mystics in all of these traditions are represented above, but what difference does it make? The commonality of the experience is the point; deathless reality is a vital experience in all traditions.
NEAR DEATH EXPERIENCES
The Zohar tells of Rabbi Jesse going to visit a poor neighbor who was ill. While the rabbi was sitting by the man's bedside, he heard a [heavenly] voice, which said: "Wheel, wheel [of destiny], a soul is come to me before its ordained time. Woe to those neighbors in his town who have not done anything to help him."11
Rabbi Jesse realized that this voice from heaven was warning that the town would pay a great price if his neighbor died without anyone caring. He quickly got a special herb, a mystical potion, for he knew that he had to intercede in the man's fate. The herb made the man sweat so much he miraculously recovered from his illness.11
Later the recuperated man said to his rescuer, "Rabbi! My soul had actually left my body and I was brought before the throne of the King. I would have remained there forever, but God wanted you to have the merit of restoring me."11
Today, modern medicine has its own magic potions, bringing people back from the gates of death more than ever before in history. Thousands have returned from the twilight zone of other realities to report their visions. They speak in the language of mystics, with awe, transformation, and filled with love.
For many years, researchers studying death have recorded out-of-body and near death experiences. Many are unique, but the parallels are quite remarkable. Bright lights are frequently seen, a feeling of comfort and surrender is often noticed, dead relatives appear to the person undergoing the experience and often there is a feeling of enormous relief that the burdens of life finally have been lifted.
It is important to clarify, however, that experiences of dying are not always wonderful. Indeed, many are exceedingly difficult. Some people die with considerable physical pain and suffering, as well as an extraordinary amount of emotional distress and anguish. Despite mystical reports of the wondrous things to come when we reach the other side, we still have to get through the process of dying.
The Talmud says that there are 903 types of death, from the easiest, described as a kiss, to the most difficult, which resembles pulling a thorn backwards out of wool.11
As may well be imagined, the Jewish sages had many discussions of death. The words dead, death, or dying are mentioned over five thousand times in the Talmud.