What Happens When We Die? What is Life?

Exploring the Phenomena of Life and Death

Bahram R. Shahmardaan, PhD


To answer the question, "What happens when we die?" you have to first examine who you are. So let us explore who or what you are.

1. Are you the air that flows through your body? The answer is no. You are not the air.

2. Are you the water that flows through your body? Again the answer is no.

3. Are you the food that flows through your body and nourishes it? No, you are not the food.

4. Are you the heat that keeps your body warm? No, you are not the heat.

5. Are you the space that your body occupies? Negative. You are not the space.

So if you are none of the material things that together make up your body and sustain it, we can safely conclude that you are not your body.

Now let us examine if you are your mind.

1. Are you the thoughts that flow through your mind? No you are not the thoughts? Why? Because the thoughts pass on but you still remain.

2. Are you the opinion you have of yourself or the collective opinions others have of you? Again the answer is that you are nobody’s opinion because opinions are nothing more than ideas (thoughts) you or others have about you.

3. Are you the mind through which the thoughts flow? No. You are not your mind. Why? Because even when your mind does not function, as it does not when you are anesthetized by Doctors prior to an operation, you still exist.

4. Are you the consciousness that energizes the mind and enables it to function and thus experiences whatever is going on within the mind? Again the answer is negative. Why? Because even when you lose consciousness, you continue to exist.

So if you are not your body, mind and consciousness then what are you?

What you are is a Spiritual Being within which consciousness arises spontaneously. What is the proof of that? You can verify that from your own experience. When you are unconscious as in deep sleep or under the influence of anesthesia, you still exist. From the unconscious state, under the right conditions you spontaneously awaken. So even when consciousness leaves your mind, you still remain.

Now let us examine Consciousness. Can Consciousness be destroyed? Does Consciousness die? The answer is No. A simple analogy will drive home the point.

Space is supposed to be empty nothingness. Yet it contains the entire physical Universe. Actually Space is neither empty nor nothing. It appears to us as an empty void because the matter that fills Space is beyond our ability to perceive. Space makes possible the existence of the Universe. Now let us say that you had a cup of coffee in your hand and you dropped the cup and it broke and the coffee splashed all over the floor. Although the cup broke and the coffee spilled, did the space occupied by the cup and coffee get damaged in anyway? Of course not. When the World Trade Center got destroyed, did anything happen to the Space that they occupied. Of course not. In the same space a new World Trade Center is being built. Similarly, if the entire Milky Way Galaxy were to be destroyed, nothing will happen to the space it occupies.

Like Space, Consciousness itself cannot be perceived but without consciousness you cannot be aware of anything. Consciousness enables you to create your mind and create the Universe you experience. Now if Consciousness itself cannot be perceived or destroyed you can imagine how imperceptible and indestructible the Source of Consciousness is. The Source of your Consciousness is the Spiritual Being that you are. So what you are is a Spiritual Being that is Conscious.

The reason your human mind is unaware of the Spiritual Being that you are is that while you are going through this human experience, your consciousness at the human wakeful plane of consciousness identifies with the mind and body through which you are functioning on the Earth Plane.

So what happens at death? Do you die? Of course not. As we examined above, the Conscious Being that you are can never die. The physical body dies when the Spiritual Being that you are decides that you have no further use of your body and mind. Just like you discard an old garment or give away a new garment, when the Spiritual Being that is functioning through the body and mind you identify with decides that it no longer needs the mind and body it occupies, whether young or old, it sheds them. The process of shedding the body is not important. It can be an accident, illness, old age or any other cause. The cause of death is usually determined by individual Karmic cycles though rarely it can be due to higher laws that control and affect larger universal events such as a power earthquake or the Tsunami of 2004 that swept across Indonesia and South East Asia.

To try and understand whether a particular action is the start or the end of a Karmic cycle is futile. It is like trying to figure out which came first: The chicken or the egg? No one that I know can tell you that and even if someone can, they will not do so. Why? Because such information does not help in anyway to deal with the situation at hand. What is necessary is to break the Karmic cycle and thus break the chain that binds us to cycles of birth life and death.

After the spiritual Being commonly referred to as the soul sheds the body, it focuses on the plane of consciousness where other souls at the same level of awareness reside. This is but natural. Even when we are having a human experience on Earth, we congregate with like minded people. The same is true when we shed the body. All departed souls do not rise to the same plane of consciousness. This is reflected in the statement made by Jesus Christ when He said words to the effect, “In My Father’s Kingdom there are many mansions”.

Having shed the physical body, the soul is free to move about and can do many more things than it did when on earth because it is no longer limited by the constraints of the physical body and mind. In those planes of consciousness, the individual Being continues to indulge in activities that it is conscious of and attached to. Unless an individual soul has liberated itself from its earth bound desires, it remains in what is called purgatory till such time as it can find a suitable body of the right vibration through which it can be born again to experience its unfulfilled desires of the earth plane and hopefully liberate itself by emptying itself of all desires. Unfortunately when most of us are born again, in the process of fulfilling and/or emptying out our past desires, we create new desires. If, by the time we shed the body, we remain attached to any of these new desires we will once again remain bound to the earth plane of consciousness and will have to repeat the cycle of birth, life and death till such time as we have eliminated all earthly desires. You can never fulfill all your desires. In the very process of fulfilling current desires, you will end up creating new desires. To emphasize this point, the Lord Krishna said words to the effect:

"To try to eliminate desires by indulging in them is like trying to extinguish a fire by adding fuel to it."

After He realized Nirvana, the Lord Buddha was moved to declare words to the effect:

How many births have I known without knowing the builder of this body! 
How many births have I looked for him? It is painful to be born again and again. But now I have seen you, O' builder of this body! All desire is extinct, Nirvana is attained! The rafters have crumbled, the ridgepole is smashed! You will not build them again.

It took me about 23 years from the time I first read the above verse to finally realize what Buddha was referring to when He uttered these words. Who is the builder of the body? And what is it that causes it to build the body?

The builder of the body is none other than the individual human mind that is self-conscious and is oblivious of the Spiritual Being i.e. your soul that is striving to function through it. The soul has a mind of its own which is distinct from the human mind functioning through the body. The soul consciously selects the type of body it needs to be born into so as to empty out the unfulfilled desires of the earth plane to which it remained attached in a previous incarnation. What enables the Conscious mind to build the body is the principle of attachment which binds it to the unfulfilled desires. It is this conscious attachment to unfulfilled desires which causes the soul to remain bound to the cycles of birth life and death till such time it realizes the folly of pursuing its physical desires and begins its spiritual journey towards its Source just like the droplets of water in a river flow towards the ocean which is their source.

The Spiritual Being functions through Consciousness. Mind is the instrument through which Consciousness operates. So the Being uses Consciousness to create the different Minds it needs to function at the various planes and levels of consciousness at which it operates. It is the human mind that identifies with the ego that becomes attached to various desires. So the human mind is the instrument that binds us to the earth plane. The human mind is also the instrument that can liberate us from the earth plane provided we can discipline it to serve us rather than allow ourselves to be tricked by the human mind into identifying with it and end up being enslaved by it.

It is noteworthy that after achieving Nirvana when referring to the Builder of the body, Buddha stated words to the effect: 
"But now I have seen you, O' builder of this body! All desire is extinct, Nirvana is attained! The rafters have crumbled, the ridgepole is smashed! You will not build them again."

From the above discussion we can see that we who are conscious Spiritual Beings do not die. When we no longer need the physical body, we just shed it. But because most people identify with their human body and mind, they experience death when the body dies. That is not the reality of the event. Death is really a liberating experience for everyone. The human experience is very limiting. When the body is shed, the Spiritual Being that you are is much freer to do what it wants in Creation which includes the Physical Universe and beyond. The death experience of those who have unfulfilled desires is different from the death experience of Souls that do not have any desires because they have emptied them out. These are the people who are referred to as having been born again or as Christians like to say, “Born Again in Christ”. They are among the few individuals who have consciously realized their Spiritual Beings while alive and experience true liberation that is promised to all. Of course even in their case, the physical body goes through the process of shedding the body commonly called death but because the Consciousness that functioned through the body is focused on the Spiritual Being that lived through the body, at the time of the so called death experience, the Consciousness or Soul that was associated with the body experiences not the pangs of death but the joy of liberation. To help facilitate the experience of liberation it is the practice in many religions to summon a priest to the deathbed in the hopes that the presence of a Priest will help the dying individual to focus the mind on the Divine. The belief is that if the mind of the dying individual is focused on the Divine, they will be liberated. This is also the basis of the injunction given by Jesus Christ when He said words to the effect, "Love the Lord thy God with all thy might, all thy mind and all thy soul…" When you love God with all you are capable of, then it follows that at the time of death you will naturally be conscious of God.

So far we have discussed who we are and what happens when we die. But what does it mean to live? What comprises living and how can we conduct ourselves so that we are not enslaved by our mind and body?

To understand life, we have to first understand what happens at birth! When someone is born, what gets born? Does a physical body take birth? No! A body emerges even during a stillbirth but we do not say a child is born. Why? Because there is no consciousness Being linked with and functioning through a body that is stillborn.

So something else takes birth along with the body. That something else is the individual conscious Being commonly referred to as the Soul. The purpose of this short paper is not to explain how or why an individual conscious Being gets separated from the Universal Being and Consciousness commonly called God. When a soul i.e. conscious Being that has emerged from the Universal Being and Consciousness takes birth, why is it that it is not aware of itself and its Source? As explained above, the reason why the consciousness that is functioning through the human body and mind is not aware of its Source has to do with the nature of the human mind. How the human mind tricks us into identifying with itself has been fully explained in the "Value of Opinions" which is the third chapter of my book, The Journey of Life Eternal: From the Source Unto the Source”.

You will experience whatever it is that you are conscious of. And you will be conscious of whatever it is that you are attached to. Look within yourself and see what it is that you are attached to. The human mind is unsteady, insecure, and full of fear, and tricks us into identifying with itself and the human body. Being insecure, the human mind is self conscious and makes us focus on itself and its needs. It seeks to escape responsibility and the reality we face by constantly jumping from one thought to another and between the past and the future. It avoids focusing on the present and especially the moment.

Buddha used to refer to the human mind as the monkey mind and also called it treacherous. Dr. Dinshah K. Mehta used to describe it as "This wretched, miserable, stupid human mind which is less than a pinpoint in the Universal Mind and yet obstructs the flow of the Universal Mind and holds it a prisoner."

To understand what it means to live, we need to define life.

In 1967 Dr. Dinshah K. Mehta gave a Spiritual Discourse in which he defined Life as follows:

"From the Source unto the Source in keeping with the Principles emanating from the Source is the journey of life eternal. All else is lifeless existence in life eternal."

What is meant by the "Journey of Life Eternal" in the above definition has been fully explained in the chapter titled "The Journey" which is the fifth chapter of my book, The Journey of Life Eternal: From the Source Unto the Source.

You can eliminate desires. Desire which Buddha discovered is the only cause of human suffering. The Principles that will enable you to empty your desires are also shared in the above book. It is well worth the time and effort to learn these Principles and live by them. These Principles will enable whoever lives by them to take charge of their mind and body and realize the goal of life which is none other than to realize their own individual Spiritual consciousness commonly called the soul and then to become one with the Universal Consciousness, commonly called God, and thus fulfill the purpose of being.

In the final analysis, there is no death. There is only life. Life before birth, life during birth and life after life on Earth ends. The word "death" is a misnomer because death is not supported in any way and we do not die. We merely shed the body, which is the vehicle we use to travel through space and time on the physical plane of matter. After we discard the body, Earth then recycles the matter that comprises the body to support other biological life forms. Thus matter becomes available to be reorganized to support other conscious Beings and consciousness moves on from one form to another; and from one state to another, and the phenomenon of seeming death is the door that provides the Universal Consciousness the means to change the dimension of its experience.

Bahram R. Shahmardaan