The following views of Ramana Maharshi on death are extracted from the book Talks with Sri Ramana Maharshi, published by Sri Ramanasramam and available for free download here – https://www.holybooks.com/talks-sri-ramana-maharshi/
News of someone’s death was brought to Sri Bhagavan. He said, “Good. The dead are indeed happy. They have got rid of the troublesome overgrowth – the body. The dead man does not grieve. The survivors grieve for the man who is dead. Do men fear sleep? On the contrary, sleep is courted and on waking up every man says that he slept happily. One prepares the bed for sound sleep. Sleep is temporary death. Death is longer sleep. If the man dies while yet alive he need not grieve over others’ death. One’s existence is evident with or without the body, as in waking, dream, and sleep. Then why should one desire continuance of the bodily shackles? Let the man find out his undying Self and die and be immortal and happy.”
D.: Do not one’s actions affect the person in after-births?
M.: Are you born now? Why do you think of other births? The fact is that there is neither birth nor death. Let him who is born think of death and palliatives therefore.
A very devoted and simple disciple had lost his only son, a child of three years. The next day he arrived at the Asramam with his family.
The Master spoke with reference to them: “Training of mind helps one to bear sorrows and bereavements with courage. But the loss of one’s offspring is said to be the worst of all griefs. Grief exists only so long as one considers oneself to be of a definite form. If the form is transcended one will know that the one Self is eternal. There is no death nor birth. That which is born is only the body. The body is the creation of the ego. But the ego is not ordinarily perceived without the body. It is always identified with the body. It is the thought which matters. Let the sensible man consider if he knew his body in deep sleep. Why does he feel it in the waking state? But, although the body was not felt in sleep, did not the Self exist then? How was he in deep sleep? How is he when awake? What is the difference? Ego rises up and that is waking. Simultaneously thoughts arise. Let him find out to whom are the thoughts. Wherefrom do they arise? They must spring up from the conscious Self. Apprehending it even vaguely helps the extinction of the ego. Thereafter the realisation of the one Infinite Existence becomes possible. In that state there are no individuals other than the Eternal Existence. Hence there is no thought of death or wailing.
“If a man considers he is born he cannot avoid the fear of death. Let him find out if he has been born or if the Self has any birth. He will discover that the Self always exists, that the body which is born resolves itself into thought and that the emergence of thought is the root of all mischief. Find wherefrom thoughts emerge. Then you will abide in the ever-present inmost Self and be free from the idea of birth or the fear of death.”
A disciple asked how to do it.
M.: The thoughts are only vasanas (predispositions), accumulated in innumerable births before. Their annihilation is the aim. The state free from vasanas is the primal state and eternal state of purity.
D.: It is not clear yet.
M.: Everyone is aware of the eternal Self. He sees so many dying but still believes himself eternal. Because it is the Truth. Unwillingly the natural Truth asserts itself. The man is deluded by the intermingling of the conscious Self with the insentient body. This delusion must end.
D.: How will it end?
M.: That which is born must end. The delusion is only concomitant with the ego. It rises up and sinks. But the Reality never rises nor sinks. It remains Eternal. The master who has realised says so; the disciple hears, thinks over the words and realises the Self. There are two ways of putting it.
The ever-present Self needs no efforts to be realised, Realisation is already there. Illusion alone is to be removed. Some say the word from the mouth of the Master removes it instantaneously. Others say that meditation, etc., are necessary for realisation. Both are right; only the standpoints differ.
Mr. Varma, Financial Secretary of the Posts and Telegraphs Department, Delhi: He has read Paul Brunton’s Search in Secret India and The Secret Path. He lost his wife with whom he had led a happy life for eleven or twelve years. In his grief he seeks solace. He does not find solace in reading books: wants to tear them up. He does not intend to ask questions. He simply wants to sit here and derive what solace he can in the presence of Maharshi.
Maharshi, as if in a train of thoughts, spoke now and then to the following effect:
It is said, “The wife is one-half of the body”. So her death is very painful. This pain is however due to one’s outlook being physical; it disappears if the outlook is that of the Self. The Brahadaranyaka Upanishad says, “The wife is dear because of the love of the Self”. If the wife and others are identified with the Self, how then will pain arise? Nevertheless, such disasters shake the mind of philosophers also.
We are happy in deep sleep. We remain then as the pure Self. The same we are just now too. In such sleep, there was neither the wife nor others nor even ‘I’. Now they become apparent and give rise to pleasure or pain. Why should not the Self, which was blissful in deep sleep, continue its blissful nature even now? The sole obstruction to such continuity is the wrong identification of the Self with the body.
The Bhagavad Gita says: “The unreal hath no being; the real never ceaseth to be; the truth about both hath been perceived by the seers of the essence of things.” “The real is ever real, the unreal is ever unreal.” Again: “He is not born, nor doth he die; nor, having been, ceaseth he anymore to be; unborn, perpetual, eternal ancient, he is not slain when the body is slaughtered.” Accordingly, there is neither birth nor death. Waking is birth and sleep is death.
Was the wife with you when you went out to the office, or in your deep sleep? She was away from you. You were satisfied because of your thought that she was somewhere. Whereas now you think that she is not. The difference lies in the different thoughts. That is the cause of pain. The pain is because of the thought of the wife’s nonbeing. All this is the mischief of the mind. The fellow (i.e. the mind) creates pain for himself even when there is pleasure. But pleasure and pain are mental creations.
Again, why mourn the dead? They are free from bondage. Mourning is the chain forged by the mind to bind itself to the dead.
“What if anyone is dead? What if anyone is ruined? Be dead yourself – be ruined yourself”. In that sense there is no pain after one’s death. What is meant by this sort of death? Annihilation of the ego, though the body is alive. If the ego persists the man is afraid of death. The man mourns another’s death. He need not do so if he predeceases them (by waking up from the ego-dream, which amounts to killing the ego sense).
The experience of deep sleep clearly teaches that happiness consists in being without the body. The wise also confirm it, speaking of liberation after the body is given up. Thus the sage is awaiting the casting off of the body. Just as a labourer carrying a load on his head for the sake of wages bears the burden with no pleasure, carries it to the destination, and finally unburdens himself with relief and joy; so also the sage bears this body, awaiting the right and destined time to discard it. If now you are relieved of one half of the burden, i.e., the wife, should you not be thankful and be happy for it?
Nevertheless you cannot be so because of your physical outlook. Even men who ought to know better and who have known the teaching about liberation after death etc., glorify liberation along with the body and call it some mysterious power of keeping the body eternally alive!
There will be no pain if the physical outlook is given up and if the person exists as the Self. Mourning is not the index of true love. It betrays love of the object, of its shape only. That is not love. True love is shown by the certainty that the object of love is in the Self and that it can never become non-existent. (Maharshi cited the story of Ahalya and Indra from Yoga Vasishta in this connection.) Still it is true, pain on such occasions can only be assuaged by association with the wise.
Mr. B. C. Das, a Lecturer in Physics of Allahabad University, asked: “Does not intellect rise and fall with the man?”
M.: Whose is the intellect? It is man’s. Intellect is only an instrument.
D.: Yes. Does it survive man’s death?
M.: Why think of death? See what happens in your sleep. What is your experience there?
D.: But sleep is transient whereas death is not.
M.: Sleep is intermediate between two waking states, so also death is between two successive births. Both are transient.
D.: What happens to the man after death?
M.: Engage yourself in the living present. The future will take care of itself. Do not worry about the future. The state before creation and the process of creation are dealt with in the scriptures in order that you may know the present. Because you say you are born, therefore they say, yes, and add that God created you. But do you see God or anything else in your sleep? If God be real why does He not shine forth in your sleep also? You are always – now the same as you were in sleep. You are not different from that one in sleep. But why should there be difference in the feelings or experiences of the two states?
Did you ask, while asleep, the question regarding your birth? Or where do I go after death? Why think of all these now in the wakeful state? Let what is born think of its birth and the remedy, its cause and ultimate results.
What is birth? Is it of the ‘I-thought’ or of the body? Is ‘I’ separate from the body or identical with it? How did this ‘I-thought’ arise? Is the ‘I-thought’ your nature or is anything else of your nature?
D.: Who is to ask these questions?
M.: Exactly – that is it. There is no end to it all.
D.: Are we then to keep quiet?
M.: Doubts cease to afflict when the confusion (moha) is surpassed.
D.: Your statements amount to cessation of vichara – investigation.
M.: If atma-vichara (self-investigation), ceases, loka vichara (world investigation) takes its place. (Laughter in the hall).
Engage in Self-investigation, then the non-self will disappear. The Self will be left over. This is self-investigation of the Self. The one word Self is equivalent to the mind, body, man, individual, the Supreme and all else.
M.: Why should one think of birth and death? Are you really born? The rising of the mind is called birth. After mind the body-thought arises and the body is seen; then the thought of birth, the state before birth, death, the state after death – all these are only of the mind. Whose is the birth?
D.: Am I not now born?
M.: So long as the body is considered, birth is real. But the body is not ‘I’. The Self is not born nor does it die. There is nothing new. The Sages see everything in and of the Self. There is no diversity in it. Therefore there is neither birth nor death.
D.: If sleep be such a good state, why does not one like to be always in it?
M.: One is always only in sleep. The present waking state is no more than a dream. Dream can take place only in sleep. Sleep is underlying these three states. Manifestation of these three states is again a dream, which is in its turn another sleep. In this way these states of dream and sleep are endless.
Similar to these states, birth and death also are dreams in a sleep. Really speaking, there are no birth and death.
D.: I shall be more definite. Though a stranger, I am obliged to confess the cause of my anxiety. I am blessed with children. A boy – a good brahmachari – passed away in February. I was grief-stricken. I was disgusted with this life. I want to devote myself to spiritual life. But my duties as a grihini do not permit me to lead a retired life. Hence my doubt.
M.: Retirement means abidance in the Self. Nothing more. It is not leaving one set of surroundings and getting entangled in another set, nor even leaving the concrete world and becoming involved in a mental world. The birth of the son, his death, etc., are seen in the Self only.
Recall the state of sleep. Were you aware of anything happening? If the son or the world be real, should they not be present with you in sleep? You cannot deny your existence in sleep. Nor can you deny you were happy then. You are the same person now speaking and raising doubts. You are not happy, according to you. But you were happy in sleep. What has transpired in the meantime that happiness of sleep has broken down? It is the rise of ego. That is the new arrival in the jagrat state. There was no ego in sleep. The birth of the ego is called the birth of the person. There is no other kind of birth. Whatever is born is bound to die. Kill the ego: there is no fear of recurring death for what is once dead. The Self remains even after the death of the ego. That is Bliss – that is Immortality.
D.: How is that to be done?
M.: See for whom these doubts exist. Who is the doubter? Who is the thinker? That is the ego. Hold it. The other thoughts will die away. The ego is left pure; see where from the ego arises. That is pure consciousness.
She: The birth of a person, his being and death are real to us.
M.: Because you have wrongly identified your own self with the body, you think of the other one in terms of the body. Neither you are nor the other is the body.
She: But from my own level of understanding I consider myself and my son to be real.
M.: The birth of the ‘I-thought’ is one’s own birth, its death is the person’s death. After the ‘I-thought’ has arisen the wrong identity with the body arises. Thinking yourself the body, you give false values to others and identify them with bodies. Just as your body has been born, grows and will perish, so also you think the other was born, grew up and died. Did you think of your son before his birth? The thought came after his birth and persists even after his death. Inasmuch as you are thinking of him he is your son. Where has he gone? He has gone to the source from which he sprang. He is one with you. So long as you are, he is there too. If you cease to identify yourself with the body, but see the real Self, this confusion will vanish. You are eternal. The others also will similarly be found to be eternal. Until this truth is realized there will always be this grief due to false values arising from wrong knowledge and wrong identity.
She: Let me have true knowledge by Sri Bhagavan’s Grace.
M.: Get rid of the ‘I-thought’. So long as ‘I’ is alive, there is grief. When ‘I’ ceases to exist, there is no grief. Consider the state of sleep!
She: Yes. But when I take to the ‘I-thought’, other thoughts arise and disturb me.
M.: See whose thoughts they are. They will vanish. They have their root in the single ‘I-thought’. Hold to it and they will disappear.
D.: How long does it take a man to be reborn after death? Is it immediately after death or some time after?
M.: You do not know what you were before birth, yet you want to know what you will be after death. Do you know what you are now? Birth and rebirth pertain to the body. You are identifying the Self with the body. It is a wrong identification. You believe that the body has been born and will die, and confound the phenomena relating to the one with the other. Know your real being and these questions will not arise.
Birth and rebirth are mentioned only to make you investigate the question and find out that there are neither births nor rebirths. They relate to the body and not to the Self. Know the Self and be not perturbed by doubts.
Why fear death? Death cannot mean non-being. Why do you love sleep, but not death? Do you not think now? Are you not existing now? Did you not exist in your sleep? Even a child says that it slept well and happily. It admits its existence in sleep, unconsciously though. So, consciousness is our true nature. We cannot remain unconscious. We however say that we were unconscious in our sleep because we refer to qualified consciousness. The world, the body, etc., are so embedded in us that this relative consciousness is taken to be the Self. Does anyone say in his sleep that he is unconscious? He says so now. This is the state of relative consciousness. Therefore he speaks of relative consciousness and not of abstract consciousness. The consciousness is beyond relative consciousness or unconsciousness.
D.: Are their bodies temporary as our bodies are? Do they reincarnate?
M.: These questions arise because you think yourself the body. This body has birth and death and when this body falls another body arises which is called reincarnation. But are you the body? If you find that you are not this body but the spirit, you will be free from gross or subtle bodies, and then there will be no limitations. Where is the world, physical or spiritual, in the absence of any limitations? How will the question of reincarnation arise?
Again, consider it from another point of view: You create a dream-body for yourself in the dream and act with that dream-body. The same is falsified in the waking state. At present you think that you are this body and not the dream-body. In your dream this body is falsified by the dream-body. So that, you see, neither of these bodies is real. Because each of them is true for a time and false at other times. That which is real must be real for ever. But you say ‘I’. This ‘I’-consciousness is present all through the three states. There is no change in it. That is alone real. The three states are false. They are only for the mind. It is the mind which obstructs your vision of your true nature. Your true nature is that of infinite spirit. That was the case in your sleep. You note the limitations in the other two states.
What is the difference due to? There was no mind in sleep, but it exists in the dream and the waking states. The feeling of limitation is the work of the mind. What is mind? Find it. If you search for it, it will vanish by itself. For it has no real existence. It is comprised of thoughts. It disappears with the cessation of thoughts.
D.: Do I remain then?
M.: What is your experience in sleep? There were no thoughts, no mind, and yet you remained then.
D.: Fear is consequent on the possibility of non-existence. It pertains to the body. One is not aware of the body in sleep. One is not afraid of, but courts sleep, whereas one dreads death. Why is this difference between the two outlooks?
M.: Desire of sleep or fear of death are when the mind is active and not in the respective states themselves. The mind knows that the body entity persists and reappears after sleep. Therefore sleep is not attended with fear but the pleasure of non-bodily existence is sought. Whereas the mind is not sure of reappearance after the so-called death and dreads it.
D.: What I mean is this. You are a Perfect Being; I am a sinner. You tell me that I being a sinner must be reborn in order to perfect myself?
M.: No, I do not say so. On the other hand I say that you have no birth and therefore no death.
D.: Do you mean to say that I was not born?
M.: Yes, you are now thinking that you are the body and therefore confuse yourself with its birth and death. But you are not the body and you have no birth and death.
D.: Do you not uphold the theory of rebirth?
M.: No. On the other hand, I want to remove your confusion that you will be reborn. It is you who think that you will be reborn. See for whom this question arises. Unless the questioner is found, the questions can never be set at rest.
D.: This is no answer to my question.
M.: On the other hand, this is the answer to elucidate the point and all other doubts as well.