Why Death Rituals are Significant
Death rituals are not just for psychological solace, but come from a deep understanding of how the human system functions. Here, Sadhguru explains the important role of death rituals for both the living and the dead.
The Idea Behind Death RitualsSadhguru: This body is an accumulation. It is a piece of Earth that we have slowly picked up. Whatever we have picked up in body, we have to drop back atom by atom. When it comes to the mind, the discretionary intellect also gets dropped with the process of death. This whole information that is gathered – the subtler body and the subtler mind and the information that is referred to as karma, the software – is still intact, but the discretion is gone.
Let us say today you read that the stocks are down and you lost so much money. But you have enough discretion to think, "Okay, it's alright I've lost that, but I still have this. Let me be happy today,” and you can involve yourself in something and be happy.
If you lose this discretion, that is when you go into a compulsively depressed state. Now you will go by your tendencies, whatever kind of quality you have gathered. So when you lose your body, you also lose your discretionary intellect; after that you function just by your tendencies, whichever way they push you, depending upon the type of software you have.
Since there is no more discretion or discernment, if you put one drop of pleasantness into the mind of one who has left the body, this pleasantness will multiply a million fold. If you put one drop of unpleasantness, that unpleasantness will multiply a million fold. It is a little like with children – they go out to play until they are exhausted and cannot go on anymore, because they do not have the necessary discernment as to when it is time to stop.
After death, discernment is completely absent, even more than in a child. Then, whatever quality you put into the mind, it will multiply a million fold. This is what is being referred to as heaven and hell. If you go into a pleasant state of existence, it is called heaven. If you go into an unpleasant state of existence, it is called hell. These are not geographical locations but experiential realities that a life which has become disembodied is going through.
There are many rituals to see that you can somehow put a drop of sweetness into such a non-discerning mind so that this sweetness will multiply many fold and they will live comfortably in a kind of self-induced heaven. That is the idea behind death rituals.
Taking Care of the Dead
There are certain rituals through which it is possible to influence the course of that life, at least to some extent. It is from this basis that all these death rituals came. One of the first things people traditionally do if someone dies is tie the big toes of the dead body together. This is very important because it will tighten up the muladhara in such a way that the body cannot be invaded by that life once again. A life that has not lived with the awareness that “this body is not me” will try to enter through any orifice of the body, particularly through the muladhara. The muladhara is where life generates, and it is always the last point of warmth when the body is cooling down.
The reason why traditionally, we always said that if someone dies, you must burn the body within a certain time frame, because life tries to get back. This is also important for the living. If someone very dear to you died, your mind may start playing tricks, thinking that maybe a miracle will happen, maybe God will come and bring them back. It has never happened to anyone, but still the mind plays up because of the emotions that you have for that particular person. Similarly, the life that has exited the body also believes that it can still get back into the body.
The Science Behind Cremation
If you want to stop the drama, the first thing is to set fire to the body within one and a half hours. Or to be sure the person is dead, they have stretched it to four hours. But the body should be taken away as quickly as possible. In agricultural communities, they used to bury, because they wanted their forefathers’ bodies, which are a piece of soil, to go back to the soil that had nourished them. Today, you buy your food from the store, and do not know where it comes from. Therefore, burial is not advisable anymore. In earlier times, when they buried in their own land, they always put salt and turmeric on the dead body so that it quickly dissipates into the soil.
Cremation is also good because it closes the chapter. You will see that when there is a death in the family, people will be crying and wailing, but the moment cremation happens, they will become quiet, because suddenly, the truth has sunk in that it is over. This goes not only for the living but also for the disembodied being who has just exited the body. As long as the body is there, he or she is also under the illusion that they can get back.
The Importance of Death Rituals (Excerpted from Death – An Inside Story)
Death rituals are not just to assist the dead person in his or her journey, they are also for the benefit of those who are left behind, because if this person who dies leaves a lot of unsettled life around us, our lives will not be good. It is not that ghosts will come and catch you. But it will influence the atmosphere. It will influence those around, psychologically. It will also influence the quality of life around. This is the reason every culture in the world has its own type of rituals for the dead. Generally, a lot of it is to settle certain psychological factors of the near and dear ones. In some way, they did have a certain relevance and science behind them too. But, probably, no other culture has such elaborate methods as the Indians do. No one has looked at death with the kind of understanding and depth that this culture has. Right from the moment that death occurs, or even before it occurs, there are whole systems to help a person die in the most beneficial way. Having looked at life from every possible angle, they want to extract the most out of everything towards Liberation or mukti. If death is going to occur, they want to make use of even that to attain mukti, in some way. So they created powerful rituals for the dying and for the dead. Today, these rituals have become even more important because almost everyone on the planet is beginning to die in unawareness, without the necessary understanding of the life mechanism within themselves. In the olden days, most people died of infections and diseases. So people created a whole science to help them beyond their body. When they were in the body, maybe people around could not figure out what the ailment was or the person did not get the necessary treatment or something else happened and they died. So at least after his or her death, they wanted to help them in such a way that they did not hang around for too long and dissolved quickly. This is how the whole science behind these rituals evolved. Unfortunately, today, it has mostly become a meaningless ritual being done without the needed understanding or expertise.
When we do not take care of the dead properly, the adolescent children in that society will suffer immensely because of this. The first thing these disembodied beings go towards is adolescent life because that is the easiest and the most vulnerable human life around. Adolescence is like a human version of molting, where growth is very rapid, not only physiologically but in every other way. Because of this, during this period, life is very susceptible to influence. If there is any positive or negative energy around, adolescents are the first people to absorb it.
Among adolescents, girls are even more susceptible to these things than boys are. But pre-adolescent children— up to eight to ten years of age—are generally immune to these things. Nature has given them that protection, so you don’t have to protect them much. It is mostly children between ten to twenty years of age who can get affected. When I say affected, I am not referring to their hormonal stuff or them losing their way with drink and drugs. That can also happen, but there are other kinds of influences that they can come under. Today, you can see how much upheaval children are going through just to face adolescence. In the previous generations, adolescence was never such a struggle. One reason for this is that we are not taking care of those who have departed in an appropriate manner. It is like loose software hanging around and adolescent life naturally tangles with that. So either because of conscious knowing or by instinct, people in every culture in some way tried to create protective atmospheres for the adolescents.