During a conversation with Prasoon Joshi on Unraveling Death, Sadhguru answers a question on the importance of performing death rituals, or shradh. He explains the process in which the physical life energy, or prana, gradually leaves the body and how the actions of the living can impact the experience of the being.
Questioner: Sadhguru Namaskar. I just wanted to know what is the importance of doing shradh (Last rites).
Sadhguru: In the manifestation of life, the physical life there is – let me separate this. There is life and physical life for the sake of understanding. The physical life has manifested itself. The physical life energy which generally is referred to as pran or prana has five basic manifestations - there are ten but that’ll complicate – the five basic manifestations. These are called samana, prana, udana, apana and vyana. Within… After… When a person is declared… Let’s say if a doctor is observing and they declared that person at a particular moment that he is dead now, in the next twenty-one to twenty-four minutes samana will start exiting. That means samana is in charge of maintaining temperature in the body. First thing that’s happen… starts happening is body starts cooling down. Somewhere between forty-eight to sixty-four minutes prana exits. After that between six to twelve hours udana exists… exits. Till udana exits there are tantric processes with which we could revive the body, but once udana exits there is a… a micro, micro chance but that is an impractical chance except that it is impossible to revive the body once udana has existed, I mean exited. The next thing is apana – somewhere between eight to eighteen hours this exits. The vyana which is the preservative nature of prana will start exiting from beyond that - it can continue to exit up to eleven to fourteen days if it's a normal death. That is, somebody died of old age, with the feebleness of life they exited. For such a person between eleven to fourteen days certain processes will be happening in the body to show that there is some element of life like nails growing, hair… facial hair these kind of things can be noticed. If someone has died accidentally, or in other words, the life was vibrant and he died – not necessarily totally crushed kind of body – still the body is intact – that body, the reverberations of this life will continue somewhere between forty-eight to ninety days.
So till that time there are things you can do for that life. What is the thing that you can do for that life? See, what has happened with death is your exp… your experience of death is that somebody is gone but the experience of that person is he’s exited the body. And simply because he’s exited the body you have no business with him - you cannot recognize him and if he comes back you will be terrified (Laughter). The people that you love, if they pop up there’ll be terror, not love (Laughs) because your relationship is ei… either with their body or with their conscious mind and emotion. These things have been left behind – the body has been left behind and the conscious intellect and the discerning mind has been left behind.
Now in terms of mind it is just a bunch of information which has certain tendencies of its own – natural tendencies which are finding expression in a certain way. There is no discerning mind. Once there is no discerning mind, if you drop… if you put one drop of pleasantness into this mind which has no dis… discerning capability, no intellect, now this pleasantness will multiply a million fold. If you put a drop of unpleasantness, that unpleasantness will multiply a minion… million fold. It's like your child who doesn’t have the necessary discernment - he goes out to play - he doesn’t know when to come back. Till he’s exhausted and he can't do anymore, till then he wants to play because he has… he doesn’t have the necessary discernment – okay it's time to go.
Similarly this is an extreme state where it is much more than a child where completely the discerning mind is absent. So now whatever quality you put into it, it will multiply a million fold. This is what is being referred to as hell and heaven. If you go into a pleasant state of existence this is called as heaven; if you go into a unpleasant state of existence this is called as hell. These are not geographical locations - these are experiential realities that a… a life which has become disembodied is going through.
So what people are trying to do – how (Laughs) well it is done or how ridic… ridiculously it is done today is a different matter, but there is a whole science what to do at different steps. One of the first things you must notice is - traditionally – I don't know if you’re still keeping it in Mumbai, maybe it's all gone, but if somebody dies there will be people, the first thing they will do is they’ll tie the big toes of the dead body together. Do you still do it or it's gone?
Sadhguru: Yes, it's very important because tying up the big toes will tighten up the mooladhara in a certain way so the body cannot be invaded or attempts to invade the body by that life once again because that bo… that life has not lived with the awareness knowing that “This is not me.” It has always believed “This is me”. Though it has come out, it tries to enter through any orifice that is there in the body particularly through the mooladhara that’s life… that’s where life generates and as body starts cooling down the only region where warmth will remain till the last point – the last point of warmth is always the mooladhara.
So, it tries to get back. To avoid this, the first thing is tie the toes so that that attempt will not happen because this exiting is happening stage by stage. The reason why traditionally always we said if someone dies, within an hour-and-a-half or maximum of four hours you must burn the body because this act is going on. Now this is also true for the living. If someone very dear to you is dead – you know he’s dead but your mind starts playing tricks – maybe he’s going to sit up just now, maybe a miracle will happen, maybe god will come and do something fantastic right now. It has never happened to anybody but still mind plays this because of the emotions that we have for that particular person. And that is the same thing is true with the life that has exited from the body - this also believes that still it can get back into the body.
If you want to stop the drama, first thing is set fire to the body - one-and-a-half hours. But those because, you know, villages and no doctors to tell you for sure he is dead. Somebody put on the funeral pyre and set fire, they guy sits up because he’s not yet… (Laughter) These things have happened in the past. So they stretched it to four hours so that these mistakes don’t happen, but as quickly as possible body should be taken away. If there are agriculture communities they decided to bury because they want the forefathers and their body to go back to the soil from which they ate. You must understand we were in a subsistence farming. We ate from that land. That land… A piece of that land is what we are holding as this body.
So they wanted to put this soil back into the same soil, not somewhere else. Always you bury him in your land, never in somebody else’s land because you ate from this land. Today you’re buying everything from the store and eating. You don't know where it's coming from so burial is not a good thing to do now. At that time there is a certain process and to see that it happens as quickly as possible, always salt and turmeric was put. So that quickly it dissipates into the soil. But cremation is a good thing to do because it closes the chapter. You will see this - when there’s death in the family, people are crying and hollering and doing all kinds of things. The moment cremation happens people will come back home, everything is quiet. Nobody is crying for some time because suddenly the truth has sunk in, “It's over. The game is up.”
This is not only for you. This is also for the disembodied being who’s just exited because he’s also in that illusion that he can get back and that stops, and that’s a good thing. And there’re many rituals to see that you influence… that you can somehow put a drop of sweetness into that non-discerning mind so that the sweetness will multiply many fold and they will live comfortably or they will live in a… a certain self-induced heaven. That’s the idea behind the rituals, if it is done properly.