What is Death – part 6 and final (metaphysics or spirituality – non- duality)



‘There is doubt concerning a man who has departed. Some say, “He is”, and others say, “He is not”. Taught by you [Yama, god of death], I would know this. This is the third of my boons’.

‘Do not, do not insist: release me from this’…. Choose a hundred years, sons and grand sons… elephants, gold, horses… Naciketas, enter a great realm of desires: I will make you the enjoyer of your desires… but do not ask me about dying’.

Naciketas, the young seeker, will have none of that.

‘Since you, Death, tell me it is not easily understood, and no one else can be found who can teach this as you can, there is no boon to equal this’.


‘Yama continues: ‘The wise one [inner self] is not born, nor does it die. [Hidden in all beings] it is not from anywhere, nor was it anyone. Unborn, everlasting, eternal, primeval, it is not slain when the body is slain.’ 


‘The one who has seen that which is wordless, untouched, formless, unperishing, without taste too… beginningless, endless, higher than the great, constant, is freed from the mouth of death’.

From Katha Upanishad, ll & lll.


What is known as metaphysics or spirituality (or non-duality – all of them one in essence) is evidently dressed up in words and concepts, words-which-encapsulate-concepts-which-refer-to-what-is real. The referent, reality, be it whatever it is, is  not a concept, although it necessarily becomes a concept (or a sign, a symbol) when thinking or talking  about it. In this sense, metaphysics is one thing, and  ‘realization’ (the end of metaphysics) quite another: experience-knowledge is one way to refer to it – still using words. Saying it in a different way, realization is beyond words and ultimately beyond the mind, though it (and what is referred to by its equivalent terms, awakening and enlightenment) first appears in the mind,  an individual mind. However, one cannot get away from, avoid, those two words, ‘experience’, and ‘knowledge’ if words have any meaning. Consciousness, being the ultimate witness, sums it all up and in itself is not a concept. It does not admit of a description and is not relational.

One cannot say that “it is all words, words” – or concepts…  “merely conceptual”, as someone who deprecates ‘doctrines’, or ‘theories’, or any talk about the highest things we can talk about is bent on doing. One could say that philosophy is one thing and mysticism or spiritual science is another. But the philosophy of Advaita Vedanta, to put one example – and, in general, what are recognized as sacred texts –  even though being dressed up in language and thus ‘dual’ are in a different category. There is frequent use in them of metaphors, analogies, and parables or stories in order to evoke, rather than describe what in the end is going to be indescribable. These texts are considered ‘revelation’ or, simply, inspired writings, like those of the ancient risis and (why not?) the contemporary ‘visionaries’ – anyone that becomes identified with reality, ‘what is’. Note that this last expression, ‘what is’, escapes definition, pointing thus to what is beyond words, the ineffable. And this is the richness of language which, being inadequate, as is often said, it can, at least, point to ‘that’ fathomless, inexpressible ‘something’ which underlines everything that can be described or defined and which is, at the same time, not just the most important ‘thing’ for man to realize, to know, but finally the only reality there is. Intuition tells us that there cannot be more than one reality – one overarching truth, one existence, one intelligence. Sat-chit-ananda, or Intelligence-space (chit-akasha), or Intelligence-energy (Shiva-Shakti) are expressions that convey, or try to convey, That which is inexpressible, indefinable.

We started this essay with the following quotation from Ramana Maharshi: “There is no death nor birth. That which is born is only the body…”

That teaching is very ancient, one of its expressions being: “satyam Brahman anantam”

“There is no dissolution, no birth, none in bondage… “ Mandukya karika, 32

“No living being whatsoever is born; there is no becoming for it. This is that highest truth where nothing whatsoever is born”. Alatashanti Prakarana, 71 (cha. 4 of Mandukyakarika.

“He goes from death to death who sees any difference here”. Katha Upanishad, ll,1,10

“What does not exist cannot come into existence, and what does exist cannot cease to exist, but the place where existence and non-existence meet can be seen by those who see things as they are”. Bhagavad Gita, 2, 16


In other words, as Gaudapada firmly asserts, the ultimate reality is Brahman which is non-dual, self-known, self-evident, and eternal. All the rest (duality, difference, plurality) are phenomena, mere appearance.

Forms, phenomena, appear and disappear (laya) in an endless cycle of ‘births and deaths’ which we call ‘life’ – with all its splendor, variety, and beauty – but the Spirit, the Essence (Brahman-Atman) is timeless, immortal. Tat twam asi: That Thou art.


[Ramesam V.  commenting on the anti-guru U.G. Krishnamurti and partly paraphrasing him in his blog-page ‘Beyond Advaita’:

Actually no one can experience ‘death.’  For death is a non-entity. A pure imagination of another imagination.  This ‘another imagination’ is what “I”, “you” and every one is.

This imagination thinks that there is a “me” in here, it has some definite  well-defined describable and identifiable attributes – a name, a form, a qualification, a set of likes and dislikes, a ‘will’ to do things, a birth, an age and life (in one word a ‘personality’).  It is happy wallowing in the imagination of its possessions, ownership and doership. It is scared all the time that this imagination may “end.”

But “end” it must, because all imagination is nothing but a “thought.”

No thought is permanent.  Thought is like a vibration. It comes and goes.

It is always on the move. It is itself the movement. It has only a limited time (life) span.

The “ending” of the thought in a way that it does not come back is called as “death.”

“Death” is the end of the ‘personality.’]


One thought on “What is Death – part 6 and final (metaphysics or spirituality – non- duality)

  1. Thank you, Martin, for a beautifully written Series citing ancient texts from the West and the East.

    I happened to come across two interesting books, both written by reputed Physicians:

    i) Erasing Death: The Science That Is Rewriting the Boundaries Between Life and Death by Sam Parnia, HarperOne, 2013, pp: 352
    ii) Consciousness Beyond Life: The Science of the Near-Death Experience by Pim van Lommel, HarperOne, 2011, pp: 448

    Though it is unjustified to wrap the contents of these persuasively written books in one or two sentences, I may be allowed to say here that the first book says:

    “Death is not a moment in time. Death, rather, is a process—a process that can be interrupted well after it has begun. Innovative techniques have proven to be effective in revitalizing both the body and mind.”

    And the second book says:

    “Human beings are something more than physical bodies. There is life after death.”

    Dr. Parnia contends in conquering death (of the physical body) and Dr. Lommel talks of continuity after the end of the physical body.

    Both the books claim to present well-researched data.

    I wonder if you would like to comment on these ideas.


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