The Process Of Death :


At the time of death when the breathing becomes difficult the Jiva or the individual self that is in the body goes out making noises. Just as a cart heavily loaded goes on creaking, so does the Jiva creaks while the Prana departs.

The Jiva or the individual self has the subtle body as its Upadhi (limiting adjunct). It moves between this and the next world as between the waking and the dream states. It moves from birth to death. While in birth it associates itself with the physical body and the organs, in death it disassociates with them.

The departure of the soul is immediately followed by the departure of the vital force(Prana). It is presided over by the Supreme self-luminous Atman. It is through the light of the self that the man sits, moves and does his daily duties.

The subtle body has the vital force or Prana as its chief constituent . It is revealed by the self-luminous Atman. When the subtle body rises up, the Atman also seems to go with it.

Otherwise how can the self, being unified with the Supreme Self, go on making noises like a cart?

It goes on making noises because the pain afflicts it as the vital parts are being slashed. Loss of memory is caused as a result of this vital and excruciating pain. He is then put in a helpless state of mind on account of the pangs felt. Therefore, he is unable to adopt the requisite means for his well being, before that crisis comes. He must be alert in practicing the means conducive to that end. He is not able to think of God.

In old age, the body becomes thin and emaciated on account of fever and other diseases. When the body is extremely emaciated by fever and other causes, dyspnea sets in and at this stage the man goes making noises like the overloaded cart.

Just as the mango, fig or the fruit of the Peepal tree is detached from its stalk, so does this Infinite being completely detached himself from the parts of the body, again go in the same way that he came to particular bodies, for the enfoldment of his vital force.

The self that is identified with the subtle body completely detaches itself from the parts of the body such as the eye, etc. He is not able to preserve the body through the vital force at the time of his departure. Just as he detaches himself from the body and the organs, and enters deep sleep, even so, he detaches himself from this body during death and attaches himself to another. As frequently a man moves from the dream to the waking, from the waking to the dream and thence to deep sleep, so often he transmigrates from one body to another. He has transmigrated from many such bodies in the past and will continue to do so in the future as well. He gets his future birth according to his past work, knowledge and so forth. He goes from one body to another, only for the enfoldment of the vital force. It is by this vital force, that he fulfils his objective viz., the enjoyment of the fruits of his work. The vital force is only auxiliary to the enjoyment of the fruits of his work and hence the specification: “For the enfoldment of his vital force.”

The Jiva has adopted the whole universe as his means to the realization of the fruits of his work and he is going from one body to another to fulfill this objective. Therefore the whole universe implied by his work waits for him with the requisite means for the realization of the fruits of his work made ready.

The Satapatha Brahmana says, “A man is born into the body that has been made for him” (VI-ii. 2-27). It is analogous to the case of a man about to return from the dream to the waking state.


When the king of a country pays a visit to some place within his kingdom, the leaders of the particular village anticipating the king’s arrival wait on him with varieties of food, drink, beautiful mansions for his stay, etc. They say, “Here he comes, here he comes”. So do the elements and the presiding deities. Indra and the rest, who help the organs to function, wait upon the departing soul with the means of enjoying the fruits of his work. They secure for him a suitable body to enjoy the fruits of his actions.

When the king wishes to depart, the particular leaders of the village approach him unbidden simply by knowing that he wishes to go, so do all the organs approach the departing man, the experiencer of the fruits of his work, at the time of death. The organs approach him when the breathing becomes difficult knowing that he wishes to depart. They do not go at the command of the departing self. They go of their own accord knowing the wish of their commander.


It has already been stated that the self completely detaches itself from the body and the organs at the time of death. When the self becomes weak and senseless the organs come to it. It is not the self that becomes weak; it is the body. But the weakness of self is figuratively spoken of. The self, being formless can never by itself become weak. So is the case with senselessness. People attribute to the self, the state of helplessness noticeable at the time of death, which is caused by the withdrawal of the organs. So they say, “Oh, he has become senseless!”

When the man is about to die, the various organs withdraw themselves into their original sources and help no more the function of the organs. In death there is a complete withdrawal of the organs into the heart or the heart-lotus or Akasha of the heart. But in the state of dream the organs are not absolutely withdrawn. Here lies the difference between sleep and death.

In the case of the organ, eye, the being associated with the eye, which is a part of the Sun, goes on helping the functions of the eye, while alive. In death, he ceases to help the eye and is merged in his own self, the Sun. In like manner, all the organs merge themselves in their respective presiding deities e.g., speech in Fire, the vital force in Vayu etc. The respective organs together with their presiding deities occupy their respective places when the man takes another body. This merging and reappearing take place every day during sleep. When the presiding deity of the eye withdraws from all sides, the dying man fails to notice color. At this time the self completely withdraws the particles of light, as in the dream state.

Every organ becomes united with the subtle body of the dying man. It is then, people at his side say of him, “He does not see now.” Thus when one by one all the presiding deities of organs withdraw and merge into the cause, the respective organ stops functioning. Then the dying man hears not, sees not, smells not, speaks not and becomes senseless. He loses his consciousness forever. He never remembers he is Mr. so-and-so and that he belongs to such-and-such a caste, etc. He loses his understanding, memory and waking consciousness. The external world becomes void for him. The organs are then united in the heart.

In the subtle body the self-effulgent intelligence of the Atman is always particularly manifest. It is because of this limiting adjunct that the self comes under relative existence involving all such changes as birth and death and going and coming.


The passage of the self from the body varies according to the number of good actions done by the Jiva and the knowledge gained by him. If he has a good store of virtuous deeds and relative knowledge that would take him to the Sun, the self leaves the body through the eye. It leaves through the head if he is entitled to the world of Hiranyagarbha. It leaves through other passages according to its past work and knowledge.

When the individual self departs for the next world the vital force or Prana also departs. When Prana departs all the other organs too depart. The self has particular consciousness as in dreams in consequence of its past work. It does not have independent consciousness. If it had independent consciousness everybody would achieve the end of his life.

It is said that the last thought determines next birth. A man attains whatever he thinks of at the moment of death if he has always been imbued with that idea. Everybody has, at the moment, a consciousness that consists of impressions in the form of particular modification of the mind. He goes to the body, which is related to that consciousness. Therefore, in order to have freedom of action at the time of death, those aspirants who desire emancipation should be very alert in the practice of Yoga and right knowledge and the acquisition of merits during their lifetime.

The self, journeying to the next world is followed by knowledge of all sorts. It has the full knowledge of both the works enjoined and prohibited. It carries the impressions of experiences regarding every action that it performed in the past incarnations. These impressions play an active part in molding the character of the Jiva in the next birth. His fresh actions in the next birth are motivated by the impressions of actions of past life. The senses attain skill in performing certain works even without much practice in this life. It is observed generally that some are very skilful in painting. They can excel the best painter even without any practice. There are others who cannot do the same work even after much practice. All this is due to the revival or non-revival of the past impressions.
Knowledge, work and past experience are the three factors in deciding the future of an individual. One should, therefore, cultivate virtues; perform good actions so that he may attain a desirable and agreeable body with desirable enjoyments.

The organs are all pervading and all comprising. Their limitation in the sphere of the body and the elements is due to the work, knowledge and past experiences of men. Therefore, although the organs are naturally all pervading and infinite, since the new body is made in accordance with the person’s work, knowledge and past impressions, the functions of the organs also contract or expand accordingly.

Just as a leech supported on a straw goes to the end of it, takes hold of another support and contracts itself, so does the self throw its body aside, make it senseless, take hold of another support and contract itself.

Just as a caterpillar takes hold of another object before it leaves its hold of an object, so also the soul has the vision of the body to come, before it leaves the present body.

The soul goes from the body accompanied by the mind, Prana, the senses and the Sukshmabhutas or elements.

Just as a goldsmith takes apart a little quantity of gold and fashions another, a newer and better form, so does the self throws this body away, or make it senseless and makes another, a newer and better form, suited for the enjoyments in the world of the manes, celestials, gods or Hiranyagarbha.

Desire is the root-cause of transmigration. Being attached to the desires the individual soul attains that result to which his subtle body or mind is attached. Exhausting the results, of whatever work he did in this life, he returns from that world to this for fresh work. Thus, this is the man who desires to transmigrate. But the man, who does not desire, never transmigrates. He who is free from desires, the objects of whose desires have been attained and for who all objects of desire are but the Self____ he is merged in Brahman. To a knower of Brahman who has routed out his desires, work will produce no baneful result; for the Sruti says:

“For the one who has completely attained the objects of his desires and realized the Self, all his desires dissolve in this very life”

____ Mundaka Upanishad.

From Brahma-Sutras 4.2.17.
Commentary by Swami Vireswarananda, Adwaita Ashram, Mayavati:

This Sutra says that though the illumining of the top of the heart is common to both, yet the knower of the Saguna Brahman, through the grace of the Lord who abides in the heart, departs through the skull only, while others depart through other parts.

From Chandogya Upanishad: 8.6.6.

There are a hundred and one nerves of the heart; one of them penetrates the head; going up along that, one attains immortality; the others serving for departure in various directions.


From The Scriptures :

The Process of Death

(From The Brahadaranyaka Upanishad, IV,iii)

Yajnavalkya said:

Just as a heavily loaded cart moves along, creaking, even so the self identified with the body, being presided over by the Self, which is all consciousness (the Supreme Self), moves along, groaning, when breathing becomes difficult (at the approach of death). 35.

When this body becomes thin – is emaciated through old age or disease- then, as a mango or a fig or a fruit of the peepul tree becomes detached from its stalk, so does this infinite being (the self), completely detaching himself from the parts of the body, again move on, in the same way that he came, to another body for the remanifestation (unfoldment ) of his vital force. 36.

[‘Parts of the body ‘, Such as the eye, nose etc. In deep sleep, the gross body and organs, though left by the subtle body, are preserved by the prana (vital force). But this does not happen at the time of death, when the subtle body, together with the prana, leaves the gross body.]

Now when that self becomes weak and unconscious, as it were, the organs gather around it. Having wholly seized these particles of light, the self comes to the heart. When the presiding deity of the eye turns back from all sides, the dying man fails to notice colour. IV,1.

[‘ Presiding Deity ‘ The sun in its microcosmic aspect is the presiding or controlling deity of the eye. This deity helps the eye to function as long as a person lives, as determined by his past actions. At the time of death the deity stops his help and goes back to the sun. He again returns to the eye when the man takes another body.]

The eye becomes united with the subtle body; then people say: ‘He does not see’. The nose becomes united with the subtle body; then they say:’He does not smell’. The tongue becomes united with the subtle body; then they say:’He does not taste’. The vocal organ becomes united with the subtle body; then they say; ‘He does not speak’. The ear becomes united with the subtle body; then they say: ‘He does not hear’. The skin becomes united with the subtle body; then they say: ‘He does not touch (feel)’. The mind becomes united with the subtle body; then they say: ‘He does not think’.
The intellect becomes united with the subtle body; then they say: ‘He does not know ‘.

The upper end of the heart lights up, and by that light, the self departs, either through the eye, or through the head or through any other part (aperture) of the body.

And when the self departs, the vital force follows, and when the vital force departs, all the organs follow.

Then the self becomes endowed with a particular consciousness and passes on to the body to be attained by that consciousness.

It is followed by Knowledge, work and past experience. IV,2.

[Compare Bhagavad Gita, Ch.8, Verse 6. “Whosoever at the end leaves the body, thinking of any being, that alone does he attain (become), because of his constant thought of that being.” Comments:The last thought determines the next birth. The most prominent thought of one’s life occupies the mind at the time of death.]

From Chandogya Upanishad:

Relatives sit around an ailing person, saying, “Do you recognise me, do you recognise me?” He recognises so long as his speech does not become merged in the mind, mind in the vital force, vital force in the warmth, and warmth into the supreme deity.VI,15,1.

Then when his speech merges into the mind, mind into the vital force, vital force into the warmth, and warmth into the supreme deity, he ceases to recognise. VI,15,2.