Let me narrate to you my own conscious death experience in Varanasi.
I always used to think that I should have an experience of death, that I should face death directly. But somehow, that thought never became a priority. For any experience to happen, the related thought has to become the topmost priority. It should not just be in one corner of your mind.
Usually on our ‘to do’ lists, we have washing, cleaning, paying the rent and phone bill, and finally if time permits, enlightenment also! No! Enlightenment will not happen if it is this way. Only when it becomes a top priority, only when the urge becomes urgent, everything around you will start aligning itself for the experience to happen in you. This is the case not just with enlightenment. With anything, it is true.
Understand, if at all you are complaining that what you wish to happen is not happening, it is because it has not become the topmost on your priority list, nothing else. Nothing else and no one else should be blamed for it. You will see that the moment it becomes the topmost priority, there will be an energy play that comes into being and it will simply happen. Until then, it will wait for you, that’s all. The death experience was not my top priority and so somehow, it was getting postponed.
In my wandering days, I had been to Varanasi, the holy city for Hindus, which has an estimated 200,000 daily floating population. Further, every day around 100 dead bodies are estimated to be burnt in a place called Manikarnika Ghat on the banks of the sacred river Ganga. It is traditionally believed that if somebody dies or somebody’s body is burnt in that area, they will be liberated. They will have direct enlightenment. It is not just a traditional belief. The enlightened mystic Ramakrishna Paramahamsa confirms it with his own experience. He says, ‘I saw very clearly Shiva himself going near every burning body, taking the soul, unclutching it from the body-mind and liberating it!’ So, you can’t say that it is a mythological belief. It is a solid experience of an enlightened master.
I had the fortune of going to Manikarnika Ghat. Traditionally, it is not only believed, but it is true that for the last 2000 years, the fire that is used to light the pyres has never been put off. Whether it rains or shines or floods, people never bring fire when they come with the dead body to Manikarnika Ghat. The fire will already be burning there and they will just take it to light the dead body, that’s all. The fire just continuously burns the bodies as they arrive. Sometimes I would see that two to three bodies are burnt at the same time, so many bodies keep coming! Especially in the evenings, the bodies will be more in number. From the place where the person dies they will walk carrying the dead body, with chants such as, ‘Ram naam satya hai, Ram naam satya hai’ (Lord Rama’s name is the ultimate and eternal truth). By evening they will reach Manikarnika Ghat.
The scene there, the very experience of just being there, I cannot describe to you verbally. You have to be there to experience it!
To tell you honestly, by just being there, the fear of death just disappeared from my system. You see so many bodies continuously being burned every day. You feel, ‘I am also going to go like this one day…all right’, that’s all! You feel there are so many people giving you company! It is like one more trip that you make, that’s all. You don’t feel lonely about death at all.
In your life, you may see one or two bodies being burnt, so you still have the fear of death. But at Manikarnika Ghat, there will be no ritual done. They will bring the body and straightaway dip it in the river Ganga three times while chanting, ‘Ram naam satya hai, Ram naam satya hai, Ram naam satya hai’. By this time, the fire will be ready, and the wood will be arranged. They will bring the body straight from the water and burn it, that’s all!
One strange thing that you see there is that none of the relatives will stay there and do any further rituals. The moment they dip the body in the Ganga and place the body for burning, they will go away, that’s all! The people who maintain the ghat will take care of the rest. You will not know how long it will take for the body that you brought to be burnt completely. There will be a queue and bodies will be burning continuously.
I thought to myself, ‘Let me try to sit here and see what goes on.’ I sat at the Ghat. In just an hour’s time, I felt that death is no more a strange incident which happens once in a while only for some relative or friend. I was sitting there watching bodies arriving one after another. It was like any other queue, that’s all. Different sizes, genders, ages, and communities of people arrived to be consumed by the same burning flame.
When you continuously see dead bodies being burnt you actually lose respect for death! As of now, you have too much of respect, too many ideas about death. That is the problem. Death is actually nothing but this. The breath that goes inside the body doesn’t come out, that’s all. Nothing much can be done about it. Neither can you rewind it nor fast- forward it.
As I was watching this scene continuously, initially the little fear that I had about death also disappeared and slowly it actually became interesting to watch. I went near the people who maintain the fire and started helping them. As I was helping them, I was thinking to myself, ‘After all, one day this body of mine is also going to become like this dead body that is burning now.’ When you remember that death is going to happen to you, the respect that you carry for your ego will come down. Because, whenever you think that something should not leave you, it is just the ego, nothing else. When you know for sure that everything is going to leave you, then the respect for the ego just drops drastically. The respect I had for my ego just dropped from me.
Then I decided, ‘After all I am going to die. Either I should have a conscious death experience now itself and live the rest of my life without the death-fear, or really die, that’s all.’ I decided that I have to see death happening to me one way or the other. There was a small Shiva temple around the corner and a small tower above the temple. I went and sat in that tower so that nobody would disturb me. I sat in that tower and from there I started seeing the dead bodies being burnt.
I still remember the strong click, the deep understanding and instant realization that triggered the whole experience that was to follow.
An elderly lady’s body was being burnt. She had a big belly. Her clothes were being consumed by the fire and then the fat that was in the belly started melting and flowing. Sorry for describing this so vividly but I have to do it to explain the strong experience! I could see clearly that because of the fat flowing, the fire was burning with even more intensity. That gave a very strong click to me and I said, ‘God! Yes, the very same thing is going to happen to this body also!’
That click opened up a deep fear of death inside me. The fear spread all over the body. But I faced the fear consciously. I could see very clearly the fear spreading all over the body, and when the fear hit my awareness, that became the experience of death. I went through a conscious experience of my own death and came out of it.
Understand, whenever your fear is suppressed, it stays inside you. Whenever the fear comes out and you are not consciously facing it, it becomes a fear stroke, and shakes your whole nervous system and breaks it down. When the fear is faced consciously, it becomes the death experience, that’s all! If you just escape from the death-fear, when the deep fear happens, it becomes death. When you face the deep fear consciously, it becomes death experience.
Death-fear plus unconsciousness is suppression or perversion.
Death-fear plus unconsciousness where you don’t suppress but you don’t face it either is a fear stroke or a nervous breakdown because you just get frightened and shaken.
Death-fear plus conscious awareness is a death experience!
I was able to see very clearly the fear that arose. When I faced it consciously with awareness, it became my death experience. The body was dead. It was not moving.
For two and a half days I had no food, no water, no thought, no question, no doubt. The body alone was there. Only after the experience had passed, I realized that I had been like that for two and a half days! I could see with closed eyes that the body was dead and there was no movement. Suddenly, after two and a half days, the click happened again, ‘God! The body is dead but I still exist! I am there!’ That clarity, when it clicked, became such an intense ecstasy in me! The fear of death had left me once and for all.
I saw that Vishwanath was simply alive there! Understand, because I died Vishwanath became alive!
I was in such deep ecstasy, such joy, and such bliss! I slowly opened my eyes and I was able to move the body. The first thing I felt was such a surge of ecstasy and gratitude. I went down to the Ganga, sprinkled a little Ganga water on myself, took the Ganga water in the kamandalu , took a little ash from the fire, and went straight to the Kashi Vishwanath temple. I went up to the Shiva linga, offered the ash I had brought and did the puja with such inexpressible gratitude.
I saw that Vishwanath was simply alive there! Understand, because I died Vishwanath became alive! Until the day before, because I was still alive, Vishwanath was always an ordinary stone. I used to feel that to touch this stone, thousands of people are coming everyday from so far away… what foolishness! I always felt that the Vishwanath deity was an ordinary stone. I felt that way because I was still alive. When I died, I saw clearly, He became alive! Only one can be alive, either He or you. When you see the Truth, He will become alive. You will not be alive anymore as you now think. The fear of death left me once and for all. I can say that this is one of the very strong experiences that transformed me to search for the ultimate experience of enlightenment.
source: Living Enlightenment