This Chapter is taken From The Book ”Guru Ramana Memories and Notes” by S.S.Cohen


Death and, to a lesser degree, Life and Rebirth, form the subject-matter of the majority of the questions asked by visitors. Death is the greatest catastrophe men dread. OmarKhayyam who sang:

“. . . Before we too into the Dust descend;
Dust into Dust and under Dust to lie,
Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer and sans End,”

is not alone in taking man as the merest dust and the grave as his last destination. The horror of everlasting extinction grips and numbs all hearts, even the stoutest.

To the Maharshi, death, like life, is a mere thought. When you are “awake,” you incessantly think, and when you go to sleep and dream, you do not think any the lesser. But when you pass from dreamful to dreamless sleep, your thoughts cease and you enjoy undisturbed peace, till you wake again and resume your thinking and with it your restless, peace-less state.

Life is miserable because it consists of nothing but thoughts. When death strikes down the body, the dreamless, thought-free state prevails for a brief period, but soon thinking starts again in the dream – “astral” – world, and continues till a full “waking” takes place in a new body, after another dreamless lull. This daily cycle of waking and sleeping is a miniature of the cycle of life and death in man and the universe, of alternation of activity and rest. The substance of the former is thoughts and sensations and of the latter the peaceful being from which these arise. To transcend birth and death we have, therefore, to transcend the processes of thought and abide in the eternal being.

* * * *

4th January, 1937

1. A visitor asks Sri Maharshi:

Visitor: How can the terrible fear of death be overcome?

Bhagavan: When does that fear seize you? Does it come when you do not see your body, say, in dreamless sleep, or when you are under chloroform? It haunts you only when you are fully “awake” and perceive the world, including your body. If you do not see these and remain your pure self, as in dreamless sleep, no fear can touch you.

If you trace this fear to the object, the loss of which gives rise to it, you will find that that object is not the body, but the mind which functions in it and through which the environment and the attractive world is known as sights, sounds, smells, etc. Many a man would be too glad to be rid of his diseased body and all the problems and inconvenience it creates for him if continued awareness were vouchsafed to him. It is the awareness, the consciousness, and not the body, he fears to lose. Men love existence because it is eternal awareness, which is their own Self. Why not then hold on to the pure awareness right now, while in the body and be free from all fear?

2. A Mysorean, Mr. M. had read some Theosophical books and stayed here for some months trying to digest them. He wanted to know about rebirths.

M: Theosophy speaks of 50 to 10,000-year intervals between death and rebirth. Why is this so?

Bh: There is no relation between the standard of measurements of one state of consciousness and another. All such measurements are hypothetical. It is true that some individuals take more time and some less. But it must be distinctly understood that it is not the soul that comes and goes, but the thinking mind of the individual, which makes it appear to do so. On whatever plane the mind happens to act, it creates a body for itself: in the physical world a physical body, in the dream world a dream body, which becomes wet with dream rain and sick with dream diseases. After the death of the physical body, the mind remains inactive for some time, as in dreamless sleep, when it remains worldless and therefore bodiless. But soon it becomes active again in a new world and a new body – the astral, – till it assumes another body in what is called a “rebirth”. But the Jnani, the Self- Realised man, whose mind has already ceased to act, remains unaffected by death: it has dropped never to rise again to cause births and deaths. The chain of illusions has snapped forever for him.

It is now clear that there is neither real birth, nor real death. It is the mind which creates and maintains the illusion of reality in this process, till it is destroyed by Self-Realisation.

* * * *

12th April, 1937

3. A Dutch lady, Mrs. Gonggrijp, a resident of Adyar, is here on a three-day visit. She wants to know the cause of the urge to live, known in the Pali scriptures by the name of Tanha, which is inherent in all life.

Mrs. G: What is the cause of tanha, thirst for life, thirst for rebirth?

Bh: Real rebirth is dying from the ego into the Spirit. This is the significance of the crucifixion of Jesus. Whenever identification with the body exists, a body is always available, whether in this or in any other one, till the body-sense disappears by merging into the Source – the Spirit, or Self. The stone which is projected upwards remains in constant motion, till it returns to its source, the earth, and rests. Headache continues to give trouble, till the pre-headache state is regained.

Thirst for life is inherent in the very nature of life, which is Absolute Existence – Sat. Although indestructible by nature, by false identification with its destructible instrument, the body, consciousness imbibes a false apprehension of its destructibility, hence it tries to perpetuate that instrument, which results in a succession of births. But however long these bodies may last, they eventually come to an end and yield to the Self, which alone eternally exists.

Mr. C: Yes, “Give up thy life if thou wouldst live,” says the “Voice of the Silence” of H. P. Blavatsky.

Bh: Give up the false identification and, remember, the body cannot exist without the Self, whereas the Self can exist without the body; in fact it is always without it.

Mr. C: A doubt has just now arisen in Mrs. G’s mind, as she has just heard that a human being may take an animal birth in some other life, which is contrary to what Theosophy has taught her.

Bh: Let him who takes birth ask this question. Find out first who it is that is born, and whether there are actual birth and death. These are only of the ego, which is an illusion of the mind.

* * * *

5th May, 1943

4. Mr. B. is a keen devotee of Sri Bhagavan. A few days ago he lost his only son, which shook his faith in the Maharshi and in God’s grace. For some days he went on strike by staying away from the Ashram, but today he came in “to have it out” with Sri Bhagavan with a long list of questions which he had prepared. After receiving some answers he was satisfied.

Mr. B: What is Faith?

Bh: Faith, Love, Grace, are all your nature, the Self.

B: If so, Faith and Grace are obtainable only on the Realisation of the Self. All that we call Faith etc., before then is variable and untrue.

Bh: Quite so.

B: Is sorrow a thought?

Bh: All thoughts are sorrowful.

B: Even pleasurable thoughts must be also sorrowful.

Bh: Yes, because thoughts take one’s attention away from the Self, which is undiluted Happiness.

B: What made Bhagavan come to Arunachala?

Bh: What made you all come?

B: By that I want to know whether there has been any difference in Bhagavan’s spiritual outlook between the day he left Madura and now.

Bh: None at all: the same experience has prevailed throughout without change.

B: Then where was the need for Bhagavan to write hymns in praise of Arunachala? Was that for him or for us?

Bh: I do not know why I wrote them. It might have been for others.

B: What is Life?

Bh: Materially speaking Life is the body; spiritually speaking it is the Ultimate Consciousness. It depends on how you look at it.

B: What is Death?

Bh: It is oblivion of one’s real nature. At this stage a visitor interrupted by asking whether suicide was a wrong act.

Bh: Killing the innocent body is certainly wrong. Suicide must be committed on the mind, where the suffering is deposited, and not on the body, which is insentient and feels nothing. The mind is the real culprit, being the creator of the anguish which tempts to suicide, but by an error of judgement, the innocent, insentient body is punished for it.

* * * *

3rd September, 1948

5. Three Anglo-Indian lady-doctors came from Bangalore. One of them had recently lost her husband in an air crash. She asked Sri Bhagavan:

Lady: Is there rebirth?

Bh: Do you know what birth is?

L: O yes, I know that I exist now, but I want to know if I’ll exist in the future.

Bh: Past!…. Present!…. Future!….

L: Yes, today is the result of yesterday, the Past, and tomorrow, the Future, will be the result of today, the Present. Am I right?

Bh: There is neither Past nor Future. There is only the Present. Yesterday was the present to you when you experienced it, and tomorrow will be also the present when you will experience it. Therefore experience takes place only in the present, and beyond experience nothing exists.

L: Are then Past and Future mere imagination?

Bh: Yes, even the Present is mere imagination, for the sense of time is purely mental. Space is similarly mental; therefore birth and rebirth, which take place in time and space cannot be other than imagination.

* * * *

22nd February, 1949

6. A well-educated North Indian came forward, prostrated to Sri Bhagavan and sat in the front line. He asked in excellent English:

Visitor: What is the cause and origin of the universe?

Bh: Have you no worries of your own?

V: Of course I have; that is why I want to know about Life, Death, Consciousness, etc.

Bh: Begin with the beginning: who has Life, Consciousness, etc.? Have you, for instance, life?

V: Of course I know I am alive, for I see my body.

Bh: Do you always see the body? What happens to it and to the universe when you go to sleep?

V: I don’t know, it is a mystery.

Bh: You may not know what happens to them, but do you for that reason cease to exist?

V: I don’t know.

Bh: How do you then know that you exist even now?

V: Now I have awareness and see my body moving and thinking.

Bh: But you see your body also moving and thinking and being in all sorts of places while it is actually lying fast asleep in Tiruvannamalai.

V: It is a mystery. Can I say that I, the permanent, am ever present and only my ego changes?

Bh: So you think you are two persons: the permanent ‘I’ and the ego. Is that possible?

V: Then please show me the way to the Real.

Bh: The Real is ever-present, like the screen on which all the cinematographic pictures move. While the pictures appear on it, it remains invisible. Stop the pictures, and the screen, which has all along been present, in fact the only object that has existed throughout, will become clear. All these universes, humans, objects, thoughts and events are merely pictures moving on the screen of Pure Consciousness, which alone is real. Shapes and phenomena pass away, but Consciousness remains ever.

A few days later Sri Bhagavan gave a different answer to a similar question asked by Dr. Godel, a French Medical Officer of the Suez Canal. He told the doctor: “You must distinguish between the ‘I’, pure in itself, and the ‘I’- thought. The latter, being merely a thought, sees subject and object, sleeps, wakes up, eats and thinks, dies and is reborn. But the pure ‘I’ is the pure Being, eternal existence, free from ignorance and thought-illusion. If you stay as the ‘I’, your being alone, without thought, the I-thought will disappear and the delusion will vanish forever. In a cinema-show you can see pictures only in a very dim light or in darkness. But when all lights are switched on, all pictures disappear. So also in the flood-light of the Supreme Atman all objects disappear.”

Dr. G: That is the Transcendental State.

Bh: No, transcending what, and by whom? You alone exist.