LIFE AND DEATH

by Radha Burnier

The Theosophist 1985

LIFE is an energy that manifests in thousands of forms and has the capacity to organize matter. When this energy withdraws itself the organization ceases and the material vehicle through which the life-energy flows disintegrates. This is what people call death.

When the life-energy flows through forms, growth is possible: the baby becomes an adult; the shoot grows into a tree. Growth is also according to a specific model. When a body is wounded and a piece of flesh is torn away, healing takes place. This involves the multiplication of different cells in right measure for the particular part of the body once again to look as it did before. If a lizard loses its tail, it grows another one that has exactly the same form as the old one. Thus, growth and regeneration follow a pre-existent invisible pattern. Why does each seed evolve only into a particular kind of tree? Why do sparrows’ eggs produce only sparrows? The model for all this must exist somewhere. Does it exist in the intelligence of life itself? This organizing energy seems to be an extraordinary intelligent one.

Further, where there is life, there is consciousness, but at different levels and limited to a greater or lesser degree. Sensation is a form of consciousness. Consciousness implies contact with what is outside. Through this contact, some kind of ‘message’ about the outside world is received within. A tactile sensation may indicate that outside there is something soft or hard. Different sensations carry different messages and through them a certain impression of the external world is received.

The more complex the form, the greater is the possibility of awareness. The life in a primitive form is conscious of only very few things, but in developed forms there is an extension of consciousness, of response. When the life-energy ceases to flow, this contact no longer exists and consciousness also ceases.

As mentioned, the more the form is developed the greater is the possibility of consciousness. It is now known that even plants have more consciousness than was once supposed. They not only react to stimuli such as sunlight, but respond even to thoughts and feelings. Experiments show that when the threat of destruction exists as a thought in someone’s mind, the plant is aware of it and the reaction has been recorded on electroencephalographs. The plant is more sensitive than other more primitive forms of life so its reactions are more varied. In a more well-developed form such as the human body, the possibilities of consciousness are still greater because contact is made by several senses and from these contacts more impressions of the external world are received.

Consciousness also takes the form of feeling. The feeling of sympathy for something enables a person to contact that thing. Mental perception is also a form of contact. It is the ability to discern one object from another by noting its characteristics. Consciousness in the human being covers a vast field including sensations, feelings and mental perceptions.

Further, the human consciousness is capable of perceiving ‘abstractions’. The limited consciousness can only see particulars, and not universals. People see flowers that differ in size, form and colour, and they call them all by the name ‘flower’ because in spite of their differences, they have something in common which might be called ‘flowerness’. The human mind alone can conceive of such a universal, abstract thing as ‘flowerness’. Philosophers, scholars and scientists have at various times thought about or searched for the Unity by which all existences are linked. There is a supreme universal, the unmanifest substratum of manifested things, the very basis for existence, awareness of which is ultimate consciousness.

To be conscious of a universal or of ultimate unity is not a matter of thinking about it; it is experiential. There are certain things which the mind knows only by experiencing them. It is possible to be conscious of a chair by looking at it and noting its characteristics, but happiness cannot be known in this way. One person’s happiness cannot become happiness for another. Each person knows happiness only by experiencing it, and he knows it truly only when the experience is profound and unalloyed. Happiness mixed and frustration, or happiness which is only on the surface and of a temporary nature, cannot be called real. To experience totally means to experience without interruption. The awareness of eternal values is to know the nature of beauty, love and happiness without bound. The experience depends on how freely the life-energy is able to flow. As mentioned earlier, the more freely it flows, the more consciousness manifests its powers — in clarity, sensitivity, depth and so on.

Probably the human form has no further need to develop biologically; large areas of the human brain are yet unused. Julian Huxley declared that man’s future evolution will be in the psycho-social field and not in the biological, meaning that man’s future possibilities will be in the domain of consciousness. As already pointed out, to be conscious is to make contact, to receive impressions and have relationship. When consciousness is limited relationships is also limited. Because contact may be at different levels, including the levels of sensation and thought, or the level of the universal, relationships also differ in quality and degree. Someone who sees a flower simply as a material form may destroy it or use it as a commercial object. But if he were to see the quality of beauty, he would not want to injure it. One who is totally conscious of its beauty, would love and cherish it.

Awareness of beauty has nothing to do with the perception of mere facts. We may know every fact concerning the flower, but to be aware of its beauty we must learn to be conscious at a different level. Most people believe that they are quite conscious, but if they observed themselves, they would discover that they are only half conscious and that a great part of their life is passed as if in a dream. It is possible for us to pass by a friend and see him with the physical eye without grasping who was seen, because the mind is preoccupied. It is also possible to look at a garden and see nothing at all of its beauty because the mind is busy thinking about a dispute or an investment. When a medley of thoughts and images pass through the brain, consciousness is much reduced. In fact, a large part of people’s lives is passed in a state of consciousness or dream consciousness. Even those who are conscious are aware only of the exterior of things. Being conscious of the existence of the garden but not of its beauty, or being aware of its beauty in a superficial way, means that it has not yet penetrated into the inner core.

The images and thoughts which arise in the mind are founded on the past. Consciousness cannot be in the past for the past is finished; memory is only a kind of shadow. That which really exists is the present. But the shadows and images springing up from the past prevent living in the present. To live means to be conscious and to have relationships. To live fully means to have an unrestricted awareness not only of what is on the surface but of what lies in the inner depths; it must be a perception not only of a part but of the whole, not only of what is obvious but of what is subtle. When perception diminishes we are not really living. What prevents our living fully are the burdens of the past carried by the mind — a past that has disappeared except for shadowy memories.

The future has no real existence either; it is only a kind of imagination. There is physical time, related to the earth turning on its axis, but when we attain what we think of as the future, it is already the present. Neither the past nor the future, then, has a real existence; they only exist in the form of pictures in the mind. Anxiety and hope are part of an imaginary future; hurt and hate are the past. Because of them, we lose the present, with the possibilities it holds of teaching us the mysteries of life.

There was a time when men thought that everything happened by chance in the world. But today many eminent persons think otherwise. It is said to be statistically impossible for a unicellular organism to have developed by chance into the human form because of the enormous number of changes in the right direction that would have been necessary for this to happen. A sense-organ like the eye is too complex to have evolved by chance. Such evidence has led various thinkers to postulate a divine mind at work in the universe, an extraordinary intelligence behind its phenomena and forms. Sir Alister Hardy postulates not only an intelligence at work in the processes of evolution but love as the force which moves it, for love alone can make manifest such beauty and creative power as there is in the universe.

But we miss the mystery and the beauty of life because we inhibit the life-energy from flowing freely. Our consciousness does not perceive all that it could because the past and the future burden the brain. Imaginary pictures are moved around in it in different patterns as in a kaleidoscope. What happens when the disintegration of the body that we call death occurs? All images of the past are wiped out along with the brain, and life is free to embody itself in another form and learn to function unencumbered by the past.

What this so-called death does at the end of a life, each must do consciously for himself and, doing it, live more fully, which means learning to be as perceptive as possible. Socrates said that the philosopher rehearses his death every day. He cleanses his consciousness of all its images and memories and holds it open for the perception of what is profound and not only superficial, of that which is hidden as well as that which is apparent. As mentioned earlier, awareness implies relationship. The more profound the perception of a person — not simply of the forms by which he is surrounded but the beauty and the mystery of the life which flows through these forms — the more he experiences love, the closer he is to the reality of things.

Recent research into near-death experience indicates that at the moment of death there is a realization that love is the purpose of life; people see that success does not consist in becoming famous or rich, but in an increasing ability to respond with love. To love means to realize the unity of life because it incarnates in different forms. It is like seeing the reflection of the moon in many puddles, pools and ponds, and thinking there are many moons. Similarly, we may think that the space contained in a room is different from the space in a box, but space is one. The room will be pulled down one day and the box will be destroyed, but space will remain one and indivisible. Even so, there is but a single intelligence, a single love, an impartite universal energy; to know this is to have learned the lesson of life. This can only happen if we learn to open our inward eye and let consciousness blossom. It must become open, free from the burdens of the past and the future. In the growth of awareness lies the future of man because by it he will discover a totally different relationship with everything.

 


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