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Diamond Approach

Glossary of Spiritual Wisdom

From the teachings of A.H. Almaas

What is Death?

Diamond Approach Teachings About: Death

Appreciating the Intelligence of Life in Everyone

Exploring the contrast between a corpse and living people can be an occasion to recognize what people actually are, to discern that they are souls, and to see clearly the characteristics of these souls. They seem to exude something, to have some kind of fullness and luminosity that seems to radiate from their pores. The corpse is missing this quality, this presence. The moment we recognize the living soul it becomes possible for us to see others as souls, and not just bodies. We may begin to see and appreciate the energy, the vitality, the color, the glow, and the intelligence of life in everyone. We can come to appreciate these qualities as manifestations of the presence of the soul, rather than viewing them as properties of the body. Recognizing in this way what a human being is naturally brings us to a deeper respect for people, and an appreciation of humanness.

Changing Our Notion of Death

To understand that the totality of the universe is constantly renewing itself radically changes our notion of death. Personal death is simply Being manifesting at one moment with a particular person as part of the picture, and in the next moment without that person. From this perspective, all the issues about death change character. Death disappears into the continual flow of unfolding, self-arising change.

Facets of Unity, pg. 265

Death and Absence Compared

It does sound like that. Because many of us believe that death is the end of experience, the Absolute can seem like death. But absence is actually beyond death. Death is still the knowledge of death, the experience of death. Death is a space we can experience, whereas absence is so transparent, so absolutely not there, that it doesn't make sense to talk about it as death. Death is a gross experience, a coarse approximation when compared to the Absolute. It is hard to sense what I mean when I say absolute absence, crystal clear absence. It is what is called the void, absolute ultimate reality, divine essence, the mysterious self of God.

Death is Nonexistent on the Being Level

One learns that death is nonexistent on the Being level. More accurately, one learns that death, in terms of consciousness, is really nothing but an aspect of Being. The associations that most of us have with death are actually related to an aspect of Being which we call Death Space. By following these associations one can experience a certain state that feels like death, but which is actually a certain black spaciousness. Also, from the perspective of boundless and nondifferentiated Being, physical death is seen as a transformation of form, and not as ultimate in the way most people think of it. What most people think of as death is actually the presence of the essential aspect of Death Space. Also, the aspect of Peace has experiential qualities similar to that of Death Space, such as stillness and silence.

Departure of Presence at Death

A second observation on this subject relates to the difference between a live person and a dead person. Many individuals report that when they are in the presence of someone who has just died - when they are with the corpse of the individual - they are surprised by their experience of the corpse. The body does not merely seem dead. There is a distinct sense that the body is missing something it had before. It is not that it is not moving, not that it is not breathing. It is clear that the corpse is missing something more fundamental. The body feels to them empty, only an empty shell. There is often a sense of something having departed that before had not been explicitly recognized. Death turns out to be not only the cessation of functioning, but also the absence of something that now seems very substantial. This perception is heightened when there are other individuals present. The contrast between the presence of the dead person and that of the other living individuals becomes distinct and palpable. The living individuals clearly have something that is missing in the corpse. And it is not exactly what was expected. It is as if when the individual dies he or she is emptied in some fundamental and obvious way. A presence of some sort is gone. What is missing is not only energy, not only mind, not only movement. It is something that has all of these qualities, but much more. Here it becomes clear what life is. It is not merely the body functioning, breathing and metabolism and so on. Life is a manifestation of a presence, a fullness that is clearly missing from a corpse.

Facing the Moment of Death

The way we relate to facing the experience of death is an important example of what I am talking about. If you are totally in the moment when death comes, it won't be a terrible thing. It is true that it will be a shock to the system, but the fear that most people in our culture have about death is about more than that. It is our fear of being totally in the moment, any moment—without past or future—that makes us afraid to face the particular moment that we call death. Death is a moment with no future. Likewise, it is the fear of physical death that makes us afraid to be completely present in each moment. Why is that? Because totally letting go of the past and the future is a death of the familiar self. In other words, being completely in the moment makes us fear death because we think that no time means death—we associate the passage of time with life and being alive.

Fear of Death

In fact, the fear of death is encountered in all the black spaces. The personality does not usually differentiate itself from the body when feelings about death are involved.

The Void, pg. 148

Life is a Property that the Soul Gives to the Body

When we are in the presence of the recently dead it is possible to see that when the body dies it loses not only aliveness but also something much bigger, something that has life. It loses the soul that gave it life, but that also gave the person many other characteristics, some in common with other persons, and some unique to this particular person. We might need to be attuned to recognize this loss, and we possibly need to be sensitive and receptive to see it clearly. However, this sense of the loss of the soul in a corpse is a common perception, and the sense that the corpse has been vacated is also common and unmistakably clear. Death seems to come when the soul vacates the body. The loss of life is identical to the loss of the soul. It is clear then that life is a property that the soul gives to the body. As the soul leaves the body, she takes away life with her, for life is one of her basic properties. If we have subtle perception, we might be able to perceive that some kind of consciousness or presence has left the body. We might be able to sense or perceive this presence, depending on how sensitive we have been to our experience of soul. Individuals who have learned to experience their souls directly will generally be able to perceive the soul when she leaves the body. She is the same soul, whether occupying the body or not.

Possibility for Self-Realization During the Death Experience

When the attachment to the body is understood, all the attachments begin to dissolve; you know that it is not you. You know you would exist without it. The need for the attachment is gone. Then there is no fear and desire that will lead to the attachment to that particular body, to that particular level of identification. When the attachment to the body is understood, and you go through the death experience, you know you are not any of these things, images or sensations, and you see the true identity of essence, the true self. This is death and rebirth. This is referred to in the The Tibetan Book of the Dead: if someone is conscious during the death experience then self-realization will occur. You are aware of your true identity. The true identity will expose the false identity, the personality. So the death experience is needed to see the true identity, which in turn will reveal the false identity, what most people call “myself.” There are many other levels. When you ask people “What is your self?” they respond according to their level. At the surface level someone will call their card-holder identity “myself.” If someone is at the body-image level they will call that image “myself.” If you are sensing your body at a deeper level you will call those sensations “myself.” There are many other levels. If you pursue this question of who you are, what is your self, you may discover that none of that is really you. But to know that, the true identity must be there, to make the contrast. Then we can directly experience the very subtle psychological identity, which we call “the pea.” Everyone has a pea. The pea is what is called ego identity in psychological literature, and in spiritual literature it is called “the ego.”

Reactions to the Notion that Soul is "dead" in Modern Society

The orientation of modern and postmodern times has been criticized by many thinkers and philosophers as having a general dehumanizing effect, due in part to our increased dependence on science and technology. Our material improvement, they argue, has happened at the expense of inner spiritual and moral richness, resulting in a pervasive psychic emptiness. The human effects of this development have been described by various significant Western thinkers, and also by broad movements in philosophy, psychology, and even physical science. We can see this, for example, in the work of Nietzsche, who described one consequence in his notion of the death of God. We can see it in the development of phenomenology and existentialism in philosophy, as exemplified in the work of Heidegger and his insight into how Western philosophy has forgotten Being. We see it also in the phenomenal increase of interest in Eastern spiritual teachings and shamanic approaches, in the revival of interest in the various Western mystical schools, and even in the latest rise of fundamentalism in all the major faiths. Even though what is called the New Age movement contains many superficial and distorted elements, it is an expression of the awareness of a certain lack and a sense of emptiness; it is a response to a felt need. We can see the response to this need in the emergence and development of humanistic, existential, and transpersonal psychologies that recognize the underlying emptiness of the positivistically based mainstream of Western psychology. We see it in the rise and proliferation of many approaches and disciplines of the human potential movement, the growth movement, and the many consciousness groups and self help approaches. These developments in psychology indicate an increasing awareness of the death of soul in our postmodern, primarily psychological, society.

Seeing that True Nature Transcends both Life and Death

These developments in turn bring about a profound sense of aloneness, for the presence of Being is not connected psychically to any internalized object relation; it is autonomous from the structured sense of self that consists of representations of the self in relation to others. At the beginning the soul inevitably experiences this transcendence as aloneness, which tends to bring a fear of loss of contact, relatedness, connection, and communication. However, deep and persistent inquiry reveals the intrinsic intimacy of essential presence, whose boundlessness and formlessness constitute a much more fundamental connectedness than that known by the ego-self. The soul contends with the notion of death and the fear of death, and learns, with persistent inquiry, that her true nature transcends both life and death, for it is the pure consciousness that forms the eternal ground of all phenomena. We see, then, that even though the inner journey confronts us, often painfully, with existential issues, the experience and understanding of essence provides resolution and a depth of wisdom not envisaged by existential philosophy or any form of psychotherapy.

The Dominance of Nature Asserting Her Spirit

As individuals, we are conduits for a very special kind of electricity that ignites us and illuminates the world with its spark. Actually, the work we are doing here is all about becoming a divine lightbulb, a luminous globe of light. When we start our life in the world, that light is still burning bright. When we see the birth of an infant, we are amazed, touched, and moved by the power and miracle of a being coming into the world. It is one of those experiences in life that have a deep impact on us. Another one is watching life leaving the world, seeing the process of the living light of the soul transitioning to another realm. The power of the experiences of birth and death is awesome and humbling. Part of what makes it so is the sense of the completely unknown miracle of it, the amazing dominance of nature taking over and asserting her spirit, rendering us totally out of control. At these moments, we recognize that we are at the effect of the life force, and that it is far more immense than we are. The moments of birth and death are among the few times when the average individual comes into contact with the magnificent energy, momentum, and thrust of this force, which manifests life and absorbs it back into itself.

The Perspective of Life and Death as Concepts

Recognizing the living quality of soul allows us to understand many significant aspects of the spiritual path. For instance, we see more precisely the similarities and differences between soul and essence. Essence is a conscious presence, like the soul. However, essence is only a conscious presence, while soul is not only a conscious presence but also a living presence. This is the main distinction between essence and soul. In some sense, we can say essence is more basic than soul, more fundamental, more primordial, because it is simpler; it is prior to life. It is beyond life and beyond death. From the perspective of essence, life and death are concepts. However, we can also say that soul is more than essence - she contains essence as her primordial ground, but she possesses other dimensions. Soul has infinite potential, which expresses itself as life. One of the main expressions of this life is biological life. The life of soul is also beyond death, because it is beyond biological life.

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