– A book written by Swami Rama of The Himalayas.

The writeup is a Review by K V Veloo, A life member of Swami Rama Meditation Centre (Singapore)

Death is certain, when, is not certain. That is the frustrating part. Hindus believe that death is merely punctuation in a long journey of births and rebirths. One must attain moksha (release) to be discharged from this unending “samsara” (wanderings).  Hindus do not fear death.

A devotee told Sai Baba that his (devotee’s) mother had passed away. He expected sympathy and consolation from Baba. Instead, Baba wished him “sandosham” which literally would mean “happiness”. The person was completely flummoxed by the unexpected response. He trod back to his seat muttering under his breath: “how could death be ‘sandosham’?” He probably did not grasp the significance of the term “sandosham” in the context of life and death.

Hindus believe that in death they are merely shedding their physical form. It is the “atma”, the in-dweller that really matters. Atma is indestructible and lives on. Therefore, there should really be no tears at the side of a dying or dead person.

I am at best pea brains. I live within the limits of human vocabulary and intellect. It is difficult for me to articulate the metaphysics of death and thereafter.

Swami Rama’s “Sacred Journey” was a welcome read. It shed some answers to my understanding of the fear that is attached to death. Sacred Journey is a contemplative book that wades through the relationship between purpose of life and its relationship with death. Life’s goal is spiritual. By that it does not mean “escaping from the world” (pg 86) but to enjoy the things of the world (pg 149). The caveat is not to get attached to them. Swami Rama gives prominence to the concept of attachment in chapter 5 on “Learning to die”. This concept of attachment is beyond my intellectual capacity to comprehend or appreciate. The significance of Sai Baba’s answer to his devotee above becomes clearer -that one should not be attached to body consciousness. Swami Rama says that the ‘fear of death and the pain associated with death are intrinsically linked with attachment to the passing world of names and forms” (pg 43).

Of particular interest to me is the dynamics of the mind in the cusp of death. I have seen people close to me at their death beds where death was certain but “when” was the question in the minds of their dear ones. It is a sad sight as the dying person grasped vigorously for air. I often wonder what goes in the mind of a person at the cul-de-sac of life.

In the real situation, Death is fear- fear of the unknown and the inevitable sorrow of leaving the world. Swami Rama thinks otherwise: “… the person who has led a disciplined life and has learned to let go attachments can pass gracefully from this life and into the next (pg 142).  I do not think the mind of the dying person flirts with happy and lilting moments of life the dying had enjoyed. On the contrary, even if he had prepared himself spiritually for the eventuality, it will be all unavailing as the monkey mind takes over. He cannot detach himself from his family and friends and familiar surroundings.

Swami Rama draws some references from the Bible to show the similarity in thinking and interpretation between Vedantic philosophy and the Bible on topics under discussion. One such example is in the discussion of Atman (Self) as the image of Brahman (God). He compares it to what Jesus said “I and my Father are one”.

I recommend the book if one is interested in death and life after. It is an excellent treatise on the subject but requires a thoughtful and contemplative read to fully appreciate the mystery of death and meaning of life.