December 1, 2015


          Although I have discussed this topic on these pages as well as in the scientific literature on other occasions, the events of the recent past forced me to again face up to it in a personal manner. We all know that death is unavoidable but we don’t like to think about it mainly because it always happens to someone else, and most of us experience some inner revulsion against the mere fact of its existence. Since we can’t do anything about death, and might be afraid of it, we push it out of our minds, go on with our daily tasks and spend the leisure hours in what may well be called “trivial pursuit.” I shall try to demonstrate in the following pages, why this attitude is a mistake.

          For the reader who has not had the time or opportunity to study what I have previously published on this site I suggest that you do so now because it is impossible to condense the entire material  into a few pages and without becoming repetitive. The first article dealing with the topic was “Perceptions of Reality” in the August 26, 2004 installment. “Faith and Science” appeared in August 2009, “Knowledge and Faith were discussed in December 2012, and Eben Alexander’s “Proof of Heaven” was extensively dealt with in a trilogy from February 26, 2013- April 1 of that year (Proof of Heaven; NDEs, Cosmic Consciousness and Buddha; The Science of Consciousness – Mind). Additional information is available through downloading all the articles with “View all” and searching for key words, as well as in the chapter “What is Truth” in The Jesus Conundrum, that can likewise be downloaded free of charge. Although the information contained in these articles overlaps to some extent, each one discusses a related aspect that reflects my informed opinions on the subject. It will be apparent that I have thought and read a great deal about the topic and can now add some additional comments.

          First we must be clear in our language and steer away from euphemisms. Only when we stare death in the face can we liberate ourselves from the wishful thinking that dominates our current society. Death is a fact, but as the ancient Hindus in the Upanishads explained not necessarily the end of our life. We may think about this opinion in any way we want but the Greek Stoics, foremost among them Epictetus, told us that death is not an evil. I have discussed his philosophy on other occasions both here and in my books and it centers on the chapter “What is and is not in our power.” Once we internalize this teaching we stop being concerned about what others may or may not do and how this may or may not affect us. Instead we start to concentrate on our personal conduct and how it may be beneficial to others. Following this thought I told our children and grandchildren: What you do for yourself dies with yourself; what you do for others lives in others.

          Since the subject matter is vast and especially what happens after we have been officially pronounced dead is hotly debated, I shall now proceed in a somewhat systematic manner. Dying has two perspectives that of the individual undergoing the process and that of the family/caregivers who may want to help the dying person. Death on the other hand is exclusively observed by others and also has a societal component. In this installment I shall deal mainly with the personal, individual, aspect of dying and death. But especially in view of the recent terrorist attacks the societal aspects had to be included to some extent. Because of its importance this aspect of the article should only be viewed as an introduction and the topic will receive a more detailed discussion in January. 

During October I and two of our children had the opportunity to be with my wife, their mother, in her dying hours and we witnessed a truth: you die as you have lived. Anyone who has read the November installment had a glimpse of the type of person Martha was, and still is in our minds. She did not shrink from death. She willed it because her job on planet Earth was done! That was and is our perspective. Martha’s perspective we will never know because it is inherently forever unknowable. Even if I were to meet her in some type of hereafter it would still be my biased image and concept of her based on decades of having lived together. Another person’s self-image cannot be perceived by us and all we have to go by is that person’s conduct in word and deed. But the emotional processes that were their basis cannot be accessed and we, therefore, must admit that we don’t ever fully know the person whose life we share even if it is over many decades.

          Thus the question: Who this person we are married to “really” is has no answer because reality, just like beauty, is in the eye of the beholder. In previous installments I divided our appreciation of reality into subjective, shared subjective and objective reality.  Subjective pertains to how we think  and feel about something, shared subjective reality is what John  C. Lilly termed “human consensual reality.” This may have nothing to do with objective reality because it is manipulated by politicians as well as religious figures often to our detriment, as the events of this as well as past centuries clearly show. I used the term “objective reality” not in the sense of an “end all and be all” but for facts that are indisputable.  As an example I have stated on another occasion that you can argue about the content of the various sentences that are printed here, but the argument stops when you ask how many words a given sentence or this essay has. Anyone can count them and the computer will give you the results in nanoseconds. This is also the difference between science and the rest of human thought and action.  Science measures and whatever does not lend itself to measurement is outside of its domain. If this simple statement were to become an active ingredient of human thought the argument of faith vs. science would have become meaningless.

          It is now important to realize that all of us live in two worlds, or states of consciousness. One is the eyes open state during which we perform our duties and engage in various leisure activities. The other is the eyes closed state where we indulge in ruminations, fantasies, expectations and so on.  The problem in our current society is that it devotes itself nearly exclusively to the eyes open state without realizing that it is the eyes closed state that lies at the base of all our actions and directs them to the intended goal. This type of thinking leads to an emphasis on math, science and technology in our educational system to the neglect of the “humanities” that represent our cultural heritage. This aspect is very personal for me because I see the result in our grandchildren and our daughter who teaches humanities at a university has noted that funding for her department is progressively curtailed. The generation of our grandchildren, even when they have a college education and are productive citizens, has a remarkable lack of what is called in Europe Allgemeinbildung (a well-rounded education). They are trained as specialists for a robotic society and this bodes ill for our country and the world.

          You may regard the above as a side-track but it is not. It is central to the topic at hand because during the process of dying, be it days or weeks, we live in the eyes closed state. This is the time when we are confronted with what Hindu/Buddhist society calls karma; the accumulation of all our hopes, fears and acts. But these are conditioned by our fund of information. Math, science and technology are irrelevant because we have left the material world and live in mental desires and images from the past and future. This mental activity is private and limited to the person who is dying. In contrast to dreams and NDE’s there is no subsequent awakening during which one could talk about the memory of the experience. I have italicized the word memory because that is what we are really talking about when we discuss NDEs and their meaning. The person believes that s/he is retelling the correct sequence of their visions and telepathic information, but this is retrospective and is likely to be tinged by the personality structure of the individual. Although the NDE experience is exceedingly vivid “more real than real,” as a number of experiencers testify to, the content does not, in all likelihood, come from outer space but is based on the religious/societal structure of the individual.   

          In previous correspondence with colleagues about this topic I have pointed out that NDE’s are akin to dreams over which we likewise have no control and appreciate them only as such when we awaken. The word “control” needs to give us pause because this is the crux of the problem. In the eyes open state we can exert a modicum of control upon our immediate environment. In the eyes closed state we have no control over the environment and that of our thoughts is limited to our personal concentration span. In the average person, who has not undergone specific training in what is called mind control, it rarely exceeds 30 seconds. The Greeks told us “Know Thyself” and I therefore suggest this simple test: Take a stopwatch, close your eyes, concentrate on a single simple thought or picture and hit the button. Hit it again the very moment another thought intrudes. You may be surprised by the result; but you must be ruthlessly honest with yourself in regard to the second button push.

          Since in most of us the concentration span, during the eyes closed state, is quite limited, our mental content is really most of the time beyond our control and our thoughts are similar to an ant heap with each one going in different directions. To this we now must add that this is what happens in the waking state in a healthy human being. But during the process of dying our organism, including our brain, is far from healthy. I have discussed the physiological changes during the dying process in “The Reality of Death Experiences” (Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease 1980; reprint available on request). All of these processes, isolated as well as in combination, affect mental content. Under these circumstances we become passive observers of the scenes our brains play for us without the ability to change what we don’t like. Yet it is the mental content of our dying thoughts which determines whether we regard ourselves in heaven, purgatory, hell, paradise, the Buddhist Bardo, Nirvana and so on. We have to think about what Jesus meant when he told us: The kingdom of god is within you (emphasis added). In like manner the Tibetan Book of the Dead tells us not to be afraid of the visions in the “after death” state because they are “thine own consciousness.”

          For persons who are unshakably firm in their specific religious faith these comments may be irrelevant because as the Viennese say: wer’s glaubt wird selig, the believer will be blessed. However, those of us who have an inquisitive mind and cannot regard religious dogma as the final truth, they can be useful. Once one realizes the value of these admonitions one can begin to train one’s mind towards a longer concentration span and fill it, instead of the current pictures of sex and violence on our TV and movie screens, with the cultural wisdom of our world in word and music. This is a process that takes time but can be initiated at any moment and its reward may be in our final one. The Tibetan Book of the Dead, in the Evans Wentz translation, contains on the page prior to the Preface several pithy sentences and I shall quote only the two that are most appropriate. One is:


Against his will he dieth that hath not learned to die. Learn to die and thou shalt learn to live, for there shall none learn to live that hath not learned to die.


The other:


‘Whatever is here, that is there; what is there the same is here. He who seeth here as different, meeteth death after death.

‘ By mind alone this is to be realized, and [then] there is no difference here.  From death to death he goeth, who seeth as if there is difference here.


The first was a quote from The Book of the Craft of Dying and the second from the Katha Upanishad. 

          In the Middle Ages “the art of dying” was a favorite topic of Christian authors and The English ars moriendi is available on I only have the   texts from the Renaissance and Baroque era at this time, but the instructions to the dying person are not likely to have changed much from previous centuries. The book contains entries ranging from ca. 1490-1689 and I shall mention only some highlights from William Caxton’s on The Arte and Crafte to Know Well to Die.

It is written in Shakespearean English, but I shall use current language. The key points to be remembered are: one ought to die gladly; how to face the temptations at the hour of death; demands and questions that ought to be addressed to the dying person and the prayers that ought to be said.

          The “temptations” need some discussion because they overlap with Hindu/Buddhist thought, which at that time was unknown in the West. In Caxton’s article there are five main ones. The first is loss of faith in one’s religion. The second consists of despair and loss of hope in the goodness of God. The third is impatience especially in those persons whose lives had lacked love and charity. It manifests itself by complaining and bewailing one’s fatal illness. The illness should be borne with patience and regarded as a part of purgatory into which the person will enter after death. The fourth is complacency and pride in one’s spiritual maturity for none can be certain to have deserved the love of God. The fifth, when rendered into modern English, “troubles the secular and worldly men.” The hopes and desires for externals, even in regard to family members, can no longer be satisfied and must be abandoned. These worries are presented by the devil. But he is too weak to overcome a determined will, and God is too good and just to allow greater temptations than the person can bear. Pride must be abandoned and the victory over temptations will be achieved through meekness, humility and surrender into the hands of God.

          The “Judeo-Christian,” as well as the Muslim religion relies ultimately on the grace of God that will lead to entry into paradise or heaven. Buddhism seems to take a more intermediate position. Siddhartha Gautama, its founder, categorically denied the existence of a Deity who rules over our fate. We are free, but ignorant, individuals who shape their lives according to their desires. These should be kept in check during life. The overarching principle should be constant awareness that life is riddled with suffering and compassion towards all living entities has, therefore, to be developed. It seems, however, that this absolutist stance has been slightly modified in subsequent centuries and Buddhism now encourages prayers to one’s tutelary Deity, especially in the “After-death State,” the Bardo. Nevertheless the main work of liberating the soul has to be done by the individual. The Western analogue seems to be: God will help those who help themselves.

The goal of the devout Buddhist is to avoid rebirth in any of the various universes because even if there is initial happiness some type of suffering will eventually return. The reason for this thought seems to be that “forms,” be they human, animal, or whatever, are not constant and eternal but merely temporary. Forms, therefore, cannot be ultimate everlasting reality and their loss will be associated with unhappiness, if not outright suffering. But in order to be successful, the pursuit of the eightfold noble path has to start during life because the law of karma is absolute and immutable.

The Tibetan Book of the Dead is an instruction manual for the dying individual so that one will not be afraid during the dying and after-death process. Contrary to Western attitudes where dying patients are frequently under sedation, the book insists that death must be faced fully conscious and in keen awareness. The reason being that this is the most important work the individual has to accomplish during a lifetime that is now about to end. The feelings that accompany the dying process are then described. They consist of:


“(1) a bodily sensation of pressure ‘earth sinking into water;’ (2) a bodily sensation of clammy coldness as though the body were immersed in water, which gradually merges into that of feverish heat ‘water sinking into fire;’ (3) a feeling as though the body were blown into atoms ‘fire sinking into air.’ Each symptom is accompanied by visible external changes in the body ….”


The mental accompaniment is the “dawning of the clear light,” which the dying person is encouraged to remain in. But since this requires extraordinary concentration ability the untrained person will not be able to do so and consciousness will now enter that of the after-death state the Bardo which lasts for 49 days (seven times seven). It is filled with some pleasant but mostly fearful images and the dying individual is constantly being reminded that these are products of his own mind and therefore nothing to be afraid of. Throughout the Bardo state the person is also urged to achieve “clear light consciousness” because it alone is immutable and provides permanent relief from suffering. I believe, however, that the word “light” should, in my current understanding, not be taken in its physical sense as it pertains to our world, but as formless total awareness, which is the substrate from which all subsequent forms arise. The Buddhist would therefore look at the NDE phenomena as well as the Christian and Muslim heaven or paradise only as a way station rather than final destiny of the human soul. Karma has to be totally expiated, and this cannot be achieved in one life-time.  

The Book of the Dead” is, however, an inadequate translation because the original title is the Bardo Thödol or Liberation through Hearing in the Intermediate State. In Tibet specific portions, as they pertain to the time that has elapsed during and after death, are read to the dying person and subsequently when the body has been disposed of to its effigy. I shall not discuss its contents further at this time but suggest that you buy the book and study it for the lessons it might teach. I used the word “study” because it should not be read as one would a novel. It should be examined for the meaning that may be contained in each of the paragraphs. There are several translations available. My personal favorite is one that has been edited by Evans-Wentz, in spite of its partially archaic language. It contains a Foreword by Carl Gustav Jung and extensive footnotes to clarify meanings that would elude the untrained Western mind.    

Anyone who is interested in what might happen after death can also consult the Katha chapter of the Upanishads, Plato’s story of Er in The Republic, Plotinus’ Enneads, Swedenborg’s Heaven and Hell, The Sprits Book by Allan Kardec and Rudolf Steiner’s The Way of Initiation: How to Attain Knowledge of the Higher Worlds. Obviously, these are just some representative samples of the vast literature on the topic but they do provide an overview of how intelligent human beings have tried to come to grips with the unavoidable. Nevertheless, honesty compels us to admit that these are mental images of the writers which may or may not have counterparts in our personal final reality as we shall individually encounter.

 As mentioned earlier dying has, however, two aspects. So far the discussion has dealt with thoughts on what happens to the dying person which apart from biological facts can never conclusively be established. But the other and equally important aspect is that of the survivors who find themselves deprived of the help and companionship of the deceased. It is a difficult process, especially if the departed was a person one loved. There will be a gap that cannot be filled and one has to make mental adjustments. There is grief. But one must now decide for whom one grieves. Is it for the departed or for oneself because of the loss one inevitably feels? Reason tells us that the dead, if they have led a decent life, no longer suffer and grief for them is inappropriate because, if they were to know about it, it would hurt them witnessing despair in their loved ones. But if we grieve for our own sake because we now have to cope with tasks the deceased did for us, or in case of children who died prematurely our hopes for their future achievements, we have to mend our attitude. This is best accomplished by the thought: what would our loved one have wanted us to do now? The answer is simple we carry on in the spirit of the deceased and conduct our lives accordingly. Under these circumstances when tears well up in memory of the person we loved, as they inevitably will, they are not tears of sorrow but of gratitude for having been allowed to share our lives with this caring human being.

Keeping the above in mind we can now ask: Is there a purpose in praying for the dead? It depends in part on our belief system. If they are in heaven they don’t need them and if consciousness is extinguished at time of death, like a candle that has consumed its wax, they are not needed either. But while prayers may not benefit the dead they are an act of caring and as such have value for the survivors because this simple act of caring may then carry over towards helping other living beings.

 Death, as mentioned above, has an additional societal component. Events of the past month were filled with scenes of human despair: acts of mindless terrorism, as well as displaced humanity seeking rescue from bombs and cruelty. Official America, that is to a considerable part responsible for having unleashed these disasters with the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions, is bereft of a sense of guilt. It refuses to acknowledge the consequences of President George W. Bush’s actions and can only think in terms of revenge that is carried out by bombs. We are intent to “destroy ISIS” and remove an “evil tyrant,” Bashar Assad. But this goal cannot be achieved in this way. Bombs, including atomic ones, never won a war! Wars end when either a given government surrenders, or both sides are sufficiently exhausted that they see no purpose in the continuation of the war. In addition, ever since Russia has entered into the fray, the situation has become even more complex. The Russians have no problem with Assad, because in their opinion any government is better than anarchy. Now we have three separate entities showering bombs on the civilian population: we and our “allies,” Russia, and the Syrian government. This is outright insanity and one should not be surprised when people are leaving in droves with or without the help of traffickers in human lives.      

We now must also be quite honest with ourselves and admit that Abu Bakr al Baghdadi, the “caliph” of ISIS is our creation. We killed the “Al Qaida in Iraq,” leader, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, celebrated our victory, but at the same time bred his more vicious successor who was incarcerated in Abu Ghraib. It was our treatment of the defeated Iraqis that led to their uprising. The abominations we allowed to occur in Abu Ghraib further radicalized some of the inmates who might have been decent persons before their indiscriminate arrests. The same applies also to the Guantanamo prisoners who were never given an impartial trial. These facts make us hypocrites in the eyes of the world, especially those of our adversaries, but we fail to recognize it.

What we currently see in the Middle East is a replay of the European Thirty Years War which was fought ostensibly over Protestantism vs. Catholicism but behind it was the question of political control over the “Holy Roman Empire.” Its seat was in Vienna, but the Emperor was more or less subservient to the Pope in Rome. “Los von Rom,” liberation from Rome, was the banner under which the northern Protestant states fought the southern Catholic ones. The war, like all previous ones when religion was a factor, played itself out with excessive cruelty and displacement of human masses. It ended with the compromise of: cuius regio, eius religio; whoever is in charge of a given part of the empire has the right to determine its religion. This is also the way the Middle East, if undisturbed by outsiders, would find a peaceful resolution.

The Sunni-Shia conflict is the counterpart of the split in the Christian religion of the 16th and 17th century, and will have to be resolved within the overall Muslim community. Outsiders, the West as well as Russia, can only make things worse and prolong the conflict in a similar manner as intervention of other powers did in the Thirty Years War. But the West also must recognize that beyond the sectarian strife there is a nationalistic component which rejects our “modernity.” Instead of los von Rom a considerable segment of Muslim society wants independence from the West and its cultural domination, especially in some of its features that deeply offend the traditional societal code. This aspect can likewise not be suppressed by drones and bombs.

Since there is a “religious” component to the current upheavals, including the acts of terror outside the Middle East, the problem can only be solved when it has been taken out of the equation. We now must recognize that, as has been pointed out previously, ISIS’ religious philosophy is nothing else but a more vicious extension of Saudi Arabia’s dominant religious system: Wahhabism. ISIS’ money initially came from that country and subsidies may or may not persist. Currently one of the major income sources is the oil from the Mosul area which is illegally shipped to consumers via the good graces of our “ally” and NATO member Turkey.

The proper way to defeat ISIS would be to two-pronged. The religious aspect could be removed if Iran’s Supreme leader the Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and Saudi Arabia’s top cleric, Sheik Abdul-Aziz ibn Abdullah Al-ash Sheikh, were to sit down together and officially affirm that the Holy Koran does not allow Muslims to slaughter each other. Allah the “Compassionate and Merciful” in whose name the Holy Koran is written and Who is constantly evoked by both sides does not condone wanton killing and especially the murder of innocents. It is the latter that is carried out by misguided youths who are trained by evil adults to don suicide vests or explode bombs by remote control. If these two religious leaders were able to lay their personal articles of faith aside and meet each other not as Shia vs. Sunni but as Muslims with a common Holy Book they would first embrace each other and then issue a joint Fatwa. This would declare that anyone who incites or carries out an attack on another Muslim is immediately expelled from the community of believers (Ummah) and will not enter paradise upon death but hell instead. This would have an immediate salutary effect and influx of fighters from abroad would decrease to a trickle of mercenaries. These two leaders are aware of the dangers ISIS presents to Muslims around the world and have already criticized that group but never in a joint communiqué which is currently needed.

The second prong is finances. If the Saudis and other Sunni Gulf States were still to supply ISIS with needed funds they should first be warned to cease and desist and if the warning were to be ignored economic sanctions could be taken. The Turkish government could likewise unequivocally be told that tolerating oil shipments through their country is unacceptable and if they were to persist, NATO membership would be reconsidered. Under those circumstances ISIS’ income would be reduced to confiscatory taxes from the citizens under its control. This is, however, the best way to create dissent and an uprising against the regime, especially when the religious aspect has been removed. The political borders within the Middle East could subsequently be redrawn by the people living there rather than by outside powers.  

I believe that this would be a rational way to end the current war and its concomitant refugee problem. But as we also know the majority of our fellow citizens around the world, and especially those in positions of power, have not achieved a mental state that would justify the title “Homo Sapiens.” They are driven by emotions and desire for gain and in this manner cause as well as prolong immeasurable suffering. Throwing bombs is much easier and also makes money for the armaments industry. If our leadership were, however, to consider for a moment the implications of the previously mentioned law of karma, it would change its thinking and conduct. Although karma is the word for just retribution in Hindu/Buddhist thought, the idea was known to the ancient Egyptians who said: the deed returns to the doer. This was the basis of the concept of Maat which has been discussed in previous installments (Our Need for Maat August 1, 2007; Counter-Religion September 1, 2007)). If we now were to apply this concept to our conduct as a nation one would begin to shudder at the fate that may befall our children, grandchildren and great grandchildren. The bombs which we so liberally dispense over most of the globe will fall on us! From this point of view the so-called War on Terror has to be stopped now and our ruling powers need to think of better ways to deal with the evil ISIS undoubtedly represents.

The next installment will continue the discussion of current events in the Middle East because the problem of “religious fundamentalism” is not limited to ISIS and “martyrdom” for political ends also requires constructive assessment.

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