We have two choices in life, namely love or fear. Originally in Greek there were the opposing forces of Eros versus Thanatos, or love versus death. Naturally all fear stems from the original fear of death. On the path of self-realization the seeker comes to realize that for the eternal soul there is no death. This removes fear from the mind, if one is able to remember that we are not the body.
The theory is there for all to understand, yet the instincts are very strong and deep-seated. Even with theoretical understanding, when faced with imminent danger, our primitive brain kicks in, which is the amygdala, or the reptilian brain stem. And this is natural, which implies that we actually have to rise above our instincts and our natures, which are – after all – locked in to the body and mind.
It’s easy to dis-identify with the objects of the senses, the things with which we surround ourselves, but to detach from the body is the greatest challenge for the wandering soul. Even at the point of death, the subtle body (the mind) still imagines itself to be the person whose body we just inhabited. That astral construct remains as an identity even when the body is finished, apparently.
And thus the subtle astral body, which carries the pure eternal spirit soul, can become attached to a place or certainly the possessions or trappings that are left behind. This is especially the case if we have some serious attachments, like a loved one or material opulences. Naturally it may be hard to let go.
Fortunately we have the guidance of the handbook on life and death, called Bhagavad Gita, where the details of the spirit soul and it’s qualities are listed for us.
For example in chapter two, Krishna explains to Arjuna:
अविनाशि तु तद्विद्धि येन सर्वमिदं ततम् ।
विनाशमव्ययस्यास्य न कश्चित्कर्तुमर्हति ॥ १७ ॥
avināśi tu tad viddhi
yena sarvam idaṁ tatam
na kaścit kartum arhati
“That which pervades the entire body you should know to be indestructible. No one is able to destroy that imperishable soul.”
Bhagavad Gita As It Is chapter 2:17 translated by Swami A. C. Bhaktivedanta
This is one of several verses in this chapter where Krishna clearly describes our true identity. The body is only animated by the presence of consciousness, which is permeated throughout from head to toe. When the soul or consciousness leaves the body, all the parts are still there. There is no difference between a living or dead body – except the presence of consciousness. And that is the real self.
This one simple verse from the Gita sums up our nature and is thus a powerful mantra to remember at all times. Ultimately fate could require us to exit the body at any moment. We never know when our time is up. And so it pays to practice while still of healthy or sound mind, so that when it comes to the final test, we are prepared and ready to make the best of our departure from our temporary home.
Curiously there is a reference in another Vedic text called the Śvetāśvatara Upaniṣad (ch5:9) which actually describes the eternal spirit soul thus:
“When the upper point of a hair is divided into one hundred parts and again each of such parts is further divided into one hundred parts, each such part is the measurement of the dimension of the spirit soul.”
In other words the reference is saying that the soul is one ten thousandth the tip of a hair in size. You can make of this what you will, according to your personal insight or realization, but it certainly is humbling to perceive, especially when we have lived our lives in this comparatively giant physical vehicle.
However you wish to interpret it, the information certainly facilitates our detachment from the body. However, the same capacity for detachment from the mind will be less easy, for the mind continues as the subtle astral vehicle once leaving the body itself. Therefore we make it easier for ourselves by informing our minds on the true nature of reality and our identity by becoming familiar with the teachings of the Vedas and specifically the Gita, as spoken by Krishna to Arjuna as he faced imminent potential death in battle.
By arming ourselves with knowledge, we can cut the cords of attachment, as well as rise above and fear of loss. And by choosing love, we make the best decision while still healthy within the body, as well as when we are required to depart. Love, empathy and compassion are the highest qualities or traits that we can cultivate in this lifetime, and they provide the foundation upon which our consciousness can become elevated away from fear, attachment or greed. Wisdom is there for those who sincerely seek it, and with it our journey will be blessed and our life worthwhile.