Babaji, Please Advise. What Happens When a Person Dies?
It was 18 years ago that I heard the loud thud on the kitchen floor that changed the direction of my life completely. Aug 3, 2002 was that fated day. It was on that hot, humid late afternoon day that I held my father’s hand on the hardwood kitchen floor of the home that he so lovingly built, as he took his last breath.
I was 30 years old and a jet-setting strategic business consultant living in Boston. I drove the two hours home to our country house in the rolling green hills of New Hampshire for the weekend for a family reunion. Little did I know that it was a reunion of a different kind. My family members were gathered together alright. But not like I had anticipated. There were no games and parties. No laughing. No dancing. We were gathered together now in our grief of the great patriarch of our family who had succumbed to a sudden heart attack at the age of 55.
And for me, as it turns out, this day marked the day of my greatest pain. And my greatest gift. For on this day, I began my spiritual journey. You see, up until the day my father died, I was an atheist. I was raised in a family in which neither my mother nor my father believed in God. In their childhood, both of my parents had horrible experiences with organized religion, so they decided not force it upon their kids. It wasn't that they were against God. In fact, they both considered themselves as spiritual, but they did not share their convictions with us kids. They told us that it was up to each of us to find our own way in terms of what we believed about God. I pretty much idealized my parents, and so I followed their lead. I did not actively pursue or investigate anything about it.
Consequently, the only experience that I had in the first 30 years of my life with God was a handful of times when I went to church for a wedding or a funeral. Well, of course, I also tagged along to the local Catholic church with one of my neighborhood friends, Colleen, when I was a little girl. But that was only because her family went to the candy store after church and I would get to pick out a whole bag full of sweet treats. My mom was strict and didn’t allow me to have candy very often, so I endured Sunday’s at church with the McDonald family in order to get my sugar fix. But I didn’t understand what church was all about. And my parents did not bother to explain it to me since they did not believe in organized religion.
So, you can imagine my surprise as an adult when I was holding my father’s hand as he died and I saw a blue light. My sister and cousin were doing CPR, desperately pumping his chest hard, and forcefully breathing air into his lungs, trying to revive him. My other family members were standing around gasping, crying, and yelling in panic. In the midst of this scene, I let go of my father’s hand and calmly walked away to the other room. Although they were still trying to fight for his life, I knew the moment that he left his body because I felt his energy leave it. And at that moment I also saw a blue light and I felt an incredible peace rush over me. I knew he was gone. I knew he had left his body. I knew with certainty that he was not coming back. I didn’t want to tell my family members this because they would think I was crazy. Quite frankly, I didn’t know what to make of it either because up until that moment, I did not believe there was something after death. I thought that we are just this body, and that when we die, that is it. Lights out. Game over. Finito. My father lived by the motto, “You only rock once,” and he ingrained that into my head. He lived his life like this was the only life he ever will live. He preached about living each day like it was our last. I even remember a letter he wrote to me telling me that I should squeeze all of the juice out of the grape. He urged me to realize that this was my only life that I will ever live, so I should try to get all of the juice I can out of it every day. Every last drop. So, I tried my best to think like that and to live like that. But, now I was faced with a different paradigm. If we only live once, then what was this blue light leaving his body? Was that his soul? Where was it going? Is he going to live in some other place?
As I sat in the living room and calmly called family members to inform them of my father’s sudden passing, my sisters and cousins and mother were in anguish in the room next door, still trying to bring my father back to life. It was not until two hours later at the hospital, when they gave up trying. The doctors finally pronounced my father dead at 5:40pm on Sunday, Aug 3, 2002.
Many years passed as I searched for the answers to what actually had happened when my father died. What was that blue light that I saw, and that immense feeling of peace that I experienced when he left his body? And, where did he go when he left his body? I sought out Buddhism for this answer. However, despite the nice meditation practices that I learned, I could not find the answers to my questions about his death that resonated with me. When I graduated from the Kripalu school of Ayurveda in 2006, I made a resolve to go to India to spread my father’s ashes. I still didn’t understand exactly yet what had happened to my father’s soul when he left his body. But at least I could understand that he had a soul and that it left his body when he died. I still didn’t know what the blue light was that I saw and where his soul went. But, I knew that India was a spiritual place and I had read a book that Varanasi was a holy place where they spread the ashes of the dead. Something about that intrigued me and I made a resolve to go. I didn't know when. I didn't know how. But at least I knew where. India was the place that had captured my heart, although I couldn't explain why exactly.
On Aug 3, 2007, five years after my father’s passing, I sat in a boat on the Ganga river in Varanasi, India. Drenched in sweat, the hard, dirty wooden floors of the boat held me in my ornate newly custom-made silk blue and yellow kurta suit. In this ceremony to release my father’s ashes, I chanted each mantra aloud that the Brahman priest instructed. The old wide wooden boat rocked gently, in the water of this sacred river as it beckoned to us, eager to receive my father’s ashes. After one hour of chanting, and offering incense, ladoos, a ghee lamp, fruit, rose water, and fragrant jasmine flowers, it was finally time to say good-bye to my father. Yes, we had already had the official funeral five years back when he died. But, for some reason, this ceremony on a river in a country that I had never been to before meant more to me. Chanting the mantras over the container of my father’s ashes sent a feeling of ecstasy through my body, something I had not experienced before. It felt as if the mantras were alive, energizing me, and coursing through my veins. The final instruction of the Brahman priest was to throw my father’s ashes over my shoulder and, “Don’t look back.” And so, I did. Mother Ganga embraced my father. I had to finally let him go.
Although I felt happy about the ceremony, and knowing that I was lucky to be able to deliver my father’s ashes into this sacred river, I still was not at peace with everything. I still did not understand exactly where his soul went? And what was that blue light that I saw?
It took another 8 years until I had the good fortune to meet Babaji, who finally explained to me the answer to these questions. The day that I took diksha, formal initiation as his student, was the first day that I met Babaji. I came to India, on the advice of his brother, Dr. Chauhan, who had arranged everything with Babaji for me. As I sat in Babaji’s office, Babaji asked if I had any questions. The question that had been lingering in my mind for the last 13 years came flowing out before I even realized that I asked it.
As I told Babaji the story about my father’s death, and my experience feeling him leave his body, tears rushed down my face, remembering the shock of it all. I felt overwhelmed with grief. I felt embarrassed in front of Babaji, as I cried in front of this wise guru whom I had never met before. I wanted to crawl underneath a blanket and cry myself to sleep like I had done so many times in the past when I was grieving over my father. But some part of me also realized this amazing opportunity to get my questions answered by this great master. So, through my tears, aching heart and nervous stomach, I continued. My voice shaking, I muttered, “What happened to my father’s soul after he died, Babaji?”
Babaji’s calm disposition and peaceful voice soothed my grieving heart as he explained, “Your father is really not dead. It is only the body which dies and takes birth. The soul never dies. It is immortal. The body is just the vehicle for the soul. So, you have to decide if you are grieving for the soul of your father or for the body. If you grieve for the body it is futile because the body is temporary and has to die one day. Anyone who is born has to die. It is just a matter of time. Your father died when he was 55. He could have lived another 25 years and then have died. You will still have grieved. Of course, I understand that this was unexpected and sudden, but anyone’s death is uncertain. Anyone can die anytime including I and you. It is just that we forget this fact. And then when the reality hits, we grieve. The fact is that we are always dying at every moment. If you are 42 now, it means you have died 42 years of your life. Although you don’t think that way. And even your own body has died so many times. The body that you had when you were a child is dead and gone. The body which you had when you were a teenager is also dead and gone. Scientifically speaking, every cell in our body changes in a span of seven years. That means that the body I had 7 years ago is no more with me. It is just because the change is very slow and incremental, we don’t feel it. So, we should not grieve for the body because it is perishable. And there is no need to grieve for the soul because it is immortal. You may meet your father in this life or a future life in a different body. You would not recognize him, but if that is your intense desire, you surely will meet him.”
Whoa, those were potent words. Words I have never heard before. I wanted to know more.
I continued, "But, Babaji. I miss more than my father’s body. I miss talking to him. I miss laughing with him. I guess what I mean is that I miss his personality. I miss our relationship. He was the most important man in my life. He was my best friend. We analyzed everything about life together. When he died, I felt like part of me died with him. I will never get to talk to my dad again and that makes me feel so sad. There have been so many important moments in my life that I wanted to tell my dad about, but I could not. I can't ever have that relationship again. I think that is what I am grieving over," I said as I wiped the stinging tears from my eyes.
Babaji responded, "All relationships are temporary. We meet people in this life based on our past karma. When karma is over, our relationship comes to an end. Death certainly brings an end to relations, but even without death, we break-up. The very people whom we once loved and we thought we cannot live without them, we break-up with them too. Indeed, we say, ‘I cannot live with you.’ So, I am sure you had your boyfriends whom you loved and now you don’t care for them anymore. Otherwise, you will be just sitting around and grieving. You have had parents, children and friends in your past lives, but now you don’t even remember them. Maybe somebody who was your son in your past life is still alive. And if he comes and meets you, you won’t even recognize him, forget about having any loving sentiments towards him. So, this is the story of all relations here. Truly speaking, you are not grieving for your father. You are grieving for your own self. Your father would have already taken birth somewhere and he is probably a happy young adolescent now, oblivious of all of his children, like you, in his past life. And he is not grieving for you. So, what you are grieving for is not for him, but for yourself. Just like when there is a break-up, then the lovers may grieve, but then they find another partner and they don’t grieve anymore. So, if they were grieving for their ex-lover, they should still be grieving because they still don’t have him or her. So that means the grief is actually about your own emptiness in the heart. If that emptiness is filled by someone else, then there is not grief. However, if you are too much attached to your father, you can still feel his presence through meditation, and even contact his soul. But I really don’t advise it.”
With Babaji's deep and beautiful answer, a calm enveloped my heart, like the cool morning fog blanketing a mountain lake.
I still had some more questions. After all, I had been thinking about my father’s death for the last 13 years since he died. So, I pressed on, "Babaji, if his soul is eternal, then where did it go when he died? I felt his soul leave his body. Where is he now?” I asked.
Babaji said, “Your father must have taken another birth. We take birth according to our karma. And as I said, if you truly miss him then you can meet him again, even in this life, since you feel so close to him.”
“That is so interesting Babaji. Can I ask you one more question about what happened the day he died?”
“Yes, of course,” Babaji warmly invited me to continue.
“What was that blue light that I saw when my father left his body?”
“When people die, they are covered in a blue light. That is a sign of cellular death. It is not visible to most people. You must have some special gift to be able to see this,” Babaji shared.
I asked, “Maybe it was a gift from God, to trigger some curiosity in me about life after death? Because this curiosity is what drove me to eventually find my way to you for the answer.”
“Welcome home,” Babaji smiled a pleasant smile that made me feel so relaxed and comfortable, in my new home called Vrindavan.
Spreading my fathers ashes on the Ganges river, Varanasi. Aug 3, 2007.