Dying While Living
The history of philosophy and religion abounds with descriptions from romantics and visionaries who vehemently proclaim that "man's common consciousness is only a shadow of reality": witness Plato's Cave, Dostoevsky's Underground, and Plotinus, who said, "Insofar as the soul is in the body it rests in deep sleep" ( Plotinus III, V.6.).
What does Plotinus mean by this statement? Does he echo Euripides, who would have us consider physical death and thereafter as "life" and corporeal existence no more than a dream? Or is Plotinus emphasizing that knowledge is primarily attained through disembodied experience? If the latter is true, what is the significance of Gautama Buddha's "Death conquers all, so conquer death"; Mohammed's "Die before ye [*NOTE: Frederick Holch, Death and Eastern Thought (New York: Abingdon Press, 1974), page 122. *] die" ( Sura 3:27 ); and Christ's "Learn to die, that you may begin live."
The issue put forth by mystics, philosophers, and legendary religious figures is that humans are not conscious of their very selves--the soul, or that principle of divinity which is in tune with the One. For if one were to have this knowledge, the mysteries of life and death would become apparent. If one knew oneself as spirit, death would lose its surprise--its sting. Hence the mystical dictum "die while living."
Enigmatic as this phrase, "die while living," may be, it is claimed by philosophers and mystics alike to be the solution to end human suffering and the riddle of consciousness. As we shall see, this precept is interpreted in various ways, and each of these symbolizes a stage on the path to enlightenment. For instance, "dying while living" can be said to represent the struggle to attain virtue, i.e., thought to enhance humility and compassion, as well as grounding one in the ethical base--so crucial to spiritual development. "Dying" in this instance suggests detachment from desires of sensate living.
Dying while living can mean a release from the psychological boundaries of mind and matter and a spiritual flight into the transcendental regions of the sublime. Here the pilgrim sees himself apart from the body and begins to acquire self-knowledge. Lastly, this maxim denotes the imagery of merger, annihilation, and complete surrender of identity in bhakti. It is at this stage of union between lover and Beloved that the ultimate death or culmination is realized.
To begin the task of illustrating the above components of dying while living , a systematic review of surat shabd yoga (lit., "union of the soul's attention with the sound current") will serve to organize the esoteric features involved with the art of withdrawing the soul from the body. This yoga was introduced by Kabir and the founder of the Sikh religion, Guru Nanak. [*NOTE: See W.H. McLeod, Guru Nanak and the Sikh Religion, (London: Oxford University Press, 1968), page 157. Although the actual physical meeting of Kabir and Nanak is doubtful, they ...