Everywhere in the world, people say they wish to die peacefully. What they mean is, they do not want to die in a choppy manner; they want to recede gently. There are simple things that can be done for those who are nearing death. You can place a traditional oil lamp next to that person, burning constantly -- 24 hours a day. The lamp will create the right kind of atmosphere. If you are there, you will notice that it makes a difference, even if it is not dark. This comes from the understanding that when you light a lamp, it fills the room with a certain energy. This creates an aura so that the choppy nature of withdrawal can be regulated to some extent. The lamp should have a cotton wick and be filled with ghee (clarified butter), or butter if ghee is not available. These natural substances are used because they exude positivity.
The second thing that can be done is to have a certain chant playing softly in the background. There are various universal chants that will ensure that the choppy withdrawal can be avoided. One that is available from our ashram is Brahmananda Swarupa. This is a consecrated chant, a certain amount of work has been done on it. The lamp and chant should continue up to 14 days after one has been certified dead, because that person may be medically dead but not existentially dead. Death happens slowly. The withdrawal of the life process from the body happens step-by-step. For all practical purposes, the activity of the lungs, heart and brain has stopped so a person is declared dead, but it is not yet so. Even if the person's body is burnt, he is still not dead because his movement into the other realm has not begun.
This is why in Indian culture, various rituals are conducted up to 14 days after someone dies. Unfortunately, the knowledge and power behind these rituals have mostly been lost, and people are just conducting them for their livelihood. Very few truly understand the significance. When someone is able to leave their body absolutely consciously, we do not do anything. But for all others, certain rituals are conducted because you have to show them the way.
When someone dies, the first thing that is done is to burn anything that has been in touch with their body, such as underclothes. Outer garments, jewelry, and other possessions are distributed to many people -- not just to one person -- within three days. Everything is distributed as quickly as possible. These things were done not only to settle the dead, but also to settle the family and relatives, so that they understand that it is over.
Everywhere in the world, death is held in a certain way, irrespective of culture. It is said, "Even if your enemy is dying right now, you must create an atmosphere for him to die peacefully. Do not do ugly things to this person." Maybe you shot him in battle, but you take off your hat when he is dying or say a prayer. When someone is dying, at that moment the whistle has already been blown and the game is over. There is no point kicking now.
When you see the dead are not treated with respect, something within you shakes. Not because you have to treat a body with respect, but because he is exiting slowly. It does not matter how that person lived, at least his death must happen well. Every human being must have that much intention to allow others to die gracefully.
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