Most of humanity, living from a basis founded in the material body, treats the phenomenon of death as one of the paramount issues, central to everything else we do, and leading to extraordinary measures both to try to ensure individual survival and prolong life, as well as to religious and philosophical positions that fixate on the resurrection of the body and the reunification with friends and family in some future time. We also see an enormous number of rituals and ceremonies relating to death.
So the idea that “there is no death” is one that, initially, is hard to conceive. Sri Aurobindo makes the case: “There is no such thing as death, for it is the body that dies and the body is not the man. That which really is, cannot go out of existence, though it may change the forms through which it appears, just as that which is non-existent cannot come into being. The soul is and cannot cease to be.”
“Finite bodies have an end, but that which possesses and uses the body is infinite, illimitable, eternal, indestructible. It casts away old and takes up new bodies as a man changes worn-out raiment for new…”
“Who can slay the immortal spirit? Weapons cannot cleave it, nor the fire burn, nor do the waters drench it, nor the wind dry.”
When we are able to move our standpoint to the soul, and from their view life and death, karma and consequence, we recognise that we are not victims of death, but beyond the question of death, as the soul partakes of the transcendence of the Eternal in its essence.
The Katha Upanishad, in the dialogue between the youth Nachiketas and Yama, the Lord of Death, explores in great depth the issue of death and what is beyond death. This famous Upanishad points out the confusion and complexity of the issue, even among the seers and sages.
The teaching of the Bhagavad Gita takes up this question and reframes the viewpoint from which Arjuna needs to understand and act. Throughout human history we see a successive enlightenment that re-shapes the understanding we have about our lives, our role in the world, and the position of the earth in the universe. Initially, all things were focused on our central position in the universe, and our world being the center of creation. Over time we have recognised that the earth is peripheral to the sun, and the sun is part of one solar system, in one galaxy, in a universe that extends far beyond our widest conceptual ability. Each time we have moved away from the physical reality we knew to be true to accept the primacy of a truth that is counter-intuitive to our experience. The question of death follows this same growth of perspective.
Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita, First Series, Chapter 7, The Creed of the Aryan Fighter, pg. 57,