This article, the sixth in a 12-part series, is reprinted with permission of IntentBlog.
Note: While writing a new book on the afterlife, (Life After Death: The Burden of Proof) I kept being drawn back to stories that I'd heard in India as a child. In these stories the abstract issues of death, immortality, and eternity acquire a human face as ordinary people confronted the mystery of death. I hoped that reader will be intrigued by a world where heroes battle darkness in order to emerge into the light.
In this case the hero is a woman named Savitri, and the enemy she must defeat is Yama, the lord of death. Yama shows up in her front yard one day, waiting to take away her husband the moment he returns from his work as a woodcutter. Will she succeed? What strategy can possibly turn Death away from his inexorable mission?
Part 6: (Begin at part 1 by clicking here.)
“I am deeply grateful for all that you have taught me,” Savitri said. It was getting late, and to tell the truth she was beginning to lose hope of returning home. “I am resigned to living alone, and perhaps I can visit you to learn more.”
“Is anyone ever alone?” Ramana said. The forest was enfolded in purple shadows, and Savitri couldn’t read the expression on his face clearly.
“I feel alone,” she said.
“Often feelings aren’t trustworthy,” Ramana pointed out.
Suddenly there was a stir in the bushes by the side of the path. Savitri jumped back. “What was that?” she exclaimed, all at once feeling the return of her anxiety.
“Ghosts.” Ramana had stopped short. “It’s time you met them, for having traveled beyond this life, ghosts and spirits have much to teach.”
He stood still and beckoned her to keep quiet. Savitri froze in place, and a chill passed over her skin. After a moment someone emerged from the dimness of the forest–a baby. A little girl no more than two years old, toddling toward them but not looking their way.
“Don’t!” Ramana warned. He saw that Savitri wanted to run and hold the baby.
The baby looked around blankly, then it crossed the path and disappeared into the woods again.
“Did you recognize her?” Ramana asked.
“No, how could I? Is she lost?” Savitri felt confused and disturbed by what she’d witnessed. Instead of answering her directly, Ramana said, “There are more. You’re attracting them.” At that moment a second ghost appeared, this time a girl of four. Savitri was dumbfounded. “Do you know that one?” he asked.
At that, the ghost peered her way for a moment before wandering away. “So the baby was also me?”
Ramana nodded. “Every former self you have left behind is a ghost. Your body is no longer the body of a child. Your thoughts, desires, fears, and hopes have changed. It would be terrible to walk around with all your dead selves holding on. Let them go.”
Savitri could say nothing. One by one apparitions of herself appeared. She witnessed the girl of ten who sat by her mother’s side in the kitchen, the girl of twelve blushing to talk to a boy, the ardent young woman who was obsessed with Satyavan, her first love. The last ghost was the most startling, because it was like a mirror image, exactly her age and wearing the same shawl that Savitri had thrown on when she fled her hut.
“You see, even the self you had today is a ghost,” said Ramana.
When this last apparition had faded back into the forest, Savitri said, “What do they have to teach me?”
“That death has been with you every moment of your life,” Ramana replied. “You have survived thousands of deaths every day as your old thoughts, your old cells, your old emotions, and even your old identity passed away. Everyone is living the afterlife right now. What is there to fear or doubt?”
“But they seemed so real,” Savitri said.
“Yes, as real as dreams,” said Ramana. “But the real you is here and now, not in the past.”
Savitri had never seen herself in this way, but now Ramana gave her courage again. “I am still determined to defeat death, for I want Satyavan in my arms again. But if Yama is victorious, I won’t cling to ghosts. At least I have won that much wisdom.”