Death is a dark reality of life every living being is destined to face. No matter what powerful positions we hold or how much luxurious life we enjoy while we live, there is literarily no escape from this ultimate fate. From the beggar to the king, and from an ant to an elephant, we are all bound to die one day regardless of who we are. But I am just wondering if it is possible for the dying person to notice what is happening to him as his stream of consciousness leaves his body. I have heard that many people appear to go through a series of strange experiences as they die, but are those experiences just hallucinations as some people think or is it a normal process of dying? It is difficult to understand the actual process of death but I have learned from my late father that it is definitely the start of a new and unique journey into eternity.
I think it was sometime in 1989 when this incident happened. I was about 9 years old and I was living with my late father in a place called Tashila under Wangdue Phodrang District. I had already lost my sight and I was living alone with my father after both my half-sister and younger brother died of some unknown disease. My father used to work in the production of charcoals during those days. One evening, he told me he was going to attend a ritual ceremony somewhere in the community and that I would have to spend the night on my own. I agreed and let him go. He returned in the morning with one of his friends and he sounded very sick when he spoke. His friend told me that my father was not feeling well and that he needed to take rest. He then helped my father make his bed and left. As my father drifted off to sleep, I sat on the edge of his bed carefully listening to his breathing. I still don’t know what made me so worried but something urged me to remain vigilant and alert. As I listened to his breathing, I could not hear anything. I placed my hand on his chest but could not feel any movement. I called out for him several times but I couldn’t get any response. That at once sent me to panic and a huge wave of nervousness crept down my spine. Since I had been blind for sometime, I was quite familiar with the local environment. So I rushed out of the house and raced to get some help. I bumped into a couple of obstacles on the way as I rushed to call the Lepcha Shaman in whom most of the people in the neighborhood had so much faith. Finally I reached his house all by myself and to my luck, he was still at home. When I told him about my father’s condition, he straightaway agreed to come with me. As we were coming, another Shaman also joined us. I felt so lucky. When we reached my house, my father was still dead like a log. The two Shamans hastily prepare their stuffs to perform a special ritual. They made some fires to burn some incense materials and jointly began their ritual. They burned a rag and waved around my father’s body as they chanted some strange mantras. Soon my father began to move and regained his consciousness. The ritual was soon over and my father was able to talk normally. The two Shamans said to my father that he had nearly stepped on a ritual cake that was offered to evil spirits in the jungle and this matched with my father’s statement about how he had gone to the bush the previous night to relieve himself just before he began to feel sick. I don’t know what actually caused his illness, but he was aware that he had died briefly. The story he shared with us after he came back to life was strange. He told us that soon he fell asleep, he found himself on a mystical journey through unique places of spectacular beauty. He said that the more he walked, the more beautiful places he reached, each luring him forward with natural charm and grandeur. He didn’t see any creature or human being on the way, and it was a pure land of miracles and natural beauty. He said he had never wanted to return, but it seems he heard a huge thud as the gate closed upon his path. It was at this time that he regained his consciousness and came back to life. I felt thankful to the two Shamans who brought my father back and gave him another chance to live. More importantly, my father got the opportunity to experience what it is like to go through the dying process although everybody may not experience the same thing.
Some people have different experiences to share. One of my friends who suffered heart-stroke a couple of years ago says he heard the sound of Buddhist ritual musical instruments being played as his consciousness seemed to leave him. He was literarily dead until he reached the hospital, but miraculously he survived that tragic moment and is doing well today. The first thing he told me when I went to see him in the hospital was that the only thing he could remember was how he was led away along with the mysterious melody of ritual musical instruments specially the drums and singing bowls in rhythm of the accompanying trumpets. So what I have come to understand from those near-death experiences of my friend and my late father is that death is certainly a process and we have the possibility of experiencing each stage as our soul prepares to leave our body. I have been somehow convinced that there is life after death and when we die, it’s only our body that dies. Our soul never dies. But what kind of body we are to come with in our next life totally depends on how meaningfully we live this life. So let us all live true to the meaning of humanity and focus only on good deeds. God bless all sentient beings!