Nearly every human has curiosity and questions about what happens after death. As far as we know, and what Sage Vaishtha illustrates in this Question-and-Answer, is that the experience is different for everyone, for the mind is different for everyone – for each and every mind is unique in its tendencies, desires and thoughts generated by same.
Atma the Self, the soul, the life principle, the divine core of personality, man’s individual indwelling reality (jivatma)
jñan, Hin. m. jñana San. n. (from jña – to know) true intuited understanding; spiritual wisdom; higher knowledge. gyani, one with wisdom
atma-gyan: direct knowledge of the Atma; self-realisation; knowledge of the Atmic state.
vasana: tendencies or desires; ideations generated by tendencies or desires;
prana-apana: breath that is inhaled and exhaled; vital force, life-breath;
Question 97: Sir, how does a jiva become unconscious after death? Since his body becomes inert after death and remains as it is, how does he undergo sufferings?
Answer: Ramji, the actions performed by a jiva with ego are accumulated and these are manifested again in due course. The result of the actions performed with vasana is manifested without fail. This gross body appears moving due to the power of prana and apana running through it, and when it (potency of prana-apana) (breath that is inhaled and exhaled) is withdrawn from the body, the subtle body leaves the gross body, after which the latter becomes inert and immobile. The unwise experience grave sufferings while leaving the gross body, due to their separation from family and possessions.
O Ramji, birth and death are experienced on account of illusion; these do not occur in Atma. Forgetting the true form, the ideation arising in pure consciousness assumes itself to be a body, cognises as wandering in the cycle of birth and death and experiences pleasure and pain according to its strong vasana. The vasana is the cause of wandering in the cycle of birth and death; Atma is beyond birth and death. Atma is pure consciousness, always established in itself and free from all ideations. It is all-pervasive, and ideations occur on its support. Death also is an idea (vasana); in reality, there is neither birth nor death. Only he who has a firm idea of death dies; he whose faith is free from the idea of death does not die.
Vasana is the cause of bondage, and all bondages cease with the extinction of vasana. Atmagyan is the easy solution for the extinction of vasana. With the attainment of Atmagyan, the universe becomes non-existent and vasana, too, dies out.
Human beings are attached to having a body, and taking in information and experiences through the five senses. Human beings are in fact pure consciousness, a soul (read Atma), encased in a body along with a subtle body that brings the mind and its tendencies and karma along with it. The mind always accompanies the soul to a new body. The goal of the spiritual life that is presented is realisation of the Atmic state (I have no birth – nor death) and the experience of yourself as pure consciousness.
One thing that definitely happens at death is our consciousness no longer receives input from the body, for, as Sage Vasishtha says above, it is inert. It cannot send signals to the mind. And the mind begins to suffer.
One of the greatest difficulties for embodied beings is the transition state of consciousness you call death. This is due to the fact that all perceptual markers, including the five senses, disappear. If a person identifies solely with his/her material existence, he or she will find this transition state to be most difficult. This is because what she or he identified with no longer exists.
Although the physical world continues on, there is no input into consciousness from the five senses. It is as if the world has vanished and the body along with it. The great I Am, the central feature of transcendent consciousness, no longer receives information from the body, the five senses, or the external world. This can be deeply disturbing and disorienting for someone who has not directly experienced the other realms of his or her being.