The very fact that today a subject who had been technically dead for a few moments can be revived with life-support systems shows that life-energy was potentially present though not decipherable. ‘Within certain limits that which is dead can be revived; the habitual operations, the response, the circulation of active energy can be restored; and this proves what we call life was still there in the body, latent, that is to say, not active in its usual habits...’ (Ibid).
It has been a custom with health workers to designate a subject in coma to be in a ‘vegetative’ state, ostensibly implying a suspension of consciousness from where death would be the next state. It has been only as late as 2010 when the European Task Force on Disorders of Consciousness acknowledged that the term ‘vegetative’ had too many negative connotations and sought to officially substitute it by the term ‘unresponsive wakefulness syndrome’. This step was initiated after some severely brain damaged patients showed residual cortical processing in the absence of behavioural signs of consciousness (Laureys S, et al : Unresponsive wakefulness syndrome; a new name for the vegetative state or apallic syndrome, BMC Medicine, 2010,8:68). This echoed what Sri Aurobindo had written a century earlier, ‘In certain cases, such as catalepsy, we see that the outward physical signs and operations of life are suspended, but the mentality is there self-possessed and conscious although unable to compel the usual physical responses’ (The Life Divine, pg 194-195).
One interesting area is the trance state. It is an altered state of consciousness lasting a certain spell. Once the spell is over, there is a return to the pre-trance status quo. Trance states can be cultural phenomena as during religious rituals subjects neither bleed nor feel pain when they jump on a bed of thorns, walk through fire or pierce their tongues. Trance states can also reflect deep spiritual states like the experience of Samadhi in Raj Yoga. Sri Aurobindo had observed like an expert clinician, ‘in certain forms of trance, both the physical functionings and the outward mental are suspended, but afterwards resume their operation, in some cases by external stimulation, but more normally by a spontaneous return to activity from within. What has really happened is that the surface mind-force has been withdrawn into subconscious mind and the surface life-force into sub-active life and either the whole man has lapsed into the subconscious existence or else he has withdrawn his outer life into the subconscious while his inner being has been lifted into the superconscient’ (Ibid, pg 195).
How does the body die?
The bodily form can die or disintegrate in three ways:
(a) The bodily form has been damaged in such a way that it can no longer be a fit receptacle to hold the quantum of life-energy necessary for animating it: ‘a lesion has been inflicted on the body as makes it useless or incapable of the habitual functionings’ (Ibid, pg 195);
(b) The life energy does not get the correct milieu to maintain the homeostasis: ‘the Force that should renew the life-action becomes entirely inert to the pressure of the environing forces with whose mass of stimulation it was wont to keep up a constant interchange (Ibid)’. However, during the process of disintegration [in both (a) and (b)], Life-Energy has to itself conduct the process of de-linking and disentangling its roots and points of attachment from the body –that is also a designated task : Life has to be ‘busy only with the process of disintegrating the formed substance so that it may escape in its elements and constitute with them new forms’ (Ibid) ;
(c) Death finally ensues when the Universal Will withdraws its fulcrum of support to the individual bodily form: ‘The Will in the universal force that held the form together, now withdraws from constitution and supports instead a process of dispersion. Not till then is there the real death of the body’ (Ibid).
Death therefore is a disintegration and dispersion of the bodily form so that the Life-Energy so long supporting the form gets disentangled and free to reconstitute new forms.
Date of Update:
- By Dr. Soumitra Basu