Friday, January 11, 2013

A Life After Death?

I started to write this post to reflect on the importance of rituals but realised that I was actually pondering on the profound question of whether there is life after death.

What has prompted such thoughts? In the past 15 months, two close relatives have died—my Mother's Uncle in late 2011 after a long and slow decline, and my Father-in-law, quite suddenly, at the end of August. I was feeling a little lost after the death of my Father-in-law and it wasn't until I delved into my Chinese roots (with all its superstitions and ancestor worship) that I gained a sense of closure.

We have a buddha sitting beneath two trees in our garden. On a low-hanging bough above it, I have a wind chime.

11th November, Remembrance Day. Exactly a year had passed since my Uncle died. To honour his memory, I placed a dietes flower in front of the buddha, lit a stick of incense, and spent a couple of minutes in contemplation. All was quiet and then I heard the gentle tinkle of the wind chime.

Four days later, on what would have been my Father-in-law's birthday, I placed a gerbera and a couple of apricot balls in front of the buddha, lit a stick of incense, and burnt a card inscribed with a birthday message. And afterwards, in the quiet moments of contemplation, I again heard the gentle tinkle of the wind chime.

Was it just the breeze or something more?

“As a man leaves an old garment and puts on one that is new, the Spirit leaves his mortal body and then puts on one that is new.”
Bhagavad Gita II.22

Many religions and philosophies include the concept of reincarnation or rebirth—Hinduism and Buddhism probably being the two most likely to come to mind. Sacred texts on which these ideas were based describe the soul (our real self or atma) moving through different lives, striving to achieve liberation (moksha) from the cycle of birth and death through an awakening, a knowledge of one's mind or true self. Yoga is a path to achieving this self-knowledge.

I would love there to be an afterlife but rationally, I cannot believe that there is a life after this. The Bhagavad Gita indicates that we are unaware of our previous lives:

“Invisible before birth are all beings and after death invisible again.” [II.28]

Until one achieves moksha our previous lives are invisible to us.

For me, it's always been a question of numbers. How can we have increasing population numbers unless there are an infinite number of souls waiting to be born or re-born?

And does it matter whether we have one life or many? Shouldn't we aim in this life to be the best person we can be, to be and do “good”; the basic tenet of our societies?

When asked whether there was life after death, Swami Niranjan once replied, “Let me die first then I can tell you.” [2]

He continued, “There are certain mysteries in life which cannot be answered ... [All the realized beings say] ‘We have presented our view and it is up to you to discover it.’”

As for my experience, it was probably a slight breeze that sounded the chimes. Yet, I found it comforting to think that both times it was an acknowledgement or thank you from my Uncle and Father-in-law.


  1. The Bhagavad Gita (Penguin Classics), Translated by Juan Mascaró
  2. The Message of Yoga, Yoga Magazine, May 1997
  3. Hinduism: Reincarnation, Samsara and Karma,,Viewed 10 January 2013

Other articles and books:


  1. Debbie, I believe that your uncle and FIL's atma came and thanked you for remembering them. I always feel the existence of my parents (departed souls)whenever i sincerely pray and remember them. Recently, during my India's trip in Dec, I came to know that that Dec 29th was my Sis FIl's death anniversary. At that time, my sis was in USA and I was staying in her house. I cooked milk sweet(Payasam) and offered it to him. I felt the presence of that atma.


    1. Thank you Swaraj!
      It was certainly a comforting thought.


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