What is death? Dr. R.L. Bijlani Life is a phenomenon shrouded in mystery, and so is death. Editor's note: Written by an eminent physiologist, this article explores different aspects of death. Dr.R.L. Bijlani has been working on Yoga/physiology at the All India Institute of Medical Science, New Delhi for many years.
Decentralisation and dispersion of cells: The Mother described death as the“decentralisation and dispersion of the cells which make up the physical body (8).” To elaborate, She said, “Death is the decentralisation of the consciousness contained in the body’s cells (9).” The Supreme Consciousness expresses itself in the universe in diverse forms. Each form expresses the universal Consciousness to varying degrees. Although the level of expression differs, every atom has a consciousness, every cell has a consciousness, and every individual has a consciousness. During much of the lifetime of an individual, the consciousness of each cell is centred around the consciousness of the individual. But there comes a time when this centralisation becomes weak.
As the Mother says, “The central will of the physical being abdicates its will to hold all the cells together… It is this which inevitably precedes death (10).” In order to understand why and when the process of decentralisation begins, one may turn to what happens before decentralisation. The consciousness of the individual is not static during life. Its ultimate destiny is to meet its source, or to express the Supreme Consciousness or Universal Spirit completely. These steps are taken using the body as an instrument. As a result of these steps, there is a growth in the consciousness of the individual. But due to the limited plasticity of the body, further growth of consciousness is not possible while retaining the same body. The body which served as an instrument for the growth of consciousness now becomes a bar to further growth...
Life is a phenomenon shrouded in mystery, and so is death. Clinical death is now defined as the permanent and irreversible cessation of function of any one of the three interconnected vital systems, viz. nervous system, circulatory system and respiratory system. Even after the person as a whole is no longer alive, individual cells and tissues remain viable for variable periods of time, making their transplantation possible. Physiologically, death represents failure of the homeostatic mechanisms. Cell death by necrosis as well as apoptosis is a regular phenomenon, but the organism continues to be alive due to replacement of cells. However, a point is reached when replacement and physiological reserve are unable to compensate for deterioration due to aging. Impairment of function beyond a point in one or more vital organs results in death of the whole organism.
The Mother described death as the “decentralisation and dispersion of cells (21).”At the mental level, the replacement of the ‘will to live’ by a ‘wish to die’ is probably the beginning of decentralisation. Decentralisation is followed by ill-health, and finally death. On the purely material plane, the time of death is inexorably fixed. But on higher planes of consciousness, a different type of determinism prevails. That is why the will to live, or its absence, may have a role in determining the time of death. Psychoneuroimmunology provides some partial but plausible explanations for the phenomenon.Death is both a physiological and a spiritual necessity. As Sri Aurobindo says:
“Even if Science…were to discover the necessary conditions or means for an indefinite survival of the body, …the soul would find some way to abandon it and pass on to a new incarnation …its true inmost reason is the spiritual necessity for the evolution of a new being(22).”However, that does not mean death will always be there in its present form. The Mother reassures us that with the descent of a new level of consciousness on earth, death is now “the memory of a disastrous past (23).”