Does consciousness continue after death?
Science & Consciousness
An article by Anando published in the italian Osho Times
As science develops more and more sophisticated ways to study the brain, in particular how and why we respond the way we do, it has opened the way for a whole new science - neuroscience. The current ‘hot’ topic of neuroscience, and indeed of philosophy, is to discover the code of consciousness – how the material brain produces our immaterial sense of awareness. Many feel this is something we will never be able to be understand, but others are ploughing ahead with research in this field.
Along the way, the new “discoveries” being made are giving a scientific basis to what Osho and other mystics have been saying down the centuries.
It may hasten their work if the scientists and the philosophers actually experiment with techniques of meditation, to make what Osho describes as the experience that you are not the body and not the mind, but just a witnessing awareness or consciousness. At the least meditation will give them a far better possibility to access and experience the conscious mind, than poking around in someone else’s head.
As Osho says, ‘All that can be experienced is not necessarily explainable, and all that can be explained is not necessarily experienceable. Mathematics can be explained easily, but there is no corresponding experience. Science can be explained easily, but even the greatest scientist is not transformed by his knowledge.’
Here are three examples which show how science is coming closer and closer to what Osho and other mystics have described from their own experience.
Does Consciousness Continue after Death?
Scientists in the US have started a huge 3-year project to explore the biology behind "out-of-body" experiences. They want to find out exactly what happens in the brain and the consciousness after the body dies (so-called ‘clinical death’). The Human Consciousness Project will examine around 1,500 people all over the world who survived after their hearts stopped functioning.
When the heart stops beating no blood gets to your brain, and after about 10 seconds brain activity ceases. That is normally the official death point. Yet around 10% or 20% of people who are brought back to life from that point, which may be a few minutes or over an hour, report having consciousness. They all report being able to see what is happening after that point, as if they were floating on the ceiling. The scientists want to confirm whether these are real experiences or hallucinations, by cross-checking what the patients’ report that they saw happening from above, with the doctors and nurses who were present. So far, hundreds of cases have been confirmed as accurate, to the amazement of the medical staff.
If the rest of the study continues in the same direction, it will confirm that consciousness continues even when the brain is not functioning. In other words, consciousness is something separate from the physical brain and body.
Dr Sam Parnia, a fellow at New York City's Weill Cornell Medical Center and one of the world's leading experts on the scientific study of death, says, “We're pushing through the boundaries of science here, working against assumptions and perceptions that have been fixed. A lot of people hold this idea that when you die, you die; that's it. Death is a moment - you know you're either dead or alive. All these things are not scientifically valid, but they're social perceptions.
“If you look back at the end of the 19th century, physicists at that time had been working with Newtonian laws of motion, and they really felt they had all the answers to everything that was out there in the universe. When we look at the world around us, Newtonian physics is perfectly sufficient. It explains most things that we deal with. But then it was discovered that actually when you look at motion at really small levels - beyond the level of the atoms - Newton's laws no longer apply. A new physics was needed, hence, we eventually ended up with quantum physics. It caused a lot of controversy - even Einstein himself didn't believe in it.
“Now, if you look at the mind, consciousness, and the brain, the assumption that the mind and brain are the same thing is fine for most circumstances, because in 99% of circumstances we can't separate the mind and brain; they work at the exactly the same time. But then there are certain extreme examples, like when the brain shuts down, that we see that this assumption may no longer seem to hold true. So a new science is needed in the same way that we had to have a new quantum physics.”
Some relevant Osho quotes (edited)
My own experience in childhood was in the flooded river of my town. Nobody used to swim across it when it was flooded. Ordinarily, it was a small river, but in rainy times it was at least one mile wide. The current of the water was tremendous; you could not stand in it. And the water was deep, so you couldn’t stand anyway.
I loved it. I waited for the rainy season and swam the river. There would come a moment when I would feel that I was dying, because I was tired and I could not see the other shore, and the waves were high and the current was strong, and there was no way to go back because the other shore was as far away. I would feel so completely tired and the water would take me down with such a force that there would come a time when I would see, "Now there is no possibility of living any more." And that was the moment when I would suddenly see myself above the water and my body in the water. When it happened the first time, it was a very frightening experience. I thought I must have died. I had heard that when you die the soul goes out of the body, so I thought I had gone out of the body and I had died. But I could see the body was still trying to reach the other shore, so I followed the body.
That was the first time I became aware of a connection between your essential being and the body. It is connected just below the navel - two inches below the navel - by something like a silver cord, a silver rope. It is not material, but it shines like silver. Each time I reached the other shore, the moment I reached the other shore my being would enter into the body. The first time it was frightening; then it became a great entertainment. I enjoyed it so much... the freedom, no force of gravitation, and seeing my own body completely away.
Then I moved to the university and there it happened once. Just behind the university campus there was a hillock with three trees. I used to love those trees because it was impossible to sit silently in the hostel. So I used to go and climb a tree. The middle tree was very comfortable to sit in - the way its branches were - and I would sit there for hours in silence.
One day - I don't know what happened - when I opened my eyes I saw my body lying down on the ground. It was the same experience that had happened in the river many times, so there was no fear.
But in the river, it used to happen automatically that when the body reached the shore my being would enter the body. I had no idea how to enter the body; it had always happened of its own accord. So I was stuck. I had no idea. I could see the cord joining me to the body, but how to enter the body, from where to enter? I had never learned any technique from anybody. I simply waited. There was nothing to do.
A woman who used to sell milk to the hostel students came by, and she saw my body lying down. She was puzzled. She just touched my head to see whether I was alive or dead, and the moment she touched my head I entered into my body with such a quick force that I still cannot get the idea of how it happens.
But one thing became certain: if a man's being is out, a woman's touch to the body will help him to come into the body. And vice versa: if a woman's body is away from her being, then a man's touch - and particularly on the forehead where the third eye is. It was just by accident that she touched me on my head to see whether I was alive or dead. She had no idea that I was sitting in the tree seeing everything she was doing. When I opened my eyes she was shocked.
To watch in the mirror is one of the methods prescribed by tantra -- but to watch long enough so that you become identified with the reflection in the mirror. Then you step back. Your body will not step back, your body remains in the old position, but your being will step back. Then you can see three bodies.
Another technique: if you go on looking into the mirror every day for a particular period of time, one hour every day just looking into your own eyes, in a few weeks – the time depends on each individual - one day you will suddenly see that the mirror is empty. You are standing before it, but the mirror is empty. That, too, is a great experience. When it happens you will feel tremendous silence and a peace you have never known -- as if you have gone beyond all reflections and you have come back to the real.
You can witness that you are not the body.
For example, you are eating. If you can witness this act, if you can observe the very process of eating, you will see that the body eats. You have never eaten - the consciousness inside has never eaten anything. How can the consciousness eat? That is impossible. Hunger belongs to the body, the food goes to the body not to the consciousness. Food is a fuel. Your body is a mechanism, it needs fueling constantly - water and food --but you are not your mechanical body.
Look at it in this way: You are driving a car - the petrol goes into the car, not into the driver. The body is just like a car; the only difference is that your driver, you, cannot come out of it. That's why you become identified with it. If a boy is born in a car as a driver, and is not allowed to move out, he will become identified with the car. When the car is hungry, the boy will feel "I am hungry."
The body is just a vehicle. You are born in it, and you have never been out of it; that creates the problem. There are ways to be out of it. And once you are out of your body, then you will never be identified with it. One out-of-body experience will make you free of the identification that you are the body. Then you will know you are the driver.
And witnessing is the process of going out of the body.
First, you have to destroy the identification; only then you can move out. You have to destroy the inner clinging with the body, and then you can move out. If you go on clinging with the body you cannot go out of it - and it is not difficult to go out of it. The out-of-body experience is easy, and it is beautiful to have it. It is worth experiencing, because once you can feel yourself a little bit out, the body becomes different. Then you can never feel yourself as the body. Then you will feel in the body, but never as the body.
Witnessing is the method. Whatsoever you are doing, remember you are not the doer.
Out-of-body experiences are good nourishment for your spiritual growth, but they are not necessary. So if they are happening, or just by relaxing they come upon you, it is good; otherwise, don't bother about them. They don't have any essential meaning for your growth.
So just out of curiosity don't try to get out of your body. It won't work. It either works spontaneously for certain reasons of which you are not aware, or it doesn’t work.
One thing is certain: whenever you spontaneously get out of the body, the body will give a jerk -- because it is the death of the body, and you are going into a dangerous state.
If something happens that disturbs your coming back, if somebody suddenly opens the door and your silver cord is broken, the body has its own wisdom; it allows you a certain rope of freedom, it allows you in a certain state to go out, but not to go too far. That's where it will jerk, and that jerk is enough to bring you back.
The sense of distance with our own body can happen both ways: either by becoming aware, alert, or by falling deep in unconsciousness. While you are unconscious the distance will not be recognized, but when you are becoming conscious, for a slight moment you will be able to see the distance -- that you are one thing and the body is something else. In alertness it is more clear, but the phenomenon is the same.
There are many memoirs about out-of-body experiences, and it is becoming more and more a fact that man can move out of the body. It is dangerous, but if it happens in awareness, on its own, it is harmless; in fact it is infinitely fulfilling, a tremendous release from a prison. The feeling that you are beyond the body will help you in disease, in sickness, in death. Nothing will cause misery to you.
But sometimes it can happen to a few people waking up in the morning; it all depends on the speed of waking up. A few people wake up very slowly -- they take time between the sleeping and the waking state -- so they will never feel this. Their pace is such that they will wake very slowly, so by the time they are waking up the sleep is almost gone. But a few people wake up abruptly. Nothing is wrong in it, but then you will feel a sudden change because of the two different states. In sleep you are in one state, in wakefulness you are in a different state.
Abrupt awakening will give you the sense for a moment that the body is separate and you are entering into it. If it happens, enjoy that moment, prolong that moment, enjoy it in every detail. Watch everything that is happening, and that will become a kind of meditation. It will help if you are also trying to witness when you go to sleep. It will be easier to witness.
If you just try silent awareness while going to sleep, the same experience will be felt again. But most probably sleep comes slowly, so you don't have the time to see the distance. But the distance is a reality whether you see it or not.
So first you can make the distance from the body a very solid reality. Then you can make the distance from the mind... which is possible only through meditation. In the first experience you are not feeling separate from the mind, the distance is only from the body. It is a good beginning; one third of the process is achieved. Then in the same way look at the mind as separate, and finally look at your feelings and heart as separate.
Ultimately we have to find one point in ourselves from which we cannot in any way feel separate because we are it. There are layers just like an onion; you peel one layer and there is another layer. You peel that layer and there is another. Go on peeling the onion. In Zen they have a saying: "Go on peeling the onion till only nothingness is left in your hands." And that nothingness is you.
“You are not your body, you are consciousness inside your body; your body is only a resting place, a house. One day you enter into it and one day you will have to leave it: a caravanserai, an overnight stay. You are not your body... your pilgrimage is eternal. But being in the body one can become identified, one can start thinking, "I am the body." And this is happening more today than ever before.
For centuries man has been aware that he is not the body, but within these two, three centuries, a scientific approach about everything has destroyed that long-cherished understanding. Science is a good method to know about matter, but it is absolutely impotent as far as the world of consciousness is concerned. Because science can only know matter it is bound to deny consciousness; it is beyond its grasp.
If you are trying to see light through your ears you will not be able to see it, and the ears will say, "There is no light." If you try to listen to music through your eyes you will not be able to listen, because your very method excludes it. Eyes can't hear music, ears can't see light, your hands cannot smell, your nose cannot taste. Every sense has its own limitation. It is perfectly valid within its own circumference; beyond it, it is utterly irrelevant.
... Science says: Consciousness is illusion, body is the only reality. The truth is that the body has its own reality, and consciousness has its own reality. And the miracle is, the mystery is, that these two separate realities are together, that these two separate realities are functioning in deep synchronicity.”
As you go deeper into innocence you will be able to see that if your hand is cut off, your consciousness is not reduced that much - it remains the same. Your leg can be cut off; your body is no longer the same, but your consciousness remains the same, it is not reduced. If your mind changes - and mind continuously changes -- your consciousness does not change with your mind; it is an unchanging phenomenon. It is the only unchanging factor in existence; everything else is a flux. Only the witness remains permanent, absolutely permanent. It is eternal. Mind is time and you are timelessness.
Death does not destroy anything. The five elements of the body fall back into their original sources and for the consciousness there are two possibilities: if it has not tasted meditation it will move into another womb; if it has tasted meditation, if it has known its eternity, its immortality, it will move into the cosmos and disappear into this vast existence. And that disappearance is the greatest moment of life. You have become one with the source from where you had arisen. You have gone back and disappeared into it.
A man of understanding knows there is no death. Death does not happen; it has never happened. It happens only because you are identified with the body and you don't know yourself. Yes, from the body you will be separated. If you are too identified, that separation looks like death. But if you are not identified with the body and you know yourself as the witnessing soul, as the consciousness, as the awareness, then there is no death.