The great mystery: ‘How do you know that it is bad to be dead?’

I’m guessing that as we get older, we think more about our mortality.

OK, to put it more bluntly: we think more about death, our death, at least, the death of our mortal cloaks.

Or maybe it’s just me (or maybe not, eh?).

I thought a lot about “the mystery of death,” as the Bible puts it, throughout my 20s. I looked to classical spiritual literature, such as the Bible and the Bhagavad’Gita, for answers. The latter teaches that we are immortal beings in mortal bodies, passing from one to another, while the Bible talks about the spirit going to heaven in the twinkling of an eye after the death of said mortal coil — and particularly encouraging, the Bible says the mystery of death will be explained in the end times.

Never the spirit was born, the spirit shall cease to be never. Never was time it was not, end and beginning are dreams. — Bhagavad’Gita

I felt, back in my 20s, that science may have been on the brink of solving the mystery with its studies of near-death experiences (NDEs), especially with people who died and were resuscitated. So many of them recounted similar experiences, i.e. floating above their bodies, moving down/up a tunnel to a white light, seeing their lives unfold — or unravel — before them and understanding the effects of their actions and thoughts on the world, and so much more. All of their experiences jibe with those related in the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

And I explored occult teachings on the subject. I found my anchor in Theosophy, which believes in the immortality of the spirit and reincarnation. It seemed to answer so many of my questions, and it has been a guiding light in my life, to a point.

I knew then and now it was all theory, of course. We can’t prove anything. Even NDEs have been explained away by science as some chemical reaction or something —  though, I am not convinced.

I didn’t dwell much on the thought of my eventual death during my 30s, 40s and 50s. Not that I never thought about it. I think we all do at times — and that may be one of the curses of mankind eating the fruit of the mythical tree of knowledge. Or not. If we can ever prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are immortal beings who transcend our mortal bodies and carry on somehow, it will have a profound effect on mankind’s future, I think.

On the other hand, if we ever prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that we live once only and there is nothing more, mankind could descend into a chaotic state in which morality is irrelevant.

I think it is the hope, and perhaps fear, of spiritual accountability and karma that keeps so many of us afloat in this often turbulent sea of humanity.

I’m guessing many of the survivors of the sex, drugs, rock ‘n’ roll and petchouli oil g-g-g-generation are thinking about — and planning for — their passing these days and nights. And pondering the nature of their existence.

Or maybe it’s just me.

Sometimes when I step back and consider the state of the world and just how far from Eden we have wandered, I can understand how some older people look forward to getting away from it all, with no desire to go through life’s journeys again.

While on a journey, Chuang Tzu found a skull, dry and parched. With sorrow he questioned and lamented the end to all things. When he finished speaking, he dragged the skull over, and using it as a pillow, lay down to sleep. In the night, the skull came to his dreams and said, “You are a fool to rejoice in the entanglements of life.” Chuang Tzu couldn’t believe this and asked “If I could return you to your life, you would want that, wouldn’t you?” Stunned by Chuang Tzu’s foolishness the skull replied, “How do you know that it is bad to be dead?” — Zhuangzi

Indeed, to digress for a moment: desire is what is said to be what leads us to incarnate time and again, and when we eventually no longer desire anything on Planet Earth, we don’t come back anymore. That’s the theory, anyway.

Meanwhile, I feel as young as I did when I was 20something. And I know I am not alone with that. We all feel that something inside of us never ages — and that may be as close to proving the spirit and its immortality as we’ll get while we inhabit these “tenements of clay,” as W.Q. Judge once put it.

That which men call death is but a change of location for the Ego, a mere transformation, a forsaking for a time of the mortal frame, a short period of rest before one reassumes another human frame in the world of mortals. The Lord of this body is nameless; dwelling in numerous tenements of clay, it appears to come and go; but neither death nor time can claim it, for it is deathless, unchangeable, and pure, beyond Time itself, and not to be measured. – W. Q. Judge

Regardless, I trust in the nature of things. As above, so below. We are microcosmic images of the Universal Source itself, and everything within it has its nights and days. We sleep, we rise, over and over and over again.

I somehow doubt that we ever get to a state of eternal sleep, even if we do get to experience nirvana for a while.

But I could be wrong. Eternal sleep might await me and you and every living being on this planet. And considering the state of affairs here, eternal sleep might not be such a bad option after all.

I wouldn’t count on it, though. I mean, it is a freakin’ miracle that we are here in the first place, and able to understand as much as we do. And as Voltaire wrote, “it is no more surprising to live twice than it is to live once.” I strongly suspect that he was right.

What do you think?

— Jillian

Photo: “All is Vanity” by C. Allan Gilbert. Life, death, and meaning of existence are intertwined. (Woman gazing into boudoir mirror forms shape of skull.) Source: Wikipedia

14 thoughts on “The great mystery: ‘How do you know that it is bad to be dead?’

  1. I think about this often, having wanted to leave this world since I was a young child…I’ve long sensed a spiritual dimension to our lives & beings. I think of this often and long for a look at the lover side of The Great Tapestry, where here and now we see mostly a tangle of threads with no apparent pattern, a hopeless seeming series of “loose-ends.” How sad it would be for all our longings, learnings, sufferings, joys & sorrows to be ended abruptly, no closure…only…silence, and eternal forgetting…

    …I remember…I remember people who have been forgotten, people I never met, never knew, but know must have existed. I remember them because I don’t want them forgotten, I know they would want to be remembered, so I try my best because…who else remembers the forgotten ones, the ones who were never famous, never recorded, who had ordinary lives like mine and lived and died…forgottened. I remember, so help me God.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “The man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with a theory.” I personally encountered our Creator in my teens (I’m now in my late 50’s), and I was forever changed by that encounter. I remember it like it happened yesterday. Until that point, I had been a serious student of the occult, interested in anything of a metaphysical nature, but wanting nothing to do with God… only because (as it turns out) I grossly misunderstood who He is. After that encounter, it was as if neutral density filters were removed from my eyes. (Photographers will understand.) The colors around me were more saturated, everything was brighter, and I knew beyond any doubt that something in me changed. I changed. Minutes before, I was foul-mouthed, amoral, egocentric, selfish, and self-centered. Suddenly, I was awash with an inexplicable love, optimism, enthusiasm, and appreciation for my fellow man and for all of creation. Since that time, I’ve witnessed what can only be described as miracles, and I’ve been allowed glimpses of Heaven, but none of it has impacted my entire being like that one, single encounter.

    The occult and other philosophies teach that we are what we are, and we cannot change. I will tell you that I and others like me have changed dramatically. It is true that we cannot change ourselves, but that’s not to say that we cannot be changed. It’s the most exciting adventure that a mortal can have, and there is much more to look forward to when we transition from this physical plane. We are spirits who live in a physical body for a relatively short time. Out of curiosity, I asked our Creator one day why He would have us go through the physical experience. Why not just have us be spiritual beings without an earth suit, similar to the angels and other creatures in Heaven? His answer, although concise, is something that I’m still chewing on: “Creativity expressed in love, and love expressed in creativity.”


      1. I’m interested. I do believe if we allow/open ourselves to be conduits for the greater good, then the Universal Energy (call it what you will) uses you appropriately in a way that both benefits your spiritual growth and serves to uplift mankind.

        Every action has a reaction, every smile a ripple effect . . .

        So, if you want to tell us about the revelation experience you had, please do (I had one once as well, but I can’t discuss it publicly).


      2. It was as if someone held a spiritual mirror in front of me, and for the first time, I was forced to see and acknowledge myself as I really was, and I didn’t like what I saw, yet I was helpless to change it. Then, in that instant, I knew and understood that I was like an appliance without a power source, but I could choose to plug myself in. A simple prayer is all it took to make that connection, and I was instantly changed. It was big news in the high school I attended (this all took place in 1975). Apparently, I had a reputation. Some of my friends who saw the change in me welcomed and embraced it. Others distanced themselves. After that moment, my life’s mission became to know this God who had just introduced Himself to me unmistakeably and in a big way. I began to read the Bible in earnest, and I found it utterly fascinating, whereas before it was a closed book to me. I wanted to know more about how the Bible came to be, seeking some sort of reasurrance that it contained universal truth. I stumbled upon Ivan Panin’s research in the intricate mathematical patterns appearing in the original Hebrew and Aramaic texts, indicating that the Christian Bible couldn’t possibly be of human origin. I actually began to look forward very much to attending meetings in the Southern Baptist churches and learning all I could. It was the only denomination I had been exposed to, so I became very active in it. Over the years, as my knowledge and understanding of God and the spiritual realm grew beyond a dependency on denominational doctrine, I was asked to leave. I had the same experience in other denominations, so I now see that there is no place for me in the nonprofit corporations that we call “churches,” at least in America. But the more I learn about God (for lack of a better name for Him), the more I realize how much more there is to know, and how little I (we) know in comparison. He communicates more with me in dreams than any other method. Almost every night. He uses a lot of symbolism, and at first it confused me. “Why be so obscure?” I asked. “Why not just say what you want to say plainly and concisely so I can understand it?” Two reasons He gave me: (1) His communications are like gold. What makes gold so valuable is that it’s so beautiful and so hard to get. It takes a lot of effort to get it, unlike sand which is readily available and thus relatively worthless. (2) Very often, what He wants to communicate with me isn’t found in simple understanding, but in the journey of discovery over time.

        Anyone with reasonable intelligence, after objectively examining the physical world around us, will have to admit that it just is not possible without an intelligent design. We can debate it, but the issue is settled for me. The only question that remains is whether or not the Creator revealed Himself to His creation, or did He just wind it all up, as it were, and disappear as it unwinds? The answer is that He did reveal Himself to His creation because He very much wants to have a relationship with us. He chose to focus that revelation to a particular race of people, and we do well to see that revelation in that cultural context to understand more about Him.

        I am in regular contact with others who have had experiences similar to mine, and I know that there are still many others. I am not unique. Yet among “Christians,” I am generally unwelcome. I’ve always been a rebel, a nonconformist, and an independent thinker – qualities that don’t seem to mesh well in the church world. But I’m very much at peace with who and what I am, making no claims whatsoever to perfection. I am most certainly a work in progress, still growing and evolving in my understanding of who He is. Every answer leads to more questions, so I have more questions than answers, but it’s an amazing adventure that will never end.


      3. Thank you so much for sharing this. I am happy for you.

        I think there are many steps in the ladder of spirituality. Or to use another metaphor, there is a feast with many dishes laid out before us, and we take what we need and/or desire from various ones and move on. I, too, started with a Baptist church, and moved on. I eventually found an anchor with Theosophy, which is totally non-denominational, and takes from all of the world’s religions, philosophies and sciences and doesn’t demand anything in return.

        Check out this website for more answers; they have an extensive section on Christianity.


      4. Interesting reading, for sure. I do take “with a grain of salt” anyone who would tell me about our Creator without personally knowing Him. That’s just plain common sense, right? I mean, who would give you the most accurate and complete information about me? A scholar who gathered information and data from various sources? Or my wife who has lived with me for 30+ years?

        An interesting tidbit about our spiritual bodies versus our physical. Our physical bodies experience only a narrow portion of the electromagnetic spectrum. Some of it is detected by our eyes as light and color. Some of it is detected by our ears as sound. Our physical eyes and ears are limited to their respective portions of the spectrum. Our spiritual bodies, on the other hand, apparently don’t have those limitations. (Or to put it another way, after our spirits are separated from our earthsuits, we experience the entire electromagnetic spectrum, and our eyes & ears are no longer limited like they are now.) Thus, people who have been in Heaven talk about how odd it was to hear light and see sound. Everything in the universe vibrates at specific frequencies. (I could go into a detailed explanation, but those are very deep waters.)

        I can also tell you about our Creator – that He experiences emotions and is very passionate. He is not controlled by His emotions, as most of us are, but He does have them. He is an intelligent personality, not some random force or energy. He gets angry, happy, sad, pleased, displeased, etc., and He’s very sentimental. The best thing is that there is no greater love in the universe, and love is the motivation for everything He does. The problem on our end is that we mistake His love for a license to try to live outside of His order – the way He made things to work. We are free to do that, of course, just like we’re free to put diesel in the fuel tank of a gasoline engine and boast of our nonconformity.


  3. I’m thinking that you’re lying about your age, Jillian. No WAY you’re in your 50’s! 20’s, 30 maybe. Otherwise, I appreciate your journey and understand your conclusions. The only way we’ll know for sure is after we’re dead, and then it will be made clear or we’ll simply not exist. If all of our lives only lives in a few brain cells, when they die all existence dies and for us, never happened.

    But I hope I’m wrong and something WONDERFUL awaits! But I have three questions: What makes virgins so great; where do we FIND all those virgins; and really, 73 virgins are are supposed to last for all eternity?


  4. Some years ago I attempted to make a point about how brief the existence of humans is compared to the existence of the universe. I have used crude assumptions about how long ago the Big Bang happened and an assumption as to when the universe might end. A stretched a string across the whole living room to represent the timeline. The I took a single hair, moistened it and stuck it diagonally in the string. The hair represents the time period sentient humans have existed. This led to a discussion of how much humanity truly “knows” about God and the universe. Since the I have become a firm Dontknowist. What a delusion we create in religion and science pretending to have it all figured out. Yet we have the precious gift of self awareness and of life. This is enough for me. I know we know only a tiny sliver of the knowable. If we can hang around for another billion years or so we might figure most of it out. How fun to be a part of that. As a Dontknowist I believe my spirit will still be in the mix. Wow


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