What happens to the individual after death?
Human life is just a stage in the upward march of the soul. The individual has got birth as a human being, after going through lower forms of life. Human life is the final stage in the soul’s progress to divinity. It is for us to make the most of this opportunity and thereby end our cycle of transmigration.
ਅਨਿਕ ਜਨਮ ਬਹੁ ਜੋਨੀ ਭ੍ਰਮਿਆ ਬਹੁਰਿ ਬਹੁਰਿ ਦੁਖੁ ਪਾਇਆ ॥
ਤੁਮਰੀ ਕ੍ਰਿਪਾ ਤੇ ਮਾਨੁਖ ਦੇਹ ਪਾਈ ਹੈ ਦੇਹੁ ਦਰਸੁ ਹਰਿ ਰਾਇਆ ॥੧॥
“Wandering around through countless incarnations, I endured pain and suffering in so many lives, over and over again. By Your Grace, I obtained this human body; grant me the Blessed Vision of Your Darshan, O Sovereign Lord King. ||1||”
Death means the destruction of the physical self. The ashes and bone dust mix with the elements. But the soul which leaves the body, awaits a new dwelling. Just as a person casts off worn-out garments and puts on other that are new, so the subtle soul casts off the worn-out body and dwells in a new form. If there were no continuance of the soul after death, how could it become perfect to merit union with the Almighty?
Sikhi believes in the immortality of the soul.
ਕਹੀ ਨ ਉਪਜੈ ਉਪਜੀ ਜਾਣੈ ਭਾਵ ਅਭਾਵ ਬਿਹੂਣਾ ॥
ਉਦੈ ਅਸਤ ਕੀ ਮਨ ਬੁਧਿ ਨਾਸੀ ਤਉ ਸਦਾ ਸਹਜਿ ਲਿਵ ਲੀਣਾ ॥੩॥
ਜਿਉ ਪ੍ਰਤਿਬਿੰਬੁ ਬਿੰਬ ਕਉ ਮਿਲੀ ਹੈ ਉਦਕ ਕੁੰਭੁ ਬਿਗਰਾਨਾ ॥
ਕਹੁ ਕਬੀਰ ਐਸਾ ਗੁਣ ਭ੍ਰਮੁ ਭਾਗਾ ਤਉ ਮਨੁ ਸੁੰਨਿ ਸਮਾਨਾਂ ॥੪॥੧॥
“The soul is never born, though man thinks it is born, it is free from birth and death. When man’s idea of birth and death departs then, he, ever remains absorbed in Lord’s love. As, when pitcher breaks, the reflection in the water, blends with the object, similarly, says Kabir, when through virtue doubt flees, then, the soul is absorbed in the Profound Lord. ||4||1||”
The devotee has no fear of the pangs of death. In fact he welcomes death, because it gives him a chance for the merger into Divinity. The evil person, however, dreads death. For him, it will lead to the unending cycle of birth and death. After death, man comes to the next birth according to what he deserves. If he has been wicked and evil, he takes birth in the lower species. If he has done good deeds, he takes birth in a good family. The cycle of birth and death keeps the soul away from Divinity. It can merge with God, only if the individual, by spiritual effort, has amassed the capital of Naam, the Name of the Lord, and thus lives a life in the presence of the Divine.
Guru Arjan Sahib Ji in Sukhmani Sahib dwells on the sad plight of the soul which is not endowed with the Name. The soul in its lonely march through darkness can only find sustenance in the Word of God. Otherwise it feels the weariness and pain of isolation.
The soul, “Jeev”, is a part of God. It is deathless like Him. Before creation, it lived with God. After Creation it takes bodily forms according to His Will. The soul is, however, nourished by virtue and meditation on “The Name”. The transmigration of the soul can come to an end by meditation and divine grace.
Human beings are calls “Aadmee” in Panjabi. “Aa” (this) + “Dam” (breath) = “Aadmee”. So human being is essentially the person living in the present. The present is the breath one is taking. Only the Creator knows when or which is the last breath we breathe – this is how close death can be.
ਧਨਾਸਰੀ ਮਹਲਾ ੧ ॥
ਹਮ ਆਦਮੀ ਹਾਂ ਇਕ ਦਮੀ ਮੁਹਲਤਿ ਮੁਹਤੁ ਨ ਜਾਣਾ ॥
ਨਾਨਕੁ ਬਿਨਵੈ ਤਿਸੈ ਸਰੇਵਹੁ ਜਾ ਕੇ ਜੀਅ ਪਰਾਣਾ ॥੧॥
ਅੰਧੇ ਜੀਵਨਾ ਵੀਚਾਰਿ ਦੇਖਿ ਕੇਤੇ ਕੇ ਦਿਨਾ ॥੧॥ ਰਹਾਉ ॥
“Dhanaasaree, First Mehl: We are humans of but one breath and know not the appointed time and moment of our departure. Prays Nanak, serve the One, to whom our soul and breath of life belong. ||1|| You are blind – see and consider, how many days your life shall last. ||1||Pause||”
—– SAAKHI: PURCHASE THE TRUTH —–
Guru Nanak Sahib Ji and Bhai Mardana Ji, his companion, where travelling together. Guru Ji told Bhai Mardana Ji to go into town and purchase truth. Mardana spent the whole day going from merchant to merchant, trying to purchase truth. Every merchant turned him away and said they did not have it. Finally, feeling very sad he was ready to return empty handed, when Mardana noticed a small store on the edge of town. He went into the store to speak with the merchant and asked him if he could purchase truth. The merchant replied, “Truth is death and living is a lie.” Bhai Mardana Ji was excited to have finally found a merchant who claimed to have truth, and he rushed back to Guru Nanak Sahib Ji to tell him. Guru Nanak Sahib Ji confirmed that what the merchant said is true. Life is illusion and death is inevitable, for it is in death that we return to our true Creator.