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Death, Yours, Mine, Ours
(excerpt from The Dragon's Treasure Ch XIV)
"Tell me not, in mournful numbers, life
is but an empty dream! For the soul is
dead that slumbers, and things are
not what they seem. Life is real! Life is
earnest! And the grave is not its goal.
Dust thou art; to dust returnest was not
spoken of the soul."
THE EGO DIES, BUT THE SOUL LIVES ON
Doesn't this vision of death that says when the ego dies
the soul lives on reinforce the incorrect notion that they are
I like what James Hillman in The Force of Character
had to say about death and aging. He suggested that when
we substitute "leaving for dying and ...preparing for aging,
then what we go through in our last years is preparation for
He didn't like this idea because he thought that to focus
in this way was to distract a person from life. He wanted to
focus not on what is leaving this world and goes on to some
metaphysical reality, but on what is left behind—the character
images and "force of character" that is left in the lives of the
living. He sees these images as sometimes independent voices
that continue to inspire and advise. In this way, the death of the
body does not mean that the character of he who lived in that
body has ever left. He or she is still here in memories, and not
just the fond recall associated with the person who has died,
but the fact that memories that impact and interact with those
whose bodies are still functional.
"When we are dead, seek not our tomb in
the earth, but find it in the hearts of men."
— Rumi's tomb, the Tomb of Mavlanain
I agree with Hillman when he implies that this idea of the
soul leaving the body (ego) behind only serves to reinforce the
concept that there is a dichotomy, a separation between body
and soul. Just because the body has left does not mean that ego
has left. I would go even further and say that the soul hasn't
gone anywhere either in that, as essence, there is no other
place to go. This essence continues to advise those who are
still living. Every thought or image of them interacts with your
thoughts and has impact.
Though I may like the idea that the character images of
those who have died continue to interact with me, I miss the
physical character and my relationship with it. It's hard to have
a dynamic relationship with a memory; it's so one-sided. In this
idea, the infl uence of the dead may live on, but the soul and its
projected ego representative with all its fl aws and brilliance has
moved on too, leaving a rather poor two-dimensional substitute.
Better than nothing, I guess, especially for a melancholy junkie
Before continuing, take some time to review your own
beliefs, hopes, and fears concerning death.
CONSCIOUSNESS CONTINUING BEYOND THE DEATH OF THE
For the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and
Islam), the Old Testament suggested that death came to be
when Adam and Eve ate of the tree of knowledge after having
been warned by God. Genesis 2:17 says, "For in the day that
you eat of it you shall die." And in the New Testament, Romans
5:1245 states, "Sin came into the world through one man, and
death through sin." Literal readers of the Bible will claim that
this proves that there was no death before the fall. I won't
try to use logical reasons for why that interpretation won't
bear scrutiny, but the symbolic meaning may indicate that the
creation of opposites caused by the eating of the fruit means
45 Both Bible citations are from the Revised Standard Version.
death itself came to be. The physical body dies; the spirit does
not. Man dies when he does not know that he is spirit and not
body. Is it possible that the tree of knowledge is also the tree
A Navajo legend tells the story of when the people placed
an animal hide on the river because they had been told that
for as long as it did not sink they would live forever. But they
turned their attention from the water, and while they were not
looking, Coyote threw rocks onto the hide, and it sank. Coyote
did this because if he did not, there would eventually be too
many people in the world.
When burying their dead, the Navajo would carefully wash
and dress the body because if it were not done right, the spirit
may return to his former home and not move on. Everyone is
careful not to show too much emotion at the burial because
the moving on of the soul could be disrupted, and it would be
Buddhists do not see death as the end of life in that it is just
the end of the body. The spirit will move on and attach itself
to another body. Buddhists are very careful what they present
in the world because what they present will cause the same to
them either in this life or some future life. This is known as the
Law of Karma. The best way to prepare for death is to cultivate
good Karma by doing good deeds. All of this is outlined in the
Tibetan Book of Living and Dying (Sogyal Rinpoche, 1992).
The Hindu also believes in rebirth and the reincarnation
of the soul and that these souls are imperishable. According
to the Bhagavad-Gita, the soul either follows the path of the
sun and is never seen again, or it follows the path of the moon
and will return. Previous deeds, the state of mind at death, the
circumstances at the time of death, whether the deceased's
kin have performed the funeral rites correctly, and sometimes
even the intervention of God can affect which path the soul
In Taoism, the eternal is in life itself. When you die, you
still live in the memories of others and in a reincarnated form.
Prior to the reincarnation, you return to be one with God or the
Tao, the way, the eternal.
In the Chapter 16 of the Tao Te Ching by Lao Tsu, it is said,
"Being at one with the Tao is eternal. And though the body dies,
the Tao will never pass away." With the mind open and being
in alignment with nature, know that everything is eternally
recurring or unvarying. With the heart open and acting nobly
and in service to everything, one can attain the divine and
with this, a person will be at one with the eternal, undying
Tao. In the way of the Tao, the theme of the "eternal return" or
the "forever recurring" speaks to the fundamental quality of
reality that the universe eternally recurs.
The ancient Celts also believed in life after death. They
believed that the Otherworld existed within the world of the
living, alongside it, as it were. Because they thought that the
soul needed an unobstructed path to move on after death, all
windows and doors would be opened in the deceased's house.
The Celtic warrior seemed to believe, according to Lucan in
his Pharsalia (1.458), "death is the middle of a long life," that
according to Celts in the Classical World, Rankin suggested
that the Celtic warrior expected to go on warring even after
The Australian Aborigine believes in two human souls.
One is like the ego, self-created, like our own personae. The
other comes from God or "the Dreaming." The ego-soul stays
near the body after death, somewhat like a ghost. It eventually
dissolves and disappears. The other soul becomes an "Ancestral
Soul" and becomes eternal. These transitions are facilitated
The ghost or "Spirit Being" shows up across many cultures.
According to some Native American traditions, some of these
beings can be harmful and cause sickness. The Apache believed
46 As translated by Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English, Vintage Books,
that some souls of bad people would transition into owls
and cause harm to others while good souls went on into the
underworld. Many tribes had both the concept of heaven and
hell. A bad person's soul would be judged by the "Master of
Breath, then sentenced to torments commensurate with the pain
he had wrongfully inflicted on others throughout his life."47
A great deal of literature, mythology, drama, and dream
analysis deals with themes of birth/death/rebirth. In the dreams
of both our waking and sleeping lives, the end of one form
of something and its transition into another is symbolized as
death. It is said that death is what defines life and vice versa.
Just like all opposites, one cannot exist without the other. You
might say, "This is fine, but I still don't like it and will resist it
for as long as possible."
How you resist it, however, is what actually creates your
experience of life. You could sequester yourself, taking little
or no chance at meeting death, or you could choose only those
things in life that appear to be the safest. You could allow
yourself to be really depressed and leave little room to enjoy
what is happening, or you could try and control events and
people around you so that you can protect yourself from death
(or the ego equivalent, but more on that later), distract yourself
with all kinds of entertaining "doingness," or open yourself up
to unlimited possibility while still being responsible for the care
and feeding of your life. You choose; you write the scenario of
life and death.
In his book Be Here Now,51 Ram Dass talks about the you
that dies as being the ego you. He says, "The fear of death
only comes through the brittleness of the ego." When you give
up your attachment to the ego, there's no fear of death. When
Albert Einstein was asked about his fear of death he replied, "I
feel such a sense of solidarity with all living things that it does
not matter to me where the individual begins and ends."52
47 According to an article by Donald Panther-Yates at the panthers lodge.
com Web site.
The Egyptians who lived in 1300 BC believed that a person's
Ren or soul48 lived on as long as the name of the person who
died continued to be spoken by the living.
I've introduced the concept that ego is an illusion and that
consciousness is non-local or super-local. I've also introduced
the idea that time doesn't exist in its linear form, that it is the
"everywhen" of the Aborigine cosmology. I have also discussed
the Vedic concept of pure consciousness, the Atma, and the
divine nothingness. How does all this relate to death?
While in the experience of the still, quiet place, the mind
seems to become quite orderly, and its boundaries seem to
disappear. In this state, I begin to sense something greater than
myself. It is as though the ego and the self have transcended
when in this space of pure consciousness. The mind or ego-self
becomes non-local, that is, it's not in any specific place but in
all places and all time.
SOUL AS THE SIGNAL AND MIND AS THE RECEIVER
In Roshi49 Phillip Kapleau's 1989 book, The Three Pillars of
Zen, he suggests that the essence of one's mind is not affected
by either birth or death. He is saying that the essence of who
you are is not in the body, that who you are is not located in
one place, that your nature is super-local (my word). If this is
true, then upon the death of the body the Self, what I call the
"observer" does not vanish for it is eternal, existing apart from
48 Actually, the Egyptian soul was thought to have fi ve parts Ren,
Ba, Ka, Sheut, and Ib. The Ren was the individual's name, while the Ba
was the individual's personality. Ka was the life force, and Sheut was
their shadow self. To the ancient Egyptians, the Ib or heart was the seat of
emotion and thought, not the brain. The Akh was a sort of ghost that lived
beyond the deceased. The ancients seemed to have their own version of the
individuation process outlined by Jung in that they thought that the Ba and
Ka reunited after death rather than the reuniting process occurring during
life as described by Jung.
49 Meaning venerable teacher, an honorific title similar to Rabbi,
but not as formal or official as pastor, priest, or minister.
the body before, during and after its existence. It cannot die, for
it was never born. It is not a production of the physical brain,
but it does manifest through the physical brain.
A 2001 study reported in Lancet by Pim van Lommel
et al., dealt with near-death experiences53 when, after being
unable to account for patient's near-death experiences through
either "psychological, neurophysiological, or physiological
factors," he entertained theories that consciousness and
memories may function outside the body. In a separate letter,
Dr. van Lommel wrote to Jeffrey Long, MD,54 where he asks,
"Could the brain be like a TV, radio, or a mobile telephone?
What you receive is not generated by the receiver but rather
electromagnetic informational waves?" These waves were what
Simon Berkovich, professor of engineering and applied science
at George Washington University called "extra-corporeal
organization of cognitive information."
The essence of a cell phone is those magical pictures and
sounds that travel through the air to your phone and are there
whether your phone is turned on or not. The pictures or sounds
will only manifest when the receiver is alive and turned on. At
some level, these pictures and sounds are apart from time or any
local receiver. There are some theorists who are suggesting that
this is how the human receiver and its commensurate "signal"
or essence works as well.
This theme of signal and receiver is repeated in the work
of Dr. Bruce Lipton, a university cell biologist who produced
some phenomenal studies while teaching at the Stanford School
of Medicine. In his book, the Biology of Belief,55 Dr. Lipton
suggested that the human cell was but a receiver of information
from outside the human in which it inhabited. The idea that
certain proteins on the outside of cells identify as the person
they are in and if any cell not of that identity invades, then
the immune system is triggered and the alien is dispatched, is
What is new is the idea that the proteins don't make the
identity any more than an antenna makes what is on the TV.
The TV receiver and its antenna are independent of the signal,
the essence of a television. He pointed out that the signal is
what makes the identity and it is irrelevant whether the TV is
working or not, the signal remains. When any antenna/receiver
combination that is like the original—for example, when a new
antenna/receiver is tuned to the same channel—then the signal
will continue on. Exchange the antenna/receiver for the body of
a human being and the signal, which is the body's real identity,
continues on as well.
Death in Dreams (The symbolic meaning)
Death often relates to the ending of something. But it can also suggest our relationship, or attitude towards death e.g. how do we feel about it?
As an archetype it can show up as a sunset, crossing a river, twilight, a skeleton, gravestones, a cemetery, blackness, the grim reaper, an old man, or woman, a fallen mirror, a stopped clock, or an empty abyss. Dead animals can also be metaphors for our own demise.
Images of death
Associated with death is also rebirth and resurrection. Here, such things as a cave, or an egg, Spring, dawn, the cross, a snake, a seed, a bird taking flight (though if it were to fly off into the sunset it might suggest death), a Phoenix, flame, a pearl, or the womb.
The body itself is in a constant birth, death and renewal cycle in that individual cells need to die in order to be replaced and renewed without constant injury to the body's cells, fresh cells could not revitalize. This is the idea of creating by destroying. The Hindu god Shiva is the destroyer of the world (actually the ego—the false identification with form, and the letting go of habits and attachments). Brahma then recreates what has been destroyed. In short, all that has a beginning must also have an end. The only thing that dies according to this concept is the illusion of individuality. In this way Shiva is the great purifier.
The ancient Greeks believed that a person's well-being depended on the opposing forces of dissolution and creation. The Caduceus with its entwined snakes and being the symbol of the healer can be symbolically linked with Psyche interacting with matter and transforming both. This idea of the snake representing both death and renewal sheds its old skin to reveal something new and revitalized, thus dying so as to be reborn.
Dead people in Dreams:
In most cases this is about the dreamer trying to deal with the passing of someone close. It's all a process of letting go and of resurrecting the one you interacted with on a physical level into the memory of that same person. For some the deceased becomes eternally living within the memory of those left behind.
To see a dead person in a dream:
This can represent some area in ones life that has "died" such as a feeling, a relationship, or situation. Sometimes anger repressed in your waking life can kill ones vitality and satisfaction. It can also represent a part of yourself that you would like to leave behind (to see that part, look at what aspect the dead person may represent).
To see your own death in a dream:
This can suggest a transformation in the way you have been, in thought, in feeling, or in attitude. It can also suggest the transition of one phase of your life into a new one.
Below are a few links to the Dream Dragon Blog that have dealt with Death and Letting Go.
If interested in more regarding the concept, mythology and symbolism of death and dying, purchase the book The Dragon's Treasure.