After death, in some cases, the body is taken to the cremation ground where it is burnt and reduced to ashes. The question raised by spiritual seekers is: Does the pure ‘I’ get obliterated with the death of the body?

According to Ramana Maharshi, the pure ‘I’ is the spirit that transcends the body: “The body dies but the spirit that transcends it cannot be touched by death.”

A jnani does not fear death because he is constantly aware of the fact that in the states of dream and deep sleep also when the body lies inert with eyes closed, the Witness-Self or the Eternal ‘I-Consciousness’ does not identify with these, but sees the subtle dream world and deep sleep as being distinct from itself. Identifying himself with the Witness-Self, he experiences the exalted state of turiya, the supra-causal state of consciousness.

To whom does the world appear? For the world to exist there has to be the perceiver, ego to experience the world and talk about it. The basic difference between the waking and dream states is that while in the former the perceiver experiences the physical world through the physical body, in the latter he experiences the subtle dream world through the astral body.

The common factor between the two however is that the perceiver is present in both. But in the deep sleep state the perceiver is missing; therefore the world does not appear in this state.

The physical body was not in existence before it was born; is made up of five elements; does not appear in the deep sleep state; has both a beginning and an end; and is reduced to a corpse when the prana departs from it. Deep reflection on this leads the seeker to the conclusion that the inert, perishable body cannot shine as the Eternal ‘I-Consciousness. To gain access to the eternal ‘I’, it is important to overcome the ego, the false ‘i’, by constantly reflecting on the question: Who am ‘I’? And once the ‘I-am-the-body’ thought is eliminated through sustained inquiry and intense meditation, what remains is the resplendent, eternal Self.

Statements like ‘I was in deep sleep; I am awake; I saw a frightful dream’ go to show that ‘I’ was present in all the three states. The Eternal ‘I’ was there then, it is here now, and will be there at all times irrespective of the three states that come and go.

To a jnani who has transcended the ‘I-am-the-body’ thought, there is nothing to renounce, nothing to acquire, for he firmly and continually remains entrenched in natural samadhi wherein he realises that the endless diversities that occur in the waking and dream states are projected on his own Self.

It is akin to the screen in a movie on which different types of colourful pictures alternately appear and disappear. Sometimes one sees a huge conflagration reducing skyscrapers to ashes; at other times one sees endless waves of a turbulent sea wreaking havoc, destroying crops and countless lives. But the point is that the screen remains totally unaffected. In the same way, the occurrences of the waking, dream and deep sleep states do not impact the inner Self that has neither beginning nor end.

Sages emphasise that one should make the best of human birth by making ceaseless efforts to realise the innermost Self by directing the mind inwards. Ramana Maharshi said: “The mind turned outwards results in thoughts and objects. Turned inwards it becomes itself the Self.”

The writer is an editor with the Indian Council of Historical Research