Transitioning in Grace
189 pages
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189 pages
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Description

The deeper teachings of yoga state that "We are a soul, and have a body," but how do yogis respond when confronted with death—with their own time of passing?

In Transitioning in Grace (based on the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda, author of the classic Autobiography of a Yogi), Nalini Graeber presents true accounts of how longtime yogis and meditators have left their bodies. Some struggled with pain or illness. Others passed suddenly or unexpectedly. Most of these accounts are inspiring; all have something to teach about the transitioning experience. More than just a collection of uplifting stories, this work can serve as a handbook for individuals helping family or friends to leave this world-for those soon to make the transition themselves—and for all thoughtful souls who recognize the wisdom of gaining important insights into early preparation for "Life's Final Exam."

Included in these pages:
• How to prepare for death.
• A yogic "astral ascension" ceremony (funeral/memorial service) that can be adapted for your particular needs.
• A description, by a great master of yoga, of what we experience during the moments when we leave our bodies.
• A simple meditation technique that can help greatly to bring calmness to the event.
• Stories, descriptions, and poems that offer helpful insights and inspiration.




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Publié par
Date de parution 15 octobre 2019
Nombre de lectures 0
EAN13 9781565895867
Langue English

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Exrait

Transitioning in Grace
Transitioning in Grace
A Y OGI ’ S A PPROACH TO D EATH AND D YING
NALINI GRAEBER

Nevada City, California
Crystal Clarity Publishers, Nevada City, CA 95959
© 2019 by Nalini Graeber
All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States
1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2
ISBN-13: 978-1-56589-336-8
eISBN-13: 978-1-56589-586-7
Cover designed by Surya Crisman Interior designed by David Jensen
[Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication data available]

Crystal Clarity Publishers www.crystalclarity.com clarity@crystalclarity.com 800.424.1055
CONTENTS
Cover
Half Title
Title
Copyright
Contents
Foreword by Asha Nayaswami
Acknowledgments
Publisher’s Note
Preface
Introduction
1. How to Die with Grace—Tushti
2. What Is “A Yogi’s Approach to Death and Dying”?
3. Happy’s Story—Seeing God as the Doer
4. Rich—Learning to Let Go
5. What Is True Healing?—Danny and Tim
6. Into God’s Love—Haanel’s Conscious Exit
7. Vairagi—Releasing the Grip of Ego
8. Detach Yourself—Maria and Bella
9. Marilyn—Overcoming Fear with Compassion
10. The Best Time of Life—Sandra’s Story
Photo Pages
11. A Sudden Tragedy and Johnny’s Gift
12. Bob and Shannon—We Are Not the Body
13. When Death Is Unexpected—David and Lila
14. Linda—Focusing on the Light
15. AUM and the Power of a Dream—Lorne’s Story
16. Garrett-Arjuna—What Really Matters?
17. Karuna-Cliff—Perfecting Divine Friendship
18. The Courage to Love—Andy’s Story
19. Brindey and the Power of Forgiveness
20. Paula’s Farewell Party
Supplementary Chapters
21. “The Final Exam” by Swami Kriyananda
22. “What Happens at Death?” by Paramhansa Yogananda
23. A Simple Meditation Technique
24. An Astral Ascension Ceremony and Memorial Service
25. “The Dying Youth’s Divine Reply” by Paramhansa Yogananda
Resources
About the Author Cover Half Title Title Copyright Contents Foreword Acknowledgments Publisher’s Note Preface Introduction 1. How to Die with Grace—Tushti 2. What Is “A Yogi’s Approach to Death and Dying”? 3. Happy’s Story—Seeing God as the Doer 4. Rich—Learning to Let Go 5. What Is True Healing?—Danny and Tim 6. Into God’s Love—Haanel’s Conscious Exit 7. Vairagi—Releasing the Grip of Ego 8. Detach Yourself—Maria and Bella 9. Marilyn—Overcoming Fear with Compassion 10. The Best Time of Life—Sandra’s Story Photo Pages 11. A Sudden Tragedy and Johnny’s Gift 12. Bob and Shannon—We Are Not the Body 13. When Death Is Unexpected—David and Lila 14. Linda—Focusing on the Light 15. AUM and the Power of a Dream—Lorne’s Story 16. Garrett-Arjuna—What Really Matters? 17. Karuna-Cliff—Perfecting Divine Friendship 18. The Courage to Love—Andy’s Story 19. Brindey and the Power of Forgiveness 20. Paula’s Farewell Party Supplementary Chapters 21. “The Final Exam” 22. “What Happens at Death?” 23. A Simple Meditation Technique 24. An Astral Ascension Ceremony and Memorial Service 25. “The Dying Youth’s Divine Reply” Resources About the Author 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49 50 51 52 53 54 55 56 57 58 59 60 61 62 63 64 65 66 67 68 69 70 71 72 73 74 75 76 77 78 79 80 81 82 83 84 85 86 87 88 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100 101 102 103 104 105 106 107 108 109 110 111 112 113 114 115 116 117 118 119 120 121 122 123 124 125 126 127 128 129 130 131 132 133 134 135 136 137 138 139 140 141 142 143 144 145 146 147 148 149 150 151 152 153 154 155 156 157 158 159 160 161 162 163 164 165 166 167 168 169 170 171 172 173 174 175 176 177 178 179 180 181 182 183 184 185 186 187 188 189 190 191 192 193 194 195 196 197 198 199 200 201 202 203 204 205 206 207 208 209 210 211 212 213 214 215 217 218 219 220 221 222 223 224 225 226 227 228 229 230 231 232 233 234 235 236 237 238 239 240 241 242 243 244 245 246 247 248 249 250 251 252 253 254 255 256 257 258 259 260 261 262 263 264 265 266 267 268 269 270 271 272 273 274 275 276 277 278 279 280 281 282 283 284 285 286 287 288 289 290 291 292 293 294 295 296 297 298 299 300 301 302 303 304 305 306 307 308 309 310 311 311 312 313 315 316 317 318 319 320 321 322 323 324 325 326 327
Guide Cover Half Title Title Copyright Contents Start of Content Further Explorations Resources About the Author
FOREWORD
E VERY STORY IN THIS collection of real-life experiences has the same, what some might call “tragic,” ending: the hero or heroine dies. These are not tales of miraculous recovery. These are not near- death experiences. This is death itself.
You might expect, then, that this book is going to be a real downer!
Quite the contrary. It is a glorious, stay-up-late, can’t-stop-thinking-about-it kind of book. When I got the manuscript, I read it every free minute I had, then went back to read again some of my favorite parts.
In the last few decades, much progress has been made in “end-of-life care.” Still, individually, and as a society, we have much yet to learn. This book is a quantum leap forward into that deeper understanding.
It can—and I pray that it will —completely change the way you think about death—your own, and that of those close to you. When the inevitable day comes, this book will help you and your loved ones make a transition with grace, as each person described here has done.
The power of this book is that it is not about saints, masters, or uniquely gifted individuals. Everyone in it is just like you and me. The unifying factor among them is that either the dying person, or someone close to him or her, practiced meditation.
Much has been written these days about the benefits of meditation for health, harmony, creativity, and overall improved well-being. But very little has been recorded so far about how meditation transforms the dying process.
The author of this book, Nalini Graeber, and I were spiritual neophytes when we met. We lived near each other—she in Berkeley, I in San Francisco, California—but our friendship began two hundred miles from home at the Ananda Meditation Retreat in the Sierra Nevada foothills. We found our spiritual teacher—Swami Kriyananda—and our spiritual home—the Ananda Community—on the same summer weekend nearly fifty years ago.
From the start, we were soul sisters. In the decades since, through many ups and downs in both our lives, our spiritual practices have continued, and our spiritual bond has endured.
The original impetus for this book came through our shared experience of “Paula’s Farewell Party.” * The divine grace in Paula’s transition transformed all of us privileged to be there. It was too much grace to keep to ourselves.
Paula’s passing was notable, but not unique. Meditators die differently: this is good news that needs to be shared! And Nalini is the ideal one to do it. Her writing is the perfect blend of heart and mind. She has seen death up close and personal, and emerged from each encounter with greater faith, courage, intuition, and empathy.
Death is not a threat to all we hold dear. Rather, it is a joyous culmination, a final bringing together of all that gives life lasting meaning: faith, beauty, love, and hope.
May this book bring the same blessings to your life that it has brought to mine.
Joy to you,
Asha Nayaswami
Author of Swami Kriyananda, Lightbearer , and other works
Footnote
* See chapter 20.
ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
F IRST OF ALL , I wish to acknowledge the sources of my inspiration: Paramhansa Yogananda, and Swami Kriyananda, founder of Ananda.
Writing a book is an excellent way to learn certain lessons: “God is the doer”; “no man is an island.” This book would not have come into existence without the encouragement and loving prayers of many friends, who helped with challenges of all kinds along the way. The endurance and financial support of my husband, Giridhara, was another crucial element.
I want to thank several people who helped directly with the editing and production of this book: Prakash Van Cleave, Richard Dayanand Salva, Lakshman Heubert, David Jensen, Surya Crisman, and Crystal Clarity Publishers. A special mention to Jack Wallace, who voluntarily spent dozens of hours transcribing interviews. Especially at the beginning, it was a huge help.
I appreciate my many friends for their encouragement and emotional support during this process: Nefretete, Prakash, Kathleen, Eleni, Eva, Eileen, Alyse, Virya, Maitri, and Jagrav.
I am grateful to the (deceased) subjects of this book, their relatives and caregivers, who spoke so openly during our interviews. Lastly, I give thanks for the beautiful life I share with members of the Ananda Community.
PUBLISHER’S NOTE
I N THIS BOOK THE term “Master,” when referring to an individual, is a reference to Paramhansa Yogananda. Similarly, “Swami” or “Swamiji” refers to Swami Kriyananda, who was a close and direct disciple of Yogananda. Then too, whenever the term “the masters” indicates a particular group of saints, it is referring to the Kriya Yoga line of gurus as expounded in Yogananda’s classic Autobiography of a Yogi: Mahavatar Babaji, Lahiri Mahasaya, Swami Sri Yukteswar, and Paramhansa Yogananda. All of the stories in this book are about individuals connected in one way or another with Ananda: the worldwide network of spiritual communities based on Yogananda’s teachings, and founded by Swami Kriyananda. The subjects of these stories range widely from relatives of members, or those who visited Ananda briefly, to others who were longtime members.
PREFACE
I looked up, struck by a sign on a wall, proclaiming words from the Forty-Sixth Psalm:
“Be still and know that I am God.” *
I T WAS MANY YEARS ago. My high school girlfriend and I were using our Sundays to explore different churches, and this was the first Quaker Meeting I ever attended. Later on, I was drawn to many more. I had been raised in a traditional Christian church, which had more ceremony and structure, but the unaccustomed silence at the Quaker gathering felt alive and refreshing. It seemed to speak to me, and I felt right at home. The silence allowed my concept of spirituality to leap beyond whatever sectarian boundaries I possessed at the time. In the stillness I found it easier to cultivate my own relationship with Spirit, as opposed to merely following or imitating someone else. In retrospect, sitting in the silence gave me my first taste of meditation.
It was several years more before I discovered the path of Self-realization ** —the way of yoga and meditation described by Paramhansa Yogananda in his classic Autobiography of a Yogi . In meditation one strives to still the mind and commune with the Spirit within. But what does that mean?
As my spiritual teacher, Swami Kriyananda, puts it, “It is difficult for anyone to imagine a conscious, infinite Being capable of manifesting the vast universe with its countless billions of galaxies, each one containing hundreds of billions of suns like our own. Add to this immensity the seemingly contradictory, because softening, quality of love, and describe that love as caring for each of us separately and individually, and we have a concept that is vast beyond all the powers of human imagination. We can only shelve this concept for a time, while we visualize infinity reduced to dimensions comprehensible to our human brains. . . .
“To know God is, every great scripture declares, the true goal of life. Our problem lies not in that goal’s distance, but in its very closeness to us. We, ourselves, are that goal! Ultimate Truth embraces everything in existence. It is ineffable bliss.”
Paramhansa Yogananda wrote, “Spirit is motionless and vibrationless. It has no dimensions, no relativity. . . . Spirit is nameless and formless. If you try to name Spirit, by that very process you limit it. Although Spirit is not knowable by the mind or understanding, Spirit can be experienced as bliss.” He also wrote, “Bliss is deeper than peace and always new. Once you experience bliss, you will have experienced true spiritual consciousness and nothing else will ever satisfy you.”
Over the years my own concept of Spirit or “God” has continued to expand, but still, never enough—not yet to infinitude, nor to my satisfaction. Have you, dear reader, experienced this also? When I suffer or lose my way, it is usually because my mind and heart are too narrow to comprehend the depth of divine compassion. The little cup of my heart can barely even begin to receive Divine Mother’s * oceanic love. As Saint Jean Vianney said: “If you knew how much God loves you, you would die for joy.”
I would like to share with you an excerpt from Yogananda’s “Meditation on Silence” from Metaphysical Meditations (1932 edition):
My silence spreads like an expanding sphere, directionless, everywhere.
My silence spreads like a radio song, above, beneath, left and right, within and without, everywhere.
My silence spreads the wildfire of bliss; the dark thickets of sorrow and the tall oaks of pride are all burning up.
My silence, like the ether, passes through everything, carrying the songs of earth, atoms, and stars into the halls of His infinite mansion.
Footnotes
* Psalm 46:10.
** Yogananda gave this definition of “Self-realization”: “[It] is the knowing in all parts of body, mind, and soul that you are now in possession of the kingdom of God; that you do not have to pray that it come to you; that God’s omnipresence is your omnipresence; and that all that you need to do is improve your knowing.” (Kriyananda, Swami, The Essence of Self-Realization: The Wisdom of Paramhansa Yogananda . Nevada City, California: Crystal Clarity Publishers, 2009; 226.) —Ed.
* The feminine aspect of God. Yogananda first familiarized Western spiritual seekers (more familiar with the “Heavenly Father” aspect of God) with the comforting concept of the Divine Mother through his teachings and his Autobiography of a Yogi . —Ed.
INTRODUCTION
“S OME SAY WE DON ’ T really learn how to live until we have looked death in the face. Those who’ve had near-death experiences have a different perspective from the rest of us.
“In my case,” Brindey went on, “death is not yet in my face, but it is in the room. It is hovering nearby; I can feel it. The reality of death at this time in my journey is helping me see what is important and what isn’t.
“Whereas in the past I might have been tempted to quibble or argue with those who see the world differently than I do, I now have no energy for it; there’s no part of me that wants to go there. It just doesn’t matter.”
I was listening to my friend Nayaswami Brindey, whose story appears later in this book. Her words made me ponder an essential question: As I draw closer to the end of my life, what are my priorities?
Dr. Atul Gawande, the famous physician-author, looks at this question in his book Being Mortal . According to one study, those who are conscious of having a limited amount of time remaining are more likely to value relationships with close friends and family. Their focus is on everyday pleasures, on the here and now, rather than on career goals; those who see a long life stretching out in front of them usually hold opposite values. They seek to gain skills and resources that will enable them to create a brighter future and to expand their network of friends and connections. Spending time with family is, to them, a lower priority. It’s a matter of perspective and how much time we perceive ourselves to have. Have you given thought to where and how you will want to spend your time?
The Importance of Environment
A CLOSELY RELATED QUESTION is, “Does it really matter where you die?” The answer is Yes—and No. No, because the people I write about in this book made their transitions in a variety of places: some at home, some in the hospital. A few died peacefully within the physical boundaries of Ananda Village, a spiritual community in Northern California, but many did not. One man died in rural Italy, while out for a run! Despite the differences in environment, all of these “passages” were inspiring.
The answer is also “Yes, location does matter.” Thanks to the hospice movement in the West, for example, many people are choosing to die at home, surrounded by familiar scenes and loved ones, rather than in the impersonal setting of a hospital.
A broader perspective shows changing trends. According to Gawande, as recently as 1945 most deaths occurred in the home. By the 1980s, as nursing homes and hospitals became more available, just 17 percent did. Now there is a shift back toward the home.
Ultimately, the choice is up to the individuals concerned, their caregivers, and their families. Either way there are pros and cons. Depending on the individual’s lifestyle, the skill of the caregiver, and how much physical care is required, a hospital or hospice facility may provide a setting more conducive to quality time for those dying than would be possible at home. Each case is unique.
Some cultures answer the question of where to exit one’s body primarily from a spiritual perspective. To Hindus, for example, Varanasi (formerly Benares), the sacred city situated on the banks of the river Ganges, is the most auspicious place to die. Many believe that, in Varanasi, union with the Supreme is within touching distance.
Lest we think we all should hop on the next plane to India, the deeper message of that Hindu belief is that a spiritual—or at least a positive—environment can be helpful at the time of a significant transition. My teacher, Swami Kriyananda, envisioned what he called Evening Hospice—a prospectus to develop harmonious places or “homes” where one could go near the end of one’s life to prepare for “the final exam.” One such facility is Ananda House.
Ananda House and the Twelve Precepts of Evening Hospice
“I N 2006,” H ANUMAN B AUGHMAN writes, “Swami Kriyananda wrote the Twelve Precepts of Evening Hospice.” Hanuman and his wife, Mari, are the founders of Ananda House, an assisted-living facility near Portland, Oregon. “When I first read those precepts,” Hanuman goes on, “I was stunned. It was obvious that they were not just something you would want to address at the end of life; they are, in fact, guidelines for living!”
In a public letter, Kriyananda explained the concept of Evening Hospice:
The word “hospice” is defined differently in my dictionary from modern usage. It is listed as meaning, “A lodging for travelers, especially one kept by a religious order.” Why “Evening Hospice”? Because alternative words (twilight, sunset) suggest a sense of loss .
“Evening Hospice” will be a place of retirement for elderly people. Every effort will be made to make it for them a true, alternate home .
In the Bhagavad Gita, * a frequently repeated theme is the importance of preparing for death: the “final exam” in each person’s life. In old age especially, people should be readied for their final exit into what can be a better world, a better future—including, if possible, liberation (moksha) from all earthly ties .
Counseling should be given to [residents], both in groups and as individuals, with a view to helping them in the following ways: They should be helped to face, and accept even-mindedly, whatever has happened to them in the past. They can be helped also to relinquish emotional attachments; accept past errors, viewing them not with regret but as simple facts. They should be helped to see that, always, it was God, through their imperfect understanding, [W]ho dreamed their lives; release the grip ego-consciousness exerts on them; release every desire and attachment, one by one, into infinity and into Supreme Bliss; offer every regret into God’s love and Infinite Consciousness; forgive (and release the thought of) any past hurts and betrayals; give out universal love to all, even to so-called or self-styled enemies; see that everyone’s motivation, however misguided, is basically the same: a soul-craving for Satchidananda; * keep mind and heart focused on infinity; practice active devotion; earn to overcome fear by realizing that we are not this body .
Monks and nuns could take on this work as a form of self-support and of divine seva, or service .
Someone might be present as often as feasible in the chapel or prayer room, singing Hindi, Bengali, or English chants with the harmonium .
An atmosphere of love should be cultivated. Beautiful paintings, decor, and furnishings should be present. A recreation room could be provided, but not emphasized as a place to congregate. Music played in the background should be calm and uplifting .
When any resident expresses grief or fear, he should be helped to relax calmly into the Self, seeing death as a great adventure[:] a release from physical bondage and mental limitations. Every effort should be made to help the residents . . . keep their minds and hearts focused on beauty, hope, and harmony; kindness and love; good will and inner joy .
Inspired and energized by Swami Kriyananda’s vision of Evening Hospice, the Baughmans created Ananda House to meet this end-of-life need. Ananda House provides a conscious way of living, enabling individuals to work with the precepts in a supportive environment.
Ananda House—A Dream Realized
“D URING THE SUMMER OF 2010,” writes Hanuman, “my wife Mari and I were living at the Portland Ananda Community; Ananda had just acquired a campus in the Laurelwood Valley. Many weekends were filled volunteering to spruce up the buildings and prepare the campus to become a retreat facility and college. It was an inspired time brimming over with start-up energy.
“On one such day a friend pointed out a house across the street from the campus that was available for adult-care living. . . . As I was gazing at this house, an old dream of mine rushed through my brain. In the dream I was sitting in a chair on a hill where just such a house stood. From my vantage point I could see young adults, seniors, and even children. I felt a deep sense of peace, joy, and harmony. Now, looking at this home, the words came to me, ‘This is your work to do; and if you don’t do it, you will be making a spiritual mistake.’ And thus the project began.
“Without any advance planning we were able to secure this ‘fixer-upper’ home, featuring five bedrooms plus a ‘bonus room,’ all within thirty days. For more than forty years I had had available to me a Veterans Loan benefit which I had never used, so we had instant financing. I continued to work full time as a hospice supervisor by day and a general handyman by night.
“On our second-year anniversary, Swami Kriyananda came to bless the Ananda House with his presence. He was so radiant in his aura, so kind in his demeanor! He was clearly very pleased to see his ideas being put into action.
“As a religious order we pray and meditate daily, attempting to commune with our highest potential in God. Using Kriyananda’s precepts, we address our lives and the lives of our residents as consciously and as compassionately as we can. Living consciously can be a challenge as well as a blessing, for you become more aware of how you react to others. Those living and working together in an ashram setting have plenty of opportunities to ‘rub off the rough spots’ in their own understanding. From my experience it is the greatest way to live, if you wish to make spiritual progress.
“It is not, however,” added Hanuman, “an easy way to live. It takes strength and courage, as Sister Gyanamata (Yogananda’s disciple) suggested, to ‘see yourself in the cold light of day.’ And then one must commit to the internal work necessary to find God.
“That is what makes this work a ministry. Evening Hospice isn’t only about caring for our elders. It also means supporting our elders and ourselves in the work of transformation that has been given each of us to do. Living in community is a time-tested way to help us learn the lessons needed to help us commune with the image of God that abides within each one of us.”
To Make Spiritual Progress, Work with Your Strengths
A S I RESEARCHED THE stories for this book—accounts of real people who lived and died in an inspiring way—I thought at first to match them up with the Twelve Precepts of Evening Hospice—one story to perfectly illustrate each precept. But people rarely fit into tidy categories. I found that the reality of this collection was much greater than my initial concept. Many of those whose stories are shared in this book excelled in more than one of Kriyananda’s Twelve Precepts—and thus pointed the way for all of us. For everyone’s ultimate goal is to master all of those precepts, based as they are on universal, spiritual truths.
We need not, however, master all Twelve Precepts at once. We need only delve deeply into one of them. My teacher often used the illustration of a frozen lake. In order to break through the surface and reach the water of expanded awareness below, it isn’t necessary to smash the entire icy layer on top. We need only drill a single hole through the ice. That small opening will take us to the vast lake beneath—there to merge with our true, higher nature.
Similarly, we all need to find the opening in our consciousness that will allow us to expand and to keep moving spiritually. The good news is that we don’t need to spend years doing battle with our shortcomings and character flaws. Working with our strengths makes more sense and is far more effective. As the saying goes, “If you want to get rid of the darkness, don’t beat at it with a stick. Turn on the light!”
Here is a practical example: perhaps you struggle with forgiveness or non-attachment, but have a devotional nature. Therein lies your way forward. One of the precepts of spirituality is to “practice active devotion.” “Turn on the light,” then, by going deeply into the practice of devotion. As Yogananda told his disciples, “God doesn’t mind your faults; He minds your indifference.”
In this book my intention is to offer encouragement to those of you who, aware that your time is limited, want to prepare yourselves for the “final exam”—and to those of you wishing to be of help to a loved one with a terminal illness.
I write here about “ordinary” people whose deaths were inspiring to those left behind. Other books ( Graceful Exits by Sushila Blackman, for example) have been written about the passages of great masters, saints, and yogis. No doubt their exits were extraordinary, even amazing, but for that very reason, perhaps less relevant to us as role models. In this book I try to show through real-life stories that a peaceful—even a blissful, liberating, and self-transcendent—passing is within the reach of those who are willing to do at least some preparation. As we read in the Bhagavad Gita (referring to the advanced meditation technique of Kriya Yoga), “Even a little practice of this religion will free one from dire fears and colossal sufferings.” *
“Good Death” or “Bad Death”
W HAT IS MEANT BY a “good death”? What is a “bad death”? And why does it even matter?
Many cultures, particularly in the East, believe that the state of our consciousness at the moment we leave the body to a great extent determines our afterlife. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna says to his disciple, “O . . . (Arjuna)! the uppermost thought in a person’s mind as he dies determines his next state of existence.” *
To leave the body with one’s heart focused on the Divine will have a strong mitigating effect on any negative karmas we have still to overcome. So much so, that highly advanced souls can make use of the powerful energy of transition to become completely liberated in Spirit.
How should we prepare ourselves for this important passage? The stories that follow offer clues. The ripest fruits often fall of their own accord from the tree, or are easily picked. The unripe fruit resists, because it is still clinging to the branch. Similarly, it is easier to let go of attachments, and even of life itself, when we are “ripe”—that is, when we feel content and complete in ourselves, as children or “sparks” of the Infinite Consciousness.
One common thread underlying this book is the value of “satsang” (spiritual community), especially at times of transition. Whether in person or through prayers at a distance, spiritual support is a blessing to those dying and to their families. All those whose stories are told in this book have some connection to the worldwide work of Ananda. ** Theirs was the rare good fortune of being surrounded at the end of their lives by those who love God.
May your own passing, and that of your loved ones, be graced by prayer, spiritual support, and the friendship of God-loving souls.
Footnotes
* Considered the “Hindu Bible,” the Bhagavad Gita is one of the principle scriptures of India. —Ed.
* A Hindu conception of the nature of God, translated by Paramhansa Yogananda as “ever-existing, ever-conscious, ever- new Joy.” —Ed.
* Kriyananda, Swami, The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita Explained by Paramhansa Yogananda . Nevada City, California: Crystal Clarity Publishers, 2006, 2007; 76.
* Kriyananda, Swami, The Essence of the Bhagavad Gita Explained by Paramhansa Yogananda . Nevada City, California: Crystal Clarity Publishers, 2006, 2007; 76.
** For more information, visit ananda.org .
CHAPTER ONE
H OW TO D IE WITH G RACE —T USHTI
“This is a journey we will all make, and these early travelers are mapping the way for all their brothers and sisters to follow.” —Asha
“I WANT TO DIE consciously,” said Tushti.
“What does that mean to you—to die consciously?” asked Asha.
After careful thought Tushti answered, “To feel the presence of God.”
Then Asha asked, “Why is it so important to you that you die consciously?”
“Because it is such an important part of our teachings,” Tushti replied.
Asha responded, “I think the ‘teachings’ are behind you now. The teachings are to help us feel the presence of God in our hearts, a feeling which you have all the time now. I still need the teachings. But you have gone beyond them.”
Tushti thought about that very carefully for a time, then admitted, “I try too hard.”
“After that,” wrote Asha, “she entered an even deeper state of relaxation and acceptance. Up to that point we’d had to reassure her about her medications because of her determination to ‘die consciously.’ She still didn’t like the medicine, because it tasted ‘nasty.’ . . . But she no longer seemed concerned about how it might interfere with her ‘dying consciously.’ We were delighted to see this last concern dissolve.”
(The text below was drawn and adapted from the “Letters from Asha” website, March 30, 2016.)
In August 2015, Tushti was diagnosed with metastatic pancreatic cancer. At that time she was living in India with her husband, Surendra, serving in the Ananda Pune center there.
She was a most unlikely candidate to receive such a diagnosis. Tushti was physically strong—a yoga teacher and formerly a runner. As her husband put it, “If anyone was expected to live to be a hundred, it was Tushti!” However, God has His own plans. By November 2015 they were moving back to America, both for the medical care, and, as it turned out, to say good-bye also to her American friends.
I (Asha) visited Tushti and Surendra in India in October 2015. She was hospitalized at that time and I spent most of my five-day stay with her in the hospital.
By mid-February 2016, when I saw them again, they were living at Ananda Laurelwood, outside of Portland, Oregon. My visit coincided with a shift in direction for Tushti. Up to that point she had felt God wanted her to try to get well. Mid-February, she entered hospice, and turned her attention from this world to the next.
I ended up spending most of a month with Tushti and Surendra at Laurelwood. . . . At that time we thought she would transition in a matter of days, so I started sending daily emails. Days stretched into weeks and the emails became a chronicle of a spiritual seeker’s last days of dying consciously.
The Kriya Yoga * Way of Dying
B ECAUSE OF HER DEEP devotion, and the profound willingness of both Tushti and Surendra to share the journey with me and other dear friends here, we are all learning more about the “Kriya Yoga Way of Dying” than I knew before.
Even for the seeker, with faith in God and a deep willingness to cooperate with God’s will, still, there are so many levels to be passed through; so many threads to unwind; so many habits to be released.
In Yogananda’s Autobiography of a Yogi is the story of the great spiritual master Lahiri Mahasaya receiving his guru Babaji’s message that Lahiri’s incarnation was almost done. Yogananda describes how Lahiri went deep into silence for a time, as he severed the last cords of attachment.
If even an avatar (an incarnation of God) has to focus his awareness to release himself, how much more intensely will the seeker have to concentrate and strive for freedom.
It is all very subtle. Only a little of the path a seeker walks at the end of life is put into words. Mostly one feels it here as deep devotion and soul-concentration. . . .
One of the reasons I am writing to all of you is so that we can help each other and ourselves through this inevitable, beautiful, God-given moment of transition.
Swamiji and Master have left us a wealth of teaching on this all-important part of life. Still, so many questions arise. . . .
Yesterday, Tushti started to say, “I am willing to die,” but found herself unable to say those words with conviction. It goes so much against all her training and understanding, both as a devotee and a healer.
So we ventured the thought aloud, “I am willing to die, if that be God’s will.” But even that didn’t have the power she needed in that moment. For the corollary of that would have to be, “I am willing to live as long as it be God’s will.” Given the state of her body, and the increasing difficulty and discomfort of being in it, it was hard to say sincerely she was willing to stay in it.
In this situation, “I am ready to die” was better.
We found the answer, though, in the words to one of Kriyananda’s chants: “I want only Thee, Lord, Thee, only Thee.” The exalted devotional attitude expressed in that chant transcends all other considerations.
“You Have to Help Me”
I REMEMBER HOW , AT the end of another friend’s life, when she had been silent for some time, she broke the silence saying, “This is very hard. You have to help me.” We started chanting AUM together, and soon after, she left.
So I am also writing to you because this process of transitioning is not easy, and as Tushti said some days ago, “I don’t remember how to do this.” *
We have to help each other. . . .
In my conversation with Tushti about “being ready to die” we arrived at the image of a child raising its arms and crying for its mother when it wants to be lifted into her arms.
Like little children we stand at the gateway to Eternity, hearts raised, waiting for the Divine Mother to lift us.
From Swamiji’s music, again, the answer comes: “Lord, I am Thine, I am Thine, I am Thine.”
In the middle of the night last night, Tushti was awake for a time. Before I left her to go back to bed, I whispered those very words to her, and she whispered them back to me. “Lord, I am Thine.” . . .
The Edge of Eternity
Y ESTERDAY T USHTI WENT TO the edge of eternity . . . taking all of us with her in deep and profound meditation.
Her heartbeat and breath came almost to stillness. Then returned.
She and Master and Swamiji are engaged in a mysterious dance of freedom from the body that is not yet complete.
Yesterday we learned from her friend Rose a beautiful affirmation that Tushti has been repeating:
Divine Mother, my Beloved, I offer myself completely, body, mind, and soul, into Your healing light, and Your unconditional loving embrace. I am your very own child of Light.
“Master Has More for Me to Do”
W HEN T USHTI B ECAME ILL in India, from the beginning the prognosis was dire. Pancreatic cancer is not easy to overcome. Tushti, however, would hear none of it. “I feel Master has more for me to do,” she said. It was her duty to stay in her body so that she could continue to serve.
If Tushti were a Roman Catholic saint going through the dying process in the way she has, one might say that she was doing penance for souls in purgatory.
That isn’t how we would phrase it, but one cannot help but think that this, too, is the service she felt Master wanted her to do, and why she couldn’t just give up the body months ago in India. She had to get back to Laurelwood and do this tapasya (self-sacrifice or penance) for Master, for Ananda * . . .
“So much joy” ** is what she describes now. But it is tapasya in the sense of patience. Day by day accepting what God is giving—in this case, one more day of life in that body. One more day for us of caring for that body. One more day of looking at the task-at-hand and patiently applying will power in God-guided action to serve Master in whatever way he asks of us. . . .
Tushti has given her life to serving God. Now her body won’t allow her to serve in the same way, but the impulse to serve is not diminished by bodily weakness.
Yesterday morning, for the first time, Tushti and I had to talk about pain. . . . I raised the thought, without having a clear answer myself, that she has spent her life helping others awaken to the love of God. Even though we might not understand how it could help, she could offer this pain to God as a way to help others awaken to His love. She smiled so sweetly at that idea, and visibly relaxed even though the pain was still there.
In that same conversation, Tushti suddenly asked about someone at Ananda whom I thought she barely knew. The name had never come up before. She was deeply interested in that person’s well-being. We talked for a few minutes about certain tests that person was facing and how sincerely that one was trying.
She said, “I pray for that one. Secret prayers are the best.”
Then we talked a little about Tushti’s mother. She has been worried about her. Tushti is the second of her four children to die. I assured Tushti that her mother is at peace with her passing (which is true).
“Your prayers have changed your mother. She is very strong now.”
Again, Tushti smiled so sweetly and repeated, “Secret prayers are the best.”
A New Level of Spiritual Friendship
T USHTI IS T RANSITIONING OUT of her body just as we are transitioning to a deeper understanding of what it means to help someone on this final journey. Spiritual friendship takes on a whole new level of meaning.
I had a little experience before this with the transition from life to death, but this present occasion has humbled me completely. In this, and in all things, I am but a child, relying entirely on my Divine Mother to guide me. . . .
Tushti is doing exactly what she set out to do. Dying consciously.
It’s been one month since she made the decision to go into hospice, to give up trying to live and accepting that she would die. She has been heroic in her steadfast determination to die with full awareness of God, to face down every fear, every limitation, every attachment.
That work seems done. Her body is so small, still, and frail. She has become nothing but breath. For her, each breath has been transformed—as if into a repetition of the mantra: “I am Spirit.”
So Much Joy
I HAVE OFTEN PONDERED that Yogananda ended his poem “Samadhi” * with the words, “A tiny bubble of laughter, I am become the Sea of Mirth Itself.” In some ways it’s a rather surprising conclusion to a poem about the experience of cosmic consciousness.
Yet, being here with Tushti—at this time when she is as much now on the other side as she is here—laughter and mirth keep bubbling over and the poem makes perfect sense. Everything resolves into joy . . . so why should there not be laughter? Why should there not be mirth? . . .
Every conversation with Tushti now is about joy. Her smile is so blissful. Her eyes, windows to Infinity. So much joy.

T HE FOLLOWING IS AN excerpt from an account of Tushti’s passing, by her husband, Surendra.
“Softly, sweetly, and serenely, today, Tushti took leave of body and earth at 1:05 in the afternoon. She is soaring unfettered now, bound for glory, a being of light.
“In looking back on the past seven months, following her diagnosis and throughout her prolonged illness, I think I’ve begun to understand what this difficult ordeal was all about.
Sitting at her bedside in the waning hours of her life, I could see the faces of the hundreds of people she touched: nurses, doctors, aides, and orderlies who would come to her hospital room unsummoned just to be in her warm and welcoming presence; fellow seekers too numerous to number; strangers whose day was brightened by a passing smile, and who would not forget it.
“Tushti was on a divine assignment, which she performed perfectly, simply by being herself. God was whispering in her ear to leave a peaceful and reassuring impression with everyone she met that ‘This is how you do it.’ This is how you come to the end of your life, beautifully and bravely, your heart brimming with love no matter the pain and discomfort, no matter the silent wishing to have stayed on into a healthy old age.
“Tushti was at her finest in those seven months, a saint in the making. From her we learned how to die with grace.”
Footnotes
* “Kriya Yoga” is an advanced meditation technique, first taught in the West by Paramhansa Yogananda. In this context the term refers to the approach to death and dying that an experienced meditator might adopt. —Ed.
* Here, Tushti is referring to reincarnation, and to the related teaching that everyone has left previous bodies in other lifetimes many times in the past. —Ed.
* Ananda Worldwide is the spiritual work through which Tushti served God. —Ed.
** Words spoken by Sister Gyanamata, a highly advanced disciple of Yogananda, just before her passing. —Ed.
* The word “samadhi” refers to the highest state of meditation, or union with God. —Ed.
CHAPTER TWO
W HAT I S “A Y OGI ’ S A PPROACH TO D EATH AND D YING ”?
I N MY EXPERIENCE “A Yogi’s Approach to Death and Dying” is understood primarily in the heart—by example, rather than through attempts at definition.
My main bond with Tushti had been through Ananda Sangha, a worldwide movement based on the teachings of Paramhansa Yogananda. Even though Tushti and I never lived in the same community at the same time, we were deeply connected through our mutual commitment to a yogic lifestyle, and through a powerful community network of friendship and prayer.
At the end of her life, Tushti had the capacity to experience a joy that spoke volumes about her way of life before and during her final illness. What was the source of that joy? It was a life dedicated to meditation: for Tulsi, in particular, this meant the path of Kriya Yoga.
What Is Kriya Yoga?
K RIYA Y OGA IS AN advanced meditation technique that greatly accelerates one’s spiritual progress and helps one to feel the joy of his or her own higher self—a joy with no outward cause. Kriya was made widely known by Paramhansa Yogananda in his Autobiography of a Yogi . According to Yogananda, it is the most effective technique available to mankind today for reaching the goal of union with the Divine.
Kriya, controlling the mind directly through the life force, is the easiest, most effective, and most scientific avenue of approach to the Infinite. In contrast to the slow, uncertain “bullock cart” theological path to God, Kriya may justly be called the “airplane” route. *
Practice Kriya night and day. It is the greatest key to salvation. . . . Once you feel the inner joy it bestows, no evil will be able to touch you. It will then seem like stale cheese compared to nectar. **
Is there anyone who doesn’t want more joy in his life? I encourage you, the reader, to take advantage of the resources listed in the back of this book and explore the possibility of learning more about meditation and Kriya Yoga for yourself.
In Paramhansa Yogananda: A Biography , Kriyananda explains the science of Kriya Yoga: “The Kriya science begins with the physical symptoms accompanying emotional reaction. In this reactive process, when one is delighted by, let us say, a sudden and unexpected gift, he tends instinctively to take a quick, sharp breath. When, on the contrary, one meets with a sudden setback, the automatic tendency of people is to blow the breath out. Exultation is accompanied by inhalation, followed perhaps, by a glad cry. Gloom or disappointment is accompanied by a heavy sigh.
“If you think about it, you will see that your actual reality lies not in outer things, but in your inner reaction to them. . . .
“Kriya Yoga is scientific because it cooperates with Nature, and uses natural law to accomplish its objective. It is not a magical process, nor is it a ritual of self-purging by flagellation or the propitiation of higher beings. . . . *
Elsewhere in that book, Kriyananda wrote:
“Kriya Yoga helps us to bring our emotional reactive process to a state of inner balance. We can enjoy the world, but our enjoyment, now, is something we give out to the world: it is not determined for us by the world.” **
Achieving this state of emotional balance is, however, only the first step. In the channel of the spine one has, as Kriyananda wrote, “the opportunity, and also the divinely appointed duty, to raise his consciousness. His negative pole at the base of the spine must be united with the positive pole at the top of the head. When this union finally occurs—and the process, from our human point of view, is very slow—he becomes united not only personally, but cosmically. Self-union, inwardly, means also objective union with God.” ***
The Kriya technique, which is usually taught through initiation, can take us all the way to divine union and soul liberation.
Besides being a technique of energy control, or pranayama , Kriya is also a comprehensive spiritual path, one which includes right attitude and right living, and, perhaps most important of all, an inner connection to the enlightened masters whose lives are described in Autobiography of a Yogi .
In this book we refer primarily to Kriya Yoga as a spiritual path. The Kriya Yoga path includes Kriya and other techniques, but with different emphases, according to one’s condition and stage of life.
Because meditation techniques are far more challenging when the body is in pain or unwell, it behooves us to practice these techniques while we are still relatively healthy, and to start preparing even now for the end of life: the “final exam.” When the body begins to shut down, or becomes less capable of practicing meditation, what will draw to us the grace of God and the great ones, is an inner attunement to the higher Self, coupled with attitudes of devotion, service, and kindness. The stories that follow provide ample testimony to that grace.
Footnotes
* Yogananda, Paramhansa, Autobiography of a Yogi (2011 reprint of 1946 first edition). Nevada City, California: Crystal Clarity Publishers, 2011; 236.
** Kriyananda, Swami, The New Path: My Life with Paramhansa Yogananda . Nevada City, California: Crystal Clarity Publishers, 2009; 430.
* Kriyananda, Swami, Paramhansa Yogananda: A Biography . Nevada City, California: Crystal Clarity Publishers, 2011; pp. 232, 236.
** Ibid, p. 234.
*** Ibid, p. 235.
CHAPTER THREE
H APPY ’ S S TORY —S EEING G OD AS THE D OER
When I was nineteen years old and living in Texas, I was critically injured in a hundred-mile-an-hour collision with a drunk driver. As I was being rushed to the hospital by helicopter, I had a heart attack and “died.” I wasn’t on the spiritual path at the time, so I couldn’t have explained very easily what happened next, but I had what I now know to be a near-death experience—I left my body. *
T HIS IS THE TRUE story of Happy Carol Winingham, who died of AIDS complications at the age of forty-five on February 6, 1998. For almost ten years Happy had lived with the ever-looming threat of death, yet her passing surprised even her closest friends. Before her last illness, she appeared to be doing quite well. Also, since she had had two (or more) near-death experiences, everyone—including Happy herself—assumed that this latest bout would be just another one of her close calls. Instead, it turned out to be her final call on the stage of life.
We’ll share a great deal of Happy’s dramatic story in her own words. An actress and writer herself, she would have wanted it that way. Although her first near-death experience (described above) didn’t lead directly to the AIDS infection, it was still an important part of her life story. Let’s continue with what happened after nineteen-year-old Happy left her body:
I went through a tunnel of light and emerged into a big, open space where I was surrounded by a powerful presence. This presence consisted of many souls and emanated pure light, pure golden warmth, pure nurturing comfort, and an overwhelming feeling of love .
It seemed that I had merged with all these souls. We were all one and yet individual, too. Nothing else existed; nothing else mattered. It felt like home. Then, from the midst of these souls, a loving, gentle presence spoke to me, not in words, but through the medium of feelings. The question asked was, “Do you want to stay, or do you want to go back?”
Somehow, my soul knew exactly where it was, why it was here, and what was happening. I knew I had died and left the material world. My answer to the familiar presence was, “I haven’t met the right people yet, and I haven’t learned to serve.”
The reply that came back was, “If you go back, you will experience physical suffering. It will not be easy for you.” And my soul said, “I need to go back because I need to do these things before I can come home.”
After I recovered from the crash, I became interested in yoga and eventually moved to Ananda Village, a community of disciples of Paramhansa Yogananda. With everyone I met at Ananda there was a sense of recognition: “I know this person!” So I felt I’d found “the right people.” But I hadn’t yet learned to serve .
By 1988 I was in good shape physically and was preparing for a marathon. But after making good progress in my training for a few months, I noticed that my heart was feeling weak, and that I was becoming breathless easily. Then I got the flu and it debilitated me so badly that I couldn’t walk or see, and I had to be rushed to the clinic and rehydrated intravenously .
I thought, “This isn’t your normal flu.” It puzzled me because I’d been thinking of myself as a healthy, physically fit person. The doctors sent me to a specialist for some tests. Two weeks before Christmas I was sitting in the internist’s office .
After some unexpected questions about my sexuality, he looked me in the eye and said, “You are infected with the HIV virus.”
“What does that mean exactly?” I questioned. “What is my life expectancy?”
“You might have from six to twelve months to live,” he replied. “There is no cure for AIDS.”
I was in shock. When you don’t know anything about AIDS, you feel very lost and helpless. I went home, my best friend came over, and we sat together and cried. I remember telling her, “I’m going to give my car to this person. I’ll give all my clothes to this person, and I’ll give my jewelry and my crystal and my . . .” Finally, she said, “Wait a minute. Let’s try to be in the present moment with this and figure out what to do next.”
“Go into Your Heart, and You Will Find the Answers”
As soon as we got calmed down, the phone rang. It was Swami Kriyananda, my spiritual teacher and the founder of the Ananda community. “Happy, I’m so sorry,” he said. “What are you feeling right now?”
“I don’t know; what should I do?”
“Don’t do anything right now except meditate. Go deep into your heart, and not into the mind of the disease. Go into your heart, and you will find the answers that you need.” And just before he hung up, he said, “Oh, and another thing—I don’t want you to tell anybody about this yet.”
I thought, “Don’t tell anybody about this? This is shocking news! I could die in a week and nobody would know why!” But I knew from experience that Swami had a lot of inner wisdom. I felt intuitively that he was right, although it was only much later that I fully understood what he’d been saying—that if I’d talked to people from the consciousness of fear, they’d have magnified my fear and made it stronger .
After talking with Kriyananda, I thought, “There’s got to be an easy answer to this.” So I went back to the doctor and asked him if there was anything that could help me. He said there was a drug called AZT, but that it had severe toxic side effects. I went home thinking that if there was something I could put in my body to fight the disease, it would give me confidence. But when I sat down to pray for guidance about taking AZT, I got the loudest “No!” I’d ever received in meditation. It was as if someone were actually standing behind me saying, “Don’t do it!”
I also felt I was being told that healing would not come from a magic pill, and that it would have to come from within. So I went back to my meditation bench and said, “Okay, I’m not going to take the drug. What do you suggest I do?” I meditated for a long time, and the answer I kept getting was, “Wait.”
“What do you mean, “wait’? They are saying I might have only six months to live!”
But I had to trust the inner voice. I felt that it was telling me, “This is deeper than you can understand right now.” I also remembered what Kriyananda had told me about “meditating on the heart, not on the mind of the disease.” So I started meditating on my heart .
A friend named Rosanna telephoned. “Happy, would you like to come pray with me?”
“I would love to do that,” I answered. Rosanna prays very sweetly. She asked for the Divine Presence to be there; then, with her hands on my spine, Rosanna urged me to open my heart. “You need to start watching your dreams,” she said. “You need to find a way to express what’s happening inside of you.”
I wondered what she meant, so I prayed to Yogananda again. That afternoon a friend visited, bringing a box of pastels and a big sketchpad! I began drawing and realized it was the answer to my prayer .
I had never drawn or painted in my life, but I began drawing beautiful beings, beings that I knew were me. I took them to Rosanna, and she said, “Oh, this is a transformation coming! Keep drawing these things!
Your heart is working!” These beautiful beings radiated light out of the heart .
Within a short period of time, I discovered a number of ways to help heal my body: acupuncture, homeopathic remedies, flower essences, and a gem elixir. A friend at Ananda began giving me Shiatsu treatments. I was also following a very strict diet. Still, my T-cell count wasn’t rising. I spoke with Kriyananda again. He suggested that I increase my Kriya meditation practice, and also do the energization exercises twice a day. As I increased these practices, I began to feel a deeper attunement with Yogananda .
One day while dusting the house, I was talking to Yogananda aloud and said, “I feel I’m really getting somewhere, but the blood tests still aren’t improving. Maybe it would help if you gave me another tool to use.” Later that day, I came across some of Yogananda’s writings that included a few affirmations for healing .
“Thank you,” I murmured. I realized that I’d been focusing on the physical and spiritual aspects of my health crisis, but if I didn’t address the psychological dimension as well, I wouldn’t get better. Now I needed to find all the hidden boxes containing my bad mental habits, and open them to the light .
I picked a very simple affirmation: “Father, Thou art in me. I am well.” Soon I began to feel that it was working on my consciousness even while I slept. After about six months, I started to feel like a different person; I didn’t have fear anymore .
Soon I was forgetting to check how strong my legs were and whether my eyesight was coming back. I even began to forget that I was sick. The affirmation was working deeply, making changes in my consciousness .
I began playing tapes of lovely harp music, and visualizing a thick golden light coming into my body through my third eye. I also visualized my near-death experience and what it felt like to be with those warm, protecting, loving souls. A golden light would enter my heart and dissolve the fear and anger there, and I’d see a lotus, beautiful and pink. Then my heart would open and the golden light would flow out into all my body parts .
Very soon I was full of joy every day. I realized I would never have felt this joy if my soul hadn’t chosen, in this lifetime, the test of AIDS.

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