Death is a natural part of life, but even talking about it is largely taboo in Western society. I discovered a very different attitude to this during the twenty years I lived in Bali, where the topic is openly discussed and they have some of the most advanced death practices I have seen anywhere on earth.
My introduction to this came early on in my relationship with the Balinese man who was my husband for 12 years, while we were sitting in a restaurant, waiting for a meal we had ordered.
‘Have you ever seen a dead body?’ I asked (I’m well known for unusual conversation starters).
‘Hundreds,’ he replied.
This took me aback. I was expecting him to say “no” or at the very most “one or two”. I began rifling through my mental filing cabinets looking for an event in Balinese history that would explain this.
‘Were you in a massacre or an earthquake or something?’ I asked.
What had started out as an idle inquiry had suddenly become very interesting.
‘Well, every time someone in my village dies, we all go to the family’s house and keep vigil all night with the body. Then we help the family wash the body, prepare it for burial or cremation, and organize all the death ceremonies. This happens everywhere in Bali. Doesn’t it happen in England where you come from?’
‘Well, no. If someone dies, the family pays undertakers to do that.’
‘What? You let strangers handle the body?’
He gave me one of those kind yet withering Balinese looks that says, ‘Don’t you westerners know anything about anything?’
‘Death is a sacred event,’ he explained. ‘If someone in your family dies you can’t leave people who don’t even know the person to take care of what happens to their body and the journey of their eternal spirit. If someone in my village dies we all go to help and everyone wants to touch the body one last time to say goodbye.’ He patted my arm repeatedly in different places, imitating a group of people clamouring for one last touch. ‘No one feels quite right if they’re not able to do this. It feels like you haven’t finished the relationship properly.’
This casual, pre-dinner conversation gave me much pause for thought, and began an in-depth research into death and grieving practices that continues to this day.
The most insightful writing on this topic I have ever found is one of the Knowledge Tracks written by Samuel Sagan of the Clairvision School of Meditation. It’s called Death, The Great Journey. I rate it as the single most important book I have read this lifetime.
As Samuel Sagan explains, the techniques for death are the same as the techniques for life, so the best time to read this book is while you are still very much alive. Put simply, the more you understand about dying, the more you will understand about living and how to make the most of every day you have.
It’s also invaluable to read if you are facing death, want to prepare for your eventual death, or have experienced the loss of someone dear to you. It explains many of the mysteries of death and includes a Book of the Dead for Modern Times, to be read to a person soon after they die, to assist them in navigating the astral realms they find themselves in after departing their physical body. It can be used by people of all religious, non-religious and spiritual beliefs. Reading it to my mother after she died was one of the most beautiful and uplifting experiences of my life. I experienced a much higher dimension of the woman I had known, and a rich completion of my relationship with her.
The book is self-published by the Clairvision School and comes in the form of a downloadable audiobook so that you can listen to it again and again, together with a PDF copy of the text that you can read onscreen or print out if you prefer. It’s only available direct from the Clairvision online store in the US and is a bit pricey because it’s self-published, but worth every cent.
Copyright © Clear Space Living Ltd 2014
Death: The Great Journey by Samuel Sagan
Other books by Samuel Sagan
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I studied with the ClairVision School for years and agree with Karen about the “Death the Great Journey” readings. It is a powerful way to honor friends and loved ones after they have died. I’ve done it for several family members and a very close friend. My brother died a few months ago and once again I did the readings for him each morning for 2 weeks. I felt a sacred connection to him which gave me peace. It is a book that I treasure and I hope that one day one of my ClairVision friends will do the readings for me.
My dear father died last week at 91 years old. I’ve been preparing myself in the last few years by reading “Death the Great Journey” by Samuel Sagan. Even though Dad was not religious, I got his permission to read to him after his death from the Book of the Dead. I can feel his presence very clearly and I realized that he is not as I remember him because he is now a Spirit on a great journey. I sense my reading to him is guiding him along as he is trying to find his way. This is the most beautiful gift I have ever given him. I am so grateful for this experience. My own life feels renewed too!
Death is indeed a sacred event.
I believe you do a huge injustice to the Western world, especially the UK in your article .
The culture in Bali is different in regard to death. That was very apparent when we visited Bali, but that does not necessarily equate to better.
As a nurse of more than 30 years I have ensured a ‘good death’ for many patients and their families, upholding their wishes. I have worked with funeral directors who have principles and practices akin to the Balinese princiles that you cite.
Also, when we witnessed a funeral in Bali, we were told by a local resident, that arrangements were subject to local and financial agreement with Balinese Officials?
I lived in a Balinese community for 20 years and discovered during that time that they have the most highly evolved death practices of any culture I have ever encountered, designed to aid the trajectory of the departing spirit to the higher realms rather than hinder it as so many well-meaning western practices do. There is far too much detail to go into here, and it would serve no purpose in any case, because most Balinese practices would not be acceptable or meaningful in most western cultures. Nor would I want a Balinese funeral myself, even if it were offered to me, because it is designed to ensure that the person reincarnates back into a specific spiritual stream. My main reason for writing this article was to introduce readers to a work (Death, The Great Journey by Samuel Sagan) that has been created to help westerners through the death process in a way that will be spiritually beneficial to them and those around them. Since you are working so much with the dying, I do hope you’ll read it.
Concerning Balinese funerals, they are are so expensive that some families have to save up for decades to afford one, or sometimes they have mass funerals where a number of bodies are cremated at the same time to share costs between a few families. The main costs are the elaborate rituals and catering for the hundreds of people who attend.
Hi Karen, great post, totally agree, there is a cultural ‘uncomfortable-ness’ when it comes to talking about death. I found some peace and understanding after reading ‘The Top 5 Regrets of the Dying’ – which I recommend to any of my friends who are dealing with mortality. I love the idea of the Book of the Dead for Modern Times, thanks for sharing.
I kissed my mother when she died. It felt natural and a good way to say goodbye. It also a little scary. She has all my life been warm, but now cold. She died the day after my 65 year birthday.