I have to start this review with a confession: I wanted to like this book from the moment I read the title and its by-line. And I did! Sadhguru’s book is titled– Death: An Inside Story and comes along with a cheeky by-line: A book for all those who shall die! It was published by Penguin Ananda in India in February 2020 and has been topping its bestseller list on Amazon since then.
There are various kinds of books on death on the market. A few with an absolutely fictitious take to it, a few more giving it some philosophical angle, and the rest addressing solely the medical aspect of it. Most of them limit their scope to one or two specialities alone. In that sense, Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev’s book is unique because, as suggested by the title, it is an Inside story.
At once he mentions an interesting episode from his childhood, where he attempted to find out the truth about death, first hand, by swallowing a bottle full of sedatives from his physician father’s supplies, making the point that we are all innately very curious about death.
Everything he says in the book is drawn from his understanding and personal experiences.
Most people have been led to believe by modern cinema that Death is something that happens instantly, Sadhguru says that there is no such thing as ‘sudden death’ and that it is a long process that sometimes can be interfered with and reversed.
The author uses the example of a person falling from the roof of the house and dying by accident to explain why death is an inside story. In his words, “An outsider, seeing the body break into pieces, might think that the person died a violent death. But for the man who has fallen down, he may have died a very peaceful death within himself in those last few moments. Or he may have died a violent death. Violence is not in the way the body breaks but in the way a human being experiences it in that last moment.”
The book is divided into three major parts. In the first part– ‘Life and death in one breadth’- the author tries to explain the essential mechanisms of life and death using several approaches. He describes the yogic understanding and then simplifies it by using the familiar soap bubble example. He traces the origins of life from the beginning of creation to the cycle of birth and death that we all undergo. Later, he mentions different kinds of deaths and what choices we have in death.
One of the objectives of the book is to help one achieve ‘good death. In the second part of the book – ‘The Gracefulness of Death’ – he clarifies what a ‘good’ death is and the preparations one can make for it. He also shares some insights into grief and how we can deal with it in a meaningful manner.
Sadhguru says, “You should know, when compared to the journey after death, the journey from your birth to death is just a short one. In one way everybody is a ghost. Whether you’re a ghost with the body or without a body is the only question. The time a being spends in an embodied state is nothing compared to the time one spends being in a disembodied state. Yet you have done too much preparation for this. This is a journey you do not want to go unprepared on! ”
Scattered around the book, he talks about different preparations one can make for one’s own death.
Afterlife is seen as not a part of death and dying but a byproduct of it. In the third part of the book – ‘Life After Death’ – Sadhguru talks about the most misunderstood aspect of life. He talks about Ghosts and spirits, their origins and their lives; what they can and cannot do to us and how we can protect ourselves. He also talks about the process of reincarnation, what passes from one birth to another, and what is lost. He also examines if the previous lives have any relevance to our present lives at all.
Another significant thing one learns is that it is also possible to assist someone on this journey to a limited extent. Explaining the need for after-death rituals, Sadhguru says, “As we have responsibilities towards the living, we have responsibilities towards the dead. Within a limited period of time after Death, there is room for impacting the Dead.”
Further, he goes on to add: “Everyone dies, and at some point or the other in our life, we all will lose someone who is dear to us. So, we would definitely like to see that something nice happens to them.”
Though the author states that the book is just a very small aspect of presenting all that we know about death and things he has to offer, this book acts as a tool to dispel the gamut of misconceptions about death in the world.
If you were born within the Indian subcontinent, the book will be a series of déjà vus, connecting many dots from what your grandmother told you about death!
In terms of practical takeaways, the book is a Pot-Pourri. Throughout the book, Sadhguru keeps dropping pointers as to how we can make things better for ourselves when the time comes. But if you are looking for any kind of serious practices and interventions, he demands more commitment and involvement.
However, there are references to a bunch of practices taught separately by the Isha Foundation to deal specifically with situations related to Death and Dying like dealing with grief and suicidal tendencies.
On a personal note, I feel the book successfully incorporates many bits of “common knowledge” into a comprehensive and credible theory.
On the whole, it is certainly a book to start getting acquainted with the aspects of death that one will eventually face. One can only say that a whole lot of information Sadhguru presents in the book about Death and Dying is extremely unique.