At first sight, one wonders about the contents of Death: An Inside Story by Sadhguru, primarily because of its intriguing subject and title, but also due to the underlying taboo of discussing and debating it.
In certain cases, as much as uttering the ‘D word’ in traditional households is met with extreme censure. Besides, there’s also the question of why one must expose himself/herself to a subject that is unwelcome, particularly amidst an unprecedented pandemic that has exposed vulnerabilities in many people who consider themselves healthy and fit. After all, how much can/must one read or know about death, when the general tendency is to oscillate towards living well and to the fullest? We’ve seen death happen to near and dear ones and it's a not-so-nice experience, that we try to leave behind and avoid.
So why read a book about it ?
Simply put - Sadhguru does much more than add perspective to the impermanence of life and it’s significance. The book is structured in a manner that delves into various aspects of death - right from explaining the process, to how one must face it, prepare for it and the significance of the rituals that are followed and the possibilities of a re-incarnation, existence of ghosts and what not! The content is written in a simple and direct tone that is conversational and candid. True to Sadhguru’s speeches and videos, the no-holds-barred writing lives up to the tone and tenor that have made his videos impactful among the masses, across boundaries.
What better setting to establish this message than a crematorium? That’s exactly where Sadhguru takes readers in the beginning, by recalling his own experience of spending long hours at crematoriums, witnessing the final moments of the physical body. This is aimed at explaining that life and death are not polar opposites, but part of the same process, much like inhalation and exhalation are to breathing. By taking people through Sadhguru’s life journey and experiences, the book throws more light on certain aspects of life and beyond that are generally not spoken or written about. Hence, it becomes a pre-requisite that the reader flips pages with an open mind, acknowledging that there exist possibilities beyond those that we have experienced thus far, or have scientific, tangible evidence for.
The way in which certain sacrosanct entities/concepts such as God, heaven and hell, astrology, are confronted with his own radical perspectives are a breath of fresh air. In many cases, Sadhguru does acknowledge the popular beliefs and the underlying reasons, while also cautioning that these issues are of “limited scope and their significance is exaggerated”. On the other hand, when it comes to personal/familial choices such as organ donation (that are viewed through the lens of taboo in certain societies), the message is clear - the body which comes from the earth and returns to the earth and there is no harm in donating organs.
It is with a certain deal of apprehension that this reviewer picked up the book, primarily owing to the possibility of not being able to grasp anecdotes and experiences that are linked with spirituality. However, the writing style and lucid explanations, peppered with clear examples and analogies nullified the initial feelings of doubt. Each and every Yogic process and jargon that might take hours to explain in a conventional setting have been made easily accessible using extremely relatable, common phrases and examples. A case in point is the explanation given for the (future) medic-technological possibility of extending life to the extent of being immortal. Sadhguru says that, life in a body without its Karmic memory, is as good as hardware without software.
Rather than taking a problem-solution approach that has become typical of wellness, self-help books, this one stands out for its holistic look at a subject that has always left people curious. Despite handling a heavy and intense subject, the simple articulation makes the reader feel at ease, specifically with short sub-chapters that smoothly transition from one to another. Without relying on flowery language and sentences that run into paragraphs, the expression is simple while the content is sophisticated!
The contents unabashedly delve into certain areas of Sadhguru’s personal life and yogic practices that have been widely speculated about, berated in the public domain. Specifically, he provides some insights into his version of what led to his wife Vijji’s death, that is, how she herself chose to depart and had informed the family well in advance. References to ‘water memory’ and maintaining a bodily stillness that appears like death while monitored on medical equipment are also put forth. There are also chapters where he recalls his past lives and the purpose of his birth in each one of these incarnations. “Whenever I leave, for eighty years after that, my presence will be stronger, much stronger than the way it is right now” he says regarding the possibility of his coming back.
While the literal understanding of the concepts and ideas are never an issue, the acknowledgement of the same and its believability is left to individual perception and his/her awareness about the Yogic path. However, it can be safely said that much of what is written is meant to appeal to everyone above early-teenage, with a certain level of basic maturity. Of course, as one adds in years and years to life, the perceptions and understanding of these concepts are likely to get enhanced and undergo a sea-change. It is for this very reason that the book can be read right from teenage, especially after witnessing the death of a loved one and seeing it happen up-close for the first time.
Death: An Inside Story, by Sadhguru is more like the metaphorical gift that keeps unravelling itself as every layer of packaging is removed. How long it takes (months or years) to unravel each layer of packaging and reach the core message (perhaps) depends of the depth of one’s understanding, extent of spiritual involvement and rigidity of inherent belief systems.
Living up to its tagline ‘A book for all those who shall die’, it offers a fresh take on many unexplored subjects through Sadhguru’s words of Yogic wisdom, much before one gets to experience the inevitable first-hand. Hence, re-reading at convenient intervals is recommended to introspect on how much unravelling has happened since the last reading and how much of unravelling lays ahead.
Megha Parmar is a marketing and communications professional having expertise in media relations, brand management and digital marketing. Currently, she is a publicity consultant working with people from different backgrounds such as body-language experts, lawyers and artists. She was head of marketing with leading publishing houses and worked with many Indian and international bestselling authors. Her case studies and research papers on the publishing industry are published in many academic journals.
All views expressed in this article are the author's own.