Bingley, West Yorkshire, England: Firewheel Books/Leeds Theosophical Society, 2021. 226 pp., £31.
For Buddhists there is the Tibetan Book of the Dead to help one understand the process of life, death, and reincarnation. The ancient Egyptians had their own Book of the Dead, containing funerary texts and magic spells to help the deceased navigate their journey through the underworld into the next life.
Now we have Everyone’s Book of the Dead, providing a vast exploratory venture into the mysteries of death and reincarnation from the perspective of the Ageless Wisdom, most prominently Theosophy.
We in the West don’t know how to die, which means we don’t really know how to live. We live in fear of death; is that really living? “Learn to die so that you may learn to live,” Wyatt quotes Thomas à Kempis, author of The Imitation of Christ, adding that we are not good at embracing the death event because “we have lost touch with the natural rhythms of life and death.”
“Death is the greatest of earth’s illusions,” said Annie Besant in The Ancient Wisdom, just one of Wyatt’s many quotes pulled from an array of Theosophical writings.
Materialism has influenced our reluctance to think about death and prepare the mind for this most personal and amazing of all our earthly experiences. By contrast, Theosophy, notes Wyatt, “offers a radically different view of ourselves, the wider world and the universe than can be easily found in any religion, science or philosophy.”
Wyatt quotes many philosophers and Theosophists, including Besant, H.P. Blavatsky, William Q. Judge, and J. Krishnamurti, bringing to light their thoughts on death and dying as well as near-death experiences in order to demystify death for everyone instead of just those who profess a particular religion. After all, in much of today’s society, religion doesn’t mean what it once did, as surveys show that fewer people are affiliated with any religious organizations.
Perhaps many today are avoiding the dying process rather than death per se. But the process of dying is a mystery too. The Tibetan Book of the Dead has an entire section on the stages of the dying process, which was very helpful for me when Brent, my significant other, was dying of cancer at our home. Everyone’s Book of the Dead also contains a chapter on the process of dying. According to Wyatt, modern attitudes surrounding the dying process usually involve fear. We are so used to depending on medicine, surgery, and other modern remedies that death seems far away, if not impossible. “The majority of older people die under some form of medical supervision,” writes Wyatt. “The last rites have been replaced by the last intervention or injection.”
It would be helpful to learn a different way of looking at death. Wyatt suggests that we see it as “a Beginning—not an End. . . Transforming our attitudes to death would yield another bonus: it would inevitably mean that we also aggressively re-examine our ideas about disease—its real origins on the inner rather than the physical planes. Until we understand the deeper causes of disease—the karmic causes—we shall not be able to develop effective means to treat and manage it.” He also stresses that we would be better off not to treat disease and death with a “militaristic mind-set. . . as an enemy to be fought and conquered.”
Many obituaries state that the individual died “after a long battle” with a disease. My significant other warned me not to say that in his obituary: he never fought his cancer but embraced the path that was his to tread.
Wyatt’s chapter on reincarnation contains a statement with which I completely agree: “If a correct understanding of reincarnation became permanently embedded into the collective human mind-set the implications would utterly transform life on Earth—almost at a stroke.”
Wyatt’s exploration of death, dying, and reincarnation is made all the more enjoyable by the beautiful artwork, photographs, and layout of each page, which capture the imagination in a way that words alone cannot.
This is truly a book for Theosophists, and one I recommend sharing with family and friends. Dying is something we will experience (and likely have experienced), but it is not to be feared. As Brent told me shortly before he died, “Dying is easy. I thought it would be harder than this, but it’s so easy.”
Clare Goldsberry’s latest book, The Illusion of Life and Death, will be published in 2021 by Monkfish.