FAQs about Adi Da & Adidam > Adi Da's Mahasamadhi > Incorruptibility

Incorruptibility

Chris Tong, Ph.D.


Question: Didn't Adi Da state that His body was incorruptible — or at least that it would be suitable for display (if it did not resurrect) for some years to come? My understanding is that it was buried on the third day after death, due to its poor condition.

Brief Answer: No, Adi Da never said His body would be incorruptible after death, although He did mention the possibility that His lifetime could end with His body disappearing in Light. He also considered a variety of alternatives for exactly what to do with His body, to make it as potent a vehicle as possible for Spiritual Transmission to the world in general (and visiting devotees, in particular), and decided in favor of an approach along the lines of a traditional Mahasamadhi site. The "Brightness" is the Mahasamadhi site that was built (and in which Adi Da's body is buried) to His precise instructions.

* * *

Because this question touches on many interesting subjects (the very notion of "incorruptibility"; what — if anything — it might have to do with a Divine Incarnation like Adi Da; etc.), and because it implies certain issues worth addressing (e.g., Adi Da's body decaying may be suggesting to the questioner that He is less "holy" or less of a Spiritual Realizer than someone whose body was "incorruptible" — which is not at all the case), we will now address the question in greater depth.


Ordinary vs. Extraordinary vs. Transcendental

Rang Avadhoot
Rang Avadhoot

Let's start with a parable from Adi Da.

Adi Da once described how the great Realizer, Rang Avadhoot, was said to have "taken Mahasamadhi" one day by reading the newspaper until a certain time came, then rapping on His head three times, and then leaving the body. In contrast, Adi Da described how Ramana Maharshi's bodily life ended: His body ravaged by cancer, and moaning in pain right up to the end. Then Adi Da asked the devotees gathered with Him: whose was the "superior" death?

Of course, many devotees immediately replied: "Rang Avadhoot's". At least on the surface, it looked like Rang Avadhoot was demonstrating some kind of "spiritual ability" that Ramana Maharshi "lacked", making Maharshi's death look (on the surface) rather ordinary and homely — like the death of Joe Smith down the street.

Ramana Maharshi
Ramana Maharshi

But then Adi Da pointed out that, in fact, the reverse was true: Rang Avadhoot needed to leave the body to enter His "Mahasamadhi" state (presumably "Nirvikalpa Samadhi") and to escape the suffering otherwise associated with dying and death. The greater Realization of Ramana Maharshi enabled him to be at rest in His Realization even while the body was in pain, and expressing its pain openly. In this sense, Maharshi's was the "superior" death, insofar as it reflected a greater Realization. Realization is not about how many miraculous powers one has, but about how free one is from egoic bondage and suffering. He was free no matter what was occuring to the body. Ramana Maharshi's body was moaning in pain. Ramana Maharishi was not. He was no longer identified with the body; he was identified with Consciousness Itself.

So the first point is: one really needs to know the spiritual (or transcendental) context — the nature of the Realization of the Master, and what that implies about the Master's relation to the physical body — in order to accurately understand or interpret the circumstances of the passing of the Master's body.

The best way to understand all this is to do an in-depth study of Adi Da's "seven stages of life" framework for comprehending different Realizers and their Realizations throughout the Great Tradition of religious and spiritual history. One recurring theme in Adi Da's Teaching is that Realizers in the sixth and seventh stages of life can often look a lot more "ordinary" than Realizers in the fourth and fifth stages of life: they do not necessarily have miraculous powers, "incorruptible bodies" that don't decay, etc. This is not because their Realization is less. It is because they were not willing to settle for anything conditional (including miraculous powers associated with the astral dimensions), and would only settle for a Transcendental Realization that freed them from all fascination with (and the binding karma of) both the physical and astral dimensions.

So now we have a general sense for why the body of a great Realizer showing pain does not reflect the Realizer being in pain: the Realizer stands prior to the body (and is no longer identified with the body). For the same reason, the decay of a great Realizer's body after death does not imply a lesser Realization. But now let's explore the whole matter of "incorruptibility" a bit more.


What Exactly is "Incorruptibility"?

The term, "incorruptibility", refers to a phenomenon that is global in scope, and has a long history, with traditions in both the East and the West.

the body of Bernadette Soubirous
the body of Bernadette Soubirous (died 1879)

Not surprisingly, the Western tradition (primarily within the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions) focuses — as the West does in general — on the most visible (and most superficial) aspects of the phenomenon: the fact that the body doesn't appear to decay (hence the term, "incorruptible"). Since the Catholic tradition [1] holds that the souls of these saints are now in heaven with God (and have no particular connection to, or concern with, the body they left behind), the notion is that the incorruptibility of the body is not the result of anything they are doing, but rather a sign from God, intended to indicate to the general public the saintliness of the person.

This explanation of the phenomenon has some major problems, however, including: why some saints' bodies are incorruptible, while others are not; and why "incorruptibility" (a term that certainly sounds like "forever") eventually does end, and the body does eventually decay. (The case of Saint Francis Xavier's body is a good, recent example.[2]) A further problem for Catholicism is why God also appears to be indicating the sanctity of Hindu yogis and Tibetan lamas, whose bodies also have not decayed for centuries (given that, according the Catholic theology, Catholicism is the "one, true faith", and only Catholics can be saints).[3] Finally, there is the question of how to account for the occasional, far-from-saintly rascal who nonetheless appears to have an incorrupt body.[4]

Pilot Baba
Pilot Baba

In contrast, the Eastern traditions (including Hindu and Tibetan) focus on process: how (and why) a yogi (or lama) brings about such a state (of the body-mind altogether) at "death" — or while still alive. Yogis intentionally enter into "samadhi states" (Savikalpa Samadhi or Nirvikalpa Samadhi), in which the physical body is left in a kind of "suspended animation" (the breathing and heartbeat slow or even stop altogether), while the astral body travels elsewhere or is in a state of contemplative absorption. Some yogis enter into such trance samadhis while alive, for an extended period of time. One well-known contemporary example is Pilot Baba [5], who at various times has had his body buried in a cave for up to thirty days, or underwater for up to four days, while he entered a samadhi state.

Then there is the story of Sri Sadasiva Brahman, who lived during the eighteenth century. Once, while he was in a samadhi state, the flooded Kaveri River covered him with mud. For some months his body remained buried underneath the earth. Then some farmers tilling the land broke through, injuring the head of the yogi and causing some blood to ooze out. Astonished, the farmers dug out the earth around him, whereupon Sadasiva Brahman simply got up and walked away.[6]

Saint Jnaneshwar
Saint Jnaneshwar

In the Hindu tradition of Jeeva Samadhi [7], Realizers conclude their human lifetime by having themselves buried alive while in a samadhi state. (One of the most famous was Saint Jnaneshwar, who, after writing the Jnaneshwari — some extraordinary commentaries on the Bhagavad Gita — while a teenager, chose to enter Jeeva Samadhi at the age of 21.) In Jeeva Samadhi, the breathing, heartbeat, and blood circulation stop, but the pranic energy of the Realizer (through a connection maintained with the body) keeps the cells alive, giving rise to bodies that are "incorruptible", sometimes for centuries. (Stories of such bodies being dug up after centuries confirm this.) The Samadhi sites of such Realizers (who are still connected to the body) are reputed to be very potent in transmitting their Realization, even for centuries — which is one of the motivations for Realizers to choose this particular way of ending their lives: so as to benefit others spiritually through their Jeeva Samadhi site.


The thirteenth-century yogi-saint, Jnaneshwar, had a tomb built for him by his devotees. He entered it promptly upon completion, leaving instructions that it was to be sealed tightly and never entered. Nearly three hundred years later another saint, Ecknath, entered the tomb. He emerged to report that the body of Jnaneshwar was still warm and apparently living. Ecknath explained that the body had been miraculously preserved, still sitting in full-lotus position, through a permanent yogic activity of the life-force in the body.

Ron Boyer, "Welcome, Sister Death"
The Laughing Man Magazine, Vol 2. no. 3, 1981


One thing we note, in comparing the Western and Eastern traditions, is that the Eastern traditions do not interpret the incorruptibility of the body as a sign from God, but rather as the result of a yogic capability and process in which the yogi is still connected to the body (which is left in a state of suspended animation).

Here's what appears to be happening: Normally, when a person "dies", it is the physical body that is "dying". Typically within the next three days, the etheric body (aka the pranic body or the etheric double) — the energy generator for (and the energy "matrix" of) the physical body — separates from the physical body and dies as well:


The reason for the three-day vigil is that initially the etheric body may linger after separating from the body. . . . The real purpose of the vigil is to help the person relinquish. It is like a second death. The etheric entity must die — yet there is no suffering in this death. . . .The etheric is attached to the gross, but when the etheric dies, it loosens and returns to the etheric domain — ceasing to take the form of the individual personal entity and effectively disintegrating.

Avatar Adi Da Samraj, pp. 363 - 364, Easy Death


At that point, it is not possible to revive the body by any means (including yogic), because a living human being requires both a living physical body and a living etheric body. (One must instead reincarnate to acquire these again.) A yogi's entrance into one of the samadhi states keeps the etheric body alive (not in the manner of a ghost, but as life support for the physical body), even while the physical body goes into a "shut down" state. The etheric body's connection to the physical body is capable of keeping the cells of the physical body alive for an extended period of time (days, months, or even years), enabling the yogi to revive the physical body (e.g., as in the case of Pilot Baba [5]). While it is not possible to "reboot" the physical body once the cells finally die, the presence of the etheric body apparently prevents or at least greatly slows bodily decay, and helps preserve the integrity of the physical body.

Such possibilities (both at "death", and during prolonged states of suspended animation of the physical body during life) blur the line between life and death, making it difficult to define death in conventional medical terms (cessation of breathing, heartbeat, etc.)[8] Indeed, many spiritual masters instruct their devotees to wait long enough to be sure that they are truly "dead" (i.e., not coming back) before burying or cremating them! After all, they might simply be in a prolonged samadhi state, and have every intention of returning and being active in the world for many more years. Similarly, a story of a Spiritual Master who appears to die, is buried in a cave for three days, and then is resurrected, could also have a different interpretation than the usual one, given what we have just been considering.

In comparing the Western and Eastern traditions, it would be interesting to study the deaths of each of the Catholic saints associated with incorruptible bodies, to see if, like their Eastern counterparts, they showed any signs of entering into a samadhi state at the time of death — thus providing the yogic reasons underlying their incorruptible bodies. St. John of the Cross and St. Teresa of Avila were famed for their ability to enter into mystical states (described in the books they wrote, for which they were pronounced "Doctors of the Church"), so perhaps it shouldn't be surprising that their bodies were among the incorruptible. But there might be a case for associating each of the "incorruptibles" with entrance into a samadhi state — in other words, the evidence that they were yogis, and their subsequent "incorruptability" was yogic in nature. For example, Saint Bernadette Soubirous (one of the Marian visionaries of Lourdes) went through a "dark night of the soul" during her last months of enduring tuberculosis, filled with doubt and distress. But right before she died, "she smiled as if she had encountered again the Virgin in the Grotto".[9] That smile may have signalled her entrance into a samadhi state (or, to use the Catholic manner of speaking: a state of mystical union with God) that served to maintain the body in a state of suspended animation.


Death Events and Divine Re-Integration with the Body vs. Trance Samadhi and Re-Animation of the Body

As an incarnation of the Divine, Adi Da was radically different from the saints and yogis we've been describing. Unlike such Realizers, Adi Da didn't "enter samadhi" at certain times. He was born in — and permanently abided in — the Samadhi of the seventh stage of life.

Adi Da
Adi Da

Adi Da was born as the incarnation of the Divine. The recurring challenge for Him throughout His life was staying incarnate (long enough to establish the Way of Adidam in perpetuity), despite having no karma (which is what ordinarily keeps beings incarnate):


I have no karma to fulfill. My only Purpose, out of Sympathy for you all, is to stay here long enough to Do what I have come to do, which is to create this immense Mandala of [Spiritual] Transmission for the sake of those who live now and those who live in the future.

Avatar Adi Da Samraj, April 23, 1984


The very Force of His Own Divine Being was always unavoidably serving (by Its very nature) to dissolve His body:


The Radiance and Profundity of the Divine Heart-Master's State of Being both Sustain and Dissolve His Own Body-Mind.

Avatar Adi Da Samraj, Ruchira Avatara Gita


with the only relief being devotees drawing upon that Force (through their devotional response), rather than allowing it to "back up" in His own body. He told His devotees that, while they all are struggling every day to get out of here, He struggled every day to remain here! This certainly was reflected by the various "death events" that occurred throughout His life. These "death events" were not Adi Da entering into a samadhi state; they were the Divine Person not being able to stay integrated with the human body, temporarily losing the integration with the body, but then finding a way to re-integrate with it again (until the final death event on November 27, 2008).

The Divine Person's connection with the human body after the Ruchira Dham event in April, 2000, was especially fragile (and altogether miraculous). Based on everything Adi Da knew about the Translated State, His body should have died — but it didn't.[10]


Effectively, it was death — in terms of the Body. There was no bodily awareness, although it was certainly not a circumstance of unconsciousness. It was the Infinitely Profound Samadhi of Outshining.

Avatar Adi Da Samraj


His body survived the shock of that extraordinary re-integration (of the Divine State directly "connected" to, and animating the body) for another eight years.

Given the extreme fragility of that connection during the final eight years of His life, it is not surprising that at the moment of His death, His passing was instantaneous — as attested to by the devotees who were present — and left no karmic connection (including the kind of pranic force needed to "maintain" an incorruptible body), because the Divine Person is free of karma. His body instantly and completely ceased to be animated. Both His physical and etheric bodies died in an instant. For this reason, it is not surprising that it would show signs of decay, given that there was no life-force keeping the cells alive, as in the case of Realizers entering a fourth to fifth stage Samadhi state.


I Myself will not even be in the room when you see the silly corpse there with its gray eyeballs. You're not going to get any etheric demonstration out of Me! None! Not even in your meditation. The only thing you'll get out of Me from that point is My Absolute Presence, which cannot be cancelled, which was always already there. The only way you can get in touch with It is by staying in touch with Me as I Am. . . . When this body dies, I'm not going to hold onto anything. Nothing left over. No reason to return.

Avatar Adi Da Samraj, 1985


The real miracle was not whether Adi Da's body was incorruptible after death, but that the Divine Person was able to incarnate through it in the first place — never having had such a vehicle before — and was able to maintain that extraordinarily fragile and altogether miraculous incarnation for the full span of a human lifetime.


Summary

Here are the key points in this article:

  • The notion of associating bodily "incorruptibility" with "saintliness" and bodily decay with non-saintliness doesn't even apply within Catholicism (e.g., what about all the saints whose bodies were not incorruptible?), let alone within Adidam, which rejects the notion of a God in charge, sending cryptic messages to the public about who God thinks is saintly, via "incorruptable" bodies. In Adi Da's "seven stages of life" framework, Greater Realization is associated not with greater miraculous powers, but with greater freedom from egoic bondage and suffering.

  • What is interpreted as a "miracle from God" in one tradition is understood to be a yogic capability in another.[11] We considered how incorruptability comes about, as the result of yogic capability and intention. An analysis of the Eastern tradition of yogis entering into samadhi states as the final act of their human lifetime provides us with the yogic underpinnings for incorruptability, namely: the etheric body remains alive and still associated with the physical body, and that association prevents or slows the decay of the physical body.

  • In contrast, Adi Da's body at the time of His Divine Mahasamadhi was not the body of a Realizer entering into the final samadhi state of His human lifetime, while still karmically associated with the physical body (including the etheric association). Adi Da's body was the incarnation of the karmaless, egoless Divine Person, Who completely released that body at the moment of death[12]. The physical and the etheric bodies both died instantly. There were none of the usual egoic/karmic reasons that motivate an etheric body to "linger" around the physical body for up to three days. And with the death of Adi Da's etheric body (at the same instant as the death of His physical body), "incorruptibility" was not even a possibility.



RETURN TO "ADI DA'S DIVINE MAHASAMADHI AND THE FUTURE OF ADIDAM"


FOOTNOTES
[1]

Read Joan Carroll Cruz, The Incorruptibles: A Study of the Incorruption of the Bodies of Various Catholic Saints and Beati for a comprehensive account (which Adi Da placed in His Basket Of Tolerance).

  
[2]

A good exposition of the posthumous history of St. Francis Xavier's body (from his death in 1552 to the present) can be found here. Of relevance to our discussion is that in 1975 (after four centuries), the body finally began showing signs of serious decay: "They found great changes in the face. . . In the angle of the lower jaw there is a spot of decay in the skin, revealing clearly the bone in a fresh condition." Similarly, when the body of St. John of the Cross was last exhumed in 1955 (after nearly 400 years), the body was still "moist and flexible" although the skin "was slightly discoloured".

Some Catholics have tried to resolve the matter by suggesting that the length of time of "incorruptibility" corresponds to degree of saintliness, but this gets a little dicey.

The real problem is that a theologically "eternal" status, "sainthood", was linked to a temporary circumstance, "incorruptibility". Not altogether surprising: the state of incorruptibility often lasts for centuries — those who originally thought to associate non-decaying bodies with saintliness (and coined the term, "incorruptibility") were not in a position to see what those same bodies would look like centuries later. So it would be easy for them to (mistakenly) presume it was a "forever" thing.

As explored in the rest of our article, the temporary nature of the state makes perfect sense if the state is understood to be the result of a yogic process, rather than an eternal assessment by God.

  
[3]

Click here for a picture of the exhumed body of the Khambo Lama (who died in 1927), still in the lotus position in a Buddhist monastery in Siberia.

While Catholics might be technically correct in arguing that, within the procedures of canonization, the incorruptability of a person's body is not sufficient grounds for declaring a person a saint, the basic notion that incorruptibility is a "message from God" is more what is in question: why doesn't God choose a more discriminating message that only shines a light on Catholic saints?

  
[4]

From Dwight Longenecker, Saints Preserve Us!: "Catholic authorities were embarrassed when, in 1985, Cardinal Shuster’s body was discovered to be incorrupt after thirty one years in the grave. Many think Shuster was anything but a saint since he was a friend of Mussolini and supported fascism and Italy’s war with Abyssinia."

  
[5]

For more about Pilot Baba, read the BBC News article, The ex-pilot reborn as a guru.

  
[6]

This story appears in Paramahansa Yogananda, Autobiography Of A Yogi.

  
[7]For more about the tradition of Jeeva Samadhi, see, for example, here.
  
[8]

Intentional hypothermia — a recent development in Western medicine — is another area that blurs the line between life and death. Typically when the heart stops, it must be started again within a few minutes at most, or else the cell death and the brain damage occurring in the meantime (due to lack of oxygen) will be too great. Another more complex case is when the heart is succesfully restarted within a few minutes, and everything seems normal for a short while, but then suddenly a biochemical message at the cellular level kicks in (that was instigated while the heart had stopped), a whole lot of brain cells commit suicide (as directed by the biochemical message), and the person dies — completely unnecessarily, the result of a biochemical miscommunication. However, by intentionally chilling the body (thereby lowering the metabolic activity of the brain and other organs), and then raising its temperature even hours later, the heart can then be restored with little or no brain damage; or the "suicide message" to brain cells can be halted. Read, for example, Jerry Adler, Back to Life: The Science of Reviving the Dead (2007) and Humans will be kept between life and death in the first suspended animation trials (2014).

It is interesting to compare the kind of "shutdown" of the physical body resulting from yogis entering samadhi, with the problems intentional hypothermia is intended to address. The main problems arise from a mismatch in supply and demand — an only partial shutdown of the physical body: for example, the heart (the supplier of oxygen) stops, but the brain (a consumer of oxygen) continues to work, which leads to brain death, because the still active brain cells are not supplied with the oxygen they require via blood flow. Then even if the heart is restarted, the brain can't be. The advantage the yogis have when they enter into a samadhi state is that they leave the physical body in a fully shutdown state — hence they neatly sidestep all the "supply/demand" problems and biochemical miscommunications that occur when only part of the body is shut down. Similarly, if they choose to revive the body, these yogis "reboot" everything at once, again avoiding the problems that occur when only some systems are running. Recent research (by Mark Roth and others) is confirming this. Medical technologists are exploring biochemical means (other than intentional hypothermia) for deliberately entering a patient's entire body into a state of suspended animation, with the intent of increasing the chances of survival after heart attacks, etc.

  
[9]For instance, read this article on the life and death of St. Bernadette Soubirous.
  
[10]

Adi Da has always described the seventh stage life as unfolding through four stages: Divine Transfiguration; Divine Transformation; Divine Indifference; and Divine Translation. In His descriptions prior to April, 2000, Divine Translation always coincided with the death of the human body. For example:

Therefore, it is only at death that Ecstatic Absorption, or ultimate Translation, can be permanent — for if it were to become permanent while the body-mind was alive, the body-mind would simply die in the Process. Thus, the death of the Perfect Devotee is simply a matter of his permanent persistence in Divine Absorption, wherein the body-mind is Outshined and the soul inheres forever in the Self of God. . . It is simply that the Intensity of Bliss is magnified to the degree of Infinity. The body-mind ceases to be present to mediate and reflect the Glory of the Self. The Divine Self Stands Free. It is the Dissolution in Love.

Avatar Adi Da Samraj
Chapter 7, The Enlightenment of the Whole Body

So it was a surprise even to Adi Da that, in the Ruchira Dham event of April, 2000 (on Lopez Island), He entered into the Translation phase and yet still miraculously maintained the living connection to His body for another eight years:

I was Translated at Lopez. And there has been no returning. It is a paradoxical circumstance, and the association with the Body has been unspeakably different, and uniquely difficult, and difficult to maintain since that time.

The Sphere of My Existence is Great beyond description, but it is also terrible beyond description, particularly when it is brought into conjunction with this Body. Just the normal Work I do, which is unknown to you all and beyond the Body, affects the Body, makes the Body see and know things it should not see and know that are unendurable to a human form, they are too horrific to bear — just as the Bliss Absolute is something the Body cannot bear. It cannot bear that, either. This Body is Prasad. It is a Gift to devotees. It is for as long as you will maintain it. It is here for nothing but the Sighting of devotees.

Avatar Adi Da Samraj
Avataric Revelation Discourse, September 23, 2004

  
[11]This is similar to science fiction writer Arthur Clarke's saying, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." That is, we often ascribe to "magic" or "God" things that are simply beyond our current technical (or yogic) understanding (but which have clear technical or yogic explanations to those in the know, whether scientists or yogis).
  
[12]It is important to distinguish between the end of the life-connection that enabled the Divine to animate Adi Da's body; and the immense, even magnified Divine Transmission that still pours through His body and out to the rest of the world. Like the Sanctuaries and Holy Sites He Empowered — but more so — His bodily human form (and images and videos of His bodily human form) will continue to serve as His Agency. The "Transmission connection" remains, even though the "life-force connection" no longer exists. As with the Empowerment of His Sanctuaries, the Empowerment of His bodily human form has to do with Adi Da's intention and association with it; it doesn't require what is Empowered to be alive as a human being. And, during His lifetime, there was no Sacred Object that Adi Da associated with and Empowered more than His Own body.


Quotations from and/or photographs of Avatar Adi Da Samraj used by permission of the copyright owner:
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