25 April 2009

Book Review: The Circle of Life and Death, by Lawrence Karrasch with Rita Karrasch

Rita and Larry Karrasch

The Circle of Life and Death: A Spiritual Guide for Living and Dying Well, by Lawrence Karrasch with Rita Karrasch (iUniverse, 2008), 180 pp. Available at Sheriar Books or iUniverse.

Reviewed by Kendra Crossen

If you set out for the first time to read about death and dying from a spiritual perspective, you would find a bewildering number of books to choose from. Larry Karrasch, in collaboration with his wife, Rita Karrasch, has done a valuable service by culling the core ideas from numerous traditions (thanks to the fact that they inherited a large library of such literature). The discussions cover universal law, the soul and spirit bodies (astral, subtle, mental), the development of consciousness, the after-death experience (a world created by one’s own thoughts), reincarnation, sanskaras, six types of death (normal, accidental, murder, suicide, capital punishment, and circumstantial deaths involving large numbers of people, as in wars and calamities), preparing for death, and specific topics such as the notion of waiting three to four days before disposing of a loved one’s remains, as suggested by Meher Baba, since the consciousness of the person may remain closely associated with the body for that period. Each chapter closes with a list that summarizes the essential ideas for the reader’s contemplation. The book is thus designed to provide a patient introduction for a general audience.

The reader won’t be hit over the head with “Meher Baba” in this book, yet the perspective of Baba—whom Larry met personally as a child on several occasions—informs the whole presentation, and there is also the influence of Larry’s mentor Dr. Harry Kenmore, one of Baba’s Western mandali. Source footnotes are provided, but Larry has not attempted to explain whether Baba specifically confirmed this or that teaching—I assume this is to ensure the book’s accessibility to non-Baba-lovers. As a gift, it would make a gentle introduction to Baba as well as to the purpose of death and how one can best learn the lessons that life and death have to offer.

If I had to choose one thing that is outstanding about this work, it is the way Larry establishes the entire subject within Meher Baba’s scheme of “the advancing stream of life”: the fact that, in Baba’s words, “life is a series of experiences which need innumerable forms. Death is an interval in that one long life.” The whole of life is moving toward a great purpose—liberation from the circle of life and death—and once this is recognized, existence takes on meaning and direction. This understanding gives the book its coherence, which I believe makes it easier for readers to digest all the unusual pieces of information being offered. As a writer Larry has a patient, systematic way of guiding the reader toward his conclusions about how best to follow the advancing stream. In addition, he provides fascinating nuggets from metaphysical, mediumistic, and mystical literature. Example: Upasni Maharaj stated that hanging—the taking of the breath—is the best method of execution. (The book also explainsd how capital punishment, often rejected on humane grounds, could serve a spiritual purpose.)

The interpretations of various teachers and authors, including Meher Baba, Edgar Cayce, Manly P. Hall, Annie Besant, C. W. Leadbeater, Rudolf Steiner, Hazrat Inayat Khan, Ivy O. Duce, and the Dalai Lama, are integrated into a unified narrative with a positive and uplifting tone. Larry writes: “Facing life’s challenges and overcoming obstacles are a part of why we return to the earth time and time again. But as we slow down and become more silent within, our intuition will help us to make the right decisions in life and avoid suffering.” Thank you, Larry and Rita, for this thoughtful compilation with occasional touches from your personal experience.

Excerpt from The Circle of Life and Death

When death finally comes, as it does for everyone, it should be faced with an inner conviction that “I have done this many times before.” But how does one awaken to this conviction? Most of us do not have a clear memory of ever having passed through death’s portal. Belief that there is something beyond the physical world is the first step in awakening this inner conviction. A trust in the individuals who experience and reveal the true nature of death can come when you open your mind and heart to the unseen world. Reading the written works of seers and advanced souls with an open mind is a second step. Mystical teachings from the major religions and esoteric philosophies contain stories written in allegories and literal accounts of the after-life. As we have experienced all this before, it should ring true in the very depths of our being. Discussions with other seekers in the search for truth will also shake off the cobwebs of our instilled childhood conceptions and fears about death.

Once awakened to the purpose of death, learning about the process of death and preparing for it should take on a new meaning for you. Since death could come to you and your loved ones at any time, you need to realize that you have no time to lose in this preparation. Every thought, word, feeling, and action in life will define your experience in the after-life. How you lived on earth creates the record for how you will exist in the after-life, which we call death.

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All quotes of Meher Baba © Avatar Meher Baba Perpetual Public Charitable Trust unless otherwise indicated. Writings by Kendra are © Kendra Crossen Burroughs unless otherwise noted.