When a man is about to die, speech, followed by the remainder of the ten external faculties [the five faculties of action and the five faculties of sensation, manifested outwardly by means of the corresponding organs, but not identical with them since they can and do separate from them at this state] is reabsorbed into the inward sense [manas], the activity of the external organs coming to an end before that of this inward faculty [which is thus the final term of all the other individual faculties in question, just as it is their starting-point and common source]. This latter faculty thereupon withdraws in the same way into the ‘vital breath’ [prana], accompanied in its turn by all the vital functions [the five vayus, which are modalities of prana and thus return into an undifferentiated state], these functions being inseparable from life itself; furthermore this same retreat of the inward sense is also to be observed in deep sleep and in ecstatic trance [accompanied by complete cessation of every external manifestation of consciousness].
When this occurs, it may appear that consciousness is still present in the body. This is only an illusory ‘shadow’ of the consciousness, as we would expect to see if a machine, constructed and directed by a man, might run on its own for a short time even if the man leaves. An example of this might be what Wilder Penfield, who studied consciousness in epileptic patients, called ‘the automaton.’ He described how patients undergoing a seizure could ‘lose consciousness’ in the middle of a very complex activity, from making a sandwich to playing the piano, and although consciousness was no longer truly present, the automaton, a psycho-physical machine driven by the processes in the brain which were set in motion when consciousness was present, could still complete the task successfully. But as Penfield admitted, these actions were not consciousness itself, although they gave the appearance of it. So also at this initial phase of the reabsorption, the real consciousness withdraws into a different state, separating entirely from the corporeal body. We should also note that, although we are speaking of biological processes, the ‘organic consciousness’ that can sometimes continue to act after the true consciousness has departed is a similar phenomenon to those situations where ‘psychic residues’ of the deceased, which also disperse at death, can persist and can even seem to manifest themselves in the corporeal world, giving the appearance that the consciousness of the deceased person is actually present. This is the phenomenon associated with mediums and seances, and as convincing as it may be, it cannot be described as true consciousness. Moreover, exposure to the dissociated psychic elements which these activities imply, is a very dangerous practice, since their true nature is not understood.
The ‘vital breath,’ accompanied similarly by all the other function and faculties [already reabsorbed into it and subsisting there as possibilities only, having now reverted to the state of indifferentiation whence they had to go forth in order to manifest themselves effectively during life] retires in its turn into the ‘living soul’ [jivatma, particular manifestation of the ‘Self’ at the center of the human individuality, distinguishing itself from the ‘Self’ so long as that individuality endures as such, although this distinction is in fact purely illusory from the standpoint of absolute reality, where there is nothing different from the ‘Self’]: and it is this ‘living soul’ which [as the reflection of the ‘Self’ and central principle of the individuality] governs the whole body of individual faculties [regarded in their integrality and not merely in their relationship with the bodily modality]. As a king’s servants gather round him when he is about to go forth upon a journey, even so all the vital functions and faculties [external and internal] of the individual gather round the ‘living soul’ [or rather within it, out of which they all issue and into which they are all reabsorbed] at the final moment [of life in the ordinary sense of the word, that is to say of manifested existence in the gross state], when this ‘living soul’ is about to retire from its bodily form. Accompanied thus by all its faculties [since the faculties are powers which exist independent of their actual exercise, it contains them and preserves them in itself as possibilities], it withdraws, in an individual luminous essence [that is to say in the subtle form, which is compared to a fiery vehicle, as we saw when studying Taijasa, the second condition of Atma] composed of the five tanmatras or supra-sensible elementary essences [just as the bodily form is composed of the five bhutas or corporeal and sensible elements], into a subtle state [in contrast to the gross state which is that of external or corporeal manifestation and of which the cycle is now completed so far as concerns the individual in question].
Consequently [by reason of this passage into the subtle form, looked upon as luminous], the ‘vital breath’ is said to retire into the Light, which does not mean to say the igneous principle exclusively [since we are really concerned with an individualized reflection of the intelligible Light, that is to say a reflection the nature of which is fundamentally the same as that of the mental faculty during corporeal life, and which moreover implies a combination of the essential principles of all five elements as its support or vehicle], nor does this withdrawal necessarily imply an immediate transition, since a traveler is said to go from one city to another even though he may pass successively through one or several intermediate cities.
Furthermore, this withdrawal or this abandonment of the bodily form [as described so far] is common alike to the ignorant person [avidvan] and to the contemplative Sage [vidvan] up to the point at which their respective [and henceforth different] paths branch; and immortality [amrita, but without immediate Union with the Supreme Brahma being thereupon attained] is the fruit of simple meditation [upasana, carried out during life without having been accompanied by any effective realization of the being’s higher states], although the individual barriers resulting from ignorance [avidya] may not yet be completely destroyed.
Although it should go without saying, we may pause to note that ‘immorality’ according to the Sanskrit term amrita does not correspond to the extension of corporeal life. This would be more akin to the Far-Eastern notion of ‘longevity,’ and such cases do in fact occur. But the meaning of amrita here is a state that is beyond all change, and it refers to a kind of ‘virtual immortality’ that not equivalent to ‘Deliverance’ or final union, but instead simply implies that the being will not have to pass through further conditioned states different from the human state. Thus, the immortality in question occurs in the form of an afterlife that is a prolongation of the human individual state. Such beings may persevere in this state of ‘virtual immortality’ throughout the duration of the cycle to which they belong (which is to say, ‘perpetually,’ since perpetuity refers to the duration of cyclical time and not to Eternity, which is outside of time altogether).
Through this preservation the being is allowed to take part in the ‘final transformation’ or Last Judgement, was we have said, at which point all manifestation collapses back into its principial state, or ‘the bosom of Brahma.’ The event in question corresponds to what in the Christian tradition is called the ‘Last Judgement,’ although here it is dealt with in a religious mode and so we find concepts like ‘the glorious body’ and ‘the resurrection of the dead’ referred to this event. These are somewhat connected the ‘prolongations’ under discussion, and although these states appear ‘final’ from the religious point of view, this is only because, as we have explained elsewhere, the religious point of view never goes beyond Being, and due to this limitation it treats the conclusion of a ‘secondary cycle’ as if it were the end of the primary cycle. Thus, the religious view tends to present a ‘preliminary conclusion’ as the end of the story, not taking into account what follows after. This is the difference between Christian ‘Salvation,’ which represents the end of the cycle, with Hindu ‘Deliverance,’ which lies outside of the cycle and beyond it. In other words, theology never really moves beyond a consideration of the individual order. This is why in Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, souls persist in an individual state, in perpetuity. The possibility of transcending this state, or of achieving Final Union, never enters in. However, we should be careful not assume that this omission amounts to denial. At any rate and returning to the Hindu doctrine, the term ‘deferred Deliverance’ or ‘Deliverance by degrees’ (krama-mukti) is used when final Deliverance is realized after death, not immediately upon death, but via the ‘conditioned posthumous states,’ which we will describe next. The alternative path, which includes both those who achieve Deliverance in life (the yogi) and those who achieve it immediately at death and thus escape the individual condition and its posthumous prolongation, will be described later.
 Because speech is the last of the faculties in the order of development, its must be the first when considering the process of reabsorption.
 Chhandogya Upanishad, VI.8.6.
 Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, IV.3.38.
 Brahma-Sutras, IV.2.1-7.