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How to Console the Bereaved Family

Date: 14 Jan 2013 22:35:23 -0000
From: "Murlidhar Deva"
Subject: How to Console the Bereaved Family



This letter addresses - in a universal manner - key points for helping those grieving or suffering the loss of a loved one. Here we shall review Baba's teachings on this important matter and understand our Ananda Marga perspective.

In one of Baba's special discourses from Ananda Vacanamrtam, Baba gives clear-cut guidelines for how to deal with death. So this letter is exclusively directed toward those undergoing any terrible life calamity, especially helping those grieving the loss of a loved one.

Baba's main ethic is that in a psychological way, people's minds should be goaded away from sorrow. Those in mourning should not be forced to suffer unnecessarily. In His discourse, Baba gives us so many practical guidelines for how to help a grieving family.

Acknowledgement of their sorrow and diverting the mind upwards are two of the key elements of Baba's guideline. Now let's take a look at this in greater detail - keeping in mind the sensitivity of the issue and knowing that we must evaluate this on a case by case basis.


Once the death is honourably acknowledged in a timely manner, then efforts should be made to goad the grieving family and friends toward more peaceful thoughts. They should not think again and again about the loss of their loved one.
Here is Baba's unique and distinct guideline:
1) Upon arrival if you see that the mourning family is crying, first simply sit down, and, if socially appropriate, place a comforting hand on their shoulder, otherwise your presence alone is enough, & let them cry. Don't tell them not to cry; allow them to cry. This gives tremendous emotional support. The grieving person(s) will think that, "This person sitting with me here is my close relation." They will feel comforted by your presence. Do not think that they feel that you are bothering them.

2) After crying for some time, they may begin to look towards you. At that point, express your heart-felt sympathy for the grieving family. If you were crying earlier, you can say, "I was also crying when I heard the news"; otherwise, you can offer, "I am very sorry for your loss", or any other words that are socially appropriate and express your inner feeling about this sad occasion. Above all, do not start praising the greatness of the deceased. That is the worst thing to do as that accentuates the mourning family's loss. Best is to simply express your pain about this loss. This is the rational approach.

3) You can furthermore add, "Why should one not cry; crying is normal after such a loss. The only reason I stopped crying is because I thought that if I continued to cry then you would cry more."

4) Up until this point, the grieving person was crying; then you sat near them and they looked towards you and cried more. When their tears subsided you started talking with them. This act of engaging them in conversation diverted their mind from their loss. Their mind became involved in thinking about something else. Thus, so far you have successfully helped draw their mind in a different direction and thereby relieve them of their suffering - to some degree.

5) At this time if the person is still crying profusely, quietly look at them in an empathetic way. This will help reassure them.

6) You should ask another friend - who is not crying - to bring a glass of water. Keep the water near you. After some time, when the grieving individual looks toward you, gently extend your hand with the glass of water and say, “Please have some water – it is important to drink something.”

7) They may say, "I am not going to drink - I am not thirsty."

8) In that case, wait a while. Then after some time, politely offer, "Your throat must be getting dry because of your crying. You do need not to drink a lot but at least put a little water in your mouth."

9) If still they are declining your offer of water, then gently say, "Here, I will just place the glass in your hand - just take one little sip." Then certainly they will take one sip. (Note: You can also offer fruit juice, lemon water, tea or any other sentient beverage.)

10) If in fact the family member takes a sip, it means their mind was at least temporarily diverted from their grieving. That breaks the cycle of thinking about their loss.

11) Remember, Baba guides us that the goal is that the next person's mind should be compassionately redirected from thinking about the deceased. That is the aim.

12) We should also keep in mind that there is no way to do exactly the same thing in every case. Each and every person is different; each and every situation is different. This approach given by Baba serves as an overall guideline based on universal human psychology. In that sense it is applicable to all; and, as caring human beings, we have to use our vivek (rational discrimination) in following Baba's teaching. Then we will be able to address each case in an appropriate and concerned manner.

13) One important point to remember: Be sure to station someone outside the front of the house to watch for visitors. They should stand at an adequate distance so crying visitors will not be audible to the grieving family. No visitor should cry in front of the mourning family. If a visitor starts crying, then the family members will again become upset.

So tell every visitor that the doctor has forbidden anyone from crying in front of the family. Even if a visitor wants to cry, they should not cry when consoling the family. Rather that visitor be taken elsewhere and consoled at a separate location. Those visiting and consoling the grieving family should not burst out into tears uncontrollably. That will only worsen the pain of those close people in mourning.

Baba guides us that those around the family should be in a balanced and stable state of mind. If someone needs to cry then they should excuse themselves from that environment. They should not start sobbing in front of the mourning family members. This is also one key point Baba has addressed.

14) At the same time, if a member of the grieving family bursts into tears, they should be consoled and supported. The worst thing a person can do is to start telling the grieving family that crying is not good. Because crying itself is a natural human expression. It should not be suppressed or devalued. So do not suggest the mourning family not to cry, or say that crying is not good for their health. Do not suggest in any way not to cry. If you tell them not to cry, they feel more irritated; they feel that you do not understand their loss.

15) Here is another key pitfall to avoid. One should not start giving big philosophical lectures.
Do not say: "This world is changing and whoever takes birth, one day they are going to die - everyone dies at some point - so there is no need to cry."
One should never give this type of lecture. It is irritating to the grieving party and they will only cry more. In addition, they will feel offended by your words. So do not speak philosophically about the nature of this ephemeral world. That is not good. One must know that such type of preaching is extremely unpsychological.
That is why one should follow Baba's aforesaid guideline - that is psychological and sentient.

16) Remember this warning: Do not remind the grieving family about the deceased person's star qualities, attributions, dedication and greatness. Do not remind them how that person always sacrificed for others' welfare. That will only redirect the mourning family toward their loss. This type of praise and eulogy should be avoided. It is wrong to do so on this occasion, regardless of how much one is tempted to praise the deceased. It will only intensify the agony and pain of the grieving family, and they will cry more.

17) No one should mistakenly think that by this approach we do not care about the deceased person. Here the goal is not to eliminate the memory of the deceased; this is not our way in Ananda Marga. We know well that the mourning family is not ever going to forget their loved one. That is understood. The approach we are taking here - diverting the mind away from their loss - is only a temporary measure during this very delicate and sensitive period immediately after the time of death. When this loss is such a raw and painful wound for the surviving family members, best is for them to have their mind diverted away from this painful memory. It is not good for them to constantly think about the loss of their loved one, as that worsens their grief. Plus the loss itself is beyond their control.

18) When all the above approaches have been taken and everyone has become calm, request someone to start snging devotional bhajans etc. Naturally the family members will sit and listen. In that way their mind will be diverted towards the devotional chanting of bhajans, kiirtan or Prabhat Samgiita and they will feel more calm. Here the aim is to channelise the flow in a devotional way. In this circumstance it is difficult to organize a dharmackra with bhajans and a Baba story, but this is the only rational approach to be done to alleviate the pain of the loss and mental agony. There is no other way.

19) After the dharmacakra is complete and over, be sure that someone should tell a devotional story (not a story about the deceased but rather about Parama Purusa), do a reading, or lead svadhyaya.
This is an important topic because inevitably we deal with this sensitive issue again and again over the course of our lives.


This letter contains many key points about this sensitive matter. So we can keep them in mind and be ready to properly serve those who are grieving the loss of a loved one, here is a summary listing of the main points:

- The greatest harm a person can do under these circumstances is to completely disregard the grieving family. There is no excuse for never going over to their house or meeting place to console them. Such apathy is unconscionable. One must show up. That in itself is a sign of support. Not going at all means not caring. So one must go and stay for some time. If you are very close to the grieving family you may stay with them a few days; if you are less close then you may stay an hour or two. The main thing is that to some or more degree one must recognise their loss by showing up, for at least a little while.

- Upon arrival if you see that the mourning family is crying, first simply sit down, and, if socially appropriate, place a comforting hand on their shoulder, otherwise your presence alone is enough.

- Allow them to cry; never tell them not to cry.

- Gently try to divert their mind away from their loss.

- Do not talk about or praise the deceased at all; do not give a philosophical sermon on how one day we all die and that this world is ephemeral.

- This is the worst time to speak about the deceased because it multiplies the pain of their loss.

- Do offer water or other sentient beverages - in a very psychological way - to the family members of the deceased to break the cycle of their grief.

- Be sure to remain with the grieving family member; do not leave them alone. They need support and your company.

- Do maintain mental stability in the presence of those in mourning; don't allow emotional, grief-stricken visitors to burst out in tears near the grieving family.

- If anyone coming to console the bereaved family is crying, then they should be stopped at the door and not allowed near the family. Once that visitor stops crying then they should be allowed to enter.

- Once everyone has stopped crying, sing Prabhat Samgiita and kiirtan, and conduct a dharmacakra including a Baba story. This is all to be done at the residence or place where the grieving family is mourning.


In due course, the body of the deceased should be brought to the cremation grounds. In Ananda Marga, the system is to carry the body silently; one should not talk while carrying the body for cremation. Upon arrival at the site, bhajans, kiirtan, and collective ishvara pranidhan should be done; then the actual cremation can be performed. Those are Baba's explicit guidelines from the chapter, Disposal of the Dead Body, in Caryacarya part 1.

It is important to remember that during the cremation people tend to (1) speak about the glory of the deceased, (2) tell the grieving family members not to cry, and (3) give philosophical reasoning or lectures about the nature of this ephemeral world. All three of these things should be strictly avoided. Baba guides us that we should not behave in this way on the occasion of the cremation.

Specifically, regarding those who are crying, we can hold them as a sign of our emotional support; but, we should not tell them not to cry. 

Remember, regardless of how difficult and sad the situation is, collective bhajan, kiirtan, and sadhana is the only way to resolve this whole issue in a very psychological way. Doing dharmacakra will help calm and soothe everyone's mind and bring comfort to those in mourning.

After the actual cremation, announce when the shraddha ceremony will be held. It can be done the very next day or anytime within the allotted 12 day period according to Caryacarya.


It is very common around the globe for people to talk about the greatness of the deceased when speaking with the grieving family. People naively think that this is the proper thing to do. Yet, Baba guides us that this is the worst approach to take as it intensifies the suffering of those mourners. Already they are sunk in woe due to the loss of their loved one, and by speaking about the deceased's special qualities and attributions, the family is further reminded of the severity of their loss. It makes them feel even more pained. Indeed, if they had stopped crying but are then again reminded of the merits of their loved one, those in mourning will begin crying all over again. The entire cycle of tears and misery will be repeated. So this approach of praising the deceased in front of the family is not at all appropriate, according to Baba. Yet this is what we see happening time and time again. A friend or family member arrives from afar and they glorify the deceased and the fragile mental state of the mourners is set back into a whirlpool of misery.

The approach of Ananda Marga is completely different from the accepted customs; our approach is unique. Baba guides us to psychologically and lovingly divert the person's mind from the pain of their loss to the thought of the Supreme. Although this may seem peculiar at first, but this is the only remedy. As disciples of Lord Shrii Shrii Anandamurtiji, we should follow His order; He is the Sadguru. By adhering to His direction and guideline, we will invariably see the positive result.


Baba has specially graced us by showing us how to comfort people as they grieve the loss of a loved one. The death of a family member or close relation is extremely hard. Yet by following Baba's given guideline we can best serve and help those suffering during this difficult time.

"The beginning, the middle and end of dharma sádhaná is to rush towards Him, to channelize all the positive and negative propensities of mind toward Him." (Qt-A)

"I say, concentrate all your love and devotion, consolidate all your psychic propensities and channelize them towards the Supreme One. Don't allow them to flow towards any other direction, towards any other object." (Qt B)

"Psychic urges must not be objectified nor should they be suppressed; rather they must be channelized towards the Supreme Desideratum through the proper psycho-spiritual approach." (Qt C)

"As regards the benevolent tendencies, they are compassion, love, sense of righteousness, service, helping others in distress, consoling the bereaved, arousing hope in frustrated hearts, etc. So the second action of Vidyá Tantra is to arouse the benevolent tendencies in the minds of human beings and of other microcosms." (Qt D)

"We all want to keep our loved ones close to us always but ultimately it is not possible to do so. According to the law of nature everything passes away. We have to let everyone go away. We cannot say “I won't let you go” and keep them confined. One day they are close to us and the next day they are gone. The day that they left our side we broke into tears but today we are no longer crying. But does that mean we have forgotten? We have not forgotten even if we do not remember." (Qt E)

"When a child is born, the members of the family laugh joyfully, but the child itself cries. You should live such a benevolent life and do such glorious deeds that when you leave this world, smiles will blossom on your face while the people mourn your departure with copious tears. The people will feel bereaved at the loss of a person who truly helped them in their hour of need. All of you should take such a vow to do noble deeds as long as you are alive, and thus leave this world with a smiling face." (Qt F)


When a baby is crying the mother diverts the mind of the baby by giving it some toys. Then the baby forgets about why it was upset and stops crying. The same theory is applicable with those addicted to cigarettes or other forms of addiction. Diverting the mind away from the object of attachment helps. That is the solution. This same theory is applicable with very sad and devastating news.

Here Baba is giving the example of tobacco addiction or drug addiction; but the basic philosophy is the same. Smoking or drinking is not operative factor. The main idea is that the mind should be goaded away from their attachment. This will calm the mind. This same theory works in all these cases.

Bear in mind that just as if you tell the kid to stop crying then it will only cry more, similarly do not tell a grieving family member to stop crying, that will only make them cry more and deepen their pain.

   "It is clear that the mind requires an object. The initiative to act comes from the mind-only after thinking about an action do we actually do it...The best psychological cure for addicts is to put them in an environment where they will be unable to think of their object of addiction for any length of time. To proclaim, “Don’t do this, it’s bad,” is futile, for it is a negative approach. If you say, “Don’t drink wine”, you are still injecting the concept of wine into the alcoholic’s mind, thus making it impossible for him to forget it and kick his bad habits. You are giving alcohol negative publicity, and it again becomes his mental object. Thus whenever he gets the opportunity he will certainly drink it again. And it may be that this negative approach encourages the alcoholic to become even more addicted. It is a defective approach."
   "These days the sign “No smoking please” is placed in many public places, but it will not reduce the amount of smoking. If society wants people to stop smoking, its approach should be to divert the smoker’s mind to other objects. A chain smoker should be encouraged to get involved in various pursuits such as music, dance, songs, culture of fine arts, etc., for if the mind remains engaged in these things it will forget its object of addiction. But the person who thinks, “I’ll stop drinking wine the day after tomorrow – no, let me see, why not tomorrow” can never kick the habit, for wine remains the mental object. The mind will try to materialize whatever it thinks about in the external world – this is its nature." (Qt G)


Unexpected bad news can dramatically shock a person's nervous system; in result, they may even die. Thus, when conveying devastating news - like the death of a loved one, a serious accident, the loss of a job, health report with terminal illness, loss of all one's money, or anything which is very disturbing to the mind - prepare the ground slowly so the person's mind can adjust gradually to the situation. Do not tell all the bad news at once. If conveyed in a step-wise methodical fashion, that person will be able to receive the news and maintain their mental balance. That is the approach Baba has illustrated in His below teaching.

   "Suppose someone’s dearest relative has died. Naturally, this news will give her mind a great shock. If her mind possesses even a little strength to check the inroad of such a vibration, she will be able to bear it. We call a person “tough” who has greater power of resistance and endurance. Even if a person who lacks such power of endurance survives, even if her heart does not stop, her mind will readily stop functioning. We then say that the woman has become unconscious or is in a coma. Hysteria in women with weak minds and nerves is due to some extent to this vibrational shock; but we call it a disease, for here the weakness is rather excessive."
   "Similar is the impact of happiness. This shock is also not easy to endure and absorb. If an abjectly poor man suddenly receives a lakh of rupees, the strong vibration of the news that arises in his mind, will violently agitate his whole nervous system. Such a highly vibrative news may even put an end to his life for his limited strength may not be able to bear such vibrational waves. Suppose while your mother is taking her dinner, you receive the news of her father’s death, a great vibration will arise in her mind. If she is informed of this news suddenly, her limited strength may not be able to endure that violent vibrational force. In such a case the news should be disclosed to her gradually, by slow degrees, so that her mind will be able to gain sufficient strength to withstand the vehemence of that vibration. You may start with, “No news from grandpa for quite a long time. I wonder how he’s getting on.” On hearing this, an ominous, premonitive vibration will arise in the corners of her mind but even this you should say after her dinner is finished. Then after a while, you may add, “Maybe grandpa is very ill and that is why there is no letter.” This will further strengthen her mind. Then you may say, “Perhaps he is no more. No wonder, he was quite aged, wasn’t he? But indeed his life is so precious to us.” At last you break the news slowly and cautiously."
   "The power of enduring different kinds of vibrations varies in the same person in different conditions. So you should never suddenly break any news of great joy or great sorrow to anyone. First prepare the ground – create the right atmosphere for the mind and then bring the news to their knowledge. If you can gradually create the right type of waves, the strength to withstand the strain of the vibrations will come by itself. Thus, you should first tell the poor man “If you get a hundred rupees, what will you do with the money?” Then you give him a stronger dose: “If you could get a thousand rupees in a lottery, what would you do with it?” In this way you go on creating more and more pleasant vibrations in his mind – you go on habituating him to greater and greater shocks of happiness, and then at last you tell him he has won a prize of a lakh of rupees in the lottery. You will then see that as a result he can maintain his mental balance to a great extent." (Qt H)



"मान लो कोई, किसी के घर में किसी का देहान्त हो गया | वह रो रहा है | तो, उस वक्त तुम अगर जाकर बोलते हो- 'देखो, रोते हो क्यों ? यह तो दुनिया का नियम है ऐसा तो होता ही है | रोना नहीं चाहिए |” ऐसा तुम बोलने से, वह रोना बन्द नहीं करेगा | वह और अधिक रोएगा | और ऐसा बोलना भी तुम्हारे लिए उचित नहीं है | क्यों ? न, तुम्हारे घर में भी इस प्रकार की घटना होने से तुम भी रोते हो | और वह आकर कहेगा- “रोते हो क्यों जी ? यही तो दुनिया की रीति है |'

[मार्गियों की हँसी |]

उस वक्त सब कोई बड़े विद्वान बन जानते हैं | समझे न ? बड़े-बड़े महर्षि बन जाते हैं | लोगों को उपदेश देते हैं कि- “रोना नहीं चाहिए, रोना नहीं चाहिए |” और दो दिन के बाद, वह भी रोएगा | यही बात है | तो, पण्डित ऐसा नहीं बनना चाहिए | उस वक्त चाहिए क्या ? उसके पास जाकर, चुपचाप बैठना ताकि वह feel करे- “नहीं, हमारा दुःख समझने वाला, महसूस करने वाला और भी मनुष्य है” | तब, मन थोड़ा diverted हो जाएगा उसका | उसके बाद कुछ खिलाने की चेष्टा करो, कुछ पिलाने की चेष्टा करो | तो, मन धीरे-धीरे उसका स्वाभाविक हो जाएगा | “रोना नहीं चाहिए, रोकर क्या करोगे ? रोने से तो दुबारा वह नहीं आएगा” – यह सब नहीं बोलना चाहिए | यह सब पण्डित की उक्ति नहीं है, बुद्धू की उक्ति है | क्योंकि तुम भी उस दशा में रोते हो |

[मार्गियों की हँसी |]

तो, उस हालत में क्या करेंगे ? न, बुद्धिमान के माफ़िक चाहिए, उसके मन को और विषय में divert करने की चेष्टा करो | यद्यपि उस वक्त divert करना बहुत difficult काम होगा | तब भी वही है एकमात्र उपाय |"

in Him,
Murlidhar Deva


The entire section under the heading, "Consoling the Grieving Family...", is based on Baba's guidelines from His historic discourse, Ma'nav Ek Bha'vana'shiil Pra'n'ii (Human Beings Are Emotional) delivered on 15 July 1980 in Patna, published in Ananda Vacanmrtam - 20 (Hindi Edn).


Although primarily given for helping family members as they mourn the loss of their loved one, the techniques outlined in this discourse can also be used to comfort those undergoing other kinds of miseries and suffering: Home destroyed by fire or natural calamity, serious accident, severe monetary loss, house eviction, job loss, kidnapping of a child, plane crash, news of illness like a heart attack, home foreclosure, extreme property damage due to earthquake or flood or other natural disaster etc, or any time a person bursts into tears and is emotionally overwhelmed. In all such circumstances these guidelines can be used. They will be very helping in comforting those who are grief-stricken.


Qt A: Ananda Marga Ideology & Way of Life - 8, The Macrocosmic Stance and Human Life
Qt B: Ananda Marga Ideology and Way of Life - 10, Ideation on Brahma
Qt C: Prout in a Nutshell - 12, The Transformation of Psychic Pabula into Psycho-spiritual Pabulum
Qt D: Shabda Cayanika - 26, Vidyá Tantra and Avidyá Tantra
Qt E: Varna Vijiana, Disc: 10
Qt F: Ananda Vacanamrtam – 8, What Should Human Beings Do?
Qt G: Ananda Marga Philosophy in a Nutshell – 6, Vyatireka – 1
Qt H: Subhasita Samgraha – 3, Vibration, Form and Colour

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