In the Sikh tradition and in the larger global yogic community, the Gurbani mantra Akal is often chanted as someone’s body finishes the dying process, as well as for 17 days following physical death. Akal means “deathless” or “undying,” and the vibration as well as the meaning of the word is considered to aid a person’s soul or karma-bound consciousness in remembering its true nature, thus achieving union with God/universal consciousness/ultimate truth. The soul is considered to be eternal: unborn, undying and untouchable by the material world; when the soul takes human form, the purpose is to release the illusion of separateness, realize the self as part of the wholeness of the universe, and through this to realize its own true nature as Akal.
While chanting Akal has the function of aiding in the soul’s realization of ultimate truth, it is additionally recognized as a final act of loving service, and gives peace to those suffering loss.
In the final moments of physical dying, Akal is chanted continuously; in the 17 days following death, it is chanted for 3, 7 or 11 minutes each day, while meditating upon the person who has died. Akal can also be chanted at any time, considering that the soul remains bound in karma (not fully realized in its truth) until its journey throughout time and form leads it to its true nature. While chanting Akal has the function of aiding in the soul’s realization of ultimate truth, it is additionally recognized as a final act of loving service, and gives peace to those suffering loss. It is an act of surrendering a loved one to the care of the infinite, and remembering that they are ever-present in human memory and in the element of space. The vibration of Akal is also incredibly soothing and helps to strengthen communication and cooperation when chanted within a group.
Akal is chanted once per breath, for the entire length of the breath. Snatam Kaur’s version includes English lyrics to further illustrate its meaning. To learn more about the journey of the soul in its formless nature, read about the blue ethers.