A Great Departure
Our Obsession with Physical Existence: A Great Illusion
" There is nothing of birth with the gross or other bodies, no childhood, youth or senility, no relative or non-relative, no friends or foe of which to speak, what exists is the undivided Supreme Brahman alone". These are the words uttered by none other than Ribhu,a great Indian saint of yore.
Saint Clement of Alexendria also said the same thing," If we abstract all physical properties such as depth,breadth,length,position and the rest, all that remains is a point which represents Unity or Oneness". Prophet Mohammad said - 'an intelligent person is one who is constantly thinking about and preparing for death'.
Lal Ded,a saint of Kashmir in India uttered these divine words," who dies ? who is slain ? He who forsakes God's name and gets involved in worldly cares. It is he who dies. It is he who is slain". Above illustrations aptly describe our illusion with this world.
The more we cling to our possessions,things and persons, the more we get entangled in fear,death and ignorance. Such sayings abound in various sacred texts belonging to various sects and religions. If we rightly assimilate these and are able to perfect our wisdom, no fear not even of ultimate death can touch our mind.
In fact, our mind is our own friend and foe. It is our own sweet will to make it our ally or enemy.We should live as if we are in the world, but not of the world. Only when we rid ourselves of the obsession of the worldly things, can we become able to usher in wisdom of having a real appraisal of this whole edifice, that we call our being or consciousness or Self.
Our liberation or salvation lies in knowing life and death, both as natural phenomena that nature has bound us with like all other beings and things. As we face onslaughts of adversities in our life, we should likewise be brave enough to go into the crux of this most subtle phenomenon.
Our Existence: A Philosophical Analysis
Our existence is covered with two layers. One is tangible that is our physical body, and the other is abstract that is our actual body. While there is birth and death to the physical body, our actual body that we call Self or Atman is beyond birth and death. All pain and suffering is related to this physical body. Self or our actual body is beyond all earthly connections, assumptions, attributes, concepts like good or bad, fair or dark, love or hate and so on.
Our actual body is real bliss in pure state if one realizes it truly. We do not experience it because we are preoccupied with everything related to our physical body. So long we are attached to this perishable physical body, there is sadness and happiness, cold and heat, birth and death, love and hate and sons, daughters, wife, mother, father, friend and all relations exist for us that cause so many feelings in our mind.
Once we understand that these all are illusory things and perishable, we come to the core essence that God has envisaged for us everything for our well-being and growth, though in a very subtle manner. Those lucky ones who do not wander here and there; catch this beautiful design of God for our existence, they are not afraid of anything, and do not desire the things of the world. They perceive in their wisdom that death or ultimate death or any death -- all, are done to this physical body alone. Our Self or Spirit or Atman whatever you call it, is beyond all this stuff.
If God has made this world perfect and everything perfect, then I would say that He might have made death also as perfect ; So nobody should be scared of it at all. I firmly believe, the aspect of our departure would have also been made far more appealing than that has been ever described in so many sacred texts and ever spoken by any enlightened being,Saint of the saints, Prophet of the prophets.
I also hold that any word, any sentence, any place, any symbol or whatever it is, in connection with this imminent phenomenon -- if it comforts us in facing our last moment on earth with courage -- should be welcomed with open arms.
A bold Display of Equanaimity
I heard about an old village woman who called his son one day and told him to collect some wood for her cremation. Since the woman was doing her daily chores and looked quite hale and hearty, the son was amazed and asked his mother whether she was joking with him ?
The woman told him to proceed with as told. The son, though visibly apprehensive did as his mother wished.The woman again told his son to bring a cow and a Brahman ( a priest ). The son complied with that too.
The woman made her son donate the cow to the priest as was the rite as per scripture. Then she told her daughter in law to bring a little Gangajal (water of sacred river Ganga).When Gangajal was brought to her, she drank it,closed her serene eyes,chanted GOD's name, and in that instant breathed her last.
Such a dignified departure with all grace and faith that no words suffice to describe it. As she was a simple village woman and a very pious one, she knew her death beforehand and was entirely free from the fear of death or in other words, quite comfortable with the end of episode.
This is only one instance, but there are too many relating to ordinary looking human beings who embraced death with all dignity.How this unique attitude is ingrained in an individual is something very amazing. It seems that a lifelong practice of loving every moment of life till death makes a person fearless in the face of this most feared eventuality.
It may also be said that art of living develops a mindset so as to appreciate life and death without discrimination. Indian mythology is abuzz with such innumerable sagas that one cannot but appreciate with awe and admiration and adore the insightful personalities for their perception and penetration into this whole aspect of existence. They are our real heroes and the more we delve into their wonderful journeys, the more strong and determined we become.
Dignified Approach of the Enlightened and the Highly Evolved
Besides this, some very enlightened beings also knew their death beforehand and were not scared of it at all. Some of them even breathed their last on their own in deep meditation. It is also true that a firm belief in God and afterlife made people very comfortable with death.
In Mahabharata, a great epic- a story of a great character goes like this - Bhisma was very badly wounded by the arrows of Arjun; he watched the battle till the end on his deathbed in the battlefield itself , and breathed his last on his wish.
Bhisma faced death with such grace, as he was blessed with a vision of death on account of his pious actions, and was capable and free to embrace death whenever he liked so. A myth is that he could have lived longer, but he chose death instead, shedding off all fear. Saints like Jnaneshwar and Eknath took Jalsamadhi ( left the world immersing in the river ) .
In Southern India, one saint,Shri Raghvendra Swami sat in Samadhi ( a deep meditation) and departed the world within full view of his followers. They all watched him leaving the world on his own. There was not the least of fear on the divine face of the saint. In Modern India, a great social worker and thinker,Vinoba Bhave left the world willingly in deep meditation.In fact,in India, there has been a long tradition of leaving the world in deep meditation.
Such accomplished saints who die either a natural death or leave the world in deep meditation are not cremated;instead they are buried beneath the ground and a Samadhi ( a structure of bricks built on the burial place) is erected there. This way, the people get the opportunity of seeking the blessings of the saint on their visit to such burial places or samadhis, and this enables them to recall great teachings of those saints.
Perception : A very Significant Element
Perception plays an important role in how much comfortable we are with last moment of our life. We can view death as a last sleep in our body, in the same manner ,as the daily sleep in which we remain quite happy and do not want to be disturbed.
So when we look at death or the last sleep,we will assume it as a happy state of being in which nobody would be capable of waking us up, and we would remain undisturbed and perhaps quite peaceful too.
This vision can make us quite comfortable with our departure from this planet. So bereft of this fear in our mind,we will be looking upon the world and the whole existence with a greater penetration and mirth and enjoying the course of our life with a clear understanding and cheerfulness.
We all know that there are so many things in the world, but how we perceive them make them as wonderful or glum. It all depends on the psyche of the beholder to assume whatever way he or she wants to see the aspects of life and death.
If we are in a blissful state of looking at things, we will turn even ugly scenes into vibrant ones, and on the contrary of it, if we indulge in the negativity all through our life, we will feel all suffering, fear and pain.If we see all things with crystal clarity, we will find that life is more meaningful than it appears to us; at the same time, we will defeat the evil forces of fear,ignorance and vain knowledge.
This attitude will act like a cushion for us to face all fears,even the most dominant one-fear of death. In a nutshell,we can say that in order to be comfortable with our departure, there are wise words of the sages, actions of the enlightened beings, examples of the common looking pious individuals and above all our own wisdom.