Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Death



I am awed by my mortality. I am awed that despite the fact that I know I will die, I continue to live, to create, to love life. How amazing is that?

As a lover of history, which is the recounting of the memories and lives of people who once lived but are now quite dead, I am consistently brought face to face with the Great Equaliser. You can be Hitler, Arjuna, Napoleon or Gandhi, but you still end up dead. The story of your life, the one you choose to write upon the earth with the ink of this incarnation, is a miracle to me.  Because when you break it down to the basics, we humans live very short lives. The fact that we manage to accumulate such a vast array of opinions, judgements, experiences, accomplishments, growth milestones, failures and successes is incredible! We do so much in such a tiny space of time.

Just in case I give the impression of siding with some fundamentalist thought, I clarify - I don’t think we should ‘want to die’ or ‘sacrifice our lives’ for a cause. Nope. We are definitely of far more use to the planet alive than dead.  I do not support suicide either because for anyone who has allowed the lessons of death to teach them, we know that death is less about dying and more about living happily from the inside.

But the inevitability of death makes it important, in my humble opinion, for the topic to be brought to the table and discussed - without shame and without fear. ‘Mommy became a star’ is alright for 7 year-olds, though I wouldn’t have swallowed that at age 7, since I was exploring the concept of reincarnation then (and I suspect a lot of 7 year-olds would do the same if they were given half a chance to use their amazing intelligence.) But a thirteen year old needs something more substantial, don’t you think?

In polite (Indian) society, children are to be shielded from all discussions on death at all costs which is a ritual I find quite bizarre. That’s what they did with Prince Siddhartha – and when he finally heard of death and saw it, he went on a journey that made him The Buddha. At this time, we could definitely do with more kids taking such personal journeys.

But perhaps not everyone feels comfortable discussing their impending death at a dinner party. It’s generally considered a morbid topic and I haven’t quite fathomed why. There is a paranoia about death – as if by not talking about it, we could somehow avoid it happening to us. I don’t think that’s ever been proven possible. Everyone dies – the maggot, the pig and the human. We can be ostriches about this, but really, the writing’s always been on the wall.

The awareness of death and mortality, like all super-important cosmic truths, is a double-edged sword. It can kill you before you begin to live and make action purposeless, breathing pointless and strip life of all joy. Or, it can push you through that phase of inertia and fire your veins with the determination to live each moment to the fullest; to release the trivia; to make choices that could be deeply fulfilling in the long run.

Understanding the death of a loved one and releasing the fear of death can be messy and sticky – anything that makes us question our very existence and identity always is.  But what is fascinating is how we run from it! If there is one belief or one fact we need to wrap our heads around as mortals – it is that we are going to die.

After witnessing a fair share of death I find that accepting it is easier when we aren’t afraid of it. And what is death? A noun, a verb? What comes after it, if there is an ‘after’ to it?
There are plenty of beliefs out there – which one inspires you?

What I love about facing our mortality is that it brings us back to the very basics - where did I come from, and where am I going? The answers to these questions change on our journey, but the questions themselves  – their mere presence is important. They open up a separate track of awareness in the mind that gives a whole range of perspective to the strange and miraculous events that strung together, are called life.

Death is all around us. Do we know how to accept it when it takes loved ones? Do we know how to taste its wisdom? Do we know how to pass through grief into life again?

Do we know how to embrace death gracefully when our time comes?

4 comments:

mama kar said...

I think the fundamental reason why death was not discussed in Indian families was, in addition to what you mentioned, also a kind of fear (on the part of adults) that if a child grows up with the notion that he/she is going to die (and that is guaranteed) then he/she would not wish to keep 'growing'...it would inculcate a kind of fatalism. Because we all know that the notions we grow up with are the ones that we go back to it, as we become adults.
I agree this is not a mature way of thinking about the situation; but then, maybe if Death had been a topic for dinner conversations, we would not have a Buddha!
As a mother, I know I always found it EASIER to be as honest as i could about death with my kids rather than the 'star' theory.
And I totally agree that this is a conversation all parents need to have - over and over if need be; just like the conversation about God. Not easy...but then what is? And you will be surprised how much potential of growth there is in such a conversation for everyone involved.

Saraswati said...

Absolutely agree, Monica aunty. Thanks for sharing!

Vyomesh said...

Just loved your Post.....strong enough to awaken each from their perennial slumber...I guess it would be polite to answer your questions at the end from my point of view ....Yes....Yes ....Yes ...thanks to Swami...some feel orphaned as they miss his physical presence .... orphaned we would be truly if we limit him ...despite the wealth of wisdom he has provided... To quote Bhagwan..."Man is equipped with a return ticket, when he takes birth. Holding it in his grasp he earns and spends, rises and falls, sings and dances, weeps and wails, forgetting the end of the journey. But,though he forgets, the wagon of life moves towards the cemetery, which is its terminus. It brings no glory to man if he is tied helplessly to the wheel of birth and death. His glory and greatness consists in disentangling himself from that revolving wheel.
Before death nips life, and thrusts him on to another birth, he must by means of Saadhana learn the mystery of the Aathma. When death comes one must be glad to meet it since he comes for the last time and there will be no more birth for him. Man weeps when he is born; he should not weep when he dies. He must die triumphant over death. Otherwise,he lives only to consume tons of food, as a burden upon the earth. You seek to escape pain and grief; but, they are inescapable.
Life is as a dream. In the dream, you experience joy and grief; but when you realise that both joy
and grief are unreal, when you awake into the consciousness of the Aathma, you will no more have the thrill of joy or the despondency of pain. You will not have any longer fear or anxiety,fear of death or anxiety about the future."-Prashaanthi Nilayam, 3-12-1972...as elders we need to understand the purpose of life to guide our children, but I guess we have a Bhuddha phobia ...fear of what we do not understand and sometimes don't feel the need to understand...too weak to drink the nectar of immortality...Boss kuch jyada josh aa gaya....

Saraswati said...

Bhraatha shri! Like the josh! Thanks for sharing your thoughts and Swami's words! Grateful for it.