By J.S. Neki
A great existential truth is the certainty and inevitability of death. This frail body is destined to be overtaken by age. Youth comes, but soon departs; when senility descends, it never departs — only its victim does. Guru Tegh Bahadur observed, “One might become anxious should something unexpected happen. But on the worldly pathway, nothing is stable or permanent”.
Yet, we live in this world ignoring the transience of life. We want to live it the way our whims dictate. Even the thought of leaving the world in which we have invested our desires, plans and programmes becomes a dread for us.
There are cultural nuances that determine the intensity of this apprehension. Someone has said, “Life is for the European a career, for the American a hazard, and for the Indian a holiday”. In the Semitic cultures, one’s soul after death is believed to wander around in the dark space until the Day of Reckoning. That is a highly despairing and frightening prospect. In oriental cultures that subscribe to the theory of reincarnation, death is at once the beginning of a new life. So the dread is not always as intense.
The Sikh view is somewhat different. It holds that at death, the body which is but dust, returns to dust; that which speaks therein is breath and that returns to wind. Then the question arises: “Who, in reality, dies?” Guru Nanak tells us:
What perish are man’s sensorium,
His discords and his ego.
That in him, which observes all, perishes not.
And adds elsewhere:
Don’t think, I have died — only the demon within me has. The One who pervades all, does not die.
Guru Arjan Dev, in fact, believes that since atma (the soul) is imperishable, no one really dies, no one, really, can die.
No one dies; none is capable of dying.
The soul dies not, it is imperishable.
That what you believe dies, does not even exist.
In the Gurus’ point of view, not only is life a play, even death is a play. Isn’t watching a good play until its final drop-scene, simply enjoyable? Should it not be so for life, inclusive of its exit? Where then is room for mourning? Guru Amar Das asks:
For whom should we mourn, O Baba? This world is but a play!
The mourner is therefore reminded:
The one who now laments will also arise and depart.
When he himself was about to depart from this world, Guru Amar Das summoned his family and, as reported by his nephew Baba Sunder in his famous “dirge”, addressed them in the following words:
O my children, siblings and family, reflect in your mind:
The pre-ordained death warrant cannot be avoided, the Guru is going to be with his Lord.
And then, the Guru, in his own sweet will, sat up and further addressed his kin:
Let no one weep for me after I am gone. That would not please me at all.
Such a placid departure can be the outcome only of an insightfully lived life.
What, then, is insightfully lived life? Not the one that begun crying, endured complaining and concluded in disappointment. The aim of insightful life is to be aware — joyfully, serenely and divinely. It does not hanker after life.
Hankering after life also subsumes hankering after commodities. Isn’t that simply a vain aspiration?
This weeping is all in vain; the world ignores the Lord, and weeps for maya.
Not distinguishing between good and evil, one wastes away this life in vain.
Such evils as ostentatiousness, greed, pride, dishonesty and nepotism sprout from hankering after things. This enhances our bondage to worldliness and pushes the chances for our liberation further and further away from us. It is such hankering that also creates restlessness and generates fear of death. It takes away peace from life and dignity from death.
Those who do not cling to life and care not for its commodities remain spiritually blissful. They not only live a blessed life, but also earn a blessed death. Guru Nanak said:
The death of heroes is hallowed, and it is approved by God.
One might ask, who are the heroes referred to here? Guru Amar Das informs us:
He alone is a brave warrior, a hero,
Who conquers and subdues his vicious inner ego.
“Conquering the ego is conquering the whole world”, said Guru Nanak. This, then, is the requirement for a heroic spiritual life.
We all think man fears death. But, in reality, he fears himself. The remorses and repentances of life haunt him. One who has no remorse, nor any ground for repentance, has no reason to fear death. Death, the most dreaded evil for many, is not so for those who are spiritually illumined. For them it is of little concern.
Only right living can prepare us for safe or even joyous dying. Let us, then, be of good cheer about death and know this that no evil can happen to a good man either in life or after death. Death, be assured, is no evil. It is impossible that a thing so natural, so necessary, and so universal should ever have been designed by our Creator as an evil to mankind.
Let us conclude with these lines from Kabir:
People say it is good to live forever,
but without dying, there is no life.
So, what wisdom should I preach?
Everything worldly is perishing right in front of me!
— J.S. Neki, a psychiatrist of international repute, was director of PGIMER, Chandigarh. He also received the Sahitya Akademi Award for his contribution to Punjabi verse. Currently he is Professor of Eminence in Religious Studies at Punjabi University, Patiala.
Source: The Asian Age, New Delhi