May 2016 By Swamini Aaradhana The body is a cage and the indweller is a bird. Death is like taking flight from the claustrophobic cage and into the limitless expanse, says Swamini Aaradhana “Death is not the extinguishing of the lamp. It’s putting out the light because dawn has come.” – Rabindranath Tagore Fear of death is common and more so, in ageing people. “Fear is the pain before the wound,” observes Swami. Chinmayananda, founder of the Chinmaya Mission. But we come across a rare few who face death with the dignity and maturity that comes from a deeper understanding of life than most mortals have. When Swami Chinmayananda expressed anguish over his beloved master, Tapovan Maharaj’s failing health, and wanted to shift him to Delhi from Uttarkashi for advanced medical treatment, the latter responded with a revealing statement, “Oh! I wasn’t aware that Death’s entry is banned in Delhi.” The disciple got the message. Later, when sentimental devotees agonised over Swami Chinmayananda’s growing health complications, he would guffaw, “What does it matter where the body falls? Jale vaa, akashe vaa, patale vaa?'(in water, sky or the nether world)!” Understanding death The nonchalant attitude towards death as a continuation of life is expounded in the Gita and the Upanishads. Right in the midst of the battlefield, where blood baths are the order of the day and killing the opponents is not merely duty, but heroism too, Krishna educates a floundering Arjuna, reeling under the guilt of killing his mentors and relatives. “Do or die, Arjuna! The soul is incombustible, insoluble anyway and the body is bound to decay anyway. Don’t you discard worn-out and torn clothes?” (Gita, Chapter II, verses 22-24). So too does the soul purge itself of an old vehicle, that can’t afford further mileage and acquire a new model for its jaunts and sojourns. “Mrtyur yasya upasechanam.” In Kathopanishad, Yama, the Lord of death, who has the last laugh with every one, confesses to Nachiketa that he comes across a rare few, who enjoy their last journey, like a foodie relishes pickles in his repast! Pickles add to the spice of a meal. So does a life well lived, find death delectable! Do the dead miss us? A powerful incident in the Bhagavat Mahapuran shows that the soul is ‘light’, and departure from the body is a sign that it is ready to move on. Chitraketu, a pious monarch, begets an offspring after torturous penance and alas! the child dies prematurely. Rishi Angiras and the celestial sage Narada come to console the distraught king, who pleads for an audience with his dead son. And the sages oblige. Chitraketu expresses his sorrow to his son’s spirit and urges him to return as the prince, ascend the throne and enjoy the pleasures of kingship. Without beating around the bush, the disembodied voice of his son responds, “In which life were you my father? I’ve been through so many lives and have had countless parents. And with each death, I’ve forgotten even my closest companions.” This ‘fact’ hits Chitraketu like a thunderbolt and detachment dawns on him instantly. Healing for mourners Relive the sweet memories with those who are gone and cherish the association with gratitude. Bring a closure to the misgivings or hurt by pleading for forgiveness. Remembering the positives of one whom you lost ensures peace and harmony. Carry forward the causes dear to his or her heart, be it education, sanitation or tree planting. Donate his favourite food to people of his or her age. For instance, if your loved one expired after living a full life, serve the edibles he or she relished to the wizened around, and if it was a tender child that you lost, do everything you can for a deprived kid. Always pray that the soul gets a better birth and that the next incarnation takes him a few notches up the ladder of evolution. Prayers, blessings and thankfulness for every good thing given by the person during the years spent with you eases your suffering and reduces your hankering for the physical presence of the wayfarer. How to prepare ourselves for our own exit? Simple. Downsize! Shed excess baggage of all forms — physical, emotional and intellectual to travel light and travel in light. Dhuni Chand was a prosperous yet parsimonious merchant who only lived to hoard. His sole point in meeting saintly souls was to know if he could carry the wealth earned with his sweat and toil to the other world. Deeply dejected by everyone who answered in the negative, he met Guru Nanak Devji in desperation. And lo! His joy knew no bounds when the latter answered in the affirmative that he could. “How?” asked the eager miser. Guru Nanak looked at Dhuni Chand with great love and said, “Like on your business trips abroad, you converted the local currency into foreign currency, you just have to convert all your wealth into a currency operable in the land yonder,” “And that is…?” Dhuni Chand pricked his ears. “Punya or meritorious deeds is the only currency that works there. Why stress yourself with money? Destress yourself by using it to reduce the distress of the unfortunate ones,” Nanak Devji summed up. Lord Krishna in the eighth chapter of the Gita, verse 7, assures us that constant remembrance of Him through the highs and lows of life, ensures effortless thoughts of him even at the end of one’s life, which, in other words, is a gate pass to merger with Him. That is the reason why chants, kirtan and naama japa are done near the dying. It’s also preferable to bathe and clothe the body with the robes the person used for puja, or temples. Applying auspicious tilaks of bhasma or kumkum and garlanding him or her with the japamala used, if any, is common too. Embrace the eternal! Eknath Eashwaran, the gentle guru of meditation, says to resist death is to hold on to the armchair when someone is trying to lift you up and help you walk. Give up resistance and freedom yours! The body is a cage and the indweller is a bird. Death is like taking flight from the claustrophobic cage into the open space, spreading its pretty pinions. About the author: For Swamini Aaradhana, writing and Radha Krishna mark her inner journey. She’s the editor of Balvihar, an international monthly at Chinmaya Mission.
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