By Jamuna Rangachari
How would you like your mortal remains disposed of, and how would you like to be remembered? Seekers discuss this through the concept of a ‘spiritual will’
Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take
-A child’s prayer
Learning to die has always been the litmus test of spiritual growth. As more and more discover the truth that they are immortal, and death is only another, and perhaps, better form of life, their approach to how they would like their mortal remains to be interred undergoes a substantial change. Instead of a blind compliance to tradition, seekers are drafting their own unique spiritual wills decreeing how they would like to go, and how they would like to be remembered.
Bharati Nirmal, co-founder of the TAO Anand Spiritual Centre at Thane, Mumbai, says, “It is excellent to write about your own death in your ‘spiritual will’. One should read and review it at certain intervals! That brings about a clarity about how satisfied you really are in life, and how intensely you are able to live your present moment. Only if one can feel fulfilment in every moment, can one completely accept the end of the physical body, and embrace death with love!”
Her sentiment is echoed in the well-known Tibetan Book of the Dead, which says, “Learn to die, and thou shalt learn how to live.”
Learning to live
Thinking about the inevitability of death makes us much more grounded and connected to what is truly important.
The fact is – there is really nothing unique about death. Death comes to all who are born. Which is why the Buddha asked for a mustard seed from a house which had never seen death, to make a grieving lady understand the futility of trying to put life back into the dead.
Surely then, leaving behind a legacy of the spiritual kind is as important, if not more, than one of a physical kind?
Akila Jaikumar, writer and computer professional from Hyderabad, concedes this to be an important step, saying, “The entire exercise makes me think about whether I have enough years left on this planet to spiritually evolve to a satisfactory level. There is still so much to do on the path – learn the art of surrender, dissolve the ego, serve without expectation of any return, make the qualities of forgiveness, patience, love, truth, compassion a part of my every moment, and let go of emotional patterns which are not constructive.”
The thought of writing one’s will comes at various times to various people. It may be on seeing the sudden death of someone close to you, or just on observing the pattern of life.
Rashida Jiwani, teacher and writer from Mumbai, quotes Kabir, who used to advocate that one think about one’s death all the time. He fully described the scene of his death, funeral, the reactions of people and the last scene where he was buried with a few dried sticks, leaving behind all else. “This thought,” she points out, “helped him to be detached from life and people, and he lived happily for 125 years.”
P Venkatesh points out that in China, there are mock cremation rituals that take place to help people revitalise their sense of purpose in life. He feels that certain exercises like writing your obituary and writing your epitaph work wonderfully to realign life priorities.
“When I went to some very dangerous areas in Pakistan, I decided to make my will,” says Tiziana Stupia, priestess and writer from the UK, who recently spent nine months in Asia, travelling primarily through the Himalayas in Tibet, Nepal, and India, and the Hindu Kush mountains of Pakistan.
The late Swami Chidanand Maharaj, spiritual head of the Divine Life Society, who passed away on August 28, 2008, drew up his will regarding his samadhi in 2000, when he sensed that many of his senior disciples wanted to build a samadhi for him.
The final goodbye
“No rites, no memories. To me, experientially and at firsthand, death is the friend, with whom I will leave hand in hand,” says Amodini, a writer from Hrishikesh.
“I definitely don’t want any trouble to be taken unnecessarily because of my demise,” says Sampriti Mukerjee, a seeker from Jamshedpur.
“I would like the death ceremony to be simple, and hope the prayer meeting is calm and in some way joyous,” says Anita Vasudeva, a writer and businesswoman from Delhi.
“I know that I want absolutely no drama after I vacate my body. I would want my husband and my boys to just sit together, and talk about all the happy times that we have had together,” says Chitra Jha, writer and life coach, presently based in Ladakh.
“I have read that the soul will not leave its surroundings immediately, and will flounder in confusion without realising its own release. So I would like the Vishnu sahasranama to be played as long as the body is awaiting cremation, and be cremated ceremoniously with Vedic chants, which I firmly believe will guide the soul on its way,” says Poornima Contoor, writer from Bangalore. She adds, “And I hope they will remember to donate my eyes, kidneys and whatever else that can be harnessed.”
Caring about the ecological implications, Tiziana wants a tree to be planted on her remains, and wants a bio-degradable coffin made from wicker, to be used, and be buried with specific ritualistic items.
“I would like my loved ones to sing all of Tagore’s songs, and since I am a Carmelite nun, I would like them to sing Leonard Cohen’s Alleluia, and Gloria and all thanksgiving songs. Thanksgiving because the one breath of God in me lived joyfully on this Planet Earth. My last rites will be sung in gratitude to Mother Earth and all she holds,” says Sister Margaret Gonsalves, a Carmelite nun and writer.
Vinoba Bhave had made it clear that he wanted his ashes buried at the same spot where he died, and there should be no condolence meet or formalities. Every year, the day of his demise is celebrated as Mitr Divas, as his true legacy was binding people together.
Swami Chidananda, an admirer of St Francis, wrote what he wished very precisely, to leave behind a legacy of compassion and sharing.
What becomes clear is the commonality and oneness in all of us. Whether we wish to be buried, cremated and immersed on the ground or at sea. Whether we wish to follow standard rites or not. Whether we are young or old, seekers or gurus.
Ultimately, the only thing we will leave behind is the only thing that we will take with us, qualities that we have honed and engraved in our soul.
Isn’t it time we began the process of focussing only on our true (inner) selves, and not just the ephemeral body?
If you would like to share your spiritual will, please write to firstname.lastname@example.org with subject ‘Spiritual will’. We may publish it on our website.
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