Death - An amazing phenomenon!

Death – An amazing phenomenon!

by Pradeep Joshi


As per Hinduism and according to Vedanta literature, man passes through the cycles of birth and death. When one is born, death is sure to come, although one does not know when. Humorously, one says that a person is born with a return ticket in his hand. There is surely birth control but none has any control over death and in no case, can stop its occurrence. One cannot also foretell when death is likely to come to him and snatch him away from his life.


Man has made many scientific inventions over ages but none has been able to find out the exact tenure of one's life and at what time and date his death will occur. Why there is so much mystery behind it? That is a moot question for us to ponder over.


Death can be a sudden phenomenon or it may be a lingering one over many days, months and even years. Death cannot be any one's fond wish if a person wants to die, sooner or later. For a short cut to his life, he can of course take poison or commit suicide to end himself. But it happens in the case of many people that at the last moment, they are so much scared of the pains caused by the impending death, they abandon the plan. Suicide is a crime as per Law and it can never be a device for dying a natural death. It is in a way good that Death cannot be predicted as otherwise, one would die even before it comes up, with the shock of its being confronted.


One believes that normally, the maximum age of a person can be one Hundred Years although there may be exceptions that one has outlived 100 years and survived for a few more years like 10 or 20 at the most. The constitution of the body or physique itself is so made that each part of the body gets weaker and weaker as one gets older leading slowly towards degeneration of the physique culminating in the end of life. Upanishads say that go on doing some good deeds helping the needy and disadvantaged to prolong the longevity of life.


Puranas say that Yayati" of Mahabharata fame who according to folk lore lived up to 1000 years, asking favors from Yamaraj – the Angel of Death that he had many missions to fulfill in his life when begging for extensions in his life tenure. Yamraj wanted him to suggest some one in his place as he could not return to his kingdom without carrying one person with him. Yayati used to send his ten sons- one by one- so that he will live for long! The moral of this story is that a man never wants to die but would spend on this planet as long as possible to satisfy all his pent up desires. Greed for money, sense pleasures, power over others, are some of the factors for which a person wants to live longer, as much as possible.


Deathlessness or "Moksha" or "Mukti" is only a stage that can be achieved through belief in immortality of Soul i.e., "Atman" or Pure Consciousness. Depending on the good deeds one has done, perhaps, when one's Soul leaves this mundane world and merges with "Brahman" i.e., Cosmic consciousness, the Cycle of birth and death can come to a stop. There are a few glorious examples of some great people and saints dying when young like Adi Shankara, Sant Dnaneshwar, and Swami Vivekananda who perhaps felt that they had certain noble missions in their life and they were achieved through their actions. They therefore, wished that Death is the finale and a proper course when the physical body has no other goals or attachments. These were the great Saints who believed in the Vedantic teachings that this whole world is unreal and Self Realization of merging with the Supreme Consciousness is the absolute Truth! A Sanskrit Shloka goes "Brahman Satyam, Jagat Mithyam". Many are confused how one call this World and the life on the planet as unreal, when we experience so many great things of happiness or sorrow! The explanation is that our physique is temporary, and the life within it is so volatile, it can end any time without prior notice! Again, the physical world is also not permanent as it is subject to several disasters like earthquakes, volcanoes, Tsunami or a dangerous disease like plague which can diminish the life on the planet in no time.


There are also instances in the Hindu Mythology that Bhishma of Mahabharata possessed the rare boon of dying as per his wish at a time and day that suited him. That was termed as his "Iccha Maran" death as per his wish on the day and time he desired.


Death is a great leveler as Shakespeare said. Every one gets nervous and is scared when one thinks of this phenomenon or when one has to go through the dying experience. The fact that Death has not been conquered by any research scientists all over the world during the last five thousand years, points to the uniqueness of the Almighty or the Supreme power who has not as yet bestowed that power and authority to any one person in this mundane world. Enormous efforts have been made to create and give birth to new siblings by the scientists. Transplanting the genes from one animal to another and creating a living being through transfer of sperms from a male to female are being experimented. Cloning is the latest invention. When these are being researched, none has however, succeeded in reviving a dead person or an animal. Who can beat therefore the Almighty in this technique?


In a way, it is absolutely a saving grace that no human being possessed this skill as otherwise; autocrats like Hitler would have remained cruel throughout their life.


The Puranas also tell the story of Hiranya Kashyapu (father of Bhakta Pralhad) who did penance of Lord Shiva- who is also known as God of Death for making him immortal. When God refused to answer his wish, he asked for a strange type of death; i.e., not by any man or by an animal, not on any land or water, and not during any day or night. By demanding this kind of wish, he meant that he could ward off his death, as Lord Shiva would have to grant him immortality. Shiva ultimately acceded to his request but Lord Vishnu had to devise a proper strategy to overcome all the barriers that were placed against his death. He selected neither the day nor the night but in the evening, and He took the garb of a human body but the face of a lion and then he came out of a stone pillar to take his life as he had become a tyrant harassing his own son- the devotee of Lord Vishnu and others such as his subjects due to the powers he had obtained from Lord Shiva through his sheer penance. That is a part of a mythological story to indicate how the powerful kings who were principally the demons or the "Rakshasas" played havoc with their own kith and kin and their subjects who did not obey to their unreasonable demands.


It is a good conclusion that so long as the human being does not conquer death, he would be always subordinate to the indomitable powers of Nature i.e., God. God himself in the "Avatar" (guise) of a man as in the case Lord Rama and Lord Krishna embraced death as a natural phenomenon in order to demonstrate that any person once born has to die. These Gods could not have stayed immortal since they themselves appeared or were born as human beings.


As one grows old, he is always afraid of or is nervous over the death. What should be his attitude towards death? Can we compare the death of a person to a Computer Crash in the lexicon of modern age language of cyber space?. We can draw analogy between the human body and brain to a giant computer with a powerful Hard Disk of plenty of Giga bites of Memory supported by intricate or sensitive chips. The other day, a Doctor friend of mine explained that the brain contains billions and billions of cells and neutrons and therefore, the brain is the powerhouse for all the flow of thoughts to the human mind or brain. They guide the action, moods, emotions, sentiments, etc. Again these cells are stored when the birth of a human being takes place. There is no question of their further growth or addition. But, the cells die every moment in hundred thousands. This loss does not make any difference, as the storage of cells/neutrons is so high, it lasts for the whole lifetime! Is this not ingenuity or a miracle created by God or a super power?


Almighty Himself seems to be an unbeatable hardware and software Engineer for having created the intricate Human Body with an in-built Soul as the main chip with innumerable accessories for its systematic function. Almighty thus, seems to have followed an ingenious device in creating different brands of human computers with various sizes of hard disks and memory chips. That is how some one lives longer and some one for a shorter period depending on the metabolism he acquires from the Gene. Does the human chip (Gene?) decide the durability or longevity of one's life?. The time factor also seems to have been so built into the system that whatever is done to save a dying life through all human effort, the life does not survive. Like the 21st Century Millennium Bug, the human computer ever faces a challenge of resolving the unanswered question of Life & Death. Many a time, no individual can decide or know what would happen to him or her at any point of time! God seems to have kept the research scientist always guessing about the marvel of this Godly Science!


Without getting into the polemics of this Life and Death question, which is incomprehensible to me, I would rather prefer singing the greatness of the Almighty for his rare powers of creation and destruction. At the same time, He steers each human towards "stability" making him responsible to perform a set of duties while he survives on this planet. Does this lead to a conclusion that he guides every one's destiny?


Another school of thought is that a person's tenure and state of life- happiness or misery- depends upon the theory of "Karma" which is the running theme of Upanishads and Bhagwad Gita. All good deeds lead to a "good Karma" and bad deeds to a "Bad Karma". Human sufferings are mainly attributed to bad "Karma Phal" i.e., fruits or results of one's deeds in the previous life or even in his current life. "Karma Phal " is a phenomenon of cause and effect. However, it baffles me that although great saints like Ramakrishna Parama Hansa or Ramana Maharshi who led such a pious life and had achieved self-realization, why they had to go through the deadly disease of Cancer? Does it mean that they also believed in the theory of Karma? Or they wanted to demonstrate to the common man that the body or physique is not at all important and what is significant is one's immortal soul!


Why even Lord Rama and Sita who were supposed to enjoy the fruits as King and Queen, as also the virtuous and the great souls worshipped by us as God and Goddess had to suffer twelve years of living difficult days in the thick forests without any comforts, sustaining on herbs and wild fruits? Were they born with a past record of bad deeds so as to lead such a life of sufferings and agony? Why Lord Krishna's life ended with an arrow from a hunter in the forests? While depicting the lives of these Gods, the authors of Puranas wanted to convince the common man that even Gods had to live as human beings and go through all sufferings and happy periods due to their own respective bad and good karmas!. Some of these questions are very baffling and raise a controversy in our minds so as to seek the proper answer.


In view of the mysteries of Death, what should then, be the attitude of a person? The answer is, Death is as natural as birth and one should not lament if it comes either early or late in life. Especially, as the "Atman" or a Soul of a person is indestructible and is immortal, the physique should be treated as purely a temporary device enabling a person to live a specific period on this planet, and which is subject to gradual degeneration as one ages. Gita says in that case 'throw away the garment which has become useless over its use for many years as your Soul never dies".


Many a time, the physique of a person gets disabled or dies prematurely due to occurrence of a serious disease or an accident on which there is no control. One should therefore, never lament if death comes in any way. On the contrary, Death could be a beautiful experience and why one should at all get scared?. Death is a phenomenon which should be rather celebrated with all jubilation, if an elderly person is leaving this planet after enjoying a certain period of time!.


In order that death results in peace and tranquility, a person has to train his mind continuously to relinquish all attachments with the mundane world; in other words with wealth, property, near relations, etc and embrace death with open arms as if it comes naturally or suddenly. Some one said that Death is an amazing phenomenon if it comes as of old age and should be celebrated to enhance the sublimity of the departing Soul! It should therefore, be never lamented by the near kith and kin!


Final Word


If one follows a spiritual path as adumbrated in Gita, one can certainly eliminate the undue fears of Death. This fear, as Gita interprets, mainly emanates from one's attachment to materialistic things which one acquires or possesses, in his struggle for existence. This attachment includes worrying about one's own life and that of one's kith and kin, near and dear. One always gets worried what will happen to these earthly possessions or the relations, if one suddenly dies. Gita therefore teaches the philosophy of "Vairagya" i.e., "Detachment" as one of the possible solutions to eliminate or at least control the fear of death. This teaching does not mean in my opinion, that one should not care for his near and dear and also shun all the possessions which one would have rightfully acquired over the years for one's own survival. These materialistic assets, which are of the nature of a house for living, some savings to take care of one's living necessities of food, medicine etc cannot be done away with. Possession of these is in any case essential to reduce total dependence of an individual on others all the time and at least especially in the aging process. The only qualification for acquiring these possessions should be the honesty and integrity and not a wrongful appropriation of others' possessions.


Deep concentration and through it, to Meditation, as one's ultimate goal towards God realization is a good habit. In simple terms, this habit would not only help preserving stability of one's health and mind but will eliminate avoidable stress and fears of impending death. With this attitude, a person can acquire the power of dying as per his wish and at the time and the date they like. We have glorious examples of Shri Shirdi Sai Baba and also Shri Raghavendra Swami of medieval age who believed and practiced spirituality in their daily lives as per our Vedantic literature. Both of them took "Samadhi" advising their devotees to make preliminary preparations for their final departure much in advance. It appeared they received their "Outreach" "Pushpak Vimaan" from the Supreme God to travel to Vaikuntha – the so-called Paradise of Gods.   


About the Author

The author is engaged in community service over the last 20 years. He reads spiritual literature extensively and is always keen to know more on the subject. He is merely a student in the study of spirituality and this write up represents his views on this difficult topic. He is open to corrections or any comment that add to his thoughts and knowledge! He can be contacted on his e-mail;pradjoshi@aol.com 

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