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Living and dying well

Death is the eventual reality in this world.  Everything that is born has to die, say the major religions of the world. In fact, it is framed as the law of nature. In the society, death is viewed as an end, as a one way journey to the worlds beyond our comprehension. As a result, there is much apprehension about this inevitable eventuality. It is a taboo to talk about it. Like it once was to talk about sex. Much has been written since the ancient times about this phenomenon. More recent writings tend to dispel misconceptions about death. I read one such book titled “The Tibetan book of living and dying” by Sogyal Rinpoche. All quoted sentences are verbatim and rest is my two cents.

Death is not thought of as an end. “All the great spiritual traditions of the world, including Christianity, have told us clearly that death is not the end.”  It is a mere transition to a different part of the journey.  What the other part of the journey involves is a matter of speculation and hearsays. It is more of a matter of belief. However, ancient wisdom says that all living beings have a soul. The body gets attached to the soul at the time of birth and gets detached at the time of death. However, the soul itself is never born or dies. It just hops from body to body and is supposed to be a part of the greater congregation of souls, called the supreme reality.

The idea of a soul is a plausible one. Though cannot be proved using traditional scientific methodologies. A soul cannot be detected using any sensor. It is supposed to delve all over the body, not in any specific part. No one has seen or detected the soul leaving a body at the time of death. Wearing my engineer’s hat, I would think it is akin to software which is so prevalent in the digital  gadgets of our day to day lives. No one can see or feel the software. But it is what powers our cell phones and computers. The hardware is like a body which is pretty lifeless without the soul.

The Rinpoche talks about the need to die peacefully.  If we die with a positive frame of mind, it helps in charting a better course for future births. Well, this belief can be questioned. But regardless, dying with a positive frame of mind is a worthwhile goal to shoot for.  “We cannot hope to die peacefully if our lives have been full of violence, or if our minds have mostly been agitated by emotions like anger, attachment, or fear. If we wish to die well, we must learn how to live well.” And the importance of developing spiritual values like compassion, detachment etc. and meditative practices which help us understand our inner selves and our minds. It is only with spiritual knowledge, known as para vidya, that we can truly face, and understand,death.

“If we do not understand the illusory nature of our body, we might suffer vast emotional trauma as we lose it; and on the other hand, if we are presented with the possibility of limitless freedom, a freedom that springs precisely from the absence of the same body.” In my mind, taking care of the body and maintaining it as long as we possess it, is a good practice. It is like washing a rental car or keeping a rental home neat. But being excessively obsessive about it, worrying too much about looks, spending an undue amount of time building muscles or improving aesthetics by hiding reality,  is not the way to go. A healthy mind in a healthy body makes one wholesome.

“In Tibetan the word for body is ‘lu’ which means something you leave behind, like baggage.”   “What we have to learn, in both meditation and in life, is to be free of attachment to the good experiences and free of aversion to the negative ones.” “Experienced practitioners engage in meditative practices as they pass away.” “No less significant than preparing for our own death is helping others to die well.” ”Importance of talking positively and frequently to a dying person or to a person in a coma helps the person.” Offering this kind of spiritual care to the dying is very important. “By enabling them to see the approach of death as the time for reconciliation and reckoning. Our state of mind at death is all-important.”  “It is never too late to help someone who has died no matter how long ago it was.”

A few years back, my mind gravitated towards spiritual curiosity by this quotation from Stephen Covey, the author of a famous book “The seven habits of highly effective people”, “we are not human beings on a spiritual journey, we are spiritual beings on a human journey”. I am convinced that death and preparing for death should be taught to one and all, much like sex has been introduced in school curriculums.

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Prasad Ganti

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Suresh Rao
1 year ago

Liked it! Well narrated. Keep them coming Prasadji/

Navneet Bakshi
1 year ago

Hello Prasadji- So nice of you to have written an e-mail to me to clarify. I have heard about that book form another sources too and because I am slow reader, I forget about the books someone recommends for reading. Now downloading of the books has become so easy that I at least can download them and set them up in the queue, but still keeping the company of voracious readers such as you is very important 🙂

Navneet Bakshi
1 year ago

“The seven habits of highly effective people”, “we are not human beings on a spiritual journey, we are spiritual beings on a human journey”…Is it what that book tries to convey? Let me download it and add to my ever increasing queue of books to read. 🙂

Alka Kansra
1 year ago

Well written article. Death has fascinated many a writer. According to Hindu School of thought we are souls in human bodies. The soul travels from one birth to another.

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