Death – The Inevitable Journey
It is not death that a man should fear,
but he should fear never beginning to live.
Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Life is fleeting and it is only a temporary sojourn in this world. Yet, we go about our lives filling its chapters with dreams, attainments and acquisitions, believing that each page of our vast volume will bring us untold happiness and tranquillity. It is one of the paradoxes of human life that we seem to believe that our existence on this earth is eternal and death is avoidable. Sadly, we forget that we are all travellers on a journey to nonexistence. The shadow of death remains immeasurable and mysterious, and yet we must all inevitably proceed towards it.
In fact, death begins with life’s first breath. Since death can strike at any moment and should never be regarded as a distant event, self-awakening should be our top-most goal. Perfect mystics explain to us that death is not what it seems. It is a joyous birth into a life that is far more magnificent, far more splendid than anything we can ever imagine on this physical plane. In reality, death should be regarded as an anticipated return back home, for it is the weary soul’s ascent to its resting domain. They explain to us that it is possible to face death in the eye by preparing ourselves for this inevitable event. In Living Meditation, it is stated:
Meditation is the single most practical thing we can do to prepare ourselves for what we will experience when we leave the physical world at the time of death. Death will then hold no mystery for us. Instead of being a frightening experience, it will become something we anticipate, something full of wonder, beauty and promise – something to look forward to, something we know.
Meditation is nothing but a preparation for what we will experience when we leave the physical body at the time of death.
We have been given this physical body only temporarily so that we may be able to prepare for our journey to another state of existence. This outer covering will no longer be required as we graduate to the next level of our development, and we will discard it just as we would cast away a worn out garment. Using an analogy between a silkworm and the soul, Saint Teresa of Avila explains that we must all learn to die like a silkworm. Motivated by a strong inner desire to become what its life on earth is intended to be, the silkworm, forfeiting the world of mulberry leaves and broad daylight, withdraws from the world, plunges itself in utter darkness and then emerges as a beautiful moth. Like a silkworm, if we hope to fulfil our purpose of this physical life, we must undertake the mystical journey within and experience death. However, Saint Teresa profoundly exclaims that taking this plunge and preparing for physical annihilation is no easy task:
Note very carefully, daughters, the silkworm has of necessity to die, and it is this which will cost you most; for death comes more easily when one can see oneself living a new life, whereas our duty now is to continue living this present life, and yet to die of our own free will. I confess to you that we shall find this much harder, but it is of the greatest value and the reward will be greater too if you gain the victory.
Saint Teresa of Avila, The Complete Works
Once we have experienced leaving this body voluntarily and have learned to ‘die while living’, we will no longer regard death as some dreadful catastrophe, for the shrouded mysteries of death would be fully revealed and the shadow of darkness would vanish. We would then understand that we have been placed on this earth in accordance with a divine purpose, one that would channel every thought and deed of our existence. This is evident in the life of Jalaluddin Rumi who experienced death while living and was waiting for his entrance to the Royal Court of Magnificence. In fact, the night of Rumi’s death is known as ‘Rumi’s Wedding Night’, the occasion when Rumi was finally united with his Beloved in eternal life – a unification he had so often sought in mystical practice. His death had led him to exaltation and divine glory where happiness knows no bounds.
On the day of death, when my coffin is on the move,
Do not suppose I have any pain at leaving this world.
When you see my hearse, say not
“Leaving! He’s leaving!”
That time will be for me union and encounter.
When you commit me to the grave,
Say not “Farewell! Farewell,”
For the grave is a veil over the reunion of Paradise.
Jalaluddin Rumi, as quoted in Rumi and His Sufi Path of Love
Once the fear of death is removed, we will no longer be blinded by it. Death would then be regarded as a release from the body, an opportunity to depart from this physical plane, to be united with our Beloved – who is so glorious, so full of mercy, so full of love – and an invitation to take abode in His celestial sanctuary.