Our Soldiers Need Better Preparation for Life after Death
The title of this article comes from a speech about leadership made in 2007 by General Sir Richard Dannatt, then head of the British Army. Death is not the end, and soldiers going into war should receive better spiritual support, he proposed. Good leadership should encourage awareness of the spiritual dimension of life and the reality of life after death.
Sir Richard’s view on our need for spirituality is in accord with that of the mystics; moreover saints inform us that life itself on this plane is a war. They explain that life beyond death is the reality and that this life is the illusion.
The War of Life
The saints clearly present the truth that we live in a sphere of karma, of suffering. Rumi explains:
When you consider it, this world is in continuous war,
atom with atom, like faith against infidelity.
One atom flies to the left, another to the right,
one atom up, another down, seeking each other:
In this tendency, behold a war manifest.
This manifest war is the result of a hidden war:
Know that this discord springs from that.…
War in nature, war in deeds, war in words –
there is a terrible war between all the parts
The world is maintained by means of this war:
look at the elements and you will understand it.
The four elements are four sturdy pillars
by which the roof of the present world is held in place.
Yet each pillar is a destroyer of the other:
the pillar of water is a destroyer of fire, and so on.
Rumi, as quoted in A Treasury of Mystic Terms
Rumi explains the whole world is in a state of warfare, starting with polaric repulsion at the atomic level. He says that open conflict between religious groups, conflicts in nature and in our individual lives are simply a reflection of the underlying antagonism within matter.
He explains that this state of conflict is obvious considering that this world is made of four physical elements: earth, water, fire and air. Each element is capable of attacking the other, for instance fire is extinguished by water and water is evaporated by air.
Nature is at war with itself in that all the life-forms on our planet are warlike: their first instinct is survival – to get food and shelter. Getting their food means killing another species whilst they will be killed for food in their turn. This state of nature, as well as the terrible wars between nations and all the horrible suffering involved, is an outward manifestation of inner turmoil. Rumi’s poignant verse infers that peace is beyond human ability. But in the last verse of his commentary he provides the solution:
Since the essence, the spirit, is beyond these oppositions, its nature is not contrary like this; it is divine …
When the spirit sets its face towards the divine Beloved, it lays down its baggage and passes into life eternal.
Rumi explains that when the spirit within us starts to make its way homewards to God, all its baggage of body, mind and emotions, with the resulting accumulated karmas, are laid down and discarded. The divine reality within us doesn’t have these attributes of the physical, it is not made of elements that mutually repel, it is pure love, pure Shabd.
So what is this life we are enduring? Here are three poets powerfully offering their views:
Life’s but a walking shadow; a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more: it is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
William Shakespeare, Macbeth
Shakespeare observes that if we look at our life span carefully, we will realize that it’s over before we know it. And when we shuffle off this mortal coil, perhaps we might think people would be sad and miss us dreadfully but, he suggests, think again. Our spouse or children might shed a tear at our passing but what about the wider world? It didn’t even know we existed, let alone care that we are gone.
He says we are just poor actors in a short little play – that is the sum of our lifespan, … it is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. If we analyze these words carefully we will realize how true they are in describing the lot of mankind. All the hectic activity that we hurl ourselves into: the frantic worrying, the plotting, the scheming, in the end are just that – a tale told by an idiot.
Bob Dylan, in a song called Idiot Wind sings:
Idiot wind, blowing through the buttons of our coats,
Blowing through the letters that we wrote.
Idiot wind, blowing through the dust upon our shelves,
We’re idiots babe,
It’s a wonder we can even feed ourselves.
Dylan is making a similar point to Shakespeare’s: look at our lifestyle, it is idiotic and self-destructive. We worldly people go frantically through life chasing after the illusion of pleasure through possessions, status, family or sensual enjoyment and then merely burn out; we die and are forgotten. Dylan uses the image of a wind to suggest our karmic environment, encircling us, making us so idiotic that it’s a wonder we can even feed ourselves.
The next famous quotation looks at our life beyond the physical:
Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:
The soul that rises with us, our life’s Star,
Hath had elsewhere its setting,
And cometh from afar:
Not in entire forgetfulness,
And not in utter nakedness,
But trailing clouds of glory do we come
From God, who is our home …
William Wordsworth, Intimations of Immortality
Wordsworth explains that when we take birth we forget our divine origin. His inspiring words inform us that our soul is the eternal reality, and though we fall into the deep sleep of this life, our soul remembers and tries to nudge us out of our slumber. The great poets give a hint of the truth but perfect Masters provide the complete truth.
Death and Life after Death
So what is the nature of death? Maharaj Charan Singh explains in Quest for Light:
You ask me why your friend had to die. The answer is very simple. Every one has to leave this world one day. Only death is certain. Nothing else in this world is certain. And death does not take into consideration our age, wisdom, youth, love, wealth, dignity or devotion, nor does it wait for permission from anyone. It does not care whether you love its victim or hate him. Such happenings come to us as a warning – to set us thinking as to the transitory nature of our existence here; that we also shall have to leave it one day. We never think seriously about this matter. If we would, we would certainly not forget our meditation as we do.
Maharaj Charan Singh patiently explains that death is the only certain thing about life. We should not be complacent, thinking we have youth and a healthy body, or that our karmas have given us time and money to pamper our body. Death is a fact, so when it takes a son or daughter, spouse or parent, why do we question it? Do we not hear what the Master is saying? Death is the reality and life is the illusion. Hazur Maharaj Ji states that if we could only remember this, there would be no question of ever missing meditation. If we are initiated, meditation comes first in our lives and everything else can wait.
So we can understand that it is not just soldiers who need better preparation for life after death: we do too.
Preparation for Life and Death
How can we humans best prepare for life after death? As Hazur Maharaj Ji often used to say, we need to take a positive approach.
Most of us have had direct contact with Maharaj Charan Singh or Baba Gurinder Singh and have heard them seemingly endlessly, patiently, lovingly suggest that it is living according to the four principles of Sant Mat that can both help us to live life to the full and prepare us to die. When a soul is brought into the orbit and influence of the saints, into their aura of protection, she is encouraged to change the self-destructive behaviour in which she is trapped like a fly in a web into positive, soul-supporting behaviour through adopting these four principles.
A human can be awe-struck and freeze at the cosmic vastness of this undertaking: How can a wretch like me go from puny human to being one with God? But Baba Ji reassures us that every smallest step makes a difference.
The Sant Mat way of life takes us from being part of the war-zone to being part of a place where eternal peace reigns. The four principles of vegetarianism, avoidance of mind-altering intoxicants, moral living and daily meditation are truly a fortress. And the Master who initiated us is our general, sent by the Creator on a mission to save souls and lead them out of this battle-torn wilderness. When we have such love, grace and protection all around us, how can we fail?
Our soldiers need better preparation for life after death, proposed a very enlightened military commander. The Master concurs – all souls are his little soldiers.