Dare to See the Other Side of Death
In satsangs we often hear that few of us think about our own death, especially when we are young. As a young seeker, I would like to correct this observation because I do think about death a great deal! However, contemplating my own mortality was making me fearful and anxious. So, feeling fed up with my negative outlook, I decided to explore the matter in more detail, and I’d like to share my findings with you. I promise to try and make this article liberating and empowering and to reduce the fear associated with death as far as possible.
In general, when any mention is made of death, we do one of two things. Either we avoid the subject altogether and attach ourselves to transitory things. Or, if we do reflect upon death, we become fearful -I know I did. However, both responses show that we are turning a blind eye to the inevitable truth that one day, everyone, no matter if they are rich or poor, healthy or ill, young or old, has to die. The inevitability of this will not change, no matter how much we avoid the subject or worry about it. However, we can adopt a more positive outlook by understanding why we are so anxious:
Everybody has a terrible fear of the unknown. It is the lack of knowledge of the future and the past that causes this fear.… For an intelligent person there should be no fear of death. This fear exists only so long as the veil of ignorance darkens the inner knowledge.
Maharaj Charan Singh, Quest for Light
The whole world has for ages shuddered at this ominous but inevitable fate which hangs over us all. They dread it because they do not understand it. It is like a child crying at the darkness. It is afraid because it cannot see what is there. People fear death because they do not know what it involves.
The Path of the Masters
We should obtain comfort from these quotes because they make it crystal clear that we are not alone in fearing death. It is natural to be scared, because death is something alien to us. From my perspective, it’s a bit like life, when we often feel apprehensive in unfamiliar situations or when dealing with those with whom we have little experience. It is only when we have faced the situation, acquired experience, and gained deeper knowledge that the fear is eased. Similarly, until that personal inner knowledge and experience is gained, the fear of death is likely to remain buried within.
Let’s turn to the reasons why we avoid thinking about death, beginning with a quotation from Mysticism, The Spiritual Path:
It is very astonishing indeed that we seldom think of death, although it may occur at any moment. For us there are always two possibilities – life or death. We are so much taken up with the thoughts of this life that we have no time to think of the other alternative – death. Our wisdom is confined to the concerns of this world, and we are extremely inconsistent, because we do not use our prudence for our spiritual welfare. In worldly affairs we are very wise. In earning our daily bread we try to be extra clever and make as much money as we can by working hard day and night, but we never realize that this body, for which we do so much, is after all to be taken away from us.
I love how bluntly truthful these observations are. We are so attached to the world that we are oblivious to the fact that one day we are not going to exist in the creation. For some strange reason, no matter how many times it’s been explained to us that the material world is an illusion, we continue to associate ourselves with the mind and body, and view loved ones as belonging to us. It hardly ever crosses our mind that our body will perish and our family and friends will leave us one day. In fact, I wonder if the attention we give to worldly pursuits is a coping mechanism through which we try to deal with this harsh and horrible truth.
Is it possible to get past the grim associations that we have with death and, if so, how? Let’s press on to find out:
In … worldly matters we are wise enough never to undertake a journey without detailed planning.… But when it comes to the matter of death which is hovering over all of us, have we made preparations? Just as we arrange for food before we leave on a journey, have we made any arrangements for our final journey by spiritual practice?
What wonderful questions! They’re so direct. How would we answer them? Clearly, there is an emphasis being placed on preparation, advice which is also given by Maharaj Sawan Singh:
Mark that we are here for a short time only, and in the end even our bodies will desert us.… At that time neither friends nor our worldly greatness will help us. Only ‘the Word’ and our Satguru will relieve us. Therefore, even now begin to prepare for that event, lest you be found wanting in the time of trial.
The Dawn of Light
The Great Master is urging us to overturn our negative attitude by approaching death intelligently, without fear, and, most important, by preparing for its occurrence. But how can we prepare for death? What do we need to do? As Maharaj Charan Singh explains in Die to Live, we need to do our meditation because:
Meditation is nothing but a rehearsal during one’s whole life for that end – death.… This whole Sant Mat way of life and attending to our meditation is nothing but a preparation for that particular time.… Meditation is nothing but dying daily … when that particular time comes, those who have not died while living start crying and protesting and weeping, and say they don’t want to die.… When the Lord gives the opportunity now to leave the body and to materialize the effect of meditation, then we should make use of it.
So meditation is a way of preparing for death and it will help us overcome our fears. It will also bring us closer to our Master. Building a relationship with him is very important because, in the end, only the Master is going to stay with us, and only he will be able to guide and protect us. Therefore, is it not logical that we make that relationship stronger than anything else? It’s the only thing that is going to help us when all else fades away.
For those of us who are initiated, we have an opportunity to prepare for death by doing our meditation. For those of us who aren’t, we can prepare ourselves by the way we think about death. In fact, whether we are initiated or not, we would all benefit from training our mind to think more positively about our demise. This may be more easily said than done, but we need to try. Here are some quotes that could help:
It is time that men cease to think of death in such a gloomy mood. In fact, there is no death at all. There is simply a shifting of the scenes, and awakening in a new world. Death is a glaring deception.
The Path of the Masters
Death … is only the name given to the phenomenon of the soul leaving the body.… It is merely the withdrawal of the soul from the gross senses, and its entrance into finer regions.… It does not mean annihilation. There is life after death, although we may not be able to see it.
Maharaj Sawan Singh, Philosophy of the Masters, Vol.1
Many of us may find it difficult to think about death in the terms described above. Surely, though, as followers of Sant Mat, we should seek to understand this truth. It may be an uphill struggle to do so, but if we truly want to change our negative outlook on death, then we need to start preparing for it now. In the little time that has been allocated to us, let’s be spiritually smart and use the gift of life wisely. Let’s act now by doing our meditation and dare to see the other side of death.
If you do not recollect death, you will not practise Dharma seriously, nor will you be able to practise continually…. Our not recollecting death and impermanence is to blame.
As quoted in Buddhism: A Path to Nirvana