Life is Short, and We Are Dying
In a world where most of us fear, avoid, and fight against death in every possible way, saints tell us something wonderfully refreshing. They say that death is actually part of life; it is not the end of our journey, but rather a step forward in our evolution. With each birth and death that we experience in this creation, we are ever transforming. So, we can view death from a higher perspective: to be mortal, to have been born in a human form that must die, is a gift that allows us to make the most of our limited time on this earth.
Life here is an opportunity for growth and learning. The present Master urges us to use with thoughtful care what the Lord has bestowed on us. We find ourselves in the school of life, in which the journey of the soul lies in its evolution until it realizes its true nature and achieves union with its source – the Lord.
The great paradox is that, knowing that we are fallible creatures, insignificant in the story of the universe, we must live our lives with purpose. We find ourselves in this illusion, this web of maya that cajoles us to believe we are this body, this mind, this personality. We spend countless hours and endless energy on creating a world we perceive to be real, constantly searching for security and certainty in a place where none exists. Slowly we begin to see that in this ever-changing physical realm, nothing lasts forever, and we actually have no control over any of it. We are simply playing our part in the game of life.
Yet the saints tell us that this human life is a rare gift, not to be wasted, but rather cherished and fulfilled. Ultimately, we are asked to both embrace death and live to our highest, fullest potential. What is that potential? Maharaj Charan Singh explains in Die to Live:
This form is bestowed upon us for the sole purpose of attaining God-realization. It is the only exit with which the Lord has provided us to escape from the vast prison house of the phenomenal world.
At the same time, as the American author and poet Mark Nepo writes in The Book of Awakening:
We cannot live fully until we can first accept our eventual death…. Only when we can accept that we are fragile guests on this Earth … will we be at home wherever we are.
With every moment that passes, we are closer to our death. With every breath we take, we move toward our end – “fragile guests on this Earth.” Maybe that realization can help us to live with more gratitude and awareness. As spiritual seekers, we can use the certainty of our death as a catalyst for fulfilling our duty to our Master and ultimately, our duty to ourselves. It can force us to face our life, let go of the drama and constant tugging of the world, and refocus our energy on what is essential – our spiritual purpose.
The great mystery of death has left many philosophers and thinkers scratching their heads. This riddle that cannot be solved, that brings us to our knees, draws us out of the small story of “me” and propels us toward faith and trust in a higher power. The Masters say that although our physical bodies die, our true essence remains immortal. In the book from self to Shabd, we read: “True spiritual Masters tell us that we are not our body, and they advise us on how to make conscious contact with who we really are before we die.”
So now we have the opportunity to realize the truth for ourselves – to die while living, as the saints call it. Shedding the self as we know it and merging with the Shabd or Word gives us the highest ideal and goal to work toward. Hazur writes in Die to Live:
At the time of initiation, the Master teaches the disciple the technique of withdrawing his consciousness from the entire body, up to the eye centre, where he comes in contact with the Sound Current. The mystics refer to the process of vacating the body and withdrawing the consciousness to the eye centre as “dying while living.”
This is the essence of Sant Mat and our daily meditation practice, which slowly turns our attention away from the world to the Shabd within. All of the constructs and concepts we use to describe this life – and death – are only to satisfy the mind. To really understand the nature of life and death, we must go beyond the mind. To accomplish this, the Masters give us the gift of meditation, through which we can experience the reality of life and death for ourselves.
How simple and natural is this act of meditation, which ultimately will lead us to union with the true Shabd form of the Master. We are not asked to dress in any particular way or to run to mountains or caves and live as ascetics. We come to meditation with all the baggage our minds carry, all our emotions and our thoughts – all of our stuff. All we are asked to do is sit in meditation every day, without fail.
When we sit down to meditate, we are preparing to face ourselves, without any deception, illusions or masks. And every day, with practice, we come closer to leaving behind everything that we believe we are, so that we can finally see our truth – and, with it, our beloved Master. As the Japanese poet Basho put it: “Sitting quietly, doing nothing, Spring comes, and the grass grows, by itself.”
In Daniel Ladinsky’s book The Gift, Hafiz tells us:
This world is a treacherous place
And will surely slay and drown the lazy.
The only life raft here is love
And the Name.
Say it brother,
O, say the divine Name, dear sister,
Silently as you walk.
Don’t die again
With the holy ruby mine inside
Hafiz reminds us to cultivate the treasure that is within every human being. He refers to the Name or Shabd as our life raft, our anchor in the stormy comings and goings of the world. Urging us to make full use of this rare chance, this potential for realization, he pleads with us not to die again in ignorance of the truth.
Through meditation we die every day; we experience the slow death of our ego, this “me” we have spent so many years building up. We gradually learn to let go of our attachment to this body, our relations, our ideas and possessions. We die to everything unreal so that we can realize the unwavering, unconditional presence of the Shabd.
Almost as a warning, yet with firm, loving insistence, the mystics remind us that our time here is short. Do not waste this precious opportunity, they advise, for one never knows when death will call. Now is our time to practice, so that when our physical death comes, we will be ready and able to recognize our Master and the love that has always been our real abode and everlasting truth.