Unsatisfied Curiosity

During this week, I received news about the sad demise of 2 people I know. May their souls rest in peace. The news of death of someone you know closely is always disturbing.

By far the most mysterious thing about life is death. The moment one hears about death, one becomes speechless and observes profound silence. One doesn’t even know how to express one’s anguish, sorrow and sadness.

In spite of thousands of centuries of exploration, none could solve the puzzle of death.  Scientists have researched, philosophers have speculated, poets have written on death since times immemorial – yet none of the insights could make us fearless in the face of death.

Zen masters say there is nothing like death or birth – Things manifest when the conditions are ripe and vanish the moment those conditions are withdrawn. Everything oscillates between manifest and unmanifest states depending upon conditions. In support of this an analogy of cloud transforming to rain, rain into river and river finally going back into the sky as cloud is used. But this theoretical speculation doesn’t take us too far. Can I, for instance, feel satisfied with the presence of my mother (who passed away a few years back) in the form of  her love, feelings, emotions, words of wisdom etc? It is a tall order. Honestly, there’s no substitute for someone’s physical presence. Call it conditioning or whatever. The fact of the matter is that we all long for gross physical presence along with the emotional presence. Don’t we?

Let us see what Vedanta has to say. It says famously that there is no death for ‘Atman’, which we really are. Death is only for the body, which we are not. But to reach this state calls for the real understanding of the knowledge of who we really are. It is not enough if we intellectually understand this. It has got to be assimilated and experienced every moment. As long as it doesn’t happen, these statements saying that we are Atman etc do not offer any solace.

J Krishnamurthy, another great thinker of this century has this to say about death: ‘So, what is it that dies? And what is it one is frightened of in death? Losing the known?…..Losing my house? Losing all things I acquired?Losing this content of Consciousness? (If  so) Can the content of consciousness be emptied? Living means to die every moment(to our past) and enjoy every new moment as it surfaces’. Asked about reincarnation, he quipped: ‘Reincarnate now …. by emptying the content of your consciousness filled with anger, envy, jealousy, anxieties’ etc. One can see a Budhist influence here, perhaps.

How easy is it to live up to these ideals, anyway? One needs to have tremendous emotional maturity to live a life free from all mental conditioning.

As long as we do not develop emotional maturity and spiritual understanding, the question about death will continue to haunt us. It will only  leave us with the following famous lament by Beryl Markham: “That’s what makes death so hard – –  unsatisfied curiosity”.

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