Is it possible for us to change the way we think about death? Read on to know more.
Death evokes a variety of feelings and fears in most of us. Some of us spend our lives worrying about death. For others, death seems remote, something that 'cannot happen to us', until the idea of death draws closer either by old age or by the death of one's loved ones. Death is inevitable, yet commonly seen as undesirable and scary. May be it is time to revaluate our attitudes towards death.
Fear of Death
'What will happen after I die?' is an oft-asked question despite the huge number of religious and spiritual books that claim to have the answer. The fear of death is basically the fear of the unknown.
We seek continuity of ourselves in every moment of our lives. When we transfer this desire to the unmapped territory called death, a strange fear grips us.
To a certain extent, fear of death is natural, and a necessary survival mechanism. By being afraid of death, we take appropriate precautions such as being careful with fire, wearing a safety belt in the car, etc. However, this fear sometimes takes an irrational turn, and manifests as a crippling phobia or a violent thought that refuses to leave your mind.
Embrace the Inevitable
During the time of the Buddha, a poor old woman lost her only son. Driven by anguish, she implored the enlightened one to bring her son to life. In a voice brimming with compassion, he said "Mother, do not grieve. I will restore your son's life. But for that, bring me a handful of mustard seeds from the house of someone where no one has died." The poor woman went from door to door, asking for mustard seeds, only to realise that death had not spared anybody, rich or poor, young or old. Realising the futility of her request, the old woman joined the Buddha's monastery.
Realising that you are going to die someday is the first truth you have to come to terms with. The Tibetans have a saying, "Of all the meditation techniques, the one on death is supreme". This does not mean thinking morbid or scary thoughts, but realising in a calm way that all that is born will have to die some day.
Sogyal Rinpoche, writer of The Tibetan Book of the Living and Dying, says, "In Tibet, we do not celebrate the birthdays of the masters; we celebrate their death, their moment of final illumination".
The unorthodox spiritual teacher, Osho was asked why his followers celebrate death. He replied, "Yes, my sannyasins celebrate death because they celebrate life. And death is not against life; it does not end life, it only brings life to a beautiful peak."
Some view life and death simply as two sides of the same coin. They believe one cannot truly live without dying to one's yesterdays and tomorrows.
Exploring the concept of psychological death further, philosopher J. Krishnamurti says, "You cannot live if you do not die psychologically every minute. This is not an intellectual paradox. To live completely, wholly, every day as if it was a new loveliness, there must be dying to everything of yesterday, otherwise you live mechanically, and a mechanical mind can never know what love is or what freedom is."
Do we really die?
"Just as a man casts off his worn-out clothes and takes on other new ones, so does the soul cast off its worn out body and enter a new one." - Bhagwad Gita
The common theme of most religions is the presence of an afterlife such as heaven, hell, or another life on Earth or some other realm. In a unique phenomenon called near-death experiences (NDE), many people though declared clinically dead were brought back to life. In their 'dead state', almost all had a common theme: passing through a dark tunnel and seeing an indescribably beautiful light at the end of it, which was the epitome of love, beauty, and compassion.
Our purpose on Earth
Another important aspect of most NDE survivors is their changed perspective to life. They emerge as better human beings with a greater appreciation of life, now that they have come to terms with their fear of death. They have a heightened sense of purpose, and are concerned about their families, friends, society, and even the planet.
We do not need an NDE to appreciate life. Each one of us can live life to the fullest, without regrets. Everyday, ask yourself these three questions:
When the answer to these simple questions is always 'yes', death can no longer scare us; it is just a pleasant culmination of the greatest gift on earth—life.
- Have I lived life to the fullest?
- Have I loved?
- Have I laughed?