Becoming Aware....

As we go through life, we come across various situations that are way beyond our capacity to deal with – and ultimately, the wheels of time makes us come to terms with the situation. Death is one such situation, which makes us really desperate. In Tamil there is a saying, that even if one is very detached, his flesh will get “agitated”(Sathai Aadum) in the event of death.

There is a story about how a king was blessed by a very pious saint, thus: “May your grandfather die before your father; may your father die before you; and may you die before your son” – the king was infuriated, and asked the sage whether he was blessing him or cursing him. Replied the sage: “O King! – the natural process of evolution, which decrees that death attends the people generation by generation, whereby the older generation dies before the next generation, is one of life’s greatest blessings. Imagine, if one were to lose someone from the succeeding generation instead of the preceding generation? Death does not differentiate between generations. That is why, if your grandfather dies before your father, and if your father dies before you, it is a great blessing” – The king understood the import of the sage’s words, and fell at his feet, the story goes.

In the Mahabarata too, we find that “Puthra Sogam” is one of the worst calamities to ever befall anyone. Death of a parent, death of a child, death of a friend, death of a brother, death of a sister, death of a pet (sometimes the pet becomes so much a part of the pet owner’s life, the death of a pet can sometimes emotionally kill the pet owner) etc, gives one a perspective of death. But this perspective is confined largely to how exactly that individual felt while experiencing the death of someone close.

How does one view one’s own death? The scriptures say that death should not be feared, nor should it be welcomed. It will come when it has to, and nobody can dictate terms. But as long as the individual is alive, he or she should do full justice to live the life one is living, before even thinking of death. Death is an experience, which gives different meanings to different persons. And death, is certainly a tough question for the atheist to answer. If the atheist is able to answer why someone dies, he should certainly be able to answer, by the same logic, as to why someone lives in the first place!

We often see funeral processions in the streets. When we see them, we often fail to realize that someday, we too, would be taken for burial/cremation like that – this is one of life’s greatest blessings – the awareness that nothing is permanent in this world. And yet, how people accumulate money! People accumulate money as if they are going to live forever. This is especially true in today’s rich, modern India, where people define their lives by the amount of money that they have.

I speak of most of these things from personal experience. My eldest brother, died in a road accident four  years back – my mother, who was alive at that time, never really recovered from that shock – and  she died barely a year after her eldest son died. I often wonder as to what my brother and my mother would have spoken to each other as soon as they saw each other in the other world. Not to talk of my father, who passed away in 1981. Time, they say heals every memory, every wound – this is so true of a wound like death – for example, soon after my father died, I thought I would not be able to live without him – for some years, it was terrible – now, after 25 years, his absence doesn’t trouble me as it did many years earlier. But there are numerous occasions, when I do something or get something that I often wish he were alive, to share my joy.

Recently, through my wife’s initiative, I started tracing some of my old school and college friends – I was truly shocked to find a number of persons had died. Seven of my high school classmates are no more – and they all have died in different accidents. Two of my PG course classmates with whom I studied in Delhi, some years back, are no more. So, to be alive, in today’s world, is in itself a blessing that we don’t really appreciate by not being aware.

But in today’s world, death is just business. Death of a prominent person is an opportunity for a few people to advertise in the newspapers – whether they are expressing sympathy or gaining business, is anybody’s guess. I remember an old friend of mine, who was so proud that a number of prominent people attended his father’s funeral (purely on the basis of the post he /the son/ was holding) –  His successor’s father too, passed away, and there were barely four people for the funeral.

These external conditions apart, what does death mean to us, internally? Because, in the ultimate sense, it is going to define, how we live! – to those for whom death means nothing, they would live life without really caring to self evolve – to those for whom death means something, they would live life in such a way that they evolve while they are alive, in order to face death as and when it comes.

In the power point presentation, “Interview with God”, available on the net, God is asked, as to what he finds most intriguing about humans – He lists certain things about humans that he finds intriguing and  among which the best I liked was : “They live like they will never die, and die like they have never lived”……

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46 responses »

  1. Durga Prasad says:

    Dear Om,
    We look at death from the wrong end. We are not humans with a soul. We are souls entrapped in a human body. In each birth, the soul assumes a body as part of its evolutionary journey. At end of each human life and after the purpose of life is served, the soul is liberated to meet its creator. Human beings call this as death, where as for the soul it is a joyful liberation. It is like a prisoner being released after serving his term in jail. While the prisoner enjoys the freedom, the inmates of the jail miss their co-prisoner. It is also like a passenger getting down from the train on reaching his destinations, while the other passenger continues their journey. Death is the joyful beginning of soul’s homeward journey to reach its creator, like a child running to embrace its mother. Understanding that death is a beginning and not an end is ‘Mrithyunjayam’ (conquering death)

    • Dear Shri Durga Prasadji,

      Thank you very much for the detailed comment. I find it very enlightening. You have very aptly termed us prisoners, and yes, when one prisoner escapes, the other inmates do miss the prisoner! Even though one understands, sir, it is very difficult to come to terms when a loved one dies, no?

  2. Thank you, Deepika, for dropping by. Yes, death is the ultimate truth of this life which no one can escape.

  3. deepika says:

    Death is the ultimate truth of this life from which no one can escape. Yes it’s a blessing in this kalyug if we get a natural death.
    Untimely demise of my motherinlaw had jolted my family and my father in law was in a state of shock for so many years.
    Very toucy piece of writing.

  4. J. Balaji says:

    Fine Om. Especially the last line.

    I have heard this “blessing of the Saint” earlier through my close friend who was working with me in Chennai and later in Palghat. It still lingers in my ears and I too, refer it at appropriate circumstances.

    During the death of a relative, I saw persons elder to the deceased were weeping. That reminded me of another Tamil saying “Tomorrow’s corpses are crying at today’s corpse”.

    Though soothing words could not console anyone on the passing away of dear ones, I think the best way to view it is to step into their shoes and see them in whatever we do, which they wanted to do. That way we would be able to relate to what the deceased did and also give you the gut feeling that he is still around alive.

    By God’s grace, Man is/was not able to conquer or predict death. Otherwise, in today’s world, he will print colourful invitations for the “D” day.

    • Thanks, Balaji,

      And yes, Balaji – one of the ways of dealing with the death of a close relative is to relate to what he/she did and and to try to see them in whatever we do.

      And regarding Man being able to predict death and colourful invitations, Balaji, you are wrong – why spend on invites when you have the ubiquitous cellphone?

      he/she will be sending SMS…..

  5. narayanan kutty says:

    actually u hav changed a lot om, i feel jealous
    anyway i want to hav a personal hello with u soon
    i will let u know when i will b coming

  6. vimala madon says:

    Thoughtful article Om. One thing I have learnt from experience is that you are never too old to feel the loss of a parent. When they die you feel like a little child, bereft and alone.
    Often I joke with my husband that the only reason to be interested in the local newspaper after a certain age is to first read the obit column! But reading about the death of a known person does give one a jolt.

    • Thank you, Madam.

      I must remember that there are two Vimalas here in Writespace, the forgetful one and the not so forgetful one! (just joking!)

      In Kerala, there are two popular newspapers which devote one entire (sometimes it is two full pages) page for Obituaries! – And most of the people I knew (I never used to read the Malayalam papers since I did not know the language) used to glance at this page first, to find out if there is any person whom they know, has passed away. In my opinion, it is very depressing to see the obit columns, even if it is to check up whether we know someone there.

      • vimala madon says:

        Here I disagree with you Om. It is one way to be with someone you may not have met for some time in their hour of bereavement; sometimes the news is a shock when you read of the passing away of someone you had met only recently. Very often the family finds this the only way to let people know, and it is nice to be able to be with them on the day of the funeral, not on the 1oth day or whatever.

      • Vimala Madon Madam,
        What you say is true, about the family finding advertising in newspapers as the only way to communicate the death of a loved one – in my blog, I was not referring to this, I was referring to the practice of OTHERS (Not the family) bereaving the dead, to gain some advantage with the bereaved family, or to express their sympathy – this is OFTEN the case, and NOT ALWAYS the case, although there are exceptions. But if the bereaved family has to find solace only through such advts, it is very sad, (unless the person who advertises lives very far away, or is UNABLE to either call or pay a visit to express his/her condolence, then) because it then shows that only those who advertised, have expressed their sympathy! – More often than not, many important persons get sympathy only through such ads these days – the business of bereavement in a commercial oriented world goes much deeper than this, and I can give many examples, but I will stop here.

        And what I told earlier was, Madam, that it is very depressing to read the obituary columns, whether to see known, or unknown people – I agree with the fact that the obit column is the ONLY way of knowing a person’s death AT TIMES!

        In today’s world, DESPITE increasing technological advances, not many really take the trouble, to go and visit the dead or to funerals, Madam, that is what is very sad…..pl see the following link if possible.

        http://omprakashnarayan.sulekha.com/blog/post/2009/01/if-you-want-your-office-colleagues-to-come-for-your.htm

        Thanks!

  7. A.Hari says:

    Dear Om,

    Very touching one. It is very difficult to reconcile with it when it happens very suddenly. I read your posting the same day it was posted and could not post the comment as I recollected several close encounters of death of relatives & friends.
    If only people remembered that death can happen to anyone at any time irrespective their repeated check ups, I hope they will be much better ‘human beings’.

    Hari

  8. Dear Om,

    We all have, some time or the other had a brush with death (an accident, attended a funeral, have had a close friend, relative dying).

    Death is indeed something hard to come to terms to. We always think that it is not going to happen to us or to our close ones, when the exact opposite is the harsh reality. And when it hits, it hits real hard….

    An introspective piece, well written..

    • Dear Shail,

      Yes, it is difficult to come to terms with. Which is why, it is all the more important to have a pre-view of the things that can happen, in the event of death – even though we do not know what exactly is death, but based on what others have undergone – so that, we are a wee bit more prepared!

  9. Geetashree Chatterjee says:

    An extremely thought provoking piece. We say time heals but I really wonder whether it does. Mind has an odd way of playing tricks and things of the past suddenly crop up in memory which were presumed to have been shelved forever. Death is one such subject and feelings associated with the same. There was a time I used to be worried about what my reactions would be or how I would cope with the death of my near and dear ones. I deliberately tried to tutor my mind to harden up to face realities. But does this kind of premeditation really help? I wonder!!!!

    • Shernaz says:

      So far as my personal experience goes, nothing – no expectation (as in a fatal illness), no premeditation – truly prepares you for a loved one’s death. I have read of yogis too breaking down on their gurus’ deaths. Perhaps their training helps them to cope better or get over it faster than we mere mortals can.

      • I agree with you, Shernaz Madam. Nothing, prepares us to cope up with a loved one’s death. Even if one is trained or is better equipped with great mental strength, when one sees the everyday objects used by the one who has just died, it brings a kind of sad memory that nothing can answer that grief – and this will keep happening every now and then and one has to have a really detached mind to NOT get affected by these.

    • Geetashree Madam,

      In my opinion, premeditation, does help, in one way – it helps us, to be prepared? But yes, it is extremely difficult to cope up with the death of near and dear ones, and I believe we cannot tutor the mind on such things – it will react the way it does, in whatever way it feels like – For example, I knew that my mother’s end was near, and yet, I just couldn’t accept her death when it came. Even though my mind was aware, and even though the mind was full of logic and reason, it just could not confront the loving tears of the heart….

  10. saji joseph says:

    dear mr om,

    Let me first thank you for this kind of eye opening messages, as you rightly commented, we live as if we will never die, our life has become a race to posses maximum wealth, with out living our wonderful moments god has gifted, only a few live thier life as they wish,leaving behind immense wealth will never make your children successful instead provide good education to your children & teach them the values of life, as that would only remain permanent, we are blessed in this world only if we can enjoy every single moment in our life and has the courage to accept ups and downs with a god fearing attitude,
    regards, saji

    • Dear Saji,
      Thanks for dropping by and giving your valuable comments. Yes, when we teach our children true values in life, it is much more precious, and it is like giving more wealth than bequeathing actual wealth.

  11. Irene says:

    I guess one never understands death… till one dies…

    • Irene, you have nailed the coffin! I rest my case…..

    • Shernaz says:

      And there is nothing to understand? Or no one?

      • Shernaz says:

        That should read – And then there is… seem to be making too many typos these days.

      • Shernaz Madam,
        I have some very close friends who have had, so to say, “Near Death” experiences. I myself, have had some experiences, which may not be proper to share here. However, in my view, Death is something that happens just once in a lifetime, and then, I believe, all of a sudden, everything – EVERYTHING changes – we may like taking a particular brand of betel nut everyday, and suddenly from the point of death, the betel nut is of no consequence to us – how do we see it? Good riddance to that fond taste, or Regret that we are not able to continue to eat the betel nut for whatever it is worth? Or, would be so dazed with the activity of death itself that we will not care whether we had/liked the betel nut or not? Will we regret that the body is not alive, or rejoice that we are free of the body? Or, regret that we cannot taste the betel nut through the physical body anymore? The possibilities, are endless, and as someone said, to each individual, it assumes different meanings….

        But I can vouchsafe for one thing though : For one to be truly evolved, one must be truly detached, which is very, very difficult. When faced with the prospect of death, I shouldn’t be thinking, “betel nut, or not?” 🙂

  12. varuniiml says:

    Death is indeed something that effects me everyday… Even if someone I don’t know dies, and I get to know of it, I keep thinking how I will handle the deaths of my loved ones (whenever it happens). Your article was refreshing as it was honest, and did not preach, rather sought to give a perspective, one that came about through personal experiences. Thank you very much for this. I now know I am not alone, and that everyone has the similar feeling when faced with the possibility death of a near-and-dear one..

    • Thank you, Varun, for your valuable comment.

      In Tamil, there is a popular (Kannadasan) Film song, “Veedu Varai Uravu” – which says that the wife’s relationship is upto the street (when the funeral procession starts) the son’s relationship is upto the cremation ground (for him to light the pyre) and who is upto the end?

      Death, as someone said earlier, is a great leveller, no?

  13. Sneha says:

    So prompt of you, Shail to replace the image. 🙂 Thank you so much.

  14. Beyniaz says:

    “The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time.” ~Mark Twain.

    Liked your blog a lot, Om.

    • Thank you, Madam.

      I have been inspired by Emily Dickinson’s poems on Death and eternity. In one, she says, “because I could not stop for death, he kindly stopped for me’ (I am quoting from memory, and I hope I am right) – as if Death was a gentleman full of civility and societal concern.

      BTW, with regard to applecious, you are on a roll, what with apple cakes, raita and brownies!

      an apple a day keeps the doctor away? 🙂

  15. Yes, Shernaz, Richard Bach’s books are to be read again and again – I think I have read Illusions more than a dozen times, and each time, I got new meanings from the book. Now after reading about Curious Lives, I am only too curious to get hold of a copy! 🙂

  16. Shernaz says:

    Death – the leveller, the dreaded, the enigma…if one sits to collect the many names it has been called by, it might equal the many names of God. But to most of us it remains a fearful mystery. Specially life after life. As to personal death, if one has been even remotely brushed by it, one’s reverence, appreciation and gratitude for life increase by leaps and bounds. A contemplative write.

    • Thank you, Shernaz, for your valuable comment. Death is indeed a great leveller.

      • Shernaz says:

        Oh Richard Bach is one of my favorite authors too. Recently I read his “Curious Lives” and I know I will read it again soon. I loved it so much. And anyway I don’t think you can read a book by him just once and put it away for good.

  17. rmuthukumar says:

    When egg hatches it becomes such a lovely joyous chick…
    When a worm dies, it is the birth of a beautiful butterfly…
    Metamorphis – The Transformation Within
    So we die to become more beautiful or to do more functional things that needs a new body….
    But at the moment of death it is very hard indeed

    I am reminded of following quote in Livingston Seagul
    If our friendship depends on things like space and time, then when we finally overcome space and time, we’ve destroyed our own brotherhood! But overcome space, and all we have left is Here. Overcome time, and all we have left is Now. And in the middle of Here and Now, don’t you think that we might see each other once or twice?

    So when knock and shock of life arrives I take strenght from these lines.

    Sorry for the long message

    • Thank you, Mr.Muthukumar!

      You have expressed some very fine sentiments and thoughts. I really liked the here and now part. In this crazy, rat race world, it is very difficult to even think of living for the moment (present) no?

      BTW, sir, Richard Bach is one of my favourite authors too. In his second book Illusions, there is a saying,”What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly”

  18. Sonal Shree says:

    I agree fully with this sentence:

    to be alive, in today’s world, is in itself a blessing that we don’t really appreciate by not being aware.

    I feel that natural death is a blessing in today’s world full of news about terrorist attacks, bomb blasts, train/air/road accidents, muders/suicides. A person who dies peacefully is the most blessed one but yes, the ones who had loved him/her are ofcourse left shattered.

  19. Sneha says:

    I’ve had the most personally disturbing experience of the death of my close ones. My life’s taken a topsy turvy U-Turn because of it.
    It’s not about the dead ones, it’s about the ones who are left mourning who suffer most.
    Then again there are questions in the mind – is death ‘THE END?’ Does the person, alive a second back just die and then there’s nothing else?
    Some questions remain unanswered.

  20. vimala ramu says:

    You are so right,Sir. But it is not death itself that worries one. It is the things that might precede death, such as utter helplessness, loss of dignity etc etc that bothers most on the threshold of death. But, the very idea of death can be taken like an yellow leaf shed by a plant. It is the natural course.

    • Thank you, Madam. As you rightly said, Death itself, doesn’t frighten many – it is the attendant problems associated with it, and you have put it correctly – helplessness on the threshold of death, that is more disturbing.

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