All sane people have it — the fear of death. Let me segregate it into two parts: fear from an immediate threat and the fear of losing life in the distant future. At the bottom of the second type is not just the fear of ever-inevitable death but also of life not ending in your preferred way.
There is a fear of losing everything you earned throughout your life, your relationships, your wealth, and above all, you. Often the greatest attachment one has, is to oneself, and death is about separation.
Hence the fear of death is one of the greatest. It separates the real you from all that you thought you were.
Death asked Life, “We are simply the flip side of each other, yet why do people love you and hate me?”
“Because,” said Life, “I’m a beautiful lie, and you’re the painful truth.”
Last year, a young man, single and adventurous, let’s call him Krish, visited me at the ashram. Once, he told me that during one of his treks in the Himalayas, he managed to reach the furthest accessible point, just a few kilometers away from the Indo-China border. Everything was snow white. His guide led him to the cave of a hermit. They sat in the cave, and the sage offered them to stay overnight. It was a clear sky; irresistible. You have to spend a night in the Himalayas to know what I mean.
Krish decided to camp outside for the night. The hermit warned him of the danger of wild animals around, a concern he immediately whiffed off as ludicrous. The spirit of adventure can easily subdue common sense. “Yeah, right! Wild animals in this snowy region? Even vegetation can’t hold out here, let alone animals,” Krish thought. The guide chose to stay inside the cave, though. He had a family to feed. His responsibilities required him to operate within the periphery of reason and sanity.
It was a magnificent night indeed, and at around midnight, Krish pulled down the zipper of his tent to take a peek at the Himalayan sky. He had to blink a few times, however, and pinch himself to validate what met his sight. There it was, as majestic as it looked, only a few feet away, a snow leopard glimmering under the soft moonlight.
With his heart in his mouth, Krish pulled the zipper back up in the most silent manner. Suddenly, he became aware of all the elements his life rested on. He could hear his own breath, his heartbeat, his pulse; he felt saliva drying up in his mouth, not only could he feel every passing moment, but he could hear it too. The wild cat, lithe and light, faint and fierce, approached the tent and began circling it, as if circumambulating its prey in some sacred tribal ritual, before sacrificing it.
“Those thirty minutes, Swami,” Krish said to me, “were like a lifetime. I could feel sweat even on that icy cold night. I could understand how good meditation brings about crystal clear awareness of absolutely everything around you. Admittedly, this understanding came after the leopard had gone. Never before in my life had I realized the real duration of thirty minutes.”
You know what else gives you that experience of razor-sharp awareness? Solitude. Minus the fear, of course. The feline animal went off for a different meal, leaving Krish behind meditating on the leopard for the rest of the night. There was no effort in that meditation. Krish sat there still. He felt no pains, no aches. Fear had conquered them all. He wanted to sleep, he wanted to think of different things, but fear reigned supreme, he could only think about the object of his fear; such is human nature.
Fear is our oldest acquaintance; it is easily recognized. Like with their possessions, humans have attachment to their fears too. To be fair, probably anyone in his situation would have spent the remainder of the night in much the same manner as he did. His pants remained dry; that was brave enough, I thought. By the way, Krish is very dear to me, and I find him a fantastic individual. Fear of anything is greatly dependent on our outlook towards it.
If we change our perspective, the nature of the fear changes too. If you start to look upon death as a mere pause and not an abrupt end, you may even begin to like it, much less loath it. Think about this: once you cross the chasm of death, you will get another chance at life, another childhood, another youth, one more chance at living, at loving, at being.
“Yes, death. Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one’s head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no to-morrow. To forget time, to forget life, to be at peace. You can help me. You can open for me the portals of death’s house, for love is always with you, and love is stronger than death is.”
(Oscar Wilde, The Canterville Ghost)
Nothing is dying, nothing is taking rebirth. Don’t let the illusion fool you. Matter is merely being transformed. Water evaporates, and it rains back down again. Everything in the play of nature remains part of the game — eternally. There are no exceptions or exclusions. Only the roles change, only the shapes vary. The sum total remains the same. You are an eternal being, an ocean of bliss. Oceans don’t dry up. Drop your fears, live every moment. Rejoice. What are you on clinging to? Non-attachment leads to no-fear. How absurd it is to be afraid of the final destination of life. If we are scared of the destination, how can we possibly enjoy the journey?
No matter what your belief, irrespective of whether or not you believe in the afterlife, rebirth, or reincarnation, the real you remains the immutable soul. When you are sleeping, and you are not aware of yourself, it is aware. When you are unconscious for any reason and do not have any knowledge of yourself, it does. Why you connect with someone just by hearing their name, even though you may have never met them, is because of it.
It is the linchpin of all life, the string in the pearl-necklace, the fragrance of a rose, the heat in fire, the cold in ice, the essence of all phenomena, the warmth in the heart, the emotion in your tears. ‘It’ is your atman, the soul. Indestructible. Indivisible. Complete. Unfathomable. Unknowable.
Rethink your life. Rewrite your rules. It’s about time.