What Dies? What Lives?

What Dies? What Lives?
Wavebreak Media LTD

'He had revenge on Death, for he died well',

A poet wrote in life's far distant spring,

Stumbling on truth. Death's fabled heaven and hell

And drearier prospect yet the new times bring

Of a blank nothingness hedge like a ring

The seeming self whose lifelong passing bell

Tolls in his ears, although the mind may cing

To fragile hopes the gathering years dispel.

But 'Die before you die' the Prophet said:

Give up the seeming self that from the world

Falls into death; remains that Self instead

Wherein earth, heaven and hell like dreams are furled.

The world in you, not you in it, has died,

For That you are and nothing else beside.

– ‘Death’, a poem by Arthur Osborne

The very idea of death seems painful and tragic. We imagine the numerous sorrows that come with it. But most of all, the pain of separation. Separation from a person physically, separated from their memories. It is also because change in itself is painful. It forces us to move on from what is known and familiar. And no one likes to see themselves in a situation that is unknown and unfamiliar.

Though we cringe, shudder and try to evade the idea of death, the truth is that it is all around us. It is surprising how evident death is, and yet how unaccustomed we are to it. The death of the night is the birth of the morning. The death of light, the birth of darkness. The death of the untrue, the birth of truth. The death of ignorance, the birth of knowledge. Even if not in the mystical sense, death and birth is all around us.

Don’t we see leaves fading, dying and drifting away? How about a million mosquitoes that are swatted and killed every given moment? Not to mention the cells in our bodies which give away to new ones. Creation and destruction become the insignia of life. Yet we celebrate one and fear the other.

During this pandemic, world over we saw human deaths becoming numbers. Mere statistics at the end of the day. But each loss would have been so personal and real to their kith and kin. The intensity of pain and sorrow is directly proportional to degree of attachment. Why, sometimes the death of a popular leader or artist also leaves a society bereft! We tend to identify so closely with them. And when they die, we feel like a part of us dies with them.

Then, the natural question that comes to the mind is, ‘who lives?’

In the poem, the poet extols us to give up the seeming self that actually falls into death. This seeming self is nothing but all the temporary things we identify with - the body, the mind and the intellect. All of these have an expiry date. And all that’s associated with them too have an expiry date. Beauty and youth, gone. Emotions and relations, gone. Thoughts and ideas, fleeting, gone. So, death is but imminent for the self.

Then, why not identify with That which is deathless, immortal? That which is the very essence and meaning of Life. That which lives. Even before we arrived at this truth, the masters had thundered, ‘Thou art That’. Bid goodbye to that which is dying, and awaken to that which lives in you. Is You. As Arthur Osbornes concludes, you are nothing besides That.

(Article written in remembrance of Swami Chinmayananda, who attained samadhi on 3rd August 1993. He continues to live in our every breath, word and deed. Unto Him.)

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Chinmaya Udghosh