Friday, November 16, 2007

The Encounter with Death

The unknown instills fear. While encountering the unknown the first instinct is to wish it away. Such wishful thinking, with all the apparent comfort it may seem to provide, takes one away from reality. It is a deluded existence. In that state of delusion one tends to believe that the trauma of death is something that happens only to others. The primary step in the search for truth is the acceptance of the fact that the phenomenon of death applies very much to oneself. While facing the stark reality of one’s own mortality the delusions that were used to prop up the wishful thinking falls away and one acquires the freedom to perceive truth as it is.

With the total acceptance of the reality that one is bound by death, the child Nachiketas acquires the authority to venture into the secrets that connect this domain of mortality with the immortality that transcends this domain. He says to himself:

Bahoonaamemi prathamo
Bahoonaamemi madhyamaah
Kimsvid yamasya kartavyam
Yanmaya/dya karishyati

‘This process of death is not something that is being initiated by me. I am the predecessor to the many who will be gobbled up by death after me. But this is an ongoing process and I am only one of the many rushing towards death right now. What exactly is the purpose of this process? And what can I meaningfully contribute to it by my participation?’

Nachiketas is talking the language of one who wants to belong totally. For any entity the penultimate process is the process of consummation that takes away its identity. Shedding of identity is a negative experience as long as one wants to hold on to one’s ego. When one gives up ego it becomes a positive experience. Nachiketas is fully prepared for this sacrifice and boldly reflects on what he can contribute in the final act of consummation.

Anupashya yathapoorve
Pratipashya tathaapare
Sasyamiva martyah pachyateh
Sasyamiva jayate punah

Generally men don’t confront death intelligently. They have seen and heard about the deaths that have happened before. And they keep anticipating the death of others. The unknown, however, is not eliciting in the minds of men the curiosity to know. Instead, it clouds the faculties for understanding by anxiety and fear making proper knowing difficult. In such a dumb state intelligence is frozen and men get consumed like vegetation and gets reborn as vegetation again and again. By confronting death without fear Nachiketas frees his intelligence to pursue deeper spiritual questions.

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