Thinking of the Inevitable

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by Bhupinder Singh

My CD player was playing these words of the shabad (hymn) from Gurbani:

Haadd jale jaise lakaree kaa toolaa.
Kes jale jaise ghaas kaa poolaa.
2.” — (SGGS, Pg. No.870)

Translation: The bones burn, like a bundle of logs; and the hair burns like a bunch of hay. 2.

These words of Kabir hit me on the head like a log. Oh my God! My time is approaching too and soon, real fast. The pull of desire to live a fuller, unending life is so strong in humans, that we are always looking for ways to extend it, but don’t think of the inevitable fate. We go to great lengths to embellish our body, dress fashionably, groom our hair and nails etc. to impress and to look good. There is a full scale industries dedicated to improvise on the physical appearance, grooming, hair salons to hair transplant centers, and trove of surgical procedures to keep us looking young and attractive. The list and efforts are unending. The design of our mind is so compelling that the thought of death completely absent. We may have many issues in our life, but death is not the one. We don’t think about it, so we don’t prepare for it. On the contrary most people are ready to snub, whosoever raises the issue of the mortality. One big reason could be the fear of the unknown, as no one knows about the aftermath of death. Let us ask Kabir Ji, how the cremation spectacle impacted him? He says:

Kabir haadd jare jiau laakaree kes jare jiau ghaas.
Eih jag jarataa dhekh kai bhio Kabir udhaas. 36
.” — (SGGS, Pg. No.1366)

Translation: Kabir, the bones burn like wood and the hair burns like hay. Seeing the — (whole) world burning like this — (and reduced to ashes), Kabir has become detached — (from the love of the body). 36.

Thus the spectacle of witnessing the last rites being performed numbed him profoundly, yet it fails to impact us in the same manner. Why that ultimate reality does not feel close or real? In fact, when we go shopping we check the expiry dates of the product we are about to purchase, but what about our own expiry date? That is not visible to us, nor do we have a device to check it, so we close our eyes to it. Further, what will be our fate after death, which we cannot foresee? We have no clue. Kabir Ji has expressed about our lack of foresight in these words:

Apane karam kee gat mai kiaa jaanau.
Mai kiaa jaanau baabaa re. 1. Rahaau
.” — (SGGS, Pg. No.870)

Translation: What do I know, about the results of my karma? What do I know — (of its consequences), O Baba? 1. Pause.

Here Kabir Ji has laid bare the human conundrum. We may have become educated, erudite, scholars, authority, and an expert; yet totally unaware of the final fate that awaits us. We do not know anything about the journey of our soul after it departs from the body. From the skeptics, there will a vehement opposition to the very mention that there are consequences and reincarnations. Just not to get into a debate on this enigmatic issue of soul’s fate after death; let us first look at other very tangible issues that we as individuals need to address for ourselves, in the end of the life scenario. Now, that is a real issue we can relate to, for which there is no debate or doubts. We have seen others face it, we know that it awaits us. I am not referring to the Last Will addressing property and wealth transfer, but about end of life care scenario. Not being a medical doctor, I   cannot advise either based on my training or practical experience on dealing with such issues, so I will be talking about it in layman terms. These were not the issues during Kabir Ji’s times almost 500 years ago; otherwise he probably would have addressed them. These are relatively recent developments as a direct result of medical advancements during this ensuing period.

It is a decision about the quality of life during and after medical intervention or surgical procedures. Doctors based on their training and instincts focus on fixing the medical issue at hand. Family is concerned about the patient making it through and they acquiesce and play along by accepting the procedures being recommended to them. At times the medical condition may be such that we could be reeling from a debilitating and devastating disease, but the doctors may still advice waging a war on the disease. All these decisions pertain to us and we will have to live with outcomes for the rest of life. We should be the one making decision on whether to succumb to the technology in an intensive care unit or to die with dignity with peace at home. Another scenario could be that we arrive in the emergency ward of a hospital; unconscious warranting some quick decisions about the options pertaining to saving the life, then who that authorized person is making the decisions? Is s/he making those decisions for me without any input from me? Are those decisions based on my perspective of life? The multiple tubes feeding, circulating oxygen in the body, plus the rest of life on a wheelchair, are these good options for me? Is that the existence in vegetable state or the quality of life to strive for? Do, I wish to survive as a diminished version of my previous self? Can the medical intervention be justified by its meagre results? The question to consider is living with the disease that is going to kill better than seeking medical invention, which will be more taxing to the body and the pocket? Does sustaining that diminished quality of live on the way of death makes any sense? Does it provide the serenity and peace that I want to experience in those last days?

Kabir feels that the human body so cherished by us is not of any use after death, while in contrast the animal body finds multiple uses:

Naroo marai nar kaam na aavai.
Pasoo marai dhas kaaj savaarai. 1
.” — (SGGS, Pg. No.870)

Translation: When a man dies, he is of no use to anyone. But when an animal dies, it serves many purposes. 1.

Kabir says that animal’s bodies are put to multiple uses: (meat for consumption, hides for leather products-shoes, belts, jackets, gloves, bones for tools, and elephant, rhino tusks for ivory products etc.). However, today we can contest Kabir Ji’s statement regarding human bodies as now we have multiple organ transplants. But this technological advancement started only in 1954 with the first kidney transplant. So, Kabir is right about the utility of dead human body from his time prespective.  Kabir Ji’s advice is to fashion the life as such that the forthcoming death becomes the final:

Kabiraa marataa marataa jag muaa mar bh na jaanai koi.
Aaisee maranee jo marai bahur na maranaa hoi. 1
.”    — (SGGS, Pg. No. 555)

Translation: Kabir, the world is dying - dying to death, but no one knows how to truly die. Whoever dies let him die such a death, that he does not have to die again. 1.

Kabir Ji freed himself from the clutches of death in these words:

Jeh maranai sabh jagat taraasiaa.
So maranaa gur sabadh pragaasiaa. 1.”
  — (SGGS, Pg. No. 327)

Translation: That death which terrifies the entire world- the nature of that death has been revealed to me, through the Word of the Guru's Shabad. 1.

What revelation did Kabir Ji have? The revelation was that the physical death is abrupt cessation of attachment and ego, for the dead and for others it is an end of relationship. However, with the divine knowledge the bond of attachment and ego were broken in him while alive, so the fear of death disappeared. Because there was a realization that soul in him was part of the Supreme, thus it does not die. Instead, there was elation, waiting for the impending experience of death and subsequent bliss of the merger with the Supreme, in these words:

Kabir jis marane te jag ddarai mere man aana — (n)dh.
Marane hee te paieeaai pooran paramaana — (n)dh. 22.
” — (SGGS, Pg. No.1365)

Translation: Kabir, the world is afraid of death - that death fills my mind with bliss. It is only by death that perfect, supreme bliss is obtained. 22.

Here is another quote from him expressing the same viewpoint:

Abb mo kau bhe raajaa raam sahaiee.
Janam maran kaT param gat payee. 1. Rahaau.
” — (SGGS, Pg. No.331)

Translation: Now, the Lord, my King, has become my help and support. I have cut away birth and death, and attained the supreme status. 1. Pause.

Kabir has taken care of his life’s business while alive and freed himself from death, but what about us? Will our wakeup call come? Kabir Ji has observed it and shared with us in these words:

Kahau Kabir tab hee nar jaagai.
Jum kaa dda-(n)dd moo-(n)dd meh laagai. 3. 2.
” — (SGGS, Pg. No.870)

Translation: Says Kabir, the man wakes up, only when the Messenger of Death hits him over the head with his club. 3. 2.

This message of Kabir Ji should be wakeup call for us, serving as a reminder of the inevitable. At that time the body would be consumed by fire and reduced to ashes, and dust. As Doctor and Author Sherwin Nuland aptly put; “It is also the recognition that the real event taking place at the end of our life is our death, not attempts to prevent it.”  With regards to the fate of our soul, we know nothing, so let us leave that for another discussion. But at least plan to have the last moments of life in serenity, peace and surrounded by the loved ones and family in our own home, if feasible.

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