Saturday, August 17, 2002
T H I S  A B O V E  A L L


More about life after death
Khushwant Singh

SOME weeks ago I wrote about death and admitted that neither I nor anyone else had the slightest clue of what remains of us after we die. I was not referring to reputation, property, good works, etc., but what was contained in the body like the mind and the thinking faculty. I got many answers all going round and round the same theme; the body perishes but the soul (atman) survives. I donít buy that. What does the soul or atman look like? If it survives, where does it reside? About the last letter I received on the subject ran into six pages from one Munish Markan of Sangrur who claims to have all the answers. He starts by saying he never reads the rubbish I write and calls me an ignoramus for asking silly questions. Then he elaborates on the theme of death. I quote him at some length because he is typical of the verbosity used by sabjantewalas. I failed to get any answers to my simple question but was bombarded with a lot of gratuitous advice. He writes: "I should tell you that your very thinking is stopping you from encountering death while alive in this body. As far as I can judge your interests seem to be only intellectual. Had it been possible for the humans to know, experience and transcend death by reading and contemplation, majority of the humanity would have gone beyond death and would have known the secret of death."

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I pondered over the statement for a while. Without any pretension of being an intellectual, I could not see what other faculties besides reasoning could I use to find answers to my questions. He proceeds to caution me: "We all are riding high up on the ladder only in the end to find that our ladder was inclined on the wrong wall. Probably, in temporal matters, you have enjoyed considerable prosperity and now at the fag end of life, you seem bothered about the "journey beyond" if there is any. One thing you must admit that nothing is known beyond death and before birth. No knowledge of these areas, nowhere it is taught in schools, colleges and universities."

If nothing is known about life and death, how can they be taught in schools and colleges?

He advises me to switch off "this instrument called mind". At times nature does the switching off when we fall into deep, dreamless sleep (sushpti). He asks: "Where do we go when we are in dreamless sleep? Try to find the answer to this question existentially, not intellectually."

Quite honestly my answer would be: "I go nowhere. I just wake up to realise I had sound sleep." And I donít know how one answers simple questions existentially?

He proceeds to say: "If I may analyse, your whole knowledge is your enemy. The answer to the question ĎWho am I?í will provide all answers about life and death as Ramana Maharishi always used to say."

I donít care what Ramana Maharishi had to say; to me death is the end of life. He gives an analogy of how electrons cannot be seen unless a ray of light is beamed on them. That may be so. Also that time seems to take much longer to pass for one in distress than it takes for one in a joyous mood. True, but what does it prove?

He advocates meditation and suggests different techniques of emptying the mind. I find meditation a sterile concept, productive of nothing except peace of mind ó which in turn produces nothing but peace of mind. I would prefer to have a mind constantly engaged in finding answers to questions. He recommends reading The Autobiography of a Yogi by Parmahansa Yoganandaji. I went half-way through it, found it boring and gave up. I do not accept Kriya Yoga as a science and the talk of a "subtle body" a meaningless play with words.

"Logic has its limitations," he asserts. I agree. But I do not understand what is meant by experiencing something at "the existential level". Again another pointless analogy. Reading books on swimming does not enable one to swim. Or one cannot learn to balance oneself on a bicycle without riding on one. He continues: "Similarly, anything and everything you read and listen about death is not of much consequence. At best, it can point the direction in which you have to move. But contemplation on death has never helped anyone to know death. Direct jumping is required."

Must I kill myself to solve the mystery of death? No, thank you. "Why man is fearful of death? One reason is that we are accustomed to live in future, in tomorrow, and when death comes it says no tomorrow, only today, now i.e. why we fear life is a sum total of today plus today... so on. That is why it is said that we should enjoy the small things in life."

He recommends Japanese tea meditation. I sat through one: a kimono-clad lady went on endlessly cleaning a tiny cup with a brush while a tea-kettle was on the boil. The end result was a thimble-full of bitter, undrinkable tea.

He ends his long letter with another clever play with words: "You know how habits are formed. Doing an act repetitively over a period of time unconsciously. It becomes nature. Another sutrasfor bodilessness experience is to become aware: in this context live and read Osho. Stop reviewing and reading novels of others. Enough of it you have done throughout your life. You did a lot for the world in the literary and other world. At least now, live for yourself. I know it takes great courage to break off from the habits of past, because of habit Ihave heard:

If ĎHí goes a bit remains

If ĎAí goes bit remains

Even if ĎBí goes it remains."

What does it prove? To me nothing. Shri Munish Markan I would like to continue the dialogue on death with you. But please donít bamboozle me with words. If you donít know the answer, be brave enough to admit "I donít know."

Hearts of clay

Kaifís marvellous performance at Lordís

Has tempted us all to believe

Young players can certainly do

What oldies fail to achieve!

The victory was so unexpected

Our players danced with boundless joy.

Saurav Ganguly took off his shirt

And waved it like a crazy boy!

Taken aback, Kapil Dev said

"Why did the Captain celebrate it that way?"

Doesnít he know that we Indians

Are emotional and have hearts of clay?

(Courtesy: G.C. Bhandari, Meerut)

The contest

Capiello, the French poster designer, was at the top of his profession. One day he received the following letter from a leading liquor manufacturer:

"We are organising a contest to find the best poster for advertising our products, and would be glad to examine a few of your designs. The winning poster will be awarded a prize of 20,000 francs. Sorry, losing entries cannot be returned".

Capiello fired back his answer by return post: "I am organising a contest to find the best liquor in France and would be glad to try out a few bottles from your firm. Sorry, losing entries cannot be returned".

(Contributed by Reeten Ganguly, Silchar)

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