Why are we afraid of death? Life is a series of changes and the greatest among them is what we call death. We cannot die. For life is undying.
Death is the one unalterable verity of human life. It is a cliché to say that all that is born must die; yet that is the truth. He who is born has to die. But how many of us understand the meaning of death? What is Death? What kind of an experience brings down the curtain on the drama of our life? If truth must be told, many of us are so superstitious about discussing death; we are frightened by the very word death. We shy away from the very word, the very thought of death.
We cannot avoid death; but we can certainly avoid this obsessive fear of death. It is said by the brave, that each of us has but one life to live; and therefore, we can die but once. It is the cowards who ‘die ‘several times before death actually comes to them. If we are to come to terms with death, if we are to overcome this fear of death, we must get to know more about death.
Every experience that God sends us, whether we like it or not, whether it is pleasant or harsh, is beautiful. Every experience has its own beauty. Every experience comes to teach us something. Until we have learnt that lesson, the experience continues.
Life is a mixture of both pleasant and unpleasant experiences. Death is one experience that comes to us as the ultimate, which is why it is unique. I would add that it is also an extraordinary experience. And many great mahatmas have also assured us that it can actually be a very pleasant experience. Now, if death is a pleasant experience, then why are we afraid of it?
Let me tell you about Nitu and Neelam, who were sisters. Nitu was afflicted with cancer. She was a courageous and a determined girl. She was aware of the fact that whatever happened in life was the will of God; and therefore she accepted her condition. She had the right kind of attitude. She believed that as God is our Mother and Father, He will not inflict a punishment on His children without a purpose. She believed that God could not be wrong and that her cancer was a gift from Him, which she had to use judiciously. Nitu was a large-hearted girl. She spent her time in serving the poor. When the doctors diagnosed cancer, they told her that she was a terminal case and she should prepare for the ultimate.
One day, Nitu wrote a letter to her sister Neelam, in which she said, “I think my end is near. I wish you would come and be by my side. There are very many things I want to tell you…” The two sisters loved each other and shared a lot of affection between them. When Neelam received the letter and read the contents, she was heart-broken. She left all her work and went over to see Nitu. She was eager to meet her sister. Her heart pounded as she entered the house anticipating the worst, but when she entered the house, she found Nitu sitting on a sofa, calm, composed and at peace, painting on a fabric. She was painting a flower which looked very pretty. When she saw Neelam, she burst out, “O Neelam, my dear sister, how good it is to see you! I knew that you would definitely come. Come, welcome, see the beautiful flower I have painted on the fabric.”
Hearing her sister’s words, seeing her joyous attitude, Neelam was surprised. Then she remembered, that right from her childhood, Nitu had always been positive and courageous. She had absolute faith in God. And now, facing a terminal illness, she still had the same indomitable courage and faith. Nitu was filled with tremendous admiration for her sister’s positive attitude.
On the following day, Neelam talked to the doctor who was treating her sister. To her surprise, the doctor advised Neelam to spend a few days with Nitu and then leave quietly. Nitu’s end was fast approaching and cancer patients always went through overwhelming pain towards the end of their life. The doctor told her that as she loved her sister so much, she may not be able to see her going through intense physical suffering and pain. Cancer is a painful disease. It is as painful as when a knife cuts the flesh or when the tip of a finger is crushed in a car door.
I know this for a fact because, my own dear mother went through the same illness. My mother, too, suffered in the same way. Neelam made up her mind then and there, that she would not go away; she would stay by her sister’s side, and offer her all the love, affection and moral support that she was capable of giving. She said, “My sister is very courageous and determined. Perhaps the doctor is not aware of this. As for Nitu, she never ever talks of her pain; she never complains that she is suffering.”
Some days pass by. One day, Nitu called her sister and said to her, “Neelam, when my end comes, the doctor is likely to give me morphine to obliterate the pain. But I do not want to be drugged. I want you to refuse permission to the doctor to administer such drugs. It is my wish to remain awake, alert and conscious till the end of my life. I have a feeling that the experience of death is going to be beautiful. Do you remember the flower I had painted on the fabric? I was thinking of my approaching death when I painted it. Wasn’t it beautiful? I am sure, the experience of death will also be equally, if not more, beautiful. I want to experience it fully. I do not want pain-killing drugs to take away the beauty of that ultimate experience.”
Neelam promised her sister that she would do as desired by her. But she wept uncontrollably when she left Nitu’s room. She called out, “O God, she has so much faith in you. How could you give her so much pain to suffer? What a positive, happy-go-lucky person she was, always full of energy, eager to enter fully into every experience of life! And now, it breaks my heart to see her get ready to face death! It is so unfair! And yet I know, dear God, I am no one to question you.”
You know everything, Beloved,
Let Thy Will always be done,
In joy and sorrow, my Beloved,
Let Thy Will always be done!
One day, Nitu tells her sister, “I want to give a dinner party and invite all our friends and relatives to attend it. Can you help me with the arrangements? Neelam is surprised by Nitu’s desire to hold a dinner party. But, looking at her sister’s smiling face, she decides to hold a party and invite everyone she wished to. A dinner party is arranged. It is well attended by Nitu’s friends and relatives. Nitu has agonising pain. She can barely walk. But she sits in the dining hall among her friends and relatives, laughing and chatting as if nothing had happened to her. Neelam felt that this was perhaps the last party to be given by Nitu, and this thought oppressed her. But she was happy and cheerful outwardly, for she was determined that nothing should spoil her dear Nitu’s final days of happiness.
A few days after the party, Neelam sat with Nitu, talking to her. Nitu said to her, “I want you to know, that it is not I who am going to die! It is this body that is about to perish, and I am not this body – I am the eternal Atman. I cannot die, for I am that –That which is eternal. My gross physical body will be dead, but I will be alive. I have worn so many bodies and they have all been destroyed in one birth after the other, but I have always existed. I am eternal. Neelam felt enlightened, elevated, listening to her sister. She had stayed behind to offer her support to Nitu; but it was Nitu who supported her and offered her comfort and consolation to face her grief!
When Nitu slipped into sleep, Neelam left the room to prepare a little broth for her sister. But within a few minutes, the nurse called out to her, “Madam, please come at once; your sister is asking for you.” Neelam rushed to her sister’s bedside. Nitu’s face appeared radiant, almost translucent with light. Neelam was gripped by anxiety; she instinctively felt that she was sharing the last few moments of her sister’s life with her. Nitu looked at her sister lovingly and asked her to sit by her side. Then, opening her eyes wide, she said, “Ah, Neelam, look at all these people who have come to see me! Look, look, our brother Santosh is here! And, would you believe it, our uncle has also come. See, our cousin Renu is here, and our aunt Savitri too. Is it not sweet of them to visit me, now?” A chill ran down Neelam’s spine. She shuddered to hear the name of the aunt – their aunt Savitri, who had died just a week earlier!
What was more, the news of her death had not been conveyed to Nitu.
Nitu talked to her sister about her approaching death, about her experience of drawing nearer and nearer to death. She said, “Savitri aunty has come here to take me.” Then, spreading her arms wide, she said, “Imagine! All these people are here to take me away.” Saying so, she put her head in Neelam’s lap and quietly passed away.
Neelam placed Nitu’s head on a pillow. Nitu’s face had a strange glow. She was smiling. She was at peace. Gazing at the face of her sister, Neelam realised the beauty of death. She felt that her sister Nitu had given her a valuable parting gift. The gift of understanding the beauty of death, the gift of realising that death was truly a peaceful experience. Let us not be afraid of death. For at the end of the tunnel is Light. We should not be scared during the last few moments, for the messengers of God come to take us away through the tunnel of death into the sphere of light. The face of a person who dies, often shines. It is calm and peaceful. For, the soul is liberated from the heavy burden of the worn out garment, which we call the body.
We should not be afraid of death; on the contrary, we should reflect on this wonderful phenomenon that takes us away from this world to an astral sphere. In a Trappist Monastery abroad, I saw written in bold letters the words, Carpo Mori. Meaning, ‘Contemplate on Death’. Think of it every day. “Death is sure to come, but fortunate is he who has made preparations for that day.” These are meaningful words of my Master, Sadhu Vaswani. We have to prepare for death and when it comes, we must welcome it with open arms – for it takes us one step nearer to God.
The question then arises: what kind of preparation is to be made to face death? Time and again, I have urged my friends, to build a bond with the infinite. Build a strong intimate and loving relationship with God. See Him in any Form which you love, which is close to your heart. For, you will meet Him and realise Him in the Form you have worshipped Him. This bond with the Infinite, helps us to go through what we call death. The messengers of death will not be the ones to touch us. It is the Form in which you worship God, which will enfold you in its arms and take you safely out of the gross physical body.
So let us begin our preparation for the final day of our journey on this earth. Let us build a bond with God. Let us accept whatever life offers us, because every experience is God’s gift. Let us acknowledge that gift and willingly accept the roller-coaster journey that is life – its ups and downs, its joys and sorrows, its pain and suffering, its moments of enlightenment and liberation. Let us serve the poor and the needy, feed the birds and animals. Let us serve them with the love of our heart. Let us keep away from all evil and do as much good as we can to as many as we can, in as many ways as we can, in the brief period that has been allotted to us on earth. This will help us to grow and evolve spiritually and emotionally.
Above all, remember, in the words of Sadhu Vaswani, that what we call death here on earth, is a new birth elsewhere. When death takes away your physical body, the spirit will find a new dwelling in the Infinite astral space of the Universe.