My maternal uncle had been suffering from cancer and passed away on 15th August. During the last days of his life, I observed one important aspect of human nature which made me analyze my opinion on it. The aspect was the innate, sometimes subconscious sometimes obvious fear of death. Having a terminally ill family member at home does cause an air of sadness and depression. But its interesting to see how others react to it. Another close relative; a well known surgeon, very rich & money minded person and my uncle’s neighbor, got affected by high blood pressure by all this. Apparently he was struck by the fear of death. After accumulating so much wealth all his life, he would have to let go of everything. That is a scary thought for all those who are deeply attached to their assets. The fear of death reminds me of a story I’d read in school books which illustrates that Fear is the real epidemic.
The Three Companions
Every year Cholera made a visit to the Holy City of Mecca with her companions Death and Fear. One year however, Fear came to the city before Death and Cholera. The old gatekeeper, who did not know Fear, let her enter.
When Cholera and Death arrived at the gate, the gatekeeper shouted,
“Cholera, how many victims will you take this time?”
“Not more than 500 I’m sure this time,” Cholera said.
“Death, how many will you take?” the gatekeeper cried.
“As always, I will take only what Cholera gives me.”
The gatekeeper let them enter.
Weeks later, Death and Cholera returned and called to the gatekeeper,
“Open the gates.”
“Cholera, how many victims did you take?” the gatekeeper asked.
“Only 499,” Cholera answered.
“And Death, how many did you take?” asked the gatekeeper
“I took more than a thousand.”
“You promised you’d only take what Cholera gave you!” the gatekeeper cried.
“Yes,” Death answered sadly, “Most of those who died were taken by Fear who entered your gate alone before us. Now you know that Fear does more harm and causes more deaths than Cholera!”
Now, the question is everyone knows death is inevitable and yet why people are so afraid of it? The fear stems from the attachment we develop to our worldly possessions and near and dear ones. No one knows exactly what happens after death. All the walking towards the light at the end of tunnel and concepts of heaven and hell are hypothetical and topics of theology and philosophy. I think the moment we die we lose consciousness of our existence, of our worldly ties, of people and pleasures left behind. So if I won’t know who is my child or even the fact that what does a child mean then why would I be sad about it? If I won’t know what is food or what is ice cream then why would I be sad that I would never again get to taste it? If I won’t know what is money then why would I be sad that I had to leave it all behind? But till the moment comes many people live in a perennial state of fear of death. Here is a stupendous message about life and death from the Upanishads.
Before death, life is a seeker.
After death, the same life becomes a dreamer.
Before death, life struggles and strives for Perfection.
After death, the same life rests
and enjoys the divine Bliss with the soul.
Before death, life is God’s Promise.
After death, life is God’s inner Assurance.
This Assurance of God’s we notice while we fulfill God in our future incarnation.
By: Sri Chinmoy Excerpt From: The Vedas, The Upanishads and the Bhagavad Gita
Sudden death is another thing. But I feel death due to old age or some terminal illness should be faced with courage. We should complete our duties, slowly detach ourselves and prepare mentally for the inescapable. This leads to another interesting question that what are the things a person would do if he/she knew he/she is going to die on this date? If the date is suppose just two days away how would a person prioritize what to do? Would knowing the date make a person better prepared and accept death or still yearn for more days till the moment he/she dies? I guess it would be the latter option and that is why Death is what it is. The certainty of death makes living life to its fullest all the more important. Keeping in mind that everything material will be left behind after death is one thing and living each day in dread of death is another. The former will motivate us to be not so self-centered or miserly or uncaring while the latter will give us tension, panic and further health problems. Sometimes the dread is also created by the mental illusion of pain and change that we would have to go through when we are on our death beds. We need to realize the impermanence of human life and the reality of death by confronting our fears and overcoming them instead of being guided by them. We need to understand that the real enemy of Life is not Death but its Fear.
Writing on Fear of Death
Death is natural. Nothing natural can be detrimental. Death is rest. Rest is strength in disguise for a further adventure. At the present state of human evolution, to conquer Death may be an impossibility. But to overcome the fear of death is not only practicability, but inevitability. Death is normally the sign that the soul, under the particular circumstances, has exhausted the possibilities of its progress in a particular body.