At 90 I am in a not much different situation than a younger person
receiving the horrid news they have a very limited time left to live.
Most of us have had friends or relatives who’ve received that news.
Both my brother, Brian, and daughter, Molly, faced it and departed two years ago.
Facing death so closely brings up all sorts of questions.
There is a New Yorker article by the novelist, Corey Taylor, that goes into depth about ten of the most common questions that come up at that time.
Part of what makes her article interesting is that she has zero belief in either God or an afterlife.
I’ve often wondered about people facing death from that perspective.
Hence, I found her piece particularly interesting.
Here is her article http://www.newyorker.com/culture/personal-history/questions-for-me-about-dying
The Ten Questions
If you haven’t read her article, Ms. Taylor answers the ten most frequently asked questions of those facing a short period of life left.
These questions are:
Did I have a bucket list, had I considered suicide, had I become religious, was I scared, was there anything good about dying, did I have any regrets, did I believe in an afterlife, had I changed my priorities in life, was I unhappy or depressed, was I likely to take more risks given that I was dying anyway, what would I miss the most, how would I like to be remembered?
My answers are simple
First, I believe in God.
Second, I believe in an afterlife, though I’m sure it is quite different than any of us think.
Third, I have no bucket list. I’ve been there, done that. And there’s nothing I feel I missed out on in life. It has been very full.
Fourth, I already was religious, so no need for more. Though, I read a page or two a day of my Bhagavad Gita and it’s commentary by Ecknath Easwaran. It keeps the essentials of life and death before me all day long, every day.
Fifth, I have considered suicide should I find myself in a long-suffering painful condition.
Sixth, the only regrets I have are the errors I made. But I realize that life is impossible without some errors. And mine were really not all that bad.
Seventh, I’m not afraid of death, only if it were prolonged and painful.
Eighth, I am actually happier now than ever — choosing to permit myself only pleasant thoughts. I almost never can do anything about the unpleasant thoughts that come to mind — like the state of the nation and the world.
Ninth, no risks. I took my share of them in my rock climbing and mountaineering days, as well as in business.
Tenth, I’ll of course, miss my wife, children, grand-children and friends. And hope to see all in the next world. Then there are the trails, but I expect to see better over there.
The Next World
What I love about the Bhagavad Gita is that it is so down-to-earth and uplifting.
I cannot read any five verses that I don’t find something hopeful about life and death.
I do believe that our soul, or essence, is eternal — regardless of who we are.
For it is universal, in all of us and has been there always. A good analogy is the Buddhist concept of akasha, which basically translates in English as ‘space.’ Space is everywhere, in all, around all. Our true Self is in all, around all, everywhere — All One.
The crystallization of the self, little letter ‘s’ self, is our sensual life here in this body. That will be gone too. But not destroyed. Like the oak tree in an acorn. It is there, but un-manifest. It cannot be discerned until the acorn is buried, takes root and grows.
Our little self is like a wave on the ocean, a manifestation of the Self, (large ‘S’ Self) in this body for a little while.
It accumulates karma, the residue of our thoughts and actions, and is re-manifested in another body, after another body, in a long cycle of birth and death, carrying with it the residue of karma (samskara) from one life into the next.
If my thought and behavior is good, with considerable caring for others, my residue of karma (samsara) is reduced. And when enough of the karmic residue is dissolved, my soul will be fully united with the Soul of the Universe and I won’t come back again.
I also believe that this crystallized soul that I call myself, when it departs the body will have no eyes to see, ears to hear or any other sense perception, or even a mind to think. What that will be like is a great mystery.
Frankly, I do not want to ever come back again. The odds and risks are too great that I’d ever get as good a deal as I got this time around.
So that’s incentive enough to shed samskara by doing as good as I possibly can.
I guess then, that in this way at least, I am not far from Miss Taylor in her lack of belief and in there being nothing after she departs.
The Self in all, in everyone, All One?
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