On 5th May 1993 a news age agency in China solemnly filed a report that Li Ching Yu, the oldest man on earth, had expired at 256!
When the present proof-crazy authorities declare of knowing no one having celebrated his 116th birthday, people still put trust in the Russians announced the death of Mislimov of Barzavu, in august 1973. They said he lived to enjoy the 100th birthday of his third wife and his grandchild.
Despite the fact that we do not know how close to truth these claims are we still find them strikingly impressive; surprising and bewildering! Like us, the majority of humanity tends to marvel at stunts of life, and life itself; yet overlooks the commonest and the most stunning part of it all : DEATH!
In the days of Shri Krishna, Yaksha bemused Yudhisthira with a similar question, "What is the greatest wonder of the world?" Yudhisthira unravelled: "Although, before his very eyes, man witnesses people dying and things perishing, he never, for once honestly feels that death shall befall him likewise."
Your Nursery Teacher told You so!
Is it not absurd that we mechanically get into our daily routine sparing no thought or wilfully ignoring the most conspicuous feature of our life - DEATH? Since birth our eardrums have received the din of death, our eyes have seen its sieges and our mind has tolerated its tremors. Yet we forget!
On your zero birthday while you frolicked spritefully in your mother's arms, a 'Birth Certificate' had been issued, but at the same time, the same people, set aside a similar piece of paper for the 'Death Certificate'. Birth is an invitation to death. Age toddled you onto nursery. Surely! You can recall the dramatic voice of your teacher?
"… and the b..i..g..bad wolf DIED!" You cheered in a class-chorus as it meant a happy ending for the three little pigs : It was strongly suggestive that not only the baddies but even the goodies came to an inevitable end, whether unhappy or happy.
Now you're older and roaming the streets. It's Saturday. With a teenage gait and a stylish tilt you look up-Gosh! Colourful posters from the movie-world arrest your eyes. They read 'Game of Death' and 'Death Race 2000'. Age comes harshly down and you find yourself in the early twenties, hung on a job. One evening, making full use of your cushioned sofa, you wearily turn on the T.V. The box screens a few protestors waving curse, "Death to…." The news terminates taking with it a few more years. A new horizon gives way. Crowded with dreams, you stand facing a 'yagna' or a church altar, holding a warm, delicate hand of your second half to be. Softly and shyly both of you whisper, "Till death do us part."
All this goes when death strikes.
Even the Strongest Proved too Weak
At 33, death disposed of Alexander the great with an ease of a spider gorging a trapped fly. Napoleon, Stalin and Churchill were all great and sturdy but greater and sturdier still was death; The list is endless and it's here that the famous lines of a Gujarati poet, Narayandas, need framing:
"As for a man, his days are numbered:
With dawn, as a bud of the field, he flourisheth.
With dusk, as a withered flower he falleth.
No Time for Good-Byes
When 900 people in Jonestown, Guyana committed mass suicide in November 1978 the world was riddled by its suddenness and freakishness. Hardly anyone prophesied it or later believed it but it was crystal clear, how inhumane was the instigator, Rev. Jim Jones, is of little importance here as we are concerned with the unpredictability of Death.
Science Won't Help!
Many say, Science will curtail death and eventually eliminate it; as it has already increased our lifespan from 30 in the 1900's to well over 60 in the 1990's. The question to ask is will the space age scientist be able to devise a protective outfit to fight death? The most logical answer is 'No'.
Today, the microscope has revealed the unseen world, the scalpel has discovered hidden regions and the telescope distant galaxies. Yet death has remained a mystery.
It's Coded Messages
So far, so good; we've closed in onto a few features of death.
(a) Death is predetermined; none can escape it.
(b) Death arrives at anytime.
(c) Death is too complex to be understood.
(d) Death remains uninfluenced by scientific or worldly methods.
Birth bargains with joy; death deals with gloom. We entered the world empty-handed and we'll
have to exit it empty-handed. If our own body fails to accompany us then what of possessions? What use is expending a life for things which we are to leave behind? It would be like slogging day and night for 50 years at a factory and coming home without a dime! Vain and disheartening!
Before it's too late we must change things. We have to act lightning fast because death may befall us at anytime. Even now at this very moment! But we can't understand it. We're in a fix! What do we do? Well, what does a child do when he's stuck with a maths sum? Simple! He runs to an experienced teacher. Our experienced saints and sages direct us to religion. Science remains mute on this topic, it offers nothing. Only religion needs resorting to.
Steve McQueen No.1
Hollywood Star admits
His athletic physique, manly stride and a handsome squarish face topped with flaxen hair, hoisted him to the apex of Hollywood. For years, he remained non-chalantly, the No. 1. Inwardly, a proud, rigid man disillusioned by success, Steve relentlessly despised God, until… At the age of 42 the doctors stamped him a patient of terminable cancer. The horror of dying struck him. A dramatic metamorphosis followed. He found himself struggling to play a role he'd never played before. His film career was at stake, his dreams were dwindling, and he desperately needed aid. Past successes and publicity did poorly for his present state. At last, with a lacerated ego he meekly turned to God. In 1979 a British newspaper reported.
"A man who publicly scorned God began to privately pray for hours at an altar, he specially installed at his place." In his own words, "I have touched God. He has given me more courage than I have ever had in my life." Though Steve never recovered physically, he died a different death. He had experienced that his entire life, though teeming with fame and wealth, was useless at the point of death. This understanding transformed him. He sought God during his final months and tried tirelessly in the limited time available. God indubitably assuaged the misery of his soul.
He was fortunate enough to foresee death, we may not be so fortunate. We must act immediately! Opt for a resolution - a God-centered life, or a betterment, if we already are religious.
In the Shrimad Bhagwat, King Parikshit, when informed about his impending death in a week's time, became paralysed by fear. He at once sought the succour of sage Shukdev and took refuge. For a week he did without royal comforts, food and even water, focusing his senses on the religious discourses. The knowledge of God cleansed him, enabling him to transcend fear. He embraced death smilingly, fearlessly and went forth to become immortal. Through God he had vanquished the fear of death….
But religious tales and God's words shed divine light which dispel this darkness. Lord Swaminarayan says, "One who has devotion with exuberant love towards God will overcome fear of death and feel fulfilled." (Vachnamrut Loya 2).
Does Death Call for a Party?
It has been bred in the very marrow of Indian Culture that death is not the inevitable, inescapable, tortuous ordeal. From young age the religious have been nursed on Gita's ambrosia in the form of shlokas.
"The soul is never born nor dies; nor does it exist on coming into being. For it is unborn, eternal, everlasting and primeval; even though the body is slain, the soul is not."
Protected by a mail of knowledge, people well grounded in Indian Culture have sent invitations to death. They realise themselves to be the soul; the soul never dies. No question of death lingers and the process becomes negligible. Moreover, Lord Krishna explains.
"As a man discarding worn-out clothes, takes other new ones, likewise the embodied soul, casting off wornout bodies enters into others which are new."
Noteworthy historical events during the life of Lord Swaminarayan up to this day espouse the above statement.
A devotee in a vision was informed by the Lord that the elder of his two sons will expire in a month's time. And exactly a month later, the body demised. His relatives mourned and the village showed concern. But to their unthinkable horror, they saw the father distributing sugar-pieces. He was celebrating his son's death!
Another month swept by and the Lord predicted his second and last son's death. It followed accordingly. People grieved at the second successive death in such a short interval. Yet, once again the father rejoicingly celebrated this inauspicious occasion. When the village folk irately questioned his barmy behaviour, he clarified, "My sons were happy, but have become happier. They now sit in God's abode, eternally.
Jean de La Fontaine's saying demands some attention, "Death never takes the wise man by surprise he is always ready to go."