Wednesday 18 September 2013

Death is the dress of life

The enigma of death

It was with a heavy heart that I rode my bike to the mortuary of the general hospital in Puttaparthi. 11:30 am had been the muhurtam (auspicious time) that had been fixed for the cremation. The person who had left the earthly abode was a very dear ‘uncle’ who had showered on me love like a father. He had occupied a special corner in my heart by simply giving me a large corner of his. And he had passed away peacefully in his sleep the previous night. It was a death that happened in a moment - very easy for the departing soul but very difficult for the souls left behind; souls which were donning the bodies of relatives, friends and well-wishers. I joined at the head of the funeral procession, singing bhajans and hymns. Soon, yet another body was consumed by flames as a beautiful life completed its sojourn on earth. 

Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba often says, "Death is the dress of life". This means that 'life' is not ended by death. Death is that event when 'life' discards its clothes - the body - for new clothes. The 'old clothes' theory sounded logical till I began to wonder about infants and children that die. That would seem like a case of 'new clothes' being discarded right? Swami clarified this doubt for me through a lovely analogy from his discourse on 23rd May 2000. Swami says,

"While in Kashmir, you purchase some woolen cloth in order to stitch a suit. After return, you put the cloth in a cupboard, lock the cupboard, and then forget all about the cloth. Ten years pass and you are about to shift your residence. You are packing things for the transfer of residence. At that time, you discover the woollen cloth that you have stored away a long time ago. You regret that you have forgotten about this nice fabric all these years. That very day, you go to a tailor and ask him to stitch a nice suit for you. Soon, the suit is delivered. You wear this brand new suit and attend a wedding party. A buffet dinner has been arranged there. You bend down a little with the plate to help yourself. Suddenly you find that your suit gives way and gets a tear. [laughter]. You feel sad. You wonder, 'Brand new suit; how can it tear like this?' Yes, the suit is indeed new but the cloth is not new; it is old."

A funeral pyre on the banks of Chitravati in Puttaparthi - another dress change?
Ever since that September in 2013, I have been blessed to attend multiple funerals. 'Blessed' I say because there is something mysteriously magnificent about this enigma called death and it brings both fear and awe, dread and inspiration. While the ‘fear’ and ‘dread’ parts can be easily understood, one might wonder as to why words like ‘awe’ and ‘inspiration’ have been chosen for describing death. Smashana Vairagyam (detachment of the crematorium) is an automatic detachment that anyone attending a funeral experiences. The detachment overpowers the individual as a powerful reminder of the temporary nature of everything that we see around. In its wake, the problems that seem to torment us, differences that we promote, negative feelings that we harbour - all just melt away into relative insignificance. That is when one is lost in awe of the Creator and gets inspired to make his/her life worth something.

Of course there are other kinds of vairagya (detachment) that we automatically experience - Abhava Vairagya (detachment due to non-availability which is akin to calling grapes as sour), Prasooti Vairagya (detachment of a lady due to her labour pains at childbirth), Udaara Vairagya (detachment due to a temporary abundance which will disappear once the object of attachment becomes scarce) and Puraana Vairagya (the detachment one gets while listening to divine stories which I often experience when I pen down my articles) - but personally, I feel that the Smashaana Vairagya is the most powerful and poignant.

A Question

Every time I attend a funeral, a chain of questions form in my head.
“What kind of death do I wish to die?”
“How would I like to be remembered after I am gone?”
“How would I like to lead my life till my ultimate moment comes?”

The average lifespan of a human which is about 70 years is just a teeny weeny blip in the history of mankind. But all of us want those years to mean something - for ourselves and the world around. Answering the above three questions would also give us answers on what our lives mean for ourselves and for others. For each of the above questions, I have a little story to narrate for these are the stories I keep mulling upon when it comes to my thoughts on my death. They are powerful reminders on what we should do in life and give us a peep into the magnanimity and magnitude of God’s love.

Of course the answers to all the questions are linked to my God and best friend, Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba (my Swami). And if anyone dives deep into the questions, he/she will find that the answers have to be spiritual. For, as Swami asks during the Birthday discourse on the 23rd of  November 1975,
“How can you expect anything impermanent to give joy which is permanent to you (the body and mind) who are also impermanent?”

“What kind of death do I wish to die?”

It was the day of the festival of Onam on the 27th of August, 2007. Among the devotees who were awaiting the arrival of Swami on this special day was Mr.G.K.Raman. Mr. Raman, a long-standing devotee of Swami, was seated in the verandah of the mandir by virtue of him being the Sathya Sai Trust convenor in Tamil Nadu. He was also the director of Sundaram Finance Group. He had not slept well the previous night and that was evident from his swollen eyes.

A concerned person seated next to him told him,
“Why don’t you take some rest today morning? You can come for the evening darshan and programme...”
“I must have Swami's darshan. Then I will go. Swami will come at 8:30. Till then I will sit - it’s not a problem”, he answered with a smile.
The person was surprised at how Mr. Raman seemed to predict the time at which Swami would come. But then, his surprise soon grew into marvel as Swami made an appearance in the chair at about 8:30am!

Swami completed the darshan round and entered the portico where Mr. Raman was seated. Even as he saw his Lord, he bent forward in prostration - or that is what his neighbors thought. A few moments later, they realized that he was not rising back and a tap on his back made him collapse completely, all in Swami’s physical presence.
What a way to say goodbye! In the Divine presence of the Lord. Mr.Raman collapses and is tended to by
several people even as Swami enters the verandah. 

Doctors - the best in their fields from the SSSIHMS - came there immediately. They tried very hard, pumping at his heart and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. Swami sat watching the whole seen quite steadily. The Veda chanting continued, the mandir was agog with devotees and yet the verandah was in a state of freeze. Nobody had witnessed anything like this before. 

A file photograph of Mr.G.K.Raman and his wife with
Swami - courtesy Radiosai.
I had a camera in my hand but could not pluck the courage to go closer and take a picture. Mr. Raman weakly opened his eyelids and saw Swami briefly before closing them peacefully. Swami then asked for a glass of water to be brought. He gave it to Mr. Raman's son to offer to his father. He told the students to start bhajans and said that there would be no discourse in the morning. Mr. Raman had passed away peacefully! This whole episode has been captured in the 27th August 2007 page of the Prasanthi Diary.

Now go back and read the statement that Mr. G.K.Raman made to the concerned neighbour in the verandah of the mandir to understand its poignancy. That is how I wish my end would come to me - with my full awareness, in the presence of my Lord and Master.

“How would I like to be remembered after I am gone?”

It was in 1995 that Mr. Nandedkar came to know of Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba. He was attracted to Swami primarily because of Sai bhajans. “Sai bhajans” is literally a revolution that is happening in the musical and spiritual world. Sai bhajans encompass all kinds of devotion to all forms of God and also give scope for all genres of music. And that made a powerful impression on Mr.Nandedkar, a lover of music and an excellent player of the harmonium. His love for music and God found fulfillment in his devotion to Swami.

However in Abu Dhabi, where he stayed, he was not allowed to play the harmonium during bhajans because of a policy. The policy in the centre there was that unless a person was a regular for at least 3 months, he/she was not allowed to lead the singing or play an instrument. And so, he would go to any house in which bhajans were being held so that he could play and sing in the community bhajans. However, slowly, his passion and intensity paid off and he was allowed to sing and play in the centre too.

His love for bhajans became legendary. In fact, during the Akhand Bhajan (24 hours bhajan singing) he would volunteer to play the harmonium for the whole programme. One particular day in 2001, Mr.Nandedkar, was in his usual self, playing the harmonium. At one particular point during the session, he simply burst into a bhajan, singing the glory of Swami as the Divine Mother - Parthishwari Jagat Janani.

Everybody at the session swore that his singing on that day was something very special. Many were in tears following the bhajan. As the bhajan ended, many even wished that Mr.Nandedkar would continue singing and not stop at all. Like every other bhajan, the Devi bhajan also came to an end. As is the practice, Mr.Nandedkar had to hold the key for the next bhajan. But the same key droned on and on. When everyone looked towards Mr.Nandedkar, he was lying on the harmonium, a blissful smile on his face but no breath in his nostrils! He had completed his life along with his bhajan!

They say that the manner in which a person dies speaks about the manner in which he has led his life. In the case of Mr.Nandedkar, his death indicates the passion, beauty and devotion with which he led his life.
And that is how I feel I want to be remembered when I am gone - as a person who did anything he did like it was the last time he was doing it in his life! I am sure Mr.Nandedkar sang each bhajan as if it were his last bhajan and, finally, that feeling turned out to be true with Parthishwari Jagat Janani.

“How would I like to lead my life till my ultimate moment comes?”

Keya aunty has been an ‘aunty’ ever since she joined the primary school at Puttaparthi as the Hindustani classical music teacher. She has taught several batches of students including my Sai brother Amey and my wife Pooja. In fact, it was Keya aunty who was the major participant in Pooja’s heart-throbbing tryst with possible punishment.

She moved into her seventies and that was when she contracted cancer of the lung. But she was the least bothered. She did not take any medication or meet any doctor. She continued to sing and teach, placing complete faith in Swami. Life seemed to go on smooth for her till a fatal psychological blow struck on the 24th of April, 2011 when Swami shed His physical frame.

Keya aunty was shattered and suddenly, it seemed as though cancer was eating her away rapidly. She agreed to see doctors of all systems of medicine - Allopathy, Homeopathy, Ayurveda. Nothing helped but she was not bothered a bit. What bothered her the most was the question whether she would see her Lord once again. She kept praying to Swami,
“When will you come? When will I have your darshan again? Please lord... come to me.”

She grew weak and a nurse was appointed to assist and help her in her daily life. The nurse, Maria, felt that Keya aunty was deteriorating fast, day by day, and it would not be long before she left her physical body. So she made sure to attend to every little wish of hers. Thus it was that Keya aunty shifted from her home in South 3 (Prasanthi Nilayam) to the general hospital and then back again to her home in a matter of weeks.

Then came a day when Maria, on her way back to her home, suddenly felt an urge to visit Keya aunty. She took a detour to her room in S-3 and, when she entered, she saw that the patient was in quite a bad shape. She was silently lying on her bed, praying inaudibly. Sensing the probable arrival of the last moments, Maria and another helper girl too joined in the prayer. They began to softly chant the Sai Gayatri mantra. An hour passed this way when Maria was shaken out of her chanting by a sight that took her breath away.

As she raised her head, she SAW SWAMI - standing right in front of her. All her attention was on Swami but all of Swami’s attention was on Keya aunty. Even as He looked at her, Keya aunty’s face had a serene smile. It was amazing how she was ‘seeing’ Swami though her eyes were closed. The thought that arose from Maria’s heart was,
“Swami! How loving are you! You did actually come for Keya...”
At the very same instant, Keya aunty took two gentle puffs of air. Swami smiled. An instant later, both were gone. 20th of July 2012 was recorded as Keya aunty’s death day. But for Maria, it was the day when Keya moved from death to immortality!

That is how I wish to lead my life till my last moment arrives - in pining, waiting and loving my Lord, my Swami. I don’t know about what it will do to others, but these answers surely will make a world of difference to my life and give meaning to it.

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  1. sai ram brother. there must be no doubt in your mind that you are with SWAMI and will be. SWAMI is taking care of your every wish.
    This post has made me able to see the path in front of me ever more clearly and what i should do about it.
    May the Lord be with us all.

  2. Very well written...will chew this for sometime...digestion may take a while...the subject is something i always fear...and run way from....not afraid of my death anytime..but afraid of losing my dear ones...and hence the allergy to the made a heavy subject seem so pleasant and light....great going..keep it up..sairam

  3. even i would like to be remembered after death.. only when we do service to fellow human beings we will be remembered.. sairam

  4. this account struck a major chord for me - I ask thee question all the time - the aunty you write about- just on the very day I took your gift box to my postoffice - lots of paperwork .I sure would like to leave holding his hand, The part 1 e mail went off by mistake
    I intended to enclose it with the box, withou it makes no sense

  5. It was a shock to hear about the demise of Sri GKR, as we knew him. But when I was told how it happened in the divine presence, I felt he was truly blessed. People go to Brindavan, Kashi and other holy places. But he was an active member of Bhagwan's seva organisation, when he breathed his last.

    People fear for death. Few fear for the last few days/months/years before death, being fear of prolonged illness.
    But then, death is perhaps true freedom from everything. Peaceful death being outcome of how we lived whole life?!


    1. Very poignant thoughts... That is why Swami says that death is the dress of life. Death comes as a transition but since we do not remember either sides of the transition, we feel it is the end. It is only faith that we have to carry on with.

  6. Om sai ram Aravind: when you collect all your manuscript for a book? Om sai ram for your great Seva :)

    1. By this November, my first book will be released by the Publications Trust here. It i entitled, "Memoirs of a Sai Student."

  7. Sairam Arvind.... an excellent article. I wonder can one choose the following:
    Ones parents
    Place of Birth
    Time of Birth
    Place, time and mode of death.

    I think these are all determined by the Supreme GOD (whatever name we choose to call that GOD), based on accumulated Good & Bad karmas from past lives. To some extent the only part of life one can have control is to ensure that one does only Good karma, accepts all pleasures & pains as a gift from GOD for past karma and to always remember one's aim in life that having come from GOD one must return to GOD.

    1. Well, one can definitely choose but one will have to work towards the same. As Swami says, "What you meet in life is destiny; how you meet it is self-effort." So, as you said, one should keep doing good and focus on the divine. For an effort-oriented person, "choosing" one's future is what will motivate him/her to constantly keep striving for the same.

    2. Thanks Arvind for clarifying, yes one can choose to be a good person and strive hard to achieve that goal, rest all is in SWAMI's will. Sairam again for all nice articles. Feel like meeting you when I come for PN seva once a year, but feel diffident to disturb you at work, seva schedule ensures that one's free time is utilised for taking rest. So must wait for the right moment.

  8. Thanks Aravind for sharing this with all.

  9. smashaana Vairaagya!! Hmmm... powerful indeed. Thanks Aravind B.. very well written.

  10. Thank you so much.I wish my death to be like this.Life should be 24/7 only swami,swami...,,,,

  11. Very, very powerful reading as it brought some of the mystery and majesty of this life into view.

    1. Thank you brother. Your words have been 'mark'ed! :)

  12. Thank you Saibrother Aravind. Made me cry ..

  13. What a clarity of thought! Didn't our beloved Swami say Be careful how and what we ask of him - for He will give it to us.'? I am amazed at such a young age you have expresses your dearest wish so explicitly without any mistakes. Of course, He shall grant you, no doubt about it! It did not even occur to me to think of death until death itself came close to my life! Its only due to Swami that I am alive...Your sweet thougjts expresses expressed above made me realize what someone had mentioned, "Its not the body's age that matters but, that of the spirit!" You are truly blessed.

    1. Thank you for your loving and affectionate words. I feel humbled and inspired at the same time. Just being with Swami is enough - in thought (definitely) and in body (if possible) - to give birth to such thoughts and feelings.It would be really nice if you can share your tryst with death and how Swami gave you back your life.

      Once again, thank you for your love and kind words.

  14. i wanted your email id
    can you please give me

    ashish bagrodia

    1. Please post your mail id here and I shall mail you the same day.


  15. Wow, what beautiful and powerful thoughts Brother! All three stories are extraordinary, the lives of every one of Swami's bhakthas is an extraordinary tale! You have made the most frightening and confusing subject a joy to read about. Thank you and Jai Sai Ram!


  16. Your article was nectar for the mind and soul. May you continue to be blessed with such divine inspiration for the service of others, it is needed more than ever before. Sai Ram

  17. Sairam Dear Brother, for the past few months i was tormented with death, death fear, at death what, after death what, though had read books like Laws of Spirit world, etc. This article really has helped me to further fine tune, pray and work for the death which will be gift to mother," the best gift you can give to mother (mothers of past life also) is not be born in her womb" Brother Arvind you saturated with Swami elixir, will have the SALAD of all the above wishes being fulfilled. Swami bless you to write more such heart stirring spiritual wisdom

  18. Dear Brother - My Loving Sairam.

    Thank you so much Dear Brother for giving us the experience - "That is how I wish my end would come to me - with my full awareness, in the presence of my Lord and Master." Thank you so much Dear Brother for giving us so much LOVE. Thank you, Deva

  19. Bhaskar Bhattarai19 June 2018 at 11:21

    Sai Ram brother, thank you for sharing these gems of wisdom..... awestruck.

  20. I am sure the dates you put in the cartoon headstone are significant! Can you please tell us? Sai Ram!

    1. Oh! I don't know... I just found it on the internet and felt it symbolised the truth that ,
      "Whenever one may be born, one is sure to die - whether in the past or future..."

  21. Sairam Aravind, your articles are timeless, when I read this article now my thoughts were my fantasy on how I would like to change the dress (present body). Then I srarted reading comments, that is when I realised that this was written a few years ago and wondered how I missed reading it. As I scrolled down I saw my earlier comment, your reply and my response. my memory is not sharp enough. Food for thought for me. Thanks a lot for re-posting it.


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