When the Dawn Breaks
Death begins with the life’s first breath. The moment a man is born, his cradle has moved closer to the tomb.
What profound thoughts! Daily, man marches closer to the grave but lives in the mistaken belief that death is for others and he has been exempted from it. In the midst of life, we witness death knocking on every door. The siren of the ambulance howling its way through traffic, the cemeteries we frequently pass by and yet pretend that they do not exist, the obituary announcements found in the daily newspapers all subtly remind us that we, too, will be engulfed by the clutches of death. No ordinary individual, not even the most intellectual, has the capacity to know when that exact moment will strike, but death’s visit is certain and no man can escape from it. At the time of the death, every man is reduced to the same rank, whether rich or poor, young or old, healthy or feeble. Death does not distinguish age limits and is biased to none.
It seems that everything that is born into physical existence goes through several stages: birth, development, maturity, degeneration, and death. Yet, why do we fear death and why do we shy away from the subject that moment it is brought up as a topic for open discussion? The more we avoid this question during life, the more perplexing and confusing death will be. We must start to probe into the subject now. Just as death is not a far-off destination in the future, awakening too, should not be a distant thought process. From a spiritual viewpoint, death is an inevitable journey; this fact alone should give us a sharper focus on our perspective on life. A man was not born by a mere twist of fate, rather man took on life from divine and eternal purpose; one that should direct every action of his life.
Our physical bodies are given to us so that we may be able to live on earth while we prepare for another state of existence. Perfect Masters recognize the mysterious nature of death and teach us that death is not what it appears. It is a joyous birth into an existence more significant than we have ever dreamed of. In securing a human body, we are at once put upon the pathway of advancement that leads to inexplicable joy and glory. Mystics explain to us that we misidentify the body with our real, eternal self. This misidentification causes attachment and we are thus overwhelmed by the fear of death. Death is simply ‘removing of winter garment’ or ‘a snake sloughing off its outer skin’. Our real self, the soul, is immortal and remains intact; only the physical body has been lost. This human body has come into existence, and it will become extinct, but the soul essence of it will never cease to exist.
How foolish the worldly man, to identify his immortal soul with something that, at death, becomes mere clay, barren of any vestige of beauty! – Omar Khayam, as quoted in Moments of Truth.
But what we must man do in order to overcome the fear of death? Will the mystery of death unfold itself before man leaves this earthly plane? Can death ever be viewed as something full of wonder, beauty, and promise? Perfect mystics of all ages have revealed that it is possible to prepare for death and to conquer it in this lifetime. Death should be regarded as an entrance into the courts of the royalty of Heaven, and if we wish to come into the presence of the Majesty, then we should learn how to ‘die while living’. The soul, while chained to a physical body during life, leads a tarnished and inferior existence from which it needs to be purified and freed from the shackles of the body. Meditation is nothing but a preparation for what we will experience when we leave the physical body at the time of the death. The Master initiates the aspirant and instructs him to practice dying daily. Through regular practice, he thus learns what death means, and also what lies beyond death – even becoming acquainted with the future home to which he is to go. There is not only ‘no death for him’ in the ordinary sense of some dreadful catastrophe, but there is not even a moment of unconsciousness or a shadow of darkness. At the time of physical death, he goes as liberated soul rising on wings of power and delight as Shams-e-Tabriz profoundly exclaims:
What a blessing it would be if you were one night to bring your soul out of the body, and leaving the tomb behind, ascend to the skies within. If your soul were to vacate your body, you would be saved from the sword of death: You would enter a Garden that knows no autumn.
What effect will death have on this spiritually accomplished man when his sojourn on the earth has ended, when his two hands are clasped together upon his bosom and his two weary feet are inert and motionless as he lays in final rest? When this little-self-faces extinction, what would it matter to him if his body is wrapped in a shroud of silk or cotton, or his coffin is made of fine wood or raw lumber, for he would have envisaged a vista of spiritual awakening into regions of indescribable grandeur and sought sanctuary like a nestling beneath his Beloved’s wings.
Death is not the extinguishing of the light, But the blowing out of the candle because the dawn has come. – Rabindranath Tagore, as quoted in The Wisdom of the Hindu Gurus.