But it is now time to depart, - for me to die, for you to
live. But which of us is gong to a better state is
unknown to everyone but God.
On a rainy evening on October 7, 1977, we were arranging the slides for a talk on October 10. The theme of the presentation was an integrative concept of death’s non-dependence on disease and its impartial but inexorable sway on mankind. At that time, it was clearly morning at Fort Lee, New Jersey. Dipak - Dr. Kothari’s brother - had has morning tea, and then stretched himself out on the bed for a while, and died. He had had a massive heart attack. His wife Poorvi returned in the afternoon to find Dipak lying most peacefully in bed.
Dipak was a tall, handsome person, athletically built and inclined. He had had neither diabetes nor high blood pressure, nor excess weight - none of the ‘risk’ factors. He belonged to a family of nonagenarians where, from among 20 such adults, nobody has had even anginal pain. Yet Dipak, against every cardiologic claim to predisposing factors, died of coronary artery occlusion.
For Dr. Kothari, with whom Dipak grew from school days through postgraduation, this was a rude shock. However, the head consoled the grieving heart, persistently driving home the point that death’s mathematics does its task governed solely by Pascalian probabilities, irreverent in the face of medical attempts at prevention, diagnosis and treatment. We have lived with Dipak’s death and with the understanding of its significance in the overall working of Nature. What appears as cruelly unjust, chaotic and disorderly at the individual and family level, is but a part of the impartial, fully just, greater order.
Mankind fears disease and dreads death - an attitude promoted over the centuries by medical men. However, what helped us understand Dipak’s death, we thought, could stand by many others. And hence this book.
We have found that the biological and medical data on death is highly comprehensible. Death emerges not as some accidental, unfortunate, macabre freak of Nature, but as a pristine, vital and co-ordinated herd or group function. The greek root Demos; meaning people, lies at the heart of democracy. Disease - cancer, heart attack, diabetes, and so on - and death are democratic being biologically of the people, governed by the people, and we might accept in good cheer, exercised for the people. Such a humane approach to disease and death allows us to delve into the very meaning of man’s life and of man’s death through a synthesis of science, philosophy, and religion.
Indian scriptures have revered death as the great, impartial ruler in whose reign the king and the commoner, the physician and the patient, the rich and the poor, the male and the female, the aged and the young, all are treated alike. Such a view of death allows one to befriend death and not be afraid of it, allows one to live every moment of life and not to die a thousand deaths before the climactic moment.
Were this book to bear a title in an Indian language, it would have been called Mrutyu Upanishad or Death Upanishad. The term Upanishad comes from upa (near to ) ni-shad (to sit) meaning "sitting down near" for a te^te-a’-te^te to admire, appreciate, comprehend many a thing, mundane or mighty. The attendant informality has a built-in respect for the lay person’s ability to understand what is shunned as complex by the learned. The mood of uninhibited inquiry, the Upanishadic spirit, is pregnant with the possibility of distilling wisdom through common sense. The humility of sitting child-like before some seemingly scary realities gives one the clarity of vision to welcome the inevitable, and benefit therefrom, unclouded by the current scientific hubris and the medical world’s blind optimism. Death accepts what is, is right, and then proceeds to present a perspective that has no quarrel either with human aspirations or with some hard facts. An underlying order governing disease and death unfolds itself, giving the patient and the physician, the dying and the near ones a sense of direction and purpose that hitherto has not existed. Death is an exercise in natural philosophy, wherein science vindicates the philosophic and religious approach to disease and death.