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Understanding Disease and Death

Man knows that things die. He witnesses their deaths and sometimes even executes them. These traumatic deaths are easy to understand. A complex living system is quickly and radically destroyed, and it ceases functioning. Natural death, the main subject of this article, is much more difficult to grasp.

The New Encyclopaedia Britannica

These are the years of the thantologic imperative: Death must be understood. Death must be discussed as an everyday topic. Death must be accepted. Death must be rationalized. But how? A simplified biologic approach to human disease and death can help achieve the current thanatologic aim of making people understand, and accept, death as but the obverse side of a coin called life.

About death, mankind seems curiously schizophrenic. On the one hand, man exalts himself as the only one, alone of all living creatures, to be privileged to know and conceive of his death as a must in the double sense - that it is inevitable and without exception. On the other hand, man, once again the only one among all animals, resents, dreads, and fights this unexceptionable inevitability with such paranoic vigour that death has been rendered in our time obscene.

The genesis of this schizophrenia is likely to be rooted in the recently discovered, natural dichotomy in man’s cerebral hemispheres: His "right brain”, artistic, imaginative, poetic, wiser, older-in-age, and intuitive in its perception of the reality, could have had no problem understanding, and thus even accepting, death as inevitable and without exception. The "left brain”, wedded to the dictates of reason, and the urge to Promethean action, has not yet been able to assign death and its peremptoriness a place in the logical scheme of things. This is the age of the dominance of man’s "left brain”, by its mighty material achievements, by its felicity of overpowering verbiage, and most of all by its ability, to foster unreason by the misuse of reason. Mankind truly is caught between its two minds. The "right brain” has accepted death long ago; the left is still struggling to find the necessary scheme and the parlance to do so. This book is addressed basically to man’s "left brain”, his left cerebral hemisphere - to provide it with a comprehensible scheme and language to enable it to understand death in its bio-logical entirety.

What is to be Understood?
Medical Science has been advancing one disease or another as the cause of death. Causability of death by disease, so the medical logic goes, presupposes its curability - by the prevention or the cure of disease. Modern medicine, however, couldn’t have been more wrong than in its naive but enduring assumption that disease causes death. Altogether, death has little to do with health and sickness; it uses them both for its ends.

Disease and death, in fact, are inherent components of man’s development, are governed by time and regulated by the herd, behave independently of each other and, in essence, are causally unrelated, death by itself being a programmed normal function performed by a living being. Individual development which begins at conception is neither completed in the womb nor concluded at birth; it goes on throughout life expressing itself as infancy, childhood, adolescence, maturity, the decay and diseasing of senility and death.

What Gains Flow from the Understanding?
The realization that man’s diseases are largely an integral part of growth and development is an exercise in self-knowledge and self- respect. Such knowledge about ourselves, besides responding to the invocation to know ourselves can be preventive and curative for the current complex of diseasophobia and needless diagnosing and doctoring.

The acceptance of death as a timed event in a man’s development programme governed by his herd, can mean divesting death of a thousand derogatory epithets. The current thanatological movement is pleading for giving death and dying their due dignity. This is possible provided the modern, rational mind finds a place for disease and death in the logical scheme of things.

To understand disease and death is to accept them as parts of our own being. If life, as in its essence is to be regarded as good, then death must be worshipped as life’s guardian angel. Without death, none of us would be living as we are today. Let us understand life’s foremost angel - death.

Such reverence for death has been, for long epitomised in the Eastern concept of Trimurti (meaning, triple form). It is the Hindu triad of Brahma the Creator, Vishnu the Preserver, and Shiva the Dissolver. This holy trinity is represented carrying three confluent heads symbolizing the union of the three powers without whose blessings there can be no creation, nothing to preserve, and nothing to destroy.

The serene nonchalance and the effortless precision with which death exerts its sway at the appointed time regardless of any human expectations or efforts has earned for death the name of Dharmaraja/ Yamaraja* meaning Dutiful King/Lawkeeping King. Dharma or yama or niyama in the Sanskrit language has the same connotation as Ta o , meaning the Way of the primordial forces of Nature, the mysterious laws that operate in the great organic process of which man is but a part. Based upon the above and as an extension of it, any natural law or constant, or behaviour (like gravity, or even the melting point of ice or iron) are assigned the appellation yama , dharma , or niyama , reminding one of the God of Einstein and Spinoza who reveals Himself in the harmony of all beings, unconcerned with the fate and actions of individual man. All told, death is the yama , niyama , dharma , tao , and nature of one’s being to be studied, treated and revered like any inherent force and aspect of Nature.

* Yamaraja is Yama the King. Yama with his twin sister and later his wife, Yami–both born of the rising sun Vivasat and his consort Saranyu, the Goddess of clouds - formed the first couple to inhabit the earth. After their death, they have become the king and the queen of the realm of the dead where they have created and maintained dwellings of bliss for those who enter their kingdom. Yamaraja is the supreme, kind ruler of the hereafter, the guarantor of bliss, and thus of Heavenly peace.

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