LIVING, DYING

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Reverence for Death is Reverence for Life

He realized now that to be afraid of this death he was staring
at with animal terror, meant to be afraid of life. Fear of dying
justified a limitless attachment to what is alive in man. And
all those who had not made the gestures necessary to live their
lives, all those who feared and exalted impotence - they were
afraid of death because of the sanction it gave to a life in which
they had not been involved. They had not lived enough, never
having lived at all.
- Albert Camus

They had not lived enough, never having lived at all. And those who
can't live well, can't die well, for dying is the last act that the living
perform. Life and death are not absolute experiences belonging to
separate categories, but are just two sides of the same reality, the
seemingly polar opposites that are but parts of a single, larger whole.
A good death, a happy one at that, then, is a crowning glory to a good,
happy life.

In The Art of Loving , Fromm distinguishes between the 'love of
emotion' and the 'love of decision', the former by its very nature
evanescent, the latter, abiding. An abiding love of life can spring only
from a decision, a resolve to love life. And such a resolve, scriptures
and seers, philosophers and writers emphasize, has as its underlying
fountainhead, the acceptance of death.

Talking of terminal cases, Kubler-Ross has described 'the stage of
acceptance', a time when the patient comes to terms with the prospect
of death, and makes peace with it. Should not all of us, even in health,
weave this thread of the acceptance of death into the very fabric of
our life? The fairest deaths, Montaigne declared, are those that are
the most voluntary, to which Fontaine added; 'Death never takes the
wise man by surprise; He is always ready to go.'

Death in Life
The eminent biologist and Nobel-laureate Jacob has concluded his
tome The Logic of Living Systems by a generalization that precisely
and intrinsically programmed death is inherent to every form of life.
That life here and now is equivalent to death here and now, is the
most scientific and the most profound truth about life and death. Such
scientifically-based reverence for death and reverence for life leads
us to link up euthanasia (good death) and euvivasia (good life).

Reverence for Time
The only representative of the eternal time that the mortal being has
control over and access to is this moment , a realization that springs
not from a business executive's utilitarian regard for time, but a
homage to This Timeless Moment . The disease of modern times is
hastiness and superficiality, a pathology rooted in man's inability
and reluctance to revere each moment as an inseparable part of
eternity.

The overcrowded curricula and the shallow media foster the obsession
of time only as a means to lucre, laurels or levity. In the absence of
such gains, the best that people can do is to kill time . Time only for
gain compels the adoption of haste and superficiality, and these in
turn, spawn a perpetual chase for the new. 'What's new?' is an
interesting and broadening eternal question, but one which, if pursued
exclusively, as is the raging fashion, results more often than not in an
endless parade of trivia, the silt of tomorrow, and the fossil of the
day after.

Should not this acquisitive, overachieving, information-obsessed,
technological society call a halt to its progress, and declare the worth
of the idea of beholding Heaven in a wild flower, and infinity in the
palm of one's hand? In Janus , Koestler points out the striking disparity
between the growth-curves of science and technology on the one hand,
and of ethical conduct on the other, as evidenced by the sixth century
B.C. emergence of Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism, and the
twentieth century burdens of Stalinism, Hilterism and Maoism. In
Candle in the Wind , Solzhenitsyn, through Alex and his urbanized
uncle, debates the gains of electricity versus no electricity: 'Did Plato
have a battery? Did Mozart have 220 volts? In candlelight, Uncle,
your heart opens up.' In the face of death, there is no escape from
allowing the inner light to illuminate our hearts, our lives, our every
this moment .

Reverence for Self
'Oh my dear, you are one in a million.' This affectionate assurance
from a grandmother can with impunity be multiplied 6000 times to
declare that each one of us is one in 6 billion, plus. Outside a Yoga
Center in Mumbai is written: 'Each living being is a new thought of
God.' The atheist could take this God as the bioforce of a Generator,
Operator, Destroyer, or as a Gene Ordered Design. Be it as it may,
each one of us has the blessing, the privilege of being a unique person,
the like of which is not to be found now, nor in the past, nor in the
future. Let each one of us be proud of this mutual uniqueness.

The world is waking up the innate wisdom of the scriptures. It is a
pity that the utilitarian, demeaning educational systems the world over,
floundering in the quagmire of comparative evaluations of human
beings, unregenerately succeed in smothering the awesome truth of
each person's right to exist. This truth lost, most of us die a thousand
deaths every day till bodily death puts an end to this dying. Suicide is
a crude expression of such self-denial. In Japan, for example, the
approach of spring traditionally brings a countrywide suicidal rush; a
major factor in this phenomenon is that school examination results
are made known by April and the victims of Japan's competitive
educational system often kill themselves rather than carry the stigma
of failure throughout their lives. What price progress! This example,
widely found in the West and likely to infect the developing East, is a
strong incentive towards reviving some eternal values whereby human
beings are taught, from the very start of life, to value their own self
as larger, grander and more important than marks, grades, position,
possessions, or shared opinions.

Each one of us, as a rightful individual in the universe, owns the
moon and the stars, each one of us is cosmically rich. Rachel Carson,
the author of The Silent Spring drives home the importance of a
sense of wonder as one of the requisites for full living. The much
acclaimed Seven Wonders of the World will go down in history as
the greatest understatements of all times: what is it that is not
wonderful? The Zen Masters advise seeing life's every moment,
every little act with the 'everyday mind' whereby life - routine,
humdrum life - becomes not only a way to enlightenment but
enlightenment itself. In Zen , one who has achieved satori
(enlightenment), lives entirely in the present, gives fullest attention
to everyday affairs, and experiences unceasingly the wonders and
mysteries of life in every little act:

How wonderous this, how mysterious!
I carry fuel, I draw water.
I can wonder, I can see.
I can hear the music of the spheres.

Countering this conception is the indifference, the neglect, the
injustice that the modern human being perpetrates on his or her own
self in the name of being successful and sociable. The two wheels on
which the chariot of sound health runs are proper sleep and proper
food, towards achieving which the body sends out, day in and day
out, a thousand signals and silent pleas in consonance with one's
individuality. To suit the conviviality of a party, to meet a deadline,
to please a business contact, nourishment gets perverted, sleep abjured
and distorted. The climax is reached when a person must take a pill to
sleep and a pill to keep awake. Lin Yutang has defined happiness as
largely a matter of good digestion, while Sophocles defined it as the
only medicine that gives ease. The science of Yoga teaches, as a
primary requirement, the ability to sleep soundly and refreshingly.

Medicine, which boasts of knowing how many nanograms (a nanogram
is a 1000 millionth of a gram) of a vitamin are needed by the human
body, might be better employed to research into how much of right
thinking and right living - even prayer, meditation, compassion - are
needed to make for a better person, a better life.

Reverence for the Living
The grand unity of life manifests itself through the intriguing genetic,
structural and functional similarities exhibited by all living forms,
from plankton and protozoa to the primates, and plants. Life implores
and deserves reverence.

'Oreshchenkov offered him the cake as an equal, and he took it as an
equal.' The 'he' there was intelligent, sad-eyed, tranquil, thoughtful,
even transcendental - and 'he' was a dog. Joy Adamson could grow
eloquent the same way for a lioness, Schaller for a gorilla or an Indian
mahout for an elephant. Dhoomketu, a noted Gujarathi writer, has
described the true-life story of Ali and his buffalo; the latter caught
inextricably in a train-track, sees to it that his master Ali who was
trying to save the animal is thrown to safety before the train runs the
animal over. Nobility, lofty and poignant, is far from an exclusive
human feature. The Secret Life of Plants has awakened us to the glory
of the botanical kingdom, and the rapidly advancing deserts and the
recurrent famines have driven home to us the link that human life has
with trees - probably the sole example of life with all goods and no
bads . Jainism ordains that hurting a leaf or a petal is tantamount to
violating the divine order. There is an old Chinese saying: 'If you cut
a blade of grass, you shake the whole universe.'

Everything that throbs with life is an integral and interconnected part
of the universe. Plant and animal life may be sacrificed to meet human
necessities, but not luxuries. The butchering of magnificent whales
for cosmetics and the clubbing to death of seal-pups for fur coats
represent man's tyranny over other fellow life forms as it worst; a
bestiality that demeans human life.

If plants and animals must be respected, what of man? Greedy and
fiercely competitive modern living has robbed mankind of the faculty
of seeing another human being as a fellow child of the universe.
Human beings, in countries rich and poor, are often weighed on the
scale of utility, as a means to an end, with results that have been a
chronic despair for philosophers. Schweitzer has summed up the
problem and its solution in his characteristic way: 'Wherever there is
lost the consciousness that every man is an object of concern for us
just because he is a man, civilization and morals are shaken, and the
advance to fully developed inhumanity is only a question of time.'

This elaboration on the 'doctrine of divinity dwelling in all living
creatures' is no attempt at preaching but a pointer towards achieving
euvivasia , or good life. Some moral values are essential for human
life; one such important value is reverence for life, reverence for all
that is living.

Reverence for the Dying
The dying are persons - not always in need of one more investigation
or operation, but a kind word, an affectionate squeeze, a warm pep
talk; in short, love. The recent Hospice movement owes its origin, in
part, to the realization that doctors treating terminal cases are
frequently too obsessed with the disease process and have too little
concern for the patient as a person. 'Today', according to an article
'A Good Death' in Newsweek, 'when mistakenly prolonged attempts
at cures are at last abandoned, many doctors desert the dying, who
are left unsupported at the most demanding point of their illness.'
The kith and kin of the dying, with their overweening regard for
medical men and nursing homes, follow the doctors and give up the
dying when they most need the human touch , or a plain humane
'hello'.

What relevance do the dying have to a good life? It is multifold. Each
dying person is a model of what is inevitably going to befall another
person. What is more important, it is one's witnessing or assisting
good, dignified dying that prepares oneself for the event; perhaps a
utilitarian, selfish viewpoint, but a valid one.

Beyond one's selfishness, there is the altruistic challenge, of making
somebody's moment of dying, the moment of soul-satisfying living.
The dying can't do much, but they can feel a lot. The dying cannot
hurt, only love, and be loved. The dying when close to us, offer us the
last, parting chance to grow up, to understand them, to love them.

The Hospice Movement could be defined as institutionalized reverence
for the dying. It has been rightly described as a therapeutic community
within a society, helping the living to live until they die. The Hospice
Movement must, in spirit, move into every home whereby the
survivors learn to help dignify the passage of the dying by giving and
thus receiving. George Eliot's assurance that 'the growing good of
the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts' allows the near-ones
of the dying to love and console the latter, without much effort,
expense, or medical intervention. The dying are worthy of reverence,
for they are the best teachers that we have.

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