LIVING, DYING

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Life and Death: Before and Beyond

We are afraid of death, because we are afraid of the absolute
cessation of our personality. Therefore, if we realize the Person
as the ultimate reality which we know in everything that we
know, we find our own personality in the bosom of the eternal.
To realize with the heart and mind the divine being who dwells
within us is to be assured of everlasting life.
- Rabindranath Tagore

Death, the borderline between being and non-being makes man
wonder, what am I , where from , where to ? Life, here and now, possibly
extends this side of birth and that side of death presenting to man's
mind the possibility of an uninterrupted threefold existence; Herenow,
Hereafter, and even, Herebefore - a ceaseless state of Being both in
space and time, in infinity and in eternity. Such a conceptual leap
takes man into the cosmic arena, into the cosmic whole. To this
yearning of man for an understanding of the yonder on either side of
life, science - advanced science - is responding with an exhilarating
affirmation.

Cosmic Interrelatedness: Advaitic Wholeness
Science's positivism is based on the fact that the boundaries dividing
the past, the present, and the future have become blurred, and the
entire universe, both in terms of time and space, appears as one
uninterrupted whole.

The latest certitude vis-a-vis cosmic wholeness in terms of both space
and time, stems from Bell's theorem which declares that there are no
such things as separate parts or separate events. All the ' parts' and
all the 'events' are interconnected in an intimate and immediate way
previously claimed only by the mystics. Ab initio to ad eternum , the
Big Bang to the ultimate Black Hole, the universe is one continuous
whole.

With this cosmic comprehension of the universal interconnectedness
of things and events, the Big Bang, the Black Hole and the Buddha
assume an interconnectedness, a oneness. In the words of a Tantric
Buddhist, Lama Anagarika Govinda, 'The Buddhist does not believe
in an independent or separately existing external world, into whose
dynamic forces he could insert himself. The external world and his
inner world are for him only two sides of the same fabric, in which
the threads of all forces and of their objects, are woven into an
inseparable net of endless, mutually conditioned relations.' Particle
physics echoes this statement by generalizing that 'Every particle
consists of all other particles.' Each atom is, and, as it were, contains
all the (base 10 log 84) atoms that comprise the visible universe.

Lest it be felt that Bell's theorem and its corollaries have been hastily
overexploited, the reader's attention can be drawn, first, to the
Einsteinian space-time continuum , and secondly, to the not commonly
recognized life-time continuum , the former by now axiomatic in physics,
the latter the basis of the biological uniqueness of every individual.

Space-Time Continuum
There is no such thing as space and time, only space-time. Space-
time flows perpetually to form a continuum, an uninterrupted,
unfragmentable whole. The Eastern sages, talk of an infinite, timeless
and yet dynamic present, of the existence of this eternal now . As Hui-
neng, a Zen Patriarch, put it; 'The absolute tranquillity is the present
moment. Though it is at this moment, there is no limit to this moment,
and herein is eternal delight.' In the spiritual world, Suzuki
emphasizes, there are no such temporal distinctions as the past, present
and future, for they have rolled themselves into a single movement,
the present moment.

Life-Time Continuum
The nature of the life-time continuum is not difficult to grasp. It may
be recalled that life is configured time , an interconnected focal point
in the fathomless ocean of time. The incontrovertible nature of the
interconnectedness is driven home by the unprecedented, unparalleled,
and unrepeatable uniqueness of every individual human being, every
life-form, from the time life began. When a human being, say M, is in
the process of developing in the mother's womb, its first zygotic cell
and all the cells thereafter must know, there and then, of all the life-
forms that have been, that are, and that will be, so that the uniqueness
of M remains asserted, unviolated and unduplicated. Surely the ways
of our selves and our cells are of immeasurable knowledge.

How come our human, M, knows of another human being a thousand
years before and yet another being a thousand years hence? If the
necessary 'information' were to travel, then even at the speed of light,
it would take 1000 years before the embryonic cells of M know what
to do. In reality, they know exactly what to do, in no time. This means
that whatever information - in fact, all the information backwards,
now-wards and forwards - the cells need to know is there. Matter, life
in general, and we humans are configured by information - the
noumenal Brahman, governing as it does the triad of space, time and
energy that are the raw material for the phenomenal universe
christened in Indian scriptures as the Lila.

There was something formless yet complete,
That existed before heaven and earth,
Without sound, without substance,
Dependent on nothing, unchanging,
All-pervading, unfailing.

This passage from the scriptures describes Brahman on the one hand,
and, in modern physics 'information' on the other. Brahman is
'information,' rightly described in the Hindu scriptures as smaller than
the smallest, vaster than the vastest. A mundane exemplification of
this idea is not far to seek: there is more information on organic
chemical synthesis packed into the head of a spermatozoon than in
all the 250 volumes of The Journal of Biological Chemistry . Encoded
within the 0.0000000000001 gm of DNA of every mammalian cell is
the total history of life.

Salt Doll in the Cosmic Ocean
We are now ready to understand the Indian metaphor of a salt doll in
the ocean. Let us suppose that the cosmos is the size of, and the nature
of, the Pacific ocean, and that we are concerning ourselves with the
human, M, that we just talked about. Guided by information that spells
M-ness, at some stage some salt of the ocean aggregates to form M.
Over an appointed period of time, M, gathering yet more salt - or yet
more cells - grows, decays and finally dissolves to become one with
the ocean.

Three truths are clear: Before M took recognizable corporeal form,
M-specific information was there in communication with the rest of
the ocean. This was M's pre-existence. During the carnate phase, M
was connected uninterruptedly to the entire ocean. In the post-carnate
phase, M-ness was (and, is) a part of the ocean, very much there to
guide another N-in-the-making, not to be like M. M is as eternal as
eternity, as infinite as infinity. For M, as for anyone, life is finite, but
eternal. Here, hereafter, herebefore, M is .

The Tao of Being Here
One's uniqueness is an extraordinary phenomenon in the sense that
an individual is a focal point, the central point of the whole universe,
infinity and eternity. 'In the heaven of Indra', as Mahayana Buddhism
states 'there is said to be a network of pearls, so arranged that if you
look at one you see all others reflected in it.'

In the words of Plotinus each being contains in itself the entire
intelligible world; therefore, All is everywhere, each is All, and All
is each. Leibniz described the world as being made of fundamental
units called 'monads,' each of which mirrors the whole universe.
Buddhism insists that this state of interpenetration - one being
containing, reflecting all others by being at the center of all others -
is not comprehensible intellectually, but is to be experienced by an
enlightened mind in a state of meditation. This rare gift of
encompassing the whole creation, the entire cosmos in one's individual
self is epitomized in the illuminated Indian self-awareness: I am
Brahman .

The Eternal Heretobefore and Hereafter
The life on this plane is only for a short time, but from the
standpoint of eternal life we are never born and we are never
gong to die, because we are birthless, deathless, eternal,
immortal, and also part and parcel of the infinite SPIRIT which
is worshipped under different names among different races.
- Swami Abhedananda

Can intuition or science offer some help in presenting the haziest
concepts of before-birth and after-death, pre-existence and
immortality? We may start with Tagore's wisdom summing up "the
personality of man": Despite the obvious fact of death, man asserts
his immortality by that deeper unity, that ultimate mystery in him
which, while occupying his present, overflows its banks called the
past and the future, through his body and beyond his body, through
his mind and beyond his mind. Tagore's insight can be backed by
what Jesus said: 'Before Abraham was, I am.' Since each one of us is
but a configuration of the eternal spirit, each one of us is before birth,
and continues to be, after death. Science, enriched by wisdom, has
started talking of the eternal herebefore and hereafter - in confident
terms. Pre-existence explains the continuity of life into the past, and
immortality explains the continuity of life into the future.

Life thus presents the possibility of being, really, an uninterrupted
three-dimensional affair. "Never did I not exist, nor you, nor will any
of us, ever hereafter cease to be,' assures the Gita . This is simply
because, the Gita explains, existence can never be non-existence,
neither can non-existence ever become existence. And you the Gita
generalizes, cannot be burnt by fire, dried up by air, wetted by water,
killed by swords. You are in reality complete, bliss incarnate, being
the immortal, indestructible awareness that has been, is, and will be a
perennial witness to the cosmic play.

Lest it be felt that such thoughts on eternal life - forwards and
backwards - is an Indian obsession it should be remembered that
students of comparative religion as well as those of history find such
ideas among Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, Chinese, Scandinavians,
Greeks and Egyptians, philosophers like Pythagoras, Plato and
neoplatonists like Plotinus, and poets like Wordsworth, Tennyson, and
Whitman.

When Crito asked, ' In what way shall we bury you, Socrates?'
Socrates replied: 'In any way you like, but first you must catch me,
the real me. Be of good cheer, my dear Crito, and say that you are
burying my body only, and do with that whatever is usual and what
you think best.' What is this unburiable Socratic me, that refuses to
go to the grave with the body? In ordinary terms it is man's personality
or mind. In esoteric terms, it is his or her soul-force. This soul-force
has two choices before it. The most common is karma-guided rebirth
and reincarnation, as a part of the perpetual cycle: 'Whatsoever desire
is very strong during the lifetime, becomes predominant at the time
of death, and that desire,' the Gita declares, 'moulds the creation of
the subtle body of the individual.' The uncommon is the choiceless,
nirvanic merger, oneness with the cosmos. The salt doll, as it were,
becomes the cosmos.

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