( By Dr Manu L Kothari and Dr Lopa A Mehta )

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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 inter- connectedness 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 seperately 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 inseperable 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 10 raised to 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 uniqu eness 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 stages, 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 incontrolvertible 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, sidewards 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 heave 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 that in all the 200 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 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 a phenomenon extraordinary in the sense that an individual is a focal point, the central point of the whole universe, infinity, eternity. ‘In the heaven of Indra’, as Mahayana Buddhism states ‘there is said to be a network of peals, 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 rate 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 Heretofore 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 his 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 present 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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