Making Friends With Death – The Bearded Mystic Podcast
Transcript of Episode 12: Making Friends with Death
Hello and welcome to The Bearded Mystic Podcast and I’m your host, Rahul N Singh. Thank you for joining today and for taking out the time to either listen or watch this podcast.
Today we’re going to be talking about how to make friends with death and how we can face the fear of death. Now, it’s one of my favorite topics to talk about. I genuinely think that we ought to discuss death a bit more. We ought to inquire into it a bit more and we need to just be genuine in having a casual conversation about it. I feel that a lot of times when we view death, we view it as something really morbid. We see it as something sad and painful. And although, yes, it’s sad and painful when someone close to us dies, or even the thought of our own selves dying. We know it’s a fact of life, then we ought to be casual about it. The more we discuss it, maybe we are able to transcend that fear. That’s what I really wanted to discuss today in this podcast is understand what the nature of death is, understand what it means and what impact it can have on us and our loved ones? At the end of the day, it’s natural for us to think that the people we are close to, are one day going to leave this earth and one day we’re also going to leave this earth. So how do we embrace that? How do we cope with that? How do we allow ourselves to be detached in those moments? What does it mean to really be detached?
We first need to understand what really dies. If you look at some of the scriptures, if you look at the Upanishads, there’s even a conversation between Nachiketa and Yamaraj, the Lord of death. You can see there that death isn’t a scary figure. In fact, if a child can embrace death in such a way, I think that’s a lesson for all of us who are like me in our thirties to embrace the fact that death can happen at any time. When someone young like Nachiketa who is 10, is able to knock on the door of death, wait for death and ask for three wishes from death. I think it’s really inspiring.
What is it that really dies? This is something I really have inquired into. I’ve really tried to discover what it means to die. I will tell you how that began, but we first need to understand the nature of the body. The one thing that I’ve realized is the body will have to go.
No matter what we do, no matter how rich you are, no matter how poor you are, no matter what color skin you are, no matter if you think you’re superior or you think you’re inferior, whatever it may be, whoever you may be, death will always be knocking on the door. In fact, death is so common or shall I say it’s so present, that one cannot avoid it.
Therefore we know this body will go, this body will decay, go to a cemetery, you will see thousands of gravestones. Once those people roamed the earth and thought that the earth was always going to be there for them possibly, they probably thought they would be eternal. In fact, the way we amass wealth is as if we’re going to be living for enternity. It’s interesting. We live for future generations, but I can’t tell you about my previous generations and what they left me.
The fact is all we have is right now, but what we do leave behind is a legacy. And we can talk about that maybe later at some point, but the fact is whatever is related to this body doesn’t last, our relationships don’t last. The people we love, we care about, they will one day leave this earth too.
We know this body is temporary, is transient. It is subject to decay. In fact, it’s decaying in every moment. There’s a famous couplet by Kabir Ji and I’ll paraphrase it, it says to the mother that “why are you celebrating the birth of your child or the birthday of your child? Your child is dying every day. This is the reality.” it’s very interesting that Kabir ji, one of the famous mystics in India reminded people of that. That why do we celebrate birthdays? When really you’re celebrating that your child is going to die. It’s interesting because death isn’t something that we should be escaping. In fact, when we celebrate a birthday, we celebrating someone getting closer to death, but maybe that’s why we should celebrate it because we’re honoring that life. That’s the difference. When you celebrate a birthday in that regard, it has a whole different quality.
In fact, then we feel like celebrating because we’ve done another year on this earth and hopefully we’ve become a little bit wiser, a little bit richer in our experiences, and we feel that life is beautiful. We know that this body is not going to last. This body definitely goes through a process called death.
What about our mind? Our thoughts? Even there, our body and our mind, our thoughts, they die on a regular basis. One thought arises and suddenly it disappears. One emotion arises, then it disappears. The nature of thought and emotion isn’t everlasting. Even now, in spirituality, a lot of people are talking about intention. When you have your intention behind your affirmation. Even that is temporary. What you want to affirm to today is not what you’re going to affirm to in five years, you may not even see five years. The intention doesn’t last. Intent is not permanent.
If our mind and its content is not everlasting, is not permanent, then what is? This is the whole journey of spirituality and the answers that I’ve got when I’ve read the scriptures, there is only one thing that really lasts, and that is our consciousness, our awareness.
Now think about it, depending on how old you are, with each year of your life, or each decade of your life, there must have been something that watched all those events happening, all those memories that you can recall. There’s something watching it that has remained the same. It’s not growing older, it’s not even younger.
What is that? What is that presence that isn’t determined by the nature of time? This is consciousness. This is awareness. That is who we really are. Remember that this awareness was also there before this body existed, because you don’t know when this awareness began. If you don’t know when this awareness began, then how will this awareness end? How will this consciousness end? Awareness has no beginning. We’ve understood that awareness doesn’t die. Consciousness doesn’t die. Presence doesn’t die. In this world that we’re living in now, this embodiment that I have now, this will definitely die. So how do I deal with that? I will tell you about when my interaction with death began and I will tell you my journey about it.
The first time I experienced someone close to me dying was my uncle and I was around 12 years old at the time. This was an uncle I was very close to. He was my aunt’s husband on my dad’s side. He was a person I really looked up to and I really look up to even today, There was something always about him, which was always calm.
He was always in remembrance of who he really was. He constantly remembered the formless all the time, even in his sleep, I would often hear him remembering the Formless. So he was a very inspirational figure for me when I was growing up. He loved reading. He inspired us to study. Not only study in terms of education, but even in spirituality.
When he died, that was the first time I ever had to deal with death emotionally and seeing my uncle, his body just lifeless was very shocking for me. I wondered how someone so full of life could now just not be there. How was that possible? I started thinking about death and then wanted to know what was everlasting?
If this body was something I couldn’t rely upon then what could I rely upon? That’s when I got deeper into my spirituality, you could say that was my first trigger point in my spiritual journey. Now what happens is, you have that moment of, I would say, a rude awakening of life is transitory.
Then you just get back into the function of life again, you get back into the hustle and bustle of life. You forget that death is there because it’s not always a constant reminder in your life. So you get back into the daily occurrences of life and death is forgotten. Life gets busy again, and we forget that our life is slipping away.
When that happens, we lose sight of the fact of death. What happens there is we just get absorbed in material life and the reality that we need to be experiencing, ends up disappearing from our mind, from our awareness. In fact, we stay away from awareness and we just get into the absorption of material life.
Then one day I came across a quote by OSHO. OSHO said that “the real question is not whether life exists after death. The real question is whether you are alive before death.” And I was like what does he mean by being alive?
Like I’m living, I’m breathing right now. What does OSHO mean by this? It got me thinking, well, actually I’m just on autopilot in life. I’m not really experiencing things deeply. I’m just going about my day. As if I were to live another day, when really I know that tomorrow may never arrive. Tomorrow may never be in my experience, in this body as Rahul.
And that’s when I wanted to know what it meant to feel alive.
Then I started this journey of really inquiring what it meant. What is it that remains,
That was literally my second trigger or my second push into spirituality and that’s when I wanted to start meditating. That’s when I began meditating, when I started thinking about what death was. And who dies. What dies? Is this body everlasting? Is this body going to remain with me? Is this body alive right now? Am I utilizing this body for its right purpose? Am I utilizing my mind for the right purpose? These were the questions that I was asking myself.
That’s when I started meditating and that triggered my journey in meditation because meditation showed me something that was everlasting. Meditation showed me something that would not die and continues to do so.
I then came across another quote by OSHO and he says something on the lines of “death is going to come sooner or later, before death comes, learn how to die in meditation.” This got me on another roller coaster.
How do I die in meditation? That was another third push. Okay. What does it mean to feel alive? And now OSHO is talking about death. These are two seemingly opposite things, but OSHO is pointing towards something eternal, something beyond death, something beyond aliveness.
What was that? And what is that? When I say ‘was’ that means it’s in the past, but it actually is present with us right now. Right now in this moment it’s here.
There’s another Sufi saying that for a seeker is to die before death. Again, like what dies before death? What is it? What dies is our attachment to the body. What dies is our attachment to memory. Now accepting that for oneself may be a little easier, but what about the acceptance of others dying? Now? If we can accept our own death, then we have to also accept the death of others because if I die, others will die. That’s an inescapable law. If I’m to allow that attachment to die, there’s a lot that I need to really consider. There’s a lot of things that I need to embrace and that’s what my journey has been leading me to. That’s why I started studying Advaita Vedanta because this provided me with an answer that I could deal with, I could live with.
Am I scared of my loved ones dying? I’ve had a brother of mine die, I have had now a few members of my family die. I’ve seen people who I went to school with die.
something very scary and emotional to deal with. I’m not going to turn around to you and say, it’s easy. It’s not but each time someone I know dies, the more I accept that this is going to be a regular occurrence in my life.
I’m not going to lie. I’m going to say there’s a little bit of fear in me. Like fear of losing my loved ones. I fear that one day my parents are going to die. I do fear that. I do fear if any of my siblings are going to die. If my cousins are going to die, my uncles, my aunties, my friends, my best friends, people I just know.
The fact that one day they will not be here. One day I will not be able to pick up my phone and speak to them. I will not be able to visit them. They will not be able to visit me.
So how do I overcome this fear? And this is where Advaita Vedanta really helped me and it actually provided me that necessary push to embrace it. Now, like I said, there’s still fear in me. I’m still working on it and hopefully when we get to maybe, you know, episodes in a couple of years, I can turn around to you and say, I’ve overcome that fear, but right now I’m telling you how I feel.
There’s been times and I’ve made significant improvement, I would say in meditation. So during meditation a couple of years ago, I would go so deep that there’d be a point where I would be faced with this dilemma that if I go any further, if I take this leap, I’m going to die.
I’m going to lose myself. This is it. Whenever I used to experience this, I used to stop meditating. I used to just get up and be like, I’m not doing this. I can’t do this. Recently, I’ve come to embrace this and actually I don’t die. It’s the fear of the mind, in fact the mind doesn’t want you to go through the experience of meditation.
The reason for this is the mind is put to the side and what comes to the forefront is awareness, consciousness, formlessness. When the formless aspect of you comes in front of you, the mind realized that, oh, you’re losing your attraction to forms. Well, if you’re losing your attractions to forms, let me create fear.
The fear of death, our primal fear. What’s the one thing that we do is survive. We want to survive. This is the whole objective of existence is we want to survive. That’s what the mind triggers. In meditation recently, I would say this has only come around in the past couple of months actually, where whenever this has happened, I’ve been able to take that leap.
All that happens is my awareness just gets deeper. The awareness just starts deepening and deepening. I just enter into that state of formlessness and I’m able to just stay there. There’s no need for my mind to think of any thoughts. My mind I don’t think it exists there. I dunno, I’ve not really dwelled upon where my mind is but all I know my mind is aware of this.
Now, the more I’ve experienced that the more I’ve become detached. This is really tough because my family members are listening to this. And I have to clarify when I say this and I have to go deeper into this as well. That yes, I’ve now become slightly more detached towards my family members.
Now, regardless of this detachment, that doesn’t mean that love disappears. I will say the love deepens. I love my family members even moreso. I love my friends even moreso, because I know now that one, yes. If I am formless, they are formless but right now we’re in this beautiful, transactional reality, where we are in this form and whenever I’m with them, whenever I’m on the phone to them, I want to be completely with them. I want to be one with them as much as possible.
This detachment of one embracing my own death. And then the death of my loved ones has allowed me to just be more present. Now, the question is that , when my parents do die, and they eventually will. I have to remind myself of this, that one day, my parents are going to go, my siblings are going to go. I’m going to go. My wife is going to go. When that happens, I am going to feel pain. I am going to go through the stages of grief because I’m in this human form. But there will always be this reminder within me that says no one ever dies. If you look at our own existence, I cannot tell you when I began. I can’t tell you when I will end, and this is the same for everyone.
I can’t tell you when you began. I can’t tell you when you end. For me, you’re everlasting. You’re a truth that will always be. You’re real essence – consciousness, pure awareness, which you really are is always going to be here. And the more I remember that, the more I will get stronger. Now, if someone I love or I care about or someone I come across and I hear that they’re not doing well, they’re in hospital, or they’re just not doing well. Of course, I will pray for their wellbeing, for what’s best for them, what will relieve their suffering or that they suffer less. That’s something I can do. That doesn’t mean when you become detached, you lose all sense of action. No, that’s not the real purpose of detachment. That’s not the real purpose of renunciation. Renunciation or detachment means you always go back to the eternal truth. That’s what it really means.
When we do investigate death with an open mind and open heart, we realize that nobody is born or dies, but we just modified forms of consciousness. That’s all. From consciousness we have come and to consciousness, we will go.
That’s very simple and I will always be alive. You will always be alive. The people that have died, whether it’s my brother, my master, in terms of physical form, my uncles, aunts. They’re all alive right now. I can feel their aliveness because I know their essence, their essence is Brahman and Brahman is always here. Brahman is always alive.
We have to embrace the death of others and we know it’s a fact and we will go through pain and sadness and grief, but at the same time, we need to stabilize ourselves in the truth that we are all formless. We are all consciousness or pure awareness, we will always be present. There is only now. There was no past. There is no future. There is only now. In this now, everything is alive. Everything.
You could say, there’s no birth or death. I would say there is only aliveness, birth and death are just in between. Birth and death just co-exists with aliveness, they are events in aliveness.
There is a meditation and this meditation was something, I don’t know if Ramana Maharshi came across it or it’s something that happened naturally to him. I can’t recall, but it’s basically a meditation where you feel like you’ve died. So you just lie down and you just feel that your whole body is now really still, your breath has slowed down. There’s no thoughts because who can be thinking if you died? And just experience that. This is pretty dangerous and I will say if you have a Guru, probably is best do with them present, it can trigger an intense awakening. So I will give that disclaimer. You have to pretend basically that you’re dead. It’s a very strong and direct meditation. I’ve done this a few times. I personally have benefited from it, but it’s not the meditation I do today. I will say that this meditation, that Ramana did, this meditation of pretending you’re dead, it does bring about a certain aspect of silence, which you probably never experienced before in the mind.
So it’s definitely a worthwhile experience, but if you feel that you may be scared of this, I would say only do it if your master would guide you to do it. If not, don’t do it.
Just to recap, we need to die before death. Yeah. We need to feel what it means to be alive and feeling alive is about being present.
We do have to face the fact that our loved ones are going to die, our friends and our family, but we need to create detachment. And in this detachment, we can learn how to be more present and deepen our loving relationship with our loved ones, because that’s what true detachment does.
Remember that awareness or presence is beyond birth and beyond death, it’s always here. Life is always everlasting. Forms appear, forms disappear. What remains is the formless. Manifestations appear, manifestations disappear. What remains is consciousness and consciousness is what we all are.
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