Thoughts on the Undiscovered Country

Sometimes I wonder about things; not minor ones like what to cook for dinner, whether I need to shop for vegetables today, how to explain algebra to my little son who freezes up when faced with Maths or even about things left undone at work over the weekend and vice versa. But rather about slightly weightier issues, like life and death and if this is really life, what we are experiencing. Sometimes I feel that there is a flimsy veil in front of my eyes and try to see beyond it.

The feeling is that there is a wealth of knowledge- just beyond my reach, if only I could pierce this veil.

Each of us identify with ourselves- we have a concept of the self; but when we realise that we are not really the person who was last year, or five years ago or twenty five years ago, then we are forced to confront the question- Who is this I, ever-changing yet unchanging? What am I doing? Where am I going?

It was a long time later I came face to face with the concept and method of self enquiry introduced by Ramana Maharshi- question the speaker, Who wants to know?

 

It is only in search of answers and the resulting travel into the inner realms that I attempt to understand, however faintly, what I came here to learn. 

 

One of these concepts is that of death- feared, abhorred, evaded. But have not so many sages from many different cultures spoken, in different words, about the same experience? I am but stepping from one room to the other. Like we discard soiled clothes, the soul discards the body and wears a fresh one. To learn whatever is left to learn, to move on. Wordsworth, when he spoke of “our birth is but a sleep and forgetting?”

 

Rather than a topic to be avoided, death is to be welcomed, for it is our gateway into what the spiritual teacher Eknath Easwaran calls the Undiscovered Country. While moving houses, I was forced to discard or pack away almost all of the books I owned in those pre-Kindle days. But this slim volume has accompanied me along the Tropic of Cancer from the West to the East of India. Metaphoric, in a way, as in what can we really carry away with us when we die? Not our possessions, not our family; perhaps the self-less love in our hearts? 

 

There is a profound story in the Mahabharata, when Yudhishtira, the eldest Pandava, is posed a series of questions by a crane. The crane, who is none other than the God of Death/Truth in disguise, asks, “What is the most surprising thing in this life?” Without missing a beat, Yudhishtira replies, “That although a man may see people dying everyday, he never thinks that he will die.”

 

And remember what the Buddha said- “Better a single day of life, seeing the reality of arising and passing away, than a hundred years of existence remaining blind to it”.

 

I certainly do not claim to have the answers, nor is this post a nihilistic way of looking at life. But, in these days, when almost all religions teach divisions between us and them, (far away from the teachings of their founders, may I add?) if we could just remain aware that we are all part of the same creation, the same stardust, and that when we leave, as we most certainly would, we would leave with empty hands, then would not things be different? For achieving this, the first port of call would be to search for the truth in our hearts instead of depending on someone else to provide us their version of it!

 

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