One of the complaints, or criticisms rather, I received about my previous post from two of the handful of regular readers I have was that the post wasn’t deep enough or long enough. One reader specifically said that just as she was starting to enjoy the post, it ended abruptly. Which, long winded as I usually am, came as a surprise. I figured that the atypical brevity would be welcome. So in this post I attempt to probe a deeper topic, one that is of intrigue to most of us. One that hopefully isn’t highfalutin, evoking eye rolls.
While I can’t guarantee what follows is profound, given the nature of the topic it won’t lack in the verbosity department. A forewarning though. If the topic depresses you then I suggest doing what I did last time to feel better. Eat a chocolate dipped strawberry. That will put an end to all such crises. Or just give enough time for the humdrum nature of everyday life to distract you. Trust me, it will eventually.
All of us, at some point or other in life, have to come face to face with this. This topic has intrigued me and I must say, have been scared of, ever since I was six or seven. Since that time we buried the family dog in my grandmother’s backyard. It was then that it hit me for the first time, like a ton of bricks that Tabby (as he was named) is dead, gone forever, will soon be forgotten and everyone will go on about their usual businesses.
Of late as I try to expand the range and scope of what I read, I’ve been reading about the universe, the space time continuum and such. Which has resulted in me having thoughts around the legacy I will be leaving behind. One other possible reason for these questions is that I hit the forty year mark in 2016, which makes me forty two around the time of writing this post. Reaching forty in itself is no achievement to speak of, let alone celebrate. The astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson says that the main reason we celebrate milestones of decades is because we count in base ten. If we counted in, say hexadecimal (base sixteen) we would celebrate anniversaries of sixteen, thirty two, forty eight, sixty four years and so forth. When put like that, forty or fifty then just become insignificant numbers. Agree or disagree with the thought, it did bring to my attention how many years I realistically have left on this earth and what I want to do with those years. If I go my father’s or grandfather’s way, I have nineteen years left, because my father didn’t quite make it to sixty two. Say I beat the odds and make it to seventy five. I then have thirty three years left on this earth. Either way you skin it, if life were plotted on a graph with time on the x-axis then I’m well into the latter half of that. As I look back at my four decades thus far, a few words and phrases come to mind but none of them are flattering. Mundane, conformity, run of the mill, garden variety, mediocre, average. The reader gets the picture.
So I’ve been a bit philosophical of late. As my ten year old asked me the other day: “Why do you have to turn everything into a lecture?”
One example of said lecture that comes to mind is when my six year old, innocently and impulsively said “I will break this.” I went on a sermon about how nobody remembers or thinks highly of people that break things, and how breaking is easy but building is hard, and so forth. Which, needless to say, evoked an eyeroll from the ten year old.
I would like to, put down here, a story from an ancient text. What follows is a verbatim reproduction of Swami Vivekanada’s views on Vedanta.
In one of the Upanishads (the Katha Upanishad), the legend of Nachiketa goes thus. The young boy went to Yama, the lord of death. The closest analogy in the Judeo Christian realm I can draw for Yama is that of the Grim Reaper. So the young boy goes to none other than Yama himself and asks: “Some say of a dead man. ‘He is gone’; others, ‘He is still living.’ You are Yama, Death. You know the truth. Do answer me.”
Yama replies: “Boy do not ask of me this answer.”
But Nachiketa persists.
Yama again replies: “The enjoyment of all the gods, even these I offer you. Do not insist upon your query.” But Nachiketa was firm as a rock.
Then the god of death said: “My boy, you have declined, for the third time, wealth, power, long life, fame, family. You are brave enough to ask the highest truth. I will teach you. There are two ways: one of truth, one of enjoyment. You have chosen the former.
Now note here the conditions of imparting the truth. First purity — that a boy, a pure, unclouded soul, asking the secret of the universe. Second that he must take truth for truth’s sake.
My interpretation of it is that since most of us mortals aren’t capable of seeking truth for truth’s sake, we must die in order to find the ultimate truth. And what child, however prodigious, can seek truth? So it stands to reason, according to my interpretation of the above story is that most of us who do not possess the intellect to pose such questions while a child and pure, and do not possess the purity when we are grown up, we have to be dead to learn the ultimate truth. It is a lay person’s interpretation of one interpretation of the original text, so make what you will of it.
When I was younger I thought If I were to die and the world were to simultaneously end, then I don’t have a problem. I’m not missing anything because there is nothing else to miss. The world has also ended. As I grew older I realized how incredibly selfish that notion was. Thinking in terms of legacies and such it makes for a less selfish more holistic view. Or so I think.
If you made it thus far, thank you for reading.