THE FINALITY OF DEATH
Khushwant Singh has written ‘how to live and die’ (Excerpted from Absolute Khushwant: The Low-Down on Life, Death & Most Things In-Between).
He is ninety five years old and has reached a stage when he has to accept the fact that death is inevitable. He says that he has lived a reasonably contented life. Yes he can well afford to say that having lived a full life and well provided for by way of means, intellect and fame. In his own words he says:
“I don't believe in rebirth or in reincarnation, in the day of judgement or in heaven or hell. I accept the finality of death. We do not know what happens to us after we die but one should help a person go in peace-at peace with himself and with the world. I've lived a reasonably contented life. I've often thought about what it is that makes people happy-what one has to do in order to achieve happiness.”
Death is the only certainty in this life, whether you accept there is a God or not , whether you believe in reincarnation or not. It is easily said that you accept the finality of death. Khushwant Singh says that he often thinks as to what is it that makes people happy and what one has to do to achieve it. He in fact lists out nine requisites – good health, a healthy bank balance, your own home, an understanding partner, avoid comparisons, don’t let people encroach on your time with unwanted gossip, cultivate a hobby, spend time in introspection and do not lose your temper. Is’nt this what all of us strive for? What about the others who are not fortunate to achieve these requisites? What about those suffering from debilitating diseases like cancer etc. people who have not lived a full life and see death approaching them in the prime of life. No man can be completely happy in the context of the requisites listed out by Khushwant Singh. The question of death and the acceptance or non acceptance of its finality is what constitutes our entire life. We spend our time trying to justify one or the other. Man is pursued by insecurity throughout his entire life searching for the requisites for a happy life.
Tolstoy says in his book, ’A Confession‘ “No matter how often I may be told, ‘You cannot understand the meaning of life so do not think about it, but live’, I can no longer do it: I have already done it too long. I cannot now help seeing day and night going round and bringing me to death. That is all I see, for that alone is true. All else is false.”
In his book ‘ The Death Of Ivan Illich’ which is considered as one of his most powerful novels Tolstoy narrates the approaching finality of death experienced by a judge. The story leads the reader through a pensive, metaphysical exploration of the reason for death and what it means to truly live. For Ivan Illyich most of his life is inauthentic. When he finally comes to accept the finality of his death does he become authentic. This is a movement from seeing other people die, to the realisation that he is also dying and comes to accept the fact.
Authenticity here rises from the realisation of one’s own self, which can come about only through complete internalisation. A person resigning himself to what he calls as his fate or destiny becomes inauthentic.
Tolstoy was a man who struggled greatly with self-doubt and spiritual reflection, especially as he grew close to his own death in 1910.
How does it matter as to whether you are buried or cremated after death. Khushwant Singh has written as to how his obituary should be announced, as to how he would like to be buried instead of being cremated. Does it really matter if you have accepted the finality of death?
He wonders why death is rarely spoken about in our homes. It is obvious no one wants to accept the inevitable. Also in our way of life we have been made comfortable by belief in God, religion and rebirth. It at least brings us solace,
when we are confronted by the fact that it is not possible to achieve all the requisites for happiness. It gives us hope, which is good and helps us forward, for who can be sure that one will live up to a ripe old age.
Man is filled with anguish when he realises that one day he will cease to exist, just like the others whom he sees dying. He is unable to accept this fact. Do all the pleasures and pains, moments of happiness, of sadness, all this living should one day reduce to nothingness? Thus he is faced with the problem of accepting a finality or a perpetuation. The result is his quest to eternalise himself and seeks answers and solace from religion, faith in God and reincarnation.
Khushwant Singh says that above all, when the time comes to go, one should go like a man without any regret or grievance against anyone. He quotes Iqbal’s couplet in Persian: "You ask me about the signs of a man of faith? When death comes to him, he has a smile on his lips."
Faith is defined as confidence or trust in a person or thing, or a belief that is not based on proof. The smile on the lips of the man of faith, when death comes to him, whether it is on account of his faith in religion, God or a transcendental reality, may be on account of a hope that something exists beyond death and does not signify his ultimate extermination. One may say that it is due to having lived life to its fullest satisfaction. But who is to define what is satisfaction.
As to what one has to do to achieve happiness, I repeat what I have written elsewhere -
‘True happiness cannot be pursued. It just happens and is entirely subjective. So why look for definitions and other people’s views on it. It is that moment when all other thoughts come to a standstill and you are immersed totally in that moment of joy. It happens to different persons at different moments and these moments pass by. It is only when one has attained total internalisation and is at peace with himself does perpetual happiness occur. This is for each individual to experience.’