Arun Shourie’s Preparing for Death
is both a meditation on death as also a handbook on dying. It is theoretical as well as practical.
Being an exceptional storyteller, Arun Shourie has deftly woven together a book telling stories from old Hindu and Buddhist scriptures as well as from contemporary history.
Beginning with the Buddhist maxim that death is a certain thing but the time and place thereof are uncertain, he moves on to focus on death and dying and ponders over how that could be made easier.
He tells you that unless it is sudden as in the case of Gandhiji by a bullet, or by an accident, death follows the failure of the body and the weakening of the mind, leading to helplessness, which tries to prepare you for the inevitable.
He also comments on afterlife, that is, rebirth and how one can avoid it, but it is clear enough that the author’s real interest is in Buddhism and Advaita Hinduism as the book is studded with stories of the Buddha and those founded on Advaita and the author’s deep knowledge of these. The book also tends to get lyrical from time to time as it is interspersed with little haikus from Basho and other Japanese masters or little passages from the Upanishads or poems from Urdu and Punjabi sources.
As death is a universal certainty, how does one deal with it? Shourie talks of the last days of the Buddha and Shri Ramakrishna and Shri Ramanna as also Gandhi and Vinoba and points out how even great lives had to suffer at the very end. He talks about the techniques they used when they faced death and how their deaths were eased by mind over matter.
The training of the mind is regarded as a prerequisite to get over the frailness and the sufferings of the body. For instance, in Shri Ramanna’s case, the repeated recurrence of cancer helped him reach a higher level of consciousness.
It is through the mind and through meditation that mindfulness and a higher consciousness are achieved which, in turn, can lead to an easier death and a more fruitful rebirth, if there is, indeed, one.
On the question of the universality of death, he quotes the philosopher Diogenes as telling Alexander the Great that while trying to find the bones of his father amongst the bones of his slaves, he realised that in death everyone is alike and, hence, equal. Diogenes seems to also indicate that if in the end everyone is going to die, then being egotistical is quite meaningless.
He recommends meditation as a way to a higher consciousness including the controlling of breath and says that through meditation, you can train the mind to face the inevitable and reach a higher consciousness which helps in reducing suffering.
The author comments impassively about his own family and his own illness to demonstrate the fragility and uncertainty of life and also emphasises on the need to provide security to your family after your death by making a will or by setting up a personal trust.
One thing seldom fails to remind us of what is ahead-and once we cross seventy or seventy-five, the reminders become irritatingly frequent. And that is ageing.
‘And what, Bhikkhus, is the gratification in the case of material form?’ the Buddha asks the monks. “Suppose there were a girl of the noble class or the Brahmin class or of householder stock, in her fifteenth or sixteenth year, neither too tall nor too short, neither too thin nor too fat, neither too dark nor too fair. Is her beauty and loveliness then at its height?’
‘Yes, Venerable Sir,’ the monks respond.
‘Now the pleasure and joy that arise in dependence on that beauty and loveliness are the gratification in the case of material form,’ says the Buddha.
‘And what, Bhikkhus, is the danger in the case of material form?’ the Buddha asks next. ‘Later on one might see that same woman here at eighty, ninety, or a hundred years, aged, as crooked as a roof bracket, doubled up, supported by a walking stick, tottering, frail, her youth gone, her teeth broken, grey-haired, scanty-haired, bald, wrinkled, with limbs all blotchy. What do you think, Bhikkhus? Has her former beauty and loveliness vanished and the danger become evident?’
‘Yes, Venerable Sir,’ they acknowledge.
‘Bhikkhus, this is a danger in the case of material form.’
He also gives an example of the fact that when we die we cannot take anything with us. “In Buddhist monasteries, this is considered so important that quite often skeletons are displayed in the meditation hall. In one monastery there was a monk who left instructions that after his death his body must fully rot and sitting full lotus was to be put in glass case where he sat slowly disintegrating written on the front of the glass case was - “I used to be like you, soon you will be like me.”
The purpose of the author’s contemplation of death is not to be morbid but to take death in one’s stride to be able to lead a better life.
Preparing for Death
Author: Arun Shourie
Imprint: India Viking
Published: October 2020
Length : 528 Pages
MRP : Rs799
TODAY: Join us for an important and thought-provoking conversation between two giant intellectuals of our time on a subject that is rarely discussed openly or in depth.
Tuesday, 24 November 2020 | 6:00pm-7:30pm
Meeting number: 158 155 5523
About the Speakers:
Arun Shourie, a Padma Bhushan awardee is an economist, journalist, author and former Minister Communications and Information Technology in the AB Vajpayee government. He was a pathbreaking editor at the Indian Express and responsible for exposing what is known at the Antulay scam and many other wrong doings in society. He was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay.
Dr Bibek Debroy is the Chairman of the PM's Economic Council and a former permanent member of NITI-Aayog and a Padma Shri awardee. Mr Debroy has made significant contributions to game theory, economic theory, income & social inequalities, poverty, law reforms, railway reforms and has authored over 100 books. His deep study of Indology, the Vedas and Puranas have led to the translation of various Indian epics such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata as well as the Vedas.