Most people look for ways to change the subject.

Everyone since childhood has been aware of death, but as long as we’re alive, death is that which happens only to others. We tend to ignore its presence until, in failing health, we end up cramming for peace of mind just as we crammed for exams in our school days.

What are we afraid of, a sudden plunge into the vast unknown? No doubt about it. Catering to our anxieties, we press for material comforts, financial cushions, career titles, and countless other ego-driven rewards. What could be less prudent? Comfort and ease invite the very attachments that extend our delusions. They prevent us from dealing with why we are here and in what condition of spirit we will depart.

Death is entered in nakedness, alone. We are swept into its realm, unsupported by the props that reinforce who we think we are: our families and friends, our collected things, our self-definitions. Death reminds us abruptly that we are not, and never were, the portraits of ourselves that we project.

Our masters have counseled us that patience is the shortest route to God. In hearing this advice, however, we seem to interpret patience as procrastination. Instead of using these precious years to probe and embrace the inner, eternal wonders of our being, we are apt to spend them, in large part, chasing visions of permanence which ever and again dissolve. Until, that is, we perceive that our days are few. Until we are anxiously cramming for our final exam.

I hold in my hand the everywhere neverlasting.
I see in my head the dance of changing forms.
Now is what there is,
And then it is gone.
Now is what there is,
And then I am gone.

The trouble is, it is death instead of desire that people dread. We fail to see the connection, that dying is mostly a function of dying for more. To want is soon to need, and as need demands, one devolves from free spirit to slave. We long to be happy, yet so many of our emotions, beliefs, and behaviors lead us astray of the goal.

Thankfully, though, after lifetimes of getting it wrong, we start to get it right. We begin to look inward for answers to the meaning of life and death, and as we do, we redeem death of its dark disguise, discovering that its purpose is to show us how to live. The peace we long for comes from letting go of our worldly attachments. That is the lesson of death, and we don’t have to wait to die to gain its reward.

Jesus, in the Gospel of St. Matthew, said: “He that findeth his life shall lose it, and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it.” In today’s language: He who persists in his ego’s self-interest is destined to remain in delusion, losing the chance to move beyond its material limitations. Delusion dissipates only as one overcomes the pull of such desires, breaking away from his tether to selfish pursuits. Then does he reap the ultimate freedom of divine reunion with God.

In the ending lines of his beautiful prayer-poem, St. Francis of Assisi takes us back to the truths we tend to forget. He beseeches the Lord to “make me an instrument of Thy peace,” concluding:

For it is in the giving that we receive;
It is in the pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in the dying that we are born to eternal life.

What are we afraid of, a sudden plunge into the vast unknown? Not if we get to know it while we are here.


Nayaswami Surendra manages Ananda’s Temple and Teaching Center, serving the greater Portland area. As a Lightbearer and previous resident of Ananda colonies in Seattle, Palo Alto and Pune, India, he is pleased and honored to share with us his wealth of teaching, counseling and leadership experience.