Read an excerpt from Arun Shourie’s latest `Preparing For Death’
A new book by writer Arun Shourie, aptly titled Preparing For Death, is studded with insights, novel interpretations, practical suggestions and ways to attain “peaceful dissolution of our minds” at the moment of dying.It takes a cue from major religions, philosophy, and spiritual train of thought to help people face their end with equanimity.
Penguin House, the publishers of the book, announced that it will hit the stands in October. The book is priced at Rs 799. Shourie’s latest book is a continuation of some of his earlier works — especially of Does He Know A Mother’s Heart: How Suffering Refutes Religion and Two Saints: Speculations Around and About Ramakrishna Paramahamsa and Ramana Maharishi.
The book also talks about the great questions. Is there life after death? Is there Rebirth? Is there God and many more. For the book, he picks incidents from the final days of the Buddha, Ramakrishna Paramahamsa, Ramana Maharshi, Mahatma Gandhi and Vinoba Bhave, along with teachings from religious texts and great meditation masters. He also lays down what one must do “if rituals, pilgrimages and mantras are to help us”.
Here is an excerpt from the book, published with permission from the publisher.
And yet we distance ourselves from this one certainty of life—that is, death. I remember so well the days when Punjab was in the grip of terrorists. We are from Punjab, and we were living and working in Delhi, adjacent to Punjab after all. Persons we knew had been shot dead. So many were being killed and blown up at random. In a list that Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale had put out of persons to be ‘taken care of’, my name had figured near the top . . . And yet, at every report of killings, our instinct was to distinguish ourselves from, to distance ourselves from those who had been shot: ‘Oh, he owned a paper, they didn’t like . . . Oh, he edited a paper, and
it didn’t publish the handout they had sent . . . Oh, they were travelling in a bus . . . Oh, they were in a market . . . Oh, but they thought the young man in their family was a police informer . . . Oh, but that was an isolated village . . .’
But why look that far? We distance ourselves even from ones whom we love the most. When our parents become old, we think of them as having grown old or ill. Of our mother having transient ischemia. Those episodes take us closer to her in one way, and yet they distance us from her: she has these episodes, we think; the subliminal implication is that we don’t have them.
That instinct, that unstated conviction—‘I will not die this year, in any case not today’—is perhaps a Darwinian one, programmed into us to help us survive, to get us to put in the effort that today requires. And yet it also gets us to shut our eyes to what is around the corner.
There are many ways to read about them. For one thing, learning about them is always compelling. How many of us would know, for instance, that the Buddha, no less, had to contend with calumny? That he was accused of having caused the death of, if not having himself murdered a young woman? That he was accused even of having made a young woman pregnant? That he had to face three attempts on his life, not just one? That after
one of his discourses—on the ‘foulness’ of our bodies—up to five hundred monks are said to have committed suicide, to have had themselves murdered? How could such a thing have happened? Could the Buddha have failed to foresee the consequence of his discourse? After all, he was omniscient. How could his words have been misunderstood? After all, he was such a perceptive teacher—he could see at once the level of understanding of his listeners and always modulated what he was saying to their level. Or is it that the accounts of the incident are unreliable? But if these accounts are unreliable, what about the other incidents that
are mentioned in the same sutras and the same Vinaya texts?
But are the incidents important? Are details of the life of the Buddha important? What if he never lived at all? Is it not the teaching—by whomever it may have been propounded—that is important? Is the task to substantiate incidents or is it to live the teaching, and discover what in it accords with our experience? In a word, not just are the incidents themselves captivating, the controversies that swirl around them are just as absorbing. And they are endless, especially when academics get into the act!
But to get back to the incidents. They are a consolation, they put our difficulties in perspective: if even the Buddha had to contend with such mundane troubles, who are we to complain? In any case, even the most fleeting glimpse of these great souls has always bewitched me. On occasion, therefore, I have included longish extracts from contemporary accounts: we see them in their natural habitat, so to say; we hear them talk, we see how they spent their day, what they ate, sometimes even what they looked like. Our Adit is forty-four now, but he is small for his age— bound as he is to his wheelchair, he weighs just about 112 lbs; and so I was astonished out of my wits when I read in Pyarelal’s The Last Phase, that when, just a few days before he was assassinated, Gandhiji was weighed, he was just 109 lbs. A man of a mere 109 lbs—‘a little man,’ as British commentators used to call him, all of 5’4’’—had brought down the imperial fortress. So, I have included extracts that have details which I hope will entrance the reader too. But there is another reason also.
An exercise for the reader
At first glance the extracts from diaries and the rest will seem far removed from the subject of this book—death. And yet, one of the exercises for the reader is to always keep asking what that seemingly irrelevant detail or event—the equanimity with which the Buddha bears calumny, for instance—tells us about how the personages attained the way they died.