Birth, life, and death -- the eternal rhythm of nature. Both conception and death are shrouded in mystery. We hear the newborn cry, we hear the deep silence of death: the one the trumpet call to life, the other the mellow fruit of activity. Of the three phases of life it is death, and its visible effects on those left behind, that are the most feared. When a baby is born, infinite potential seems to lie before it. The problems and anxieties of its future are far away and will develop only gradually with maturity -- for now the world is its oyster and we rejoice with it! Death, however, comes at the end of a lifetime of experiences, interactions, failures, and successes. Whether the life be short or long, there is reaping to be done.
Facing death is part of living. Each of us has to come to terms with the sure knowledge that there is no permanence in life, change is ever present: "yesterday is already a dream and tomorrow only a vision." The NOW is all we have, precious and fleeting. Because the "now" seems so ordinary, filled with all the little duties and routines of life, we tend to overlook the potent opportunities each minute presents for right action. WE look back like Lot's wife on the past and are frozen in inaction, or look forward and fantasize or worry about the future, filling our time with images which may never happen, all the while losing the potential of the present. This is not to say that the present is always comfortable or easy, but these is a very real sense of inner tranquillity when we tackle a difficult job and successfully complete it. Obviously all events will not turn out as we want them to. No, but we can accept what comes as exactly what we needed to help us grow in wisdom. Patience, fortitude, and forbearance, those wonderful attributes with which all suffering may be surmounted, are not acquired without adversity.
Death, like sleep, brings rest and regeneration. We can read about the grand journey that the departed soul is embarking on: how in the cyclic nature of things the pulsation continues; the river of consciousness flows on, at times visible to us, at others slumbering and unseen to reappear at the appointed time. A firm belief in the immortality of the spirit is like the house built upon a rock, it does not collapse in the storms of life. It is the foundation of true philosophy and compassionate living, for to live immortally means that we are inextricably linked with all manifested existence by the deathless aspect of ourselves and of all around us. Together we will evolve through eternity!
Beautiful as is the concept of the passage of the soul after death, it is nevertheless a profound experience for those who are left behind. For the one a journey has begun in which we cannot take part, but for us a new journey has also begun where there will be a period of adjustment, a rearranging of duties and thoughts, for there is now an element missing in a tangible way -- an initiation in a very real sense. When we consider initiation as a "beginning" and not an end, we may understand it better. The rites of passage into a new sphere of activity are never easy: birthpangs accompany the arrival of the infant; the adolescent years, those transition years between childhood and adulthood, are fraught with anxieties and turmoil. Each stage of change is accompanied by its own particular experience, like a special lock with its own unique key.
Like our departing companion, we also have a period of review where our inner eye, so often clouded by trivialities, is suddenly opened and we stand for a brief time naked before our self, stripped of externals and really look at the past association. Memories flood in and, because we are not impersonal, the experiences can be harrowing. Exhausted and spent, like nature after a storm, the intensity disappears and a peace and beauty beyond expression descends a radiance and blessing felt in the silence. This is the parting gift as the door through which we have now passed quietly closes.
The next phase of our life has begun. Rejoicing with the journeying soul we can let it go and retain in ourselves the best of the past. Using our new insight we can enrich our lives and resolve to share our understanding with others by more charitable behavior. All is not lost -- we are sad, yet not sad -- knowing that for the deathless part of ourselves there is a tomorrow. Then, when the cycles have run full circle, we will meet again and bloom more beautifully than before.
Listen to the Salutation of the Dawn. Look to this Day, for it is Life, the very Life of Life. In its brief course lie all the possibilities and realities of your existence.
The Bliss of Growth --
The Glory of Action --
The Splendor of Beauty.
For yesterday is already a dream and tomorrow is only a vision: but today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well therefore to this day. Such is the Salutation of the Dawn. --- from the Orient.
(Reprinted from Sunrise magazine, April/May 1989; copyright © by Theosophical University Press)