Several years ago, the newspapers in America were filled with stories about a young woman who was being kept alive in the hospital by a feeding tube. Arguments raged over whether the tube should be removed and the brain-damaged young woman allowed to die.
t was notable to me that all of the commentaries spoke of the sacredness of life. Yet none spoke of the sacred nature of death.
The widespread lack of understanding about death in America makes people greedy for life. We should be grateful for life, but not greedy for it. God gives, and it is God who takes away.
Sooner or later, each of us will have to cut our ties with this world. Our present relationships will continue, so the masters tell us, but not in the same form. It is our attachment to our roles as father, mother, wife and husband that we cling to when God calls our dear ones away.
It is essential that we look clearly and courageously at the fact of death, for the good of ourselves and our loved ones.
It takes a long time to evolve to the point where we can be born in a human body, and it takes many returns until we at last understand that the purpose of human life is spiritual. And then, within each life, it takes years to reach the age when we can return to the spiritual path.
Thus a human body is a treasure that should not be discarded lightly. But this body is not an end in itself. It is a medium for realizing our essential oneness with God.
A woman at Ananda had AIDS. She lived much longer than the doctors expected, but she suffered greatly.
She said to Swami Kriyananda, “I’m not afraid of death. How much longer should I struggle? When should I give up this body and go on?”
Swamiji said, “When you can no longer do Kriya. When you feel that the body has become an insurmountable obstacle to your spiritual progress. That is the time to give it up.”
There is a time when the soul is ready to go. Merely because the body can be kept alive doesn’t mean we should keep it alive, or that God wants us to.
Life and death mean nothing to God. To Him, it is all One. Only from this plane of Maya do life and death seem radically different from each other.
When my father was ill with Alzheimer’s, he couldn’t act in an intelligent way, but his life was still meaningful to him. Only his mind was affected, not his self. But when he began to fade, we did nothing to prolong his life. It was clear that he wanted to go. I was there when he died, and his passing was joyous.
The tragedy of the young woman who was at the center of such controversy was that her fate became the property of judges, lawyers, and politicians. It was a sign of how spiritual understanding is terribly fractured in America today.
I was pleased to read that the woman’s husband had a priest do the appropriate sacraments when they took out her feeding tube. He was at least trying to act in harmony with God’s will and compassion. That is all that God asks of us.
I once asked Swami Kriyananda about a dilemma I had often pondered.
I said, “If I was in a concentration camp, and the guard began to beat up the person next to me, should I try to protect my fellow prisoner, even though I, too, might die?”
Swamiji said, “It is a difficult question to answer, because it is not just about sacrificing your life. Maybe you could save the person, maybe not. And there is always the chance that if you intervene, the guards will become angry and hurt or kill many more people.
“What you are really asking is, ‘How do I know what God wants?’ The answer is, ‘Practice when it is easier.’ If you want to know God’s will in a moment of crisis, the best way is to start now. Try to follow God’s will in all areas of your life. Then when the crisis comes, you’ll be ready.”
What is life? What is death? When God calls my loved ones to the astral world, will I have the faith to let them go? When God calls me, will I have the courage to go with Him?