Dealing With Death As A Hindu

by Aranyakananda

A family member ended her life this weekend. I don’t think there has been a death in the family since I began to see life from the Vaishnava point-of-view. Though my wife has lost some people who she gave senior care to, until this weekend I have not lost anyone I was close to or had familial ties to, save our cat of 6 years. I found myself crying for a half-hour, sobbing convulsively, then sinking into a catatonic state for the rest of the afternoon.

To grieve is human, I must remind myself. But I found today that I felt like I did not even know how to react to death. I want to overcome, but I don’t want to be detached insomuch that it means I cannot help my family along in the grieving process.
My family exchanged news of/feelings about this death via Facebook. I tried to express myself in a reply to these postings but found it difficult to do. Coming from a Catholic upbringing, my views now differ from those of my family and would clash greatly should I express my thoughts on death freely.

For one thing I don’t like to say “death” or “died” or any other variation of the word. I prefer to say she “left her body”. She shed her outward covering like the snake shedding its skin metaphor in the Bhagavad-Gita. Nor can I say “R.I.P.” as I believe this was one stop on a sojourn toward the Divine which may or may not have ended with this lifetime. She is not “gone”. Indeed we are the ones who are gone, separated by delusion from our Divine birthright. And I do not believe that “you only live once” though I do believe you should live like it is your only chance. Not in a hedonistic way, but in a sort of way in which you search for the Truth in every conversation, every “chance encounter”, every joy and every defeat.

There are many schools of thought in Hinduism as to what happens between this life and the next time one takes a body. I hope my cousin accrued enough positive karma to earn some respite in one of the upper lokas (vyahrtis) before moving on to another form. I avoid saying someone has “gone too soon” in most cases because I don’t see how it is possible. Again, in most cases.
But this “death” that I speak of was one in which she chose to end her life. In such a case, I would in fact agree that she has gone too soon. I fear that she has not fulfilled her dharma for this lifetime and pray for her, but I try not to speculate as to what that means, and I avoid with all of my strength the temptation to refer to her last act in her life as a “selfish act.” It does not matter, because what is done is done, and what will come of it is not up to me. I understand why some say it is selfish, because the person does not think of the hurt they leave behind. But I feel selfish putting that kind of blame on someone who is not here to defend themselves. And it is an attachment of Maya letting grief, which is natural and normal, condense into misery, despair, sorrow and hurt.
I do not feel anger toward her. Just empathy for the hurt she must have felt to have made such an irrevocable decision. But if nothing else it has been a further lesson to me that this human incarnation is a blessing, a rare, and sacred opportunity.

Anyone who can offer any thoughts, regardless of your beliefs, they are welcome.

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6 Responses to Dealing With Death As A Hindu

  1. Thomas says:

    My deepest sympathies to you, my good man. I have a much easier time with death in that I TRULY believe that they are free of the body and in a place of genuine understanding. They now know all the reasons for the incarnation that just ended, all the people they affected, for good or for ill, and a good idea of how they wish to proceed. In this case, there is no need to cry for the person who just left, but certainly to wish to ease the suffering of those who may think that they’ll never encounter the person again.

    Now, I’m not saying you don’t truly believe this, only that that’s how I deal with it. I was at peace earlier this year when my dad was having heart surgery because I knew that whatever occurred had purpose and was for the Highest Good or, in other words, that God doesn’t make mistakes. The same for the grade school classmate that passed a couple months ago.

    • treadmarkz says:

      Thanks Thomas, and you are right, I do truly believe pretty much all of that, but it just caught me so off-guard, you know? It is comforting to know that she will learn so much now that she is free of the body and will know more than she ever could have here. But I just am not convinced that this was “meant to be” or “for the greater good”. I am sure it taught my family a LOT, so it has not been a waste, for sure. Anyway, thank you for the reminders, and for your concern.

  2. Thomas says:

    No problem. And I wouldn’t say it, or anything, is “meant to be”: It’s always possible for the soul to take another road, but I would offer that she was probably aware that she might go down a dark road in this incarnation, but that there would be a tremendous amount of growth involved for all parties even in this “unfortunate” scenario. We’ll have the specifics one day, but for now, know that it is impossible for a soul to be damaged in any way.

    • treadmarkz says:

      I am sure of that Thomas. Like I said, I mourn more knowing the hurt she experienced leading up to this. But it is all relieved for now.

  3. Dhrishti says:

    Aranyakananda-ji,

    I’m very sorry to read about this and feel badly for the pain you and your family know right now.

    I agree with virtually your entire assessment of this event, and especially in your mourning more for the hurt she felt leading up to her decision. Past that, though, it’s possible that the idea of “gone too soon” is should be questioned. Everything happens as it should, without exception, according to the various karmas at work. Nothing is exempt. In that light, nothing happens before or after it should, and neither does anything happen without reason (cause).

    Some people who live to be 100 might spend their final breaths saying they aren’t yet ready. Ask them, and they’d surely say they were “leaving too soon.” For your cousin, whether it was conscious or maybe masked by unfathomable pain, something within her let her know in a very real way that she was done with this life. Cultures often percieve this as a selfish act precisely because of our attachment to the way things are.

    I know most traditions would disagree, but I don’t believe she’ll necessarily be punished in any way for this. The closest thing to that would be the need to exhaust samskaras she may have imprinted herself with during the act, depending on how well or how poorly she may have developed her self-realization prior. Brahman, where we’re all destined, is essentially impartial and neither rewards nor punishes according to the actions of Maya-encrusted mortal bodies. The Bhagavad Gita also points out that we’re deluded for thinking “we” are the doers-and it’s precisely because of this truth that we’re advised to relinquish our attachment to the fruits of our actions (the attachment in question is what produces the samskaras I’ve mentioned and is what keeps our relationship with karma/the wheel of samsara perpetuated).

    You’ll be in my prayers/puja, Bhai.

    Om Shanti

  4. kavi says:

    when reasons don’t explain what happened or why, the pain seems to intensify….
    to see the world continue in the presence of a personal tragedy makes it appear cruel…
    the only prayer that helps is to ask for the strength to accept things that we cannot change, change things that cant be accepted and the grace to know the difference….
    for the nights and days go on
    the flowers bloom and wither
    the world rises and rests
    the heart will go on and on

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