Yesterday morning I was heading for my computer in a rush when I stubbed my right little toe very hard against a wooden door. The pain was excruciating. I staggered to a couch and put my feet up, stunned at how fast this “accident” had happened. I watched the poor little thing angrily swell up and turn fat and red and wondered whether I had sprained it or even broken something inside. The thought flashed that death too could come like this at any moment, swift and ruthless, sweeping me another realm without my permission.
I recalled something I had read a long time ago in the Buddhist teachings on karma: After eons of seeking, if one is blessed to finally fall into the hands of a high guru, invisible powers can transmute truly horrible karma into something much smaller and manageable. No ordinary force can erase prarabhdha karma (destiny, fate, that portion of karma projected at the moment of birth from the mountain ranges of past thought, speech and action of multitudinous past lives), but higher power can work some magic. The idea behind this great blessing is to allow us to give us the time we need to succeed in our noble goal of moksha or permanent liberation from suffering. And then I remembered one particular teaching that stated that if one was destined to hang on the gallows for committing a murder, one would merely stub one’s toe!!! How precise, I thought, with a rush of happiness; these were the exact words I needed to put my painful little crisis into perspective.
You see, I have been expecting something big to happen. In the past couple of months, two of my American friends have died suddenly and unexpectedly—one of rabies (she was bit by a puppy in northern India and didn’t think she needed rabies injections, and another of cancer—thank god the end was quick.) And hard times have visited some close friends, troubling me in the process, because it is especially difficult to see those we love suffer. And ever since I have had this lingering and creepy feeling that something “bad” was heading my way. Don’t take me now, I would plead with Arunachala, please let me finish my work, and then I promise I’ll go happily and without a fuss. (This is the result of doing a simple death meditation every day for months before I left Manhattan for the Himalayas.)
It was my guru at the time who suggested I practice this simple analytical meditation on death, because I confided my fear of leaving a comfortable home to him, and he wanted to wake me up. Death meditation, contrary to what many think, is not morbid and depressing, no. Actually it wakes us up the preciousness of life and evokes gratitude for our many blessings. I am so glad it is one of the many great foundation stones of a solid training in Eastern philosophy. (Check out: Dying Every Single Day for Months in Manhattan… (May 1, 2015))
As any serious meditator might tell you, an inner knowing comes to some of us when we commit to the highest path that we are being protected. In my case, it’s an eerie feeling, as if invisible eyes are constantly watching over me and making sure I am safe. Sure enough, I have come close to the end several times here—I am a bit of a reckless driver and like speed, while Indian drivers are notorious for their lack of courtesy on the roads. In fact, the big trucks and buses one encounters on the highway are no better than massive speeding bullies that seem not to give a damn whether they, or their passenger/victims, live or die. What’s more, a couple of years ago, I was the first “foreigner” to see girl dead on the highway that skirts my home, a young and beautiful German girl on her way to visit a friend. So of course instantaneous death is well within the bounds of probability. (Check out: Appointment with Shiva… (Aug 30, 2014) ).
Life is infinitely precious and it makes me sad to see so many extraordinarily gifted and intelligent people spinning their wheels, trying to be rich and famous or materially successfully in an ephemeral world, when it is strikingly clear to genuine seekers that we get to keep nothing when we depart for another existence. How long does it take to digest this basic truth, I often wonder?
My friend tells me some of us are lucky to be born with this seed of mystical knowing—that our true nature is Spirit, and to focus solely on mere flesh and blood is to dramatically miss the point of incarnation. Perhaps he is right, and it is only old souls who have already gone through the samsaric grind who acknowledge that the real reason we incarnate is to burn our karma and to return to the light.
Eastern sages call this Maya, Lila, the game of the gods, because no finite human mind can figure out why higher powers would want to hurl us into this unholy mess of relative reality, often unarmed (lacking in wisdom), and therefore a danger to ourselves and others. There is little point seeking mental answers to this celestial issue. As I used to sing to myself long ago in Manhattan, don’t worry, darling, keep working at it and one day you will know everything.
Greetings from Arunachala, Shiva the Destroyer in the form of a hill of fire and light, who helps us move decisively away from the false pleasures and traps of a changing world into that perfect and brilliant stillness that is our true nature!