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Hope — a journey towards Light

Dr. Alok Pandey

Editor’s note

The article was written at the request of the Director of a hospice care where the terminally ill are lodged. He wanted something that could help them in their hour of distress while they were facing death. This text was written entirely with such patients in mind. Rather than quoting facts and figures or expounding a scripture, the author felt that they needed something that inspired hope and confidence as they stood face to face with the 'inevitable'. The author realised that they needed something that could not only convince their mind but also, and even more importantly, touch their soul.


Death is a double-faced mystery. On the one side, it is a disintegration of all that we believe ourselves to be and would like to hold on to forever if possible. On the other hand, it carries within it the seeds of a new life, a faint glimmer of a new beginning. While facing death it is necessary that we free ourselves from the past consciously. At the same time we can consciously prepare ourselves for the future. Instead of dying with fright and anxiety, we can turn this moment of mystery into a moment of great inner discovery.

An inner choice

Some time or the other, we all have to face the iron wall of death beyond which we cannot see. We feel helpless before a fate we can neither understand nor change. At least that is how we perceive it. We feel afraid at the stare of the unknown, not knowing what will happen once we are gone. We become acutely aware, not only of our impotence but also of our ignorance.

And yet there is hope!

The hope that goes beyond life and death. The hope of overcoming our ignorance, the hope of overcoming our weakness, the hope of confronting and conquering our most acute suffering and our deepest fears.The hope of undertaking an unprecedented journey through the shadows of disease, suffering and death.

Let us remember, it is the deepest night that prepares for the coming dawn and if there is no creature frailer than man, there is none as strong as he. We have therefore a choice to make, we can lament and feel sorry at our frailty or we can turn this moment of crisis to develop a deeper wisdom and greater strength. What do we choose at this moment? Weakness or strength? Light of knowledge or darkness of ignorance, peace or anxiety and fear? The choice is obvious. Isn’t it? So let us embark then on this journey of hope.

Something always in our control

In the face of death and disease, in the face of disaster and calamity, there is something we can always possess. It is the right attitude. There is something we can always keep. It is courage and faith. There is something we can always give. It is love and gratitude. Even if our body is going to pieces, there is something we can always control. It is our thoughts and emotions. Even if we cannot always save our body, there is something that we can always save: it is our soul.

Something forgotten

A Master was asked by an audience, “Sir, do you mean to say that you have a soul?” The Master thundered, “No!“ The audience gasped, wondering what he really meant. Then in a voice, loud and clear, coming from a conviction born of deep experience, he added, “No, I do not say that I have a soul. I say, — “I am a soul and I have a body.” On the night of this departure, which we call death, a disciple of another great Master appeared before him in a body, luminous and beautiful. He said to his erstwhile disciple, “I come to bid goodbye. I have spat out the body.” Such powerful words come to remind us that, above all, we are a soul and not just a body. The soul in us, luminous and pure, the ever-indestructible and imperishable element within us, is seated in the heart of man. No suffering or grief can cross its threshold. Let us meditate upon this eternal luminous soul in man. Let us meditate in the heart and remind ourselves day and night, “I am a soul, eternal and indestructible, the body is but a garment I wear.” We still have time, as long as we live, as long as we breathe, as long as our heart beats, till the very last moment, to realise our soul and escape the pain and fear of death.

Learning from a little child

A boy of fourteen was taken to a physician for a rare, invariably fatal condition termed ‘progressive muscular dystrophy’. With this hereditary disorder which strikes at a young age, one progressively loses all muscle power one by one, till finally the muscles that help us breathe are also paralysed due to atrophy. It is a slow, painful death. The boy was already in a wheelchair, unable to lift even his hand to eat. He was in distress but his parents suffered even more greatly. The physician asked him, “What makes you so sad?” The boy replied with a sense of the obvious, “I cannot do what other boys my age can do.” “For instance?” The physician reflected back the statement to go deeper. The boy, with pain in his eyes replied, ”I cannot play, swim, ride a bicycle or climb a tree.” The physician continued, “Is there something that you can still do?” And the boy said, “Eat and speak.” “Anything more?” “Hear and see.” “Anything more?” A deep reflective silence followed. The parents became nervous and uneasy. But the boy’s reply at the next moment came as a complete surprise. “Yes, I can think. I can pray. I can meditate!” Nobody had taught him these things. Yet these simple words and the deep truth they carried acted like magic in that gloomy atmosphere. A light dawned in that deep silence. It shone in his eyes as he said, “Yes I can do it better than other boys my age. I have time and I am not distracted.” The physician gently added: “Yes and maybe you can write some poetry as well?” “Yes,” the boy nodded, happily, to everyone’s surprise. That one interview changed the boy’s life and his parents for good. And the physician also learnt a very important lesson: there is something we can always do. There is something always in our control.

An ancient Indian legend

When I am running short of time, when death is chasing close at my heels, what should I do, what should I do? Cling to a doctor or cling to my life, cling to my body that is running out, cling to my heartbeats or cling to my breath or cling to the truth that will set my soul free?

A king was once cursed that he would die after seven days from snakebite. An urgent meeting was called next morning to decide on his future course of action. The ministers came and advised him, one by one. “Let us kill all the snakes in the kingdom,” said one. “No, that would disturb the balance of nature,” the selfless king observed. “Then let us keep you safe, locked behind seven doors and guarded all the time.” said another. “But a snake can always find a way,” the king rued. “Let us keep the best physicians near and at hand.” “But there is no antidote available for this snake,” the knowledgeable king remarked. And so on it went with no solution to the problem. Always a door was there through which death could enter. Then a sage walked into the assembly, God-sent, at the right moment, saying, “O King, death will find you anyway, one day or the other, so learn to accept this reality.” “But I am not yet old. What shall I do or can I do something?” “Yes,” the sage said with some force. “You still can conquer Death by remaining calm when it stares into your eyes.”

“But how?” the king was puzzled. “By spending the most precious wealth you have in the most useful way.” The king wondered. What wealth does the sage mean: diamonds, rubies, gold or sapphires? And how should he spend it? By distributing it to others? But how would that help him? He might earn some merit but how will that help him here and now? As these thoughts were racing in his head, the sage remarked, “Time. Time is the most precious wealth you have, O King.” Then he added, “The most useful way to spend time is to concentrate on the Eternal. Instead, we invest it in transient things that time gives us today and takes away tomorrow. Therefore men fear death and fear losing things and people they cherish.” The words went deep, straight into the king’s heart like an arrow into its mark. “How shall I concentrate upon the Eternal of whom I have no knowledge?” asked the king convinced of the sage’s words. “Any Name, any Word, any Image, that reminds you of Him is sufficient to start with.”

The sage vanished and, along with him, the king’s fear disappeared. He spent the next seven days reading, hearing and thinking of the Divine in the form that came closest to him. In seven days, he attained liberation from the cycle of birth and death. Such is the power of God’s name, in whatever form it is taken. Yes, we have a limited time. All the more reason we should put it to best use. And what better use of time than to let our thoughts and feelings flow towards the Lord? Instead of thinking of death with fear and anxiety, let us think of the Divine so that when death comes, we are prepared and calm. Because we know that death is only a passage towards a new dawn.

What awaits at the other end?

A patient once asked a physician whether he was afraid of death. Before the physician could reply, there were sounds of a dog barking at the other side of his chamber’s door.

The physician reached out to turn the doorknob. No sooner did the door open that the dog jumped inside and started licking the physician with great fondness. The physician turned to his patient and replied, “See, the dog was barking as long as he was on the other side. But as soon as he jumped in he was quiet and happy. He knew that on the other side of the door is his master. So why should we be afraid when we know that on the other side of the wall of death, it is our Master who is waiting for us?”

Death is an illusion, a mask, a passage through which we pass, from one mansion to another: from the mansions of death to the Mansion of the Lord. From the realms of suffering to the home of light and delight. From the sphere of sorrow to the vast skies of freedom. Why should we fear death when, on the other side, what awaits us is only Love, Light, Freedom, Peace, Bliss? Think about it.

Travel light, shed your baggage

During the course of our journey through life we pick up much baggage. We also tie ourselves in many knots. The labels on this baggage are hurts, resentments, failures and disappointments. The names of the knots that tie and hold us back are affections, expectations, successes and acquisitions. All these things make our journey through the other worlds heavier and longer. We will have to offload our excess baggage on the shores of darkness. We will have to get our knots cut in the valleys of tranquil joy. The more baggage and knots, the more we linger and delay before meeting our Master who alone can give us the unconditional love, unalloyed peace and bliss we seek upon earth yet never find. Let us then prepare for the passage and shed our excess baggage while we still have time. How, you may ask? Here are a few ways: if you are angry at someone because he or she has hurt you, then try to practise forgiveness. True forgiveness comes when we understand that human beings, all without exception, are tied to their nature. No one is essentially bad, no one wants to hurt anyone willfully. It is our nature that compels us to be what we do not want to be in our depths. And few are conscious of their depths and fewer have the courage to even try changing the nature they are born into. It is not easy. Try remembering your own difficulties and it will give you a sunny tolerance towards others.

A lady in her 90’s, a divorcee for 45 years, made this remarkable discovery barely a few months before her death. She called her physician and confessed, “It is only now that I have been able to forgive my husband.” “Very good,” the physician remarked, and added, “But how?” “Well,” she explained, “I realised the great truth of the scriptures that we are all tied to our nature as a fly to the wheels. So why blame anyone? I have my own defects and he too has his own cross to bear.”

Remarkable indeed. We read the scriptures but seldom have the time and patience to reflect upon their truth or have the sincerity to put them into practice. But death compels us to practise what we have only heard, read or preached. Yes, forgiveness makes you lighter, makes the transit easier. So forgive while still there is time. Are you disappointed and feel that you were a failure? Then practise charity and forgiveness towards yourself. Empty your bag of the failures and frustrations and fill it with lessons of your past. These are the gems you will carry with you. They will be handy and safely deposited in your account, to be handed over to you when you need them. So gather these pearls. You have already paid the price, maybe a heavy price. Nevertheless do not forget to pick up your pearls, — the lessons of life.

Think and reflect upon your past without self- blame, complaint or guilt. Look upon the various scenes of your life a little dispassionately, as if it is somebody else’s life. See where all your storyline changed for the worse and what could have been done to prevent it. See what other choices were present before you, the roads you took and those you did not take.

Now offer this whole sequence to the Divine who is our all-knowing Witness and Guide. Imagine a sacred fire burning deep in your heart or a flame of pure white light. Now offer your story, your journey to that fire and pray that the ‘wrong’ turns may not have any further repercussions and the ‘right’ turns may be more illumined. Pray with all your heart that the mistakes may not be repeated if and when you get another chance and their effects upon you and upon others will be completely effaced. The Grace can do it and will do it if we call with enough sincerity. Remember the light is closest when the darkness is deepest. And the Grace is nearest with her gift of eternal life when death is close at hand. When all other doors are closing before you, the one door you perhaps missed opening awaits your discovery. It is the door of light, the door of Love, the door of Grace. It opens if you utter the magic words, “I want you, Lord of Love. I want you, Lord of Kindness and Mercy. I want you, O Light eternal, Grace Supreme.“ When we call with all our heart, the Grace acts and the doors of light are flung wide open, waiting to receive you in Her arms of love to carry you to your next destination.

What about our affections, our acquisitions and our successes? Remember, nothing was actually ‘ours’ in reality. Now is the time to once again remember this great truth. It is said that Alexander, the Greek emperor, who had set out on a world conquest and conquered half the globe, ‘willed’, as he approached his death, at the betrayal of his friend who had given him slow poison, that his fists/palms be left open after he died. On being asked ‘why’, he remarked that this would be a reminder to all that ‘we come empty-handed and go back empty-handed’.

We too must practise becoming empty-handed. How, we might ask? By practising gratitude is the answer. We must be grateful to God for all the good things and beautiful people that he entrusted us with. All who loved and cared for us, and still do, who were instruments of God’s love and all whom we loved and cared for and still do. It is our way of returning back a little of that love to Him to whom alone it belongs. But now the time draws near to give it directly to the Source. So be grateful to God, not only for the beautiful moments and things and people but also for the difficulties and struggles that taught us and also helped us to grow.

We must release things and people from our bonds and give them back to the Divine to whom alone everything belongs. If there is wealth, give to those who depend upon you and have cared for you. Give it also to those in material need. Above all, give it to those who would use it divinely for God’s purpose in the world. It does not matter whether you have a penny, a dime, a rupee or a fortune. The giver is not judged by the amount but the fullness and perfection of the giving.

So make a will. Give while still you have time lest people fight and quarrel over it. If there are people in your life for whom you have affection and who have affection for you, then express your gratitude to them. Tell them once more what they have meant to you and then pray that their energies of affection may be turned towards God and the good of the world. Tell them not to remember you or feel sad when you are gone. For you will be with your Master, happy and free. And should they feel the need to connect with you after you have departed they only need to dive deep in their hearts where the Master resides. And there they will meet us, not in this form but in essence, not as this personality, but as the person, not as a body but as a soul.

In the Master, in the Divine, in God, we are all always together and one. Gratitude is a way of acknowledging God’s Hand in your life. It sets you free from all your responsibilities since the ‘Hand’ that carried you so far will not leave you and your loved ones after you are gone! Giving is gratitude in action! So practise gratitude and giving while still we have time. It has the power to change destiny.

The power of giving: the good news

A man with countless misdeeds and very few good deeds died. The being at the ‘gates’ of death who decides where we shall go, looked into his register. “I have some bad news and some good news for you,” he remarked. The man stood silently to hear the verdict. “Well, the bad news first, you have acted selfishly with utter disregard to the eternal laws and divine principles that govern life. Hence you will have a long term in hell where you undergo some purificatory ordeals before your soul can ascend to its true home.” “And what is hell?” the man, stripped of his material sheath, asked. “Hell is a state where we are reflected in our darkness. The dark energies we have thrown at the world come back to us and we experience the same pain we have caused to others.”

The angel continued after a pause, “And the good news is that you did one selfless deed in your life and for that you have been granted three minutes in heaven.” “And what is heaven?” asked the man. “Heaven is a state where out of your goodness a path is carved for you to ascend to the home of love and far beyond,” the angel observed and asked, “Where would you like to go first?” The man, who was once a tyrannical king on earth, reflected for a while and said, “Heaven first.” So he went to heaven, but as his moments of heaven started he began giving everything that he was granted for his three minutes of comfort in heaven. And as he gave, his merits grew and the term in heaven and the means of joy kept increasing. The man went on giving, upsetting the balance of nature till God himself decided to intervene.

And as God appeared before him, the man’s face was lit with a rare joy. Thanking God profusely, he asked Him, “And what merit does a man earn who has seen God?” “Well, he goes beyond hell and heaven to the utter ‘Freedom’.” God smiled. And the man, falling at the Lord’s feet, asked: “So do I ask for that ‘Freedom’ since I have seen Thee, by thy Grace?”

“So be it!” The boon was granted and the man never saw hell. His goodness outweighed everything else. We can still practise goodness and charity while we are here and change our future destiny.

Release the energy of love

Of all the powers given to man to carry him on his journey through life and death, there is none more helpful than faith and none more potent than love. Love is the alchemist energy, the most potent weapon against death. To release this energy from yourself is to be fully equipped to confront the enigma of life and of death. The first reactions to the shock of illness and the brush with death are fear and hate. One hates to be in the situation one is. One hates life; one hates destiny; one

hates oneself. By hating, we paradoxically put ourselves on the side of death. By fear of death, we only help it to come sooner and torment us. We must battle it out even in the face of a grim situation. And for that we need optimism, cheerfulness, peace, confidence and, most of all, love. Open the heart to this energy of love and look into the eyes of death when it comes near. What is death after all? A hungry void that swallows everything. The more we are afraid and hate it, the more its hunger grows and the void becomes deeper. Instead, fill this void with love. Replace every thought and feeling of hate and fear with love. Tell your cells and organs that no matter their state of sickness you love them and want them to be in a state of harmony again. Fill your past with love. Send love to all that have hurt you. Fill your present with the energy of love. Contemplate the great power of love that binds the atoms and the stars, — love man, love God’s creation, love God.

Meditate upon the light of love in your heart and imagine there a beautiful flower, a magnificent flaming bud, opening petal by petal like a beautiful rose. Imagine the fragrance of this rose spreading out to all near and far. Pray with love, — not merely for survival but for your well-being and for your soul. Pray with love, — not only for yourself but for all who are connected with you now or were in the past. Pray with love, — for the earth, for her creatures, for man. Pray with love, — that today or tomorrow all disease, disorder, disharmony may vanish from earth. Send love into the abyss of death. Instead of imagining horrible things about death, imagine that death is only a mask that sometimes God wears to draw us closer to Him. Fill the passage through death with beautiful imaginations, — angels and chants and hymns and luminous beings and beautiful gardens of peace and joy. Let love smile through your eyes and your face. Thus you will create around you an atmosphere of peace and love which death cannot pierce. If you must go because the time has come, then God and his angels will come to take you, not death the mask and his dark helpers that you fear and hate.

All who have passed to the beyond and returned have recounted that at the end of the journey they discovered a most luminous, resplendent being of light whose essence was felt as Peace, Bliss and Love. Dwell in that essence, that light, that love more and more and covers yourself like an envelope.

Take the plunge

Now, when you are ready, try concentrating on one of the doors that will make your exit smooth and peaceful. There are nine gates through which death draws our soul out of the body but two through which God can enter and take us. The nine gates of death are the five senses plus the mouth, the genitals, the anus and the feet. One door of God is in the head and the other deep inside the heart. Concentrate upon these centres with your chosen ‘Word’ (mantra) and the chosen ‘Image’ (deity) and the Lord will come to take you and not death.

Plunge into the arms of God and not death. This is the secret of secrets, the secret of eternal life. It is the secret of passing through death towards immortality. For then, emerging on the other side we can truly say, “I have left behind this worn-out dress for He has already stitched for me a new and better one.”

Peace, Peace, Peace....

Dr. Alok Pandey, an Editor of NAMAH and member of SAIIIHR, is a doctor practising at the Sri Aurobindo Ashram.

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Energy of love