Sunday, 23 March 2014

Khushwant Singh on Death

Celebrating Death Is Sign Of Maturity 
The one principle that should be at the core of any religious belief is ahimsa or non-violence — not to hurt any life, human or otherwise. Killing is not right. Killing animals to eat them is not a civilised thing to do, but carnivores exist in nature and in many places, humans have to subsist on non-vegetarian food for reasons beyond their control. But wherever possible, vegetarianism must be practised.

Hurting people physically or mentally, whether by word or action is wrong. Ahimsa is more important than prayer and kirtan. Ahimsa should be the central principle of your faith. But you have to raise your voice against injustice. Then, if you hurt someone who has hurt other people, it is justified. But the death penalty is barbaric — it is murder by the state.

Once, as editor of The Illustrated Weekly of India, I wrote an editorial on the issue of hunting and killing animals for sport. Then I sent individual letters to chief ministers of states asking them to ban shikar. Some of them responded by banning shikar. As one who has faith in ahimsa, I feel good about this.

So, life should be lived with compassion and nonviolence. I think a lot about life and the way we live it; I also think about death and how we deal with it. The basic point is, we don’t know where we come from; we also don’t know where we go after death. In between, we might know a little about life. People talk a lot about body and soul — I’ve never seen a soul, nor do I know anyone who has seen one. So for me, death is a full stop.

I don’t subscribe to the theory of rebirth endorsed by Hinduism and Buddhism nor do I believe in the Judeo-Christian belief in a Heaven and Hell. Ghalib said: “We know the truth about paradise but to beguile your mind is not a bad idea”.

There is nothing unique about death. Death comes to all who are born. So we don’t need to pull a long face when death comes. Of course, it is human nature to grieve for someone you’ve lost. But that’s no reason to create a big fuss, wailing and screaming. Nor is there any need to have elaborate rituals and kirtans.

Death is in the order of nature; when your time comes, die with dignity. I’m a member of the ‘Die with Dignity’ society formed by Minoo Masani 20 years ago. I can’t say I don’t fear death — but I’m more concerned about whether it is going to be a long drawn out painful process rather than worry about what happens later.

Iqbal wrote: “If you ask me about the sign of faith/ When death comes to him,/ he should have a smile on his face.” I’m all for the ancient tradition of celebrating death. When people over 70 years die, their death should be marked with celebrations that include band music, dancing and feasting. It is a sign of maturity and acceptance of the inevitable.

I’ve discarded all religions but I feel closest to Jainism. Every person has the right to end his life — after having fulfilled his worldly duties. Acharya Vinoba Bhave and Jain munis have done this.
I wish to be buried with just a tree planted over my grave — no tombstone, nothing. If you live close to the sea, go for burial at sea. It saves wood.

Khushwant Singh | From ‘An Agnostic’s View Of Life And Death’-Nov 26, 2004

No comments:

Post a Comment