by Tom Bunzel |
Question: What happens to the jnani after death?
Nisargadatta Maharaj: The jnani is already dead.
“Die Before You Die” – Eckhart Tolle
This past Sunday, I almost did not watch the 60 Minutes piece on 90 year olds because I turn 65 on May 19, and the prospect of my deteriorating physical form had caused me a great deal of anxiety at one time.
This abated when I sought therapy for a variety of phobias, and when I joined Michael Jeffreys’ Eckhart Tolle group I became more acquainted with the concept of “die before you die.” To me this means a deep “organic” acceptance of the inevitability of your own physical death, as well as the deep realization that it could happen in 30 years or in 3 minutes. You are not in control.
To me this was deeply terrifying at one time but once I accepted it as “truth” it landed and was final (pun intended).
This also helped my financial anxiety. As I wrote about previously, the financial industry is based on one’s fear of death and the desire to “plan” for a long life. This is part of my distaste for watching the 90 year olds on 60 Minutes –I may realistically not have enough money to live that long at the level that I want.
What I tell people is that if I know I have 10 years, I have enough money. If I need enough for 40 years, I am in trouble if I don’t make sound “financial plans.”
But if I just realize that it’s not something I can control, and focus on what I can influence through attention in the present, the long term anxiety is gone and I can take care of things I need to do, and relax the rest of the time that I do have.
As Steve Jobs said,
“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life.”
There are inevitable moments when the reality of this becomes palpable. Friends die and get ill. Today I called my doctor for the results of my blood test from my yearly physical. Every year those few minutes on the phone bring home the reality that I could hear very bad news; fortunately that has not happened yet.
Much of the 60 Minutes piece was devoted to the old folks “living life to the fullest” and that concept keeping some of them alive –but the reality is that no panacea exists. Some drink and live, some smoke and die.
Both of my parents were believers in “quality of life” and that was more concerned with the relationships they had –not many but the ones they cherished were very deep –and not the restaurants they went to or the trips they took. My father “retired” at 80 and immediately had heart surgery. Fortunately he had six wonderful years in retirement where he walked the beaches of La Jolla and enjoyed a nice lifestyle.
I don’t think that clinging to life, whether medically or psychologically, is a recipe for joy. When my father contracted colon cancer at 86 he basically surrendered – “I’ve had enough,” he said.
My mother, who suffered from back injuries inflicted by the Nazis, kept a suicide kit based on Final Exit, by Derek Humphrey, and I was not thrilled to hear about it but I understood her situation.
On the night before she died she was rushed to a hospital with an aneurism –her heart had expanded in her chest –and she told me matter of factly, “Let me go. No surgery, no unusual measures.”
Not happy of course, I acceded to the wishes of her living will.
I am very grateful for their example of both deep love and surrender.
At this point I see the future as a wonderful stay at a resort hotel, where everything is provided –but the rate card with the checkout time is blank.
The call from the front desk could come at any time –you’re out of here –so I intend to relish the experience that I have left, but without the need to attempt to control it one way or the other.
It is certainly ironic that one cannot come to this realization or perspective when one is young, and the energy to fully taste all of the fruits of this existence is still plentiful. But as Eckhart Tolle suggests, it usually takes a confrontation with the depths of one’s existence to force one to confront life as it is, not as one wishes or believes it to be.
Then and only then can one fully embrace the one Truth, that everything is destined to change and to end, except Truth itself.
by Tom Bunzel