When I was diagnosed with AIDS it caused quite a panic among the nurses on my floor. I can remember one who absolutely refused to change my bedding, "Do it yourself!" she would say, "Why should I be subjected to your disease ?"
I recall now, with some humor, the horror and shame I felt at being an AIDS patient. AIDS immediately brought to mind my promiscuous involvment in illicit drugs or sex, labeling me and placing me in a category of "sub-human." There were flourescent red placards on the door to my room, bathroom, on my bed, etc., declaring boldly: "BLOOD AND BODY FLUID PRECAUTION."
After several admissions I didn't take the precautions and isolation so personally. In fact, it became somewhat of an inside joke between myself and the others in my asrama. I would label everything that was mine with a hot pink "INFECTUOUS" sticker, so that nobody would use my cup, or borrow my razor. Though the isolation became routine, I was offended at the unwillingness on the part of nurses, doctors, family and my peers to talk about the implications of my diagnosis. Nurses often would try to be encouraging by saying "Who knows, they may find a cure."
The doctors would say "You've been tolerating the pneumonia well so far, I think you'll make it." My mother's adamant denial "You don't look like you have AIDS. It must be something else. You DON'T have AIDS!" All this denial only made me more intent on facing the real issues. I DO HAVE AIDS. AIDS IS A "TERMINAL" ILLNESS. THIS MEANS THAT I WILL PROBABLY DIE SOON.
I found that when I was able to admit these things to myself, others were more willing to talk about it. Their denial was actually a
reflection of my own clinging. I wanted them to deny it, to give me some encouragement. But once I faced the facts, I was able to look more objectively at my situation. "Perhaps I could fight this disease. It couldn't be, like they say, 100% fatal." But I also knew that for better or for worse, the work I had to do on myself was still the same. For about a year I watched people with AIDS dying all around me, still I was reluctant to prepare. I had the idea that to actually start preparing would be a cowardly surrendering to the disease process, an admission of my weakness, an unwillingness to fight.
Often I was reminded of the story of Maharaja Pariksit. He was an emperor of what once was considered the largest and most opulent dynasty in all the world, what we now know as India. His kingdom was unrivaled in wealth, military strength, and righteousness. One day while traveling through the forest he came upon a yogi who was deeply absorbed in meditation. Due to his concentration, the yogi didn't properly receive him, and Pariksit became offended. Pariksit, in his anger, placed a dead snake around the yogi's neck and returned to his palace.
Later in the day the yogi's son came and saw his father in this condition, still in trance with this dead snake draped around his neck. He became so enraged to see his father, who was a very elevated yogi, in this state, that he cursed Pariksit to die within seven days from the venom of a snake. Pariksit, upon hearing of this curse, was faced with the same situation that one with an AIDS diagnosis must face: What to do? We can react in so many ways, but generally we either accept or reject the diagnosis as being absolute. We accept that we are going to die, or we convince ourselves that we can fight it. Perhaps we just deny the existence of the curse altogether.
Pariksit didn't know for certain that the curse would come to pass, nor did he have any evidence to the contrary, so he took the safe route and began to seriously question the great sage Sukadeva Gosvami, who in turn instructed him to prepare for the worst. Sukadeva's rationale probably was that whether Pariksit lived a long life, or died immediately there would be no loss in preparation. Their questions and answers went on for seven days and seven nights non-stop, and comprise 18,000 verses, and some 30 volumes. So, you can see that Pariksit took this opportunity very seriously. Indeed, many persons have glorified him throughout the ages because he saw that this curse was actually a blessing in disguise. Because his death was foretold, and because he used his remaining time to prepare for it, his whole life is seen as glorious.
Of course, our prognosis may or may not be so severe, but we can, just as Pariksit did, take advantage of our curse, and turn it into a benediction. In order to have this vision, we must first ask ourselves "Why is there any need for preparation?" Indeed we must ask "Why bother?" If we don't first ask this question then there will be no real context for further discussion.
Whether you subscribe to traditional Judeo-Christian beliefs, Eastern philosophy, or new-age thought, these will widely determine your answers to "Why bother?" Perhaps you want to float softly through a tunnel of light, or attain to the Kingdom of God, or achieve some void. Perhaps you just want another body? Generally speaking, the desire behind all of these aspirations can best be described as wanting a "peaceful passing." That's what most of us want actually, because what we fear most is a violent or turbulent death.
A large percentage of people who die, do so in a state of confusion. Either they are so medicated that they don't know who or where they are, or they are so scared or angry that they never stopped worrying enough to question their position. If we actually decide now what we want to achieve through our dying then we have already answered the question "Why bother?" With this goal clearly in sight, our dying process takes on a new light. No longer a curse, but a rare opportunity to prepare for, and become open to our death.
"As the embodied soul continually passes, in this body, from boyhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly carries on through death. The selfrealized soul is not bewildered by such a transition." Bhagavad-gita As It Is
We are all individual persons, and within this very lifetime undergoing different "re-incarnations," manifesting as an infant, toddler, youth, adult, or as an old man. Yet the same spiritual spark, the same consciousness survives these changes of body without undergoing any change itself.
Is it so inconceivable that this soul can perhaps survive the cessation of the material body and carry on - even in death? If we take this opportunity to cultivate "self' or "soul" knowledge, we will never be deluded by the change of bodies. This cultivation of self-knowledge requires a deliberate preparation, a conscious exploration of "Who am I? Where am I going? How do I get there?"
Chances are, in a diseased state, that we may have some spare time in which we can ponder these essential topics. So rather than asking "Why bother?" we can ask ourselves "Why not?" Death will come for us, just as it comes for everyone else, too soon, as sure as death. It is often amazing that we see death all around us but we fail to see that it is also just around our comer. There are people dying at every moment, but we are thinking "It will not happen to me." Don't we ever consider that every night when we go to sleep we have passed another day of our life? That we are one day closer to death? As soon as we are born, the clock starts ticking, and we never know when it will stop. When the time runs out, there is no way to prolong our life. The scientists cannot increase the duration of the body one moment beyond its alotted time.
Death will come, as Don Juan told Carlos Casteneda, "Altogether too soon." Nobody can attempt to remain in this body forever. Isn't it odd that we don't prepare for the inevitable future. We prepare for Christmas, we prepare for the tax season, we prepare for so many things, but we don't prepare for death.
Bhaktipad Swami writes in "ETERNAL LOVE":
"Therefore we are advised to live every moment, every thought and deed, as if it were ourlast. By doing so, we would complete many tasks still undone, and leave undone many things we ought never have started. In this way, we would have a good conscience and not fear death. After all, if we are not prepared to die today, what makes us think that we will be ready tomorrow? Besides, when death comes, it will not be tomorrow, but today. Now is the acceptable time. Now is the day for enlightened action and liberation. Even if we live three Score and ten years, or even ten Score and three, that is no guarantee of happiness. There are trees that live for thousands of years. A long duration of life has no intrinsic value. It is not the quantity of life that counts, but the quality. Unfortunately, our nature is forgetfulness. Although we all know that many people die suddenly and quite unexpectedly, we carry on in our usual humdrum way, as if all were well. When our final moment comes, however, we may think differently of that life which will then be over. There is often much regret and remorse that the boon of human life has been carelessly wasted. Remembering that the moment of death is always at hand, we should be motivated to become detached. Remembering that the moment of death for this body can actually be the moment of liberation, we should feel happy rather than sad. Oh, what fools we are! We plan for happiness here, but in a second everything is finished. Who will remember us then? Who will help us? When death comes, it is too late for change. Either for good or ill, the die is cast. Let us therefore act to assure the soul's safe passage."
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