Death at the Door: Part 1

In part one of this Indian tale, Savitri discovers her daunting task: to defeat Yama, the lord of death.

BY: Deepak Chopra

Deepak Chopra

This article, the first in a 12-part series, is reprinted with permission of IntentBlog.

While writing a new book on the afterlife, (

Life After Death: The Burden of Proof

) I kept being drawn back to stories that I'd heard in India as a child. In these stories the abstract issues of death, immortality, and eternity acquire a human face as ordinary people confronted the mystery of death. I hoped that reader will be intrigued by a world where heroes battle darkness in order to emerge into the light.

In this case the hero is a woman named Savitri, and the enemy she must defeat is Yama, the lord of death. Yama shows up in her front yard one day, waiting to take away her husband the moment he returns from his work as a woodcutter. Will she succeed? What strategy can possibly turn Death away from his inexorable mission?

The following tale is a framing device for the main content of Life After Death, which concerns deep issues from the world's spiritual traditions as well as advanced science. These issues appear in parable form in the story of Savitri.

Part 1

Long ago, in the dense forests that once encircled the holy city of Benares, there was ample work for woodcutters. One such was the handsome Satyavan, who was all the more handsome because he had so much love for his wife, whose name was Savitri.

One day Savitri lay dreamily in bed contemplating her happiness, which seemed complete. Suddenly she noticed a figure sitting cross-legged in the dusty clearing that served for a front yard. A wandering monk, she thought to herself. She put rice and vegetables in a bowl and rushed out to offer them to the holy man, since hospitality is a sacred duty.

"I need no food," the stranger said, pushing away the bowl that Savitri had placed on the shade-dappled ground before him. "I will wait here."

Savitri drew back in horror, because suddenly she knew who her guest was. Not a wandering monk at all but Death himself, who is known in India as Lord Yama.

"Who are you waiting for?" she asked, her voice trembling.

"For one named Satyavan." The lord of death spoke politely. He was used to having absolute authority over mortals, and he approached them simply, with just a touch of arrogance.

"Satyavan!" the loving Savitri cried. She could hardly keep from fainting when she heard her husband's name." But he's strong and healthy, and we love each other dearly. Why should he die?"

Yama shrugged. "Everything will be as it will be," he said indifferently.

"But if you care so little," Savitri said, her wits coming back to her, "then why not take someone else? There are sick and wretched people begging for the release of death. Visit them and leave my house in peace."

"I will wait here," Yama repeated, unmoved by her plea and the tears welling in Savitri's eyes. In Yama's face she saw a world where everything is nameless and without pity.

Continued on page 2: Savitri's desperate decision »

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