This article, the tenth in a 12-part series, is reprinted with permission of IntentBlog.
Note: 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?
Part 10 (Begin at part 1 by clicking here)
Savitri trusted Ramana, but as the hours grew long, she worried about the time. She had to return home to face Yama, and her mind was filled with a vision of Satyavan’s strong body turned cold and lifeless with a glance from Yama. I would lose everything, she thought, in greater pain than ever.
Ramana turned to Savitri. “Would that make you afraid, to lose everything?” He seemed to have no trouble reading her thoughts.
“Of course,” Savitri said miserably.
Ramana pointed up ahead. Beside the path was a rustic shrine that someone had erected in the forest. The altar was made of pine boughs that sheltered an image of Vishnu. Of course Savitri knew that Vishnu was the aspect of God that sustains life. This must be a sign, she thought. She quickly ran ahead, gathering some wild flowers to offer at the altar. Ramana hung back, and with bowed head Savitri begged Vishnu to help her. I will do anything, she implored.
When she raised her eyes, Vishnu was standing before her. Savitri was awestruck. ‘You will do anything for me if I save your husband?’ he asked. Fervently Savitri said yes. ‘Then go to the river and fetch me a drink of water,’ said Vishnu.
Savitri did as she was bade. Ramana was nowhere to be seen, but she remembered passing the river and knew it was close by. Kneeling beside it, she wondered what she could carry water in when her eye caught sight of someone else along the bank. It was Satyavan! Overjoyed, Savitri ran to him, bursting into tears. Satyavan embraced her and asked what was wrong.
In between sobs Savitri told him the danger he was in. ‘Then we shall not return home at all,’ Satyavan declared. He took Savitri tenderly by the hand. They walked along the river until they spied a boatman tied up to shore.
The boatman greeted them cordially and said that he had been out fishing. He pointed to an island in the middle of the river. ‘That’s my home,’ he said. Quickly Satyavan made a bargain with the boatman to become his helper. He and Savitri were carried to the island, where they began a new life.
Savitri became sublimely happy, for after a few days it was apparent that Yama had not pursued them. Her husband learned to be a fisherman, and together they lived in peace on the island. Years passed. They had two children, which were the joy of their hearts. Then one night a great storm crashed down on the island. The winds howled, the river rose higher than it ever had. By morning everything and everyone had been washed away. Savitri was only saved by tying herself to a tree with a rope. She saw at sunrise that Satyavan, their house, and their remaining child had been swept away into the river.
She managed to find a boat and rowed to shore, but Savitri was so devastated that all she could do was lie on the sand moaning. Suddenly she felt a shadow looming over her. She looked up to see Lord Vishnu. ‘Did you remember my drink of water?’ he asked.
Savitri was amazed to see that she was wearing the same sari as the day years ago when Vishnu first appeared to her, and as she bent to get him some water, her reflection showed her the same young woman. ‘What happened?” she asked in bewilderment.
Vishnu replied, ‘With me there is no time, for I am beyond death. Time is the field of gain and loss. As long as you are in time, it is an illusion to think that you can prevent loss, which is just another word for change.’
“Then Satyavan must still be alive!” Savitri exclaimed. “Can he be saved?’
Vishnu was already beginning to fade away. Savitri grasped at his image, but all she held was air. When she turned around, the person she saw was Ramana, standing behind her on the path.
“You see,” Ramana said, “whatever you are afraid to lose is unreal. Death cannot touch what is real. In a way that is a gift from Death.”
“I don’t see that,” Savitri said dejectedly.
“When you die, you will be forced to lose everything, yet something will remain. It is the soul, which is real. Therefore you should celebrate loss. The trappings of existence can fall away at any time; the essence will always remain. And that essence is you.”