Yesterday, I asked the Congregation what they would do if they knew without a shadow of a doubt that they only had one more month to live. The answers were what one might expect. Spend more time with family, travel, eat delicious food, meditate in some mystical land. These are wonderful thoughts, and I appreciate the input from those who answered.
The interesting thing about everyone’s answers is that when faced with the question of certain death, everyone suddenly sprang to life. A sense of urgency took over. It’s as if asking the question was like throwing gasoline on one’s imagination, good will, and vitality.
But what if I said that you only had one week to live? A day, a second, an instant…what if you’re dead right now?
According to Jain philosophy on impermanence, you are.
“Birth is attended by death, youth by decay and fortune by misfortune.
Thus, everything in this world is momentary.”
Every moment is the birth of one instant and the death of the next. Your body is fighting for survival this very moment, a war that claims 300 million cells every minute. Your personality, ideals, dreams, fears, habits, and thoughts pop in and out of existence constantly like a cloud of soup bubbles. Are you the same person now that you were at the beginning of this post? I know I’m not…
This concept is what led Lord Mahavira and the other Tirthankaras to believe that the only true, pure, unchanging substance in the universe is the soul. All living creatures (called jiva), yes, even those 300 million cells that just died, have an all-powerful, indestructible soul. The primary goal of every Jain is to free the soul–that pure, absolute state–from all karmic matter…everything that is not the soul. The only way to free the soul is through discipline with one’s self, unconditional equanimity and love toward all life, and non-attachment.
I thought about this concept today as I meditated outside in the cold. Who am I? What is the “I”, and am I the same as I was before I even asked the question? If I’m to believe Lord Mahavira’s teachings (and I do this month) then the answer is no. Any clinging to the body, the mind, the parts we call “me” is attachment to something that slips through our fingers every moment like sand. So why cling to it?
Because death makes us nervous.
That’s why when I asked, “What would you do if you knew you were going to die in a month?” you rushed to live.
Today, while in meditation beneath the moon, I fell into a trance and faced my own death. My killer, a dear and long-lost friend, approached me with his hand extended toward me and a warm smile.
“When the time comes, will you be ready, Andrew?“
“I don’t know. I have so much left to do.“
He lowered his hand and nodded. “I understand, old friend. When you are ready, I will be here, waiting as I have been all along.“
I don’t fully understand the circumstances, but I have an idea. It’s something I’ve suspected for some time now and just didn’t have the courage to accept. Now, the message is becoming clear, and the choice lays before me just as it does for all of you.
Here’s what I want you to think about right now. Die unto your pure self. Become soul. If death prompts you to live, and you are truly dying every moment, then why aren’t you living that way? Visualize yourself–your transitory self–as a beautiful, prismatic image through a kaleidoscope. Do you like the colors and patterns you see? If not, do something about it now. Set yourself on fire every day. Embrace death and allow something fantastic and new to rise from the ashes. Rinse, lather, and repeat until only the pure soul remains. Live every moment as if it’s your last because in reality, it is. Death is change and the constant companion of life. With this in mind, make every moment a singularity of pure, selfless bliss, a communicable orgasm of the soul that undulates and reverberates through every being around you.
Knowing that time is short regardless of the span, I’m making some changes. I’m done with stress, I’m done with frustration. I’m not stealing one more precious second from my family. I’m trimming the fat, shedding some karma, living fully with every single breath, flirting with my wife like we’re in college again, and making more pancakes for my kids. Exist between the seconds, Congregation, because that’s all you have, but it’s enough to launch you into eternity.
“The courageous as well as the cowardly must die.
When death is inevitable for both,
why should not one welcome death with fortitude and a smile?”