This article, the second 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 2 (Begin at part 1 by clicking here)
As they wandered further up the mountain, Savitri became more and more anxious, but the monk Ramana paid no attention to her. After a while he left the deer path to follow a cut among some huge boulders and was lost from sight. Scrambling after him, Savitri spied a stream, and beside it sat Ramana. "You must be tired and thirsty," he said, pointing to the stream. He pulled out his reed flute, which was tucked into his saffron robe, and began to play.
"My music doesn't make you smile?" he asked, noticing the anxious look in Savitri's eyes. All she could think about was the lord of death awaiting her at home.
"We have so little time," she implored. "Teach me what you would teach."
"What if I could teach you the cure for dying?" asked Ramana.
Savitri was startled."I'm sure everyone dies."
"Then you believe in rumors. What if I told you that you've never been happy? Would you believe me?"
"Of course not. I was happy this morning, before all this trouble began," said Savitri.
Ramana nodded. "We all remember being happy, and no one can talk us out of that knowledge. So let me ask you another question. Can you remember not being alive?"
"No," Savitri said hesitantly.
"Try harder. Cast your mind back to when you were very, very small. No matter how hard you try, you cannot remember not being alive. This is important, Savitri."
"All right." Savitri tried her best, but indeed she had no memory of never being alive. Then Ramana told her to pluck a buzzing locust that was clutched to a twig over her head.
"If you see a locust emerging from the ground after seven years' sleep, does that mean it was dead before that?"
Savitri shook her head.
"Yet the only reason you believe that you were born is that your parents saw you emerge from the womb. They thought they witnessed the moment when you began to exist. So they spread the rumor that you were born."
Savitri was astonished at this line of reasoning.
Ramana became insistent. "Look at this stream. All you see is a short stretch of it, yet would you say you know where the stream begins or where it ends? Heed me, Savitri. You accept death because you accept birth. The two must go together. Forget these rumors that you were ever born. That is the true and only cure for dying."
Ramana stood up and tucked his flute back in his robe; he was ready to walk on. "Do you believe me?"
"I want to believe you, but I am still afraid," Savitri admitted.
"Then we will go on." Ramana began to walk away and Savitri followed, pondering what he had said. It seemed irrefutable that if she'd never been born, she could never die. Was it really true?
Ramana caught her thoughts. "We can't base reality on what we don't remember, only on what we do. Everyone remembers being; nobody remembers non-being."
After a moment she gently touched his arm. "Play a little more for me, please. I think I should remember being happy. Suddenly it's very important."