This article, the fourth 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 4 (Begin at part 1 by clicking here)
The moment she ran away from home, Savitri began counting the minutes until Satyavan would return from woodcutting. But now her mind grew quieter. This wasn't just the influence of Ramana's wisdom or the silence of the woods. Fate had a scheme in mind for Savitri. Fate was leading her in circles until it was satisfied that she could face Yama on her own.
That morning, all she could see in her mind's eye was her beloved husband coming home to his doom, but now she saw nothing. Perhaps this was a good sign, because Ramana began to speak.
"I'm not promising you that we can save Satyavan, but others have escaped death."
Savitri's heart rose. "Tell me."
"I remember a boy who was born under a terrible curse. His father was a great rishi, the most revered sage for many miles. This rishi had longed for a son, yet his wife was barren. Finally the rishi decided that he would demand a son from God. Only the wisest know a secret, that God was created to do our bidding, not we to do his.
"The rishi called upon God, but He refused to appear. The rishi had great patience, however, and he kept telling God to grant him a son, year after year. Finally God appeared to him and said, 'I will give you offspring, but you must choose. Do you want a hundred sons who will live long but be fools, or do you want one son who will be intelligent but die young?'
"The rishi didn't hesitate to choose the intelligent son, who God decreed would die on his sixteenth birthday. To the boundless joy of the rishi and his wife, she became pregnant and gave birth to a boy. He grew up to be extremely intelligent, and his parents cherished him all the more knowing the curse he was born under. They intended to tell the boy his fate in time. Somehow the years passed, and they kept putting it off.
"Finally the boy's sixteenth birthday arrived, and still he knew nothing. When he knelt before his father to get his blessing, the rishi said, 'I want you to stay beside me and not leave the house today.' His son was puzzled, especially when he saw the tears in his father's eyes. Obediently he stayed beside him the whole day, but the rishi was called away for a moment, and his son seized the opportunity to run out the back door. He owed an offering to God on his birthday, which even a father cannot deny.
"When the boy got to the temple he stood in front of the altar, not noticing that Yama had followed him there. Yama carries a noose that he uses to snare his victims. He threw it over the boy's head to drag him away.
"But at that very moment the boy was so grateful for the gift of life that he bowed his head. Yama's noose missed and caught the sacred images on the altar instead, which crashed to the floor. When they broke, God leapt up, much enraged at this insult. He kicked Yama out of the temple and granted the boy a reprieve from death. Some say that he kicked Yama so hard that he killed him, but then God gave him life again when he realized that people were so used to dying that they couldn't do without it."
Savitri listened to this tale intently. Her woman's intuition told her that the boy was none other than Ramana, but she decided to keep that to herself. "What did the boy learn from this?" she asked instead.
Ramana replied, "He learned that when Death comes to grab you, let him grab God instead. If God is in you, Yama's noose will always miss. What is your soul but a speck of god inside you? That is the secret for escaping his clutches."
As it happened, they were passing a meadow that gleamed with flowers in a clearing. Savitri said, "Let's lie down here for a while. I've been so anxious that I forgot to be grateful that I am alive."
"A good idea, Savitri." They sat down in the afternoon light that turned every flower into radiant gold, and Savitri meditated on her soul.