Approaching Death


In 2009, Prem Sarito wrote this insightful essay for publication in Osho World, India.

I am probably closer to death than most of you and I would guess that I think about it more too. A Chinese Phrenologist, reading my head-bumps in Malacca 40 years ago, told me I would die in my mid-eighties and I’m not far off. Most of his other prophesies have proved correct and this feels about right for me. Am I hypnotizing myself? Maybe, but since a near-death experience 15 years ago, I have come to be grateful for every additional year and hope to accept the final curtain whenever it decides to descend.

Lake Atitlan

My environment is dying rapidly too. Living on Lake Atitlan, Guatemala, once described as the most beautiful lake in the world has, in the last month produced a toxic cyano-bacterial algae that has covered it from shore to shore scaring away tourists and spreading panic amongst resident Gringos and Mayans alike. At least we can up and leave like we did with Pune One and the Ranch but the Mayans are stuck with it.

I am fairly healthy but my bank account is looking pretty sick. I have no insurance and some of my income comes from the tourist hotel where I live. Usually at this time of year we have 30-40 guests and up to 80 at weekends. Right now we have maybe ten brave souls hanging out and things look bleak. I probably have enough money to last a couple more years.

Relative to these three approaching deaths, many of my contemporaries are leaving their bodies. Five good friends have gone to the Further Shore in the last couple of months and all way younger than me. ‘Viha Connection’ obituaries are always a little scary as they often feature the departure of some sannyasin with whom I have had connections in the past. These farewells, the demise of my environment heralding the approaching suicide of Planet Earth and my financial condition echoing the current state of world banks make a clear statement. My life is close to an end.

Whoa!… that all looks pretty depressing but I and most of my friends here are still having a great time. We threw a big “Cheer Up” party Saturday night to chase the blues away and danced our buns off. It was kind of a message to all the prophets of doom, the negative pessimists who have been bringing us down. Heh… we pooped in the lake and Nature is getting it’s own back. Now we have to put all our energy into cleaning it up. As a matter of fact the lake looks much cleaner today, the flowers are out all over the hillsides, the sunsets are exquisitely beautiful and the New Moon and Evening Star are close together and shining bright. Cheer up – we’re not dead yet.

Fear of death is possibly the most heartbreaking stress we have to endure in life. Fostered by religions, pharmaceutical and insurance companies, advertising, the movie industry and everyone who stands to gain from putting the specter of death in front of gullible people, there is little chance of avoiding constant fear. Postponement seems to be the tool we use to avoid confrontation – a wait and see attitude.

Tilopa said,

The fool in his ignorance, disdaining the Mahamudra,
Knows nothing but struggle in the flood of Samsara.
Have compassion for those who suffer constant anxiety.

Most people, myself included, who have had near-death experiences, report a grateful acceptance of an extraordinarily beautiful passing into another space. As Osho says. “The problem is not the Body. It’s the Mind.”

Ancient belief systems have Death as a scary skeleton coming to take us to an unknown, possibly spooky future depending on how we have behaved ourselves during this life. Awaiting the Day of Judgment is riddled with guilt. It took my mother six weeks to clean up her Karma and confess all her imaginary sins before she finally expired in innocence.

Osho spoke out for the Right to Die. In The Heart Sutra he suggests that every city has a Death Center, a Temple where people whose death is imminent could go into deep meditation with their loved ones around them helping them to leave gracefully. Two books I have read recently put forth a wise, practical case for the decision to end our lives when they have become unbearable. Final Exit by Derek Humphry and Last Rights by Marya Mannes make eloquent pleas for the dying and their right to a dignified death.

Isaac Azimov wrote,

No decent human being would allow an animal to suffer without putting it out of it’s misery. It is only in human beings that we are so cruel as to allow them to live in pain, in hopelessness, in living death, without moving a muscle to help them.

Religions, Laws and Tradition have no right to interfere with an individual’s choice to live or die. Some people want to eke out every second of life, no matter how grim, and that is their right. But others do not and that should be their right too.

As Sannyasins we celebrate death as the very crescendo of life, the ultimate orgasm. Tonight while eating dinner on my own I read five descriptions of the experiences of Enlightenment by the Mother, Da Free John, U.G. and J. Krishnamurti, and Osho in Yatri’s marvelous book The Unknown Man. Maybe I was reading it for the tenth time because it is such an inspiration. Each story is different and each appears to me to be a passionate, charismatic description of Death. A passage from the mundane to a state of bliss. To me Death of the Ego somehow relates to Death of the Being, What was common to all five was that there was no fear. All of these Realised Beings went into the process with total trust.

Maneesha, Veetman, Steven Levine and virtually all the therapists dealing with the phenomenon of Death agree that Trust is the key to passing through to the Further Shore in peace and dignity. So for me, while I can smile at Woody Allen’s comment “I’m not afraid of Death. I just don’t want to be there when it happens,” I do want to be there. I want to die laughing and experience what Osho calls the ultimate blossoming of Life:

In death the whole life is summed up,
in death you arrive.
Life is a pilgrimage towards death.
From the very beginning death is coming.
From the moment of birth
death has started moving towards you,
you have started to move towards death.

We might as well dig it… and savor the waiting.

sarito-tnPrem Sarito was born 1927 in the UK and educated in Shimla, India. Previously a WW2 British Army Intelligence Officer in Austria, he studied Architecture in England and moved with his wife and two daughters to Sydney, Australia. Dropping out of his lucrative career, he travelled widely and took sannyas in Pune in 1977. In the late 80s he and his wife Shavda moved to Guatemala. He died on October 14, 2016.
Read Sarito’s published articles at Osho World

Illustration: Lake Atitlan

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