I see a lot of people sending messages of Rest in peace “RIP” as soon as they hear about the death of a dear one. Yes, it is an expression of love, affection, and respect. And I know, it is a sensitive matter. I can see a few people thinking of me as ‘insensitive’ as I write this piece. As someone who considers this life only as a stop-over in an eternal journey, I think wishing a departed soul ’Rest In Peace’ (RIP) is not appropriate. It is against the philosophy I subscribe to. I am sure most of my friends who appreciate the Hindu/Indian philosophy of life as a cyclical eternal phenomenon will also agree with me. I enjoy the journey rather than the destination as such.
The concept of RIP (Rest in Peace) has its origins in the Semitic religions that believe the soul, having departed the body, will take rest until the day of final judgment. On this day of judgement, the ‘good’ will go to heaven and the ‘evil’ will be led to their own abode. The notion is of a one-time, one-way journey with no recourse. So, “Resting In Peace” will amount to wishing someone this one-way path, and I do not agree with that. Concepts of heaven and hell are there in Hindu scriptures as well, but the idea there is to have a stop-over in heaven or hell and continue the journey, no matter who you are. It is the same for all beings, from insects to Lord Siva, with no exemption or exception. To take birth is to enter into a short realm of life and gather experiences, good and bad, as fuel to continue the journey which is non-linear and unbound by time and space.
I had an interesting experience a few years back in Detroit. I was attending an engineering conference there in 2009, where I was also the recipient of an award. The award was presented by the father of that stream of engineering, who, having pioneered this field of engineering before the Second World War, was instrumental in developing a prominent methodology that we use even today. In 2009, he was in his early nineties. He took a liking towards me and we decided to take an evening boat cruise together in the Detroit River, which separates the US and Canada (Windsor). He revealed to me that he was also a senior minister within a Christian faction prevalent mainly in the US. I told him that in my family, Christ is revered as a guru, a teacher as were many other enlightened beings in the history of mankind.
After the cruise, I helped him get to his hotel and he sat me down in his room. He offered me a copy of the bible and expressed his wish to write a blessing and a prayer for me on the first page. He told me, with that prayer, he was going to seek my entry into the church of Jesus upon final judgment. Although I am not a born Christian and I have not accepted Christ as my only savior, he assured me that all such ‘shortcomings’ will be overcome once he prays for me. He was a pious older gentleman and I sat there waiting for him to complete his prayer for me. I am all for gathering any blessings I can in this lifetime, and then some!
Partway through, he opened his eyes and asked, ‘Sukumar, what is your wife’s name? I want to include her in the prayer.’ I asked him,’ Which wife’s name should I give to you? My wife of this life, or the ones before this? Maybe, I was the wife in some of the previous lives and then should I find my husbands’ names and give them to you? Maybe I was an animal in some lives. Then what would I do? I said this with due respect to him and he probably saw that in me. He stopped his prayer, wrote a simple message of best wishes in his bible and asked me about what I told him. He asked, ‘do you also have many wives?’ His church permits many wives so there could be more true Christians in the world, but he chose to have only one wife for practical reasons.
I explained to him what I knew about incarnation, reincarnation, the cycle of life and the eternal journey every being is undertaking. I also tried to relate this to the story of Chithrakethu (Bhagavatham -6th Canto).
It was surprising to me that a ninety-two-year-old high priest, a world-renowned authority in an area of science, was not aware of the concept of reincarnation and the cycle of birth and death. It is not that I expected him to subscribe to the idea of the life cycle, but to be not aware that such philosophies existed elsewhere was an eye-opener for me.
He thanked me for introducing the concept to him and asked me about what happened to Chithrakethu in the story I referred to. At ninety-two, his ears were still sharp.
I gave him a short version of the story. Chithrakethu was a king who had no children. He did a lot of austerities to get an offspring and in order to please the gods, he invited the illustrious Sage Angira to conduct a major fire ritual in the palace. At last, to the king’s delight, his youngest wife gave him a son. All his other wives were jealous of her and eventually poisoned the child. The king was beside himself with grief and sought Sage’s counsel again to seek answers to his questions. ‘Where is my child now? Since you were instrumental in getting me a son, you should also help bring him back’.
The sage told the king about the cycle of life and the eternal journey a soul is supposed to take, gathering experiences as it moves on. But the king was not satisfied and insisted the Sage bring his son back to life. The sage, reluctantly arranged for the king to meet up with the soul of the departed son. The king wanted to embrace him, but the child asked, ‘Who are you? On my journey, I have had many relationships, many mothers and fathers, wives and children. Who are you and what is so unique about this relationship with you? In fact all of us, animals and plants included, are ever-related and eternally bound to one another. Having a ‘special bond’ in just one lifetime is not of any relevance to me. Let me move on…’
I wish all departed souls I knew, or not, a silent prayer of Shanthi, Shanthi, Shanthi, (Peace) and a happy journey. Move on my dear….don’t rest even in peace, for long.
–By Dr. Sukumar Canada
(This article first appeared on http://bloggainvilla.blogspot.com/2015/10/dr.html & is being reproduced with the author’s consent)
(Featured Image: source)
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