The Mystery of Death – Commentary by Sally Jo Gilbert de Vargas

“Every soul will taste death.” (Qur’an 3:185)

“I learned that every mortal will taste death. But only some will taste life.”  (Rumi)

The Hindu sages say, “We all know that we will someday die.  The problem is, none of us really believes it.”  This is the honest and difficult truth.  Although we know with our intellect that we, too, shall one day die, it is a rare soul who is really prepared for death when it comes near.  That is why the Prophet Mohammad advised, “Die before you die.”  What does that mean?  One can only conjecture.  It might mean that we must die to our ego, our small self, and identify with our higher self before physical death comes.  Then we can let go of our physical body and this human existence with few regrets and even with a sense of readiness for whatever comes next. Similarly, when the Prophet was asked by a believer whom she should consult in important matters after the Prophet was gone, he answered, “Consult your death.”  When taken seriously, this is profound advice.  I have tried it numerous times.  In fact, whenever I am faced with what seems like an insurmountable problem, I go into a state of deep meditation, where I picture myself on my own death bed, ready to depart this world.  I paint a vivid picture of who is around me and what I am thinking and saying.  Then I ask myself the question or issue I have been pondering.  Without exception, the answer becomes clear to me. I have discovered how my priorities get re-arranged very quickly when I am on my death bed!  

Some people simply ignore or even flaunt the fact that death will come, and continue to “eat, drink and be merry,” as if their time on earth is endless. I have heard lately of some young people who are playing games with their friends by attending “COVID parties” where serious money is laid down by all participants in a “bet with destiny” to see who will get COVID first, for whoever does will win the jackpot! This mockery of death is particularly alarming to me.  One wonders, which one will take the money with him to the other side of the grave?  One young man playing this game actually died of COVID.  I wonder how his friends who survived will deal with their role in this tragedy? 

Other people have the opposite – an active fear of death.  It seems as if those of us who fear death the most, really fear that we will not have lived our life to the fullest, or have not fulfilled our ultimate purpose in life.  This is where a healthy awareness of death can be useful.  Last year during Ramadan, when I was going through a particularly difficult time in my life, I decided to experience Ramadan as if I were going to die at the end of the month.  I did it more or less as an experiment in cultivating and awareness of death and being present in the moment. It started out as a simple experiment, but as the days rolled on, I became more and more immersed in the idea.  It was one of the most incredible experiences of my life, and that month was one of the most well-lived months I can remember.  I spent many hours in spiritual practices and service to others, and this created a sense of joy and peace that I hadn’t experienced before. By the end of Ramadan, I was deeply grateful to be alive!

Leave a Reply