A Meditation on Death

Death. Inevitable. The timing of it, uncertain.

For the last ten years, Yours truly have lived with the notion, if not the knowledge, that death might come at any given moment. How does that affect behaviour and the attitude towards life?

Initially, it brings fear. An immense sense of impending doom and the words “I am not ready” comes to mind, in repeating cycles of seemingly eternal repetition.

In Tibetan Buddhist thought, awareness of death is a very good thing. And while being acutely aware of the fact that you might die at any given moment, brings a sense of fear and despair, it eventually brings about deep reflection of what you have to offer the world.

Having had the thoughts “I might get killed and die the very moment I step outside the door, today” every time I wake up, the thoughts “I might get murdered within the next five minutes” every time I step outside the door, and “Wow. I survived the day” when I came home, has brought about a sense of purpose that could not have arisen without it.

Of course, being in a state of perpetual fear of imminent death for a decade has, mentally, had it’s toll.

At the same time, being aware of the fact that death might come at any given time, well, is a very good thing, because it pushes you to make an effort to contribute to the world the contributions you want make. And while the thoughts “how will I be remembered? Will I be remembered at all? What have I contributed to the world? What is a legacy? And am I worthy of having one?” seem to come to mind, the answers to these questions, well, they don’t come by themselves.

Being acutely aware of the reality of death, makes you ponder your place in the world. Your purpose and goals. Your effect on your surroundings and people you encounter and interact with. Be it friends, foes, family, or strangers. For the better, for worse.

And while certain situations and paths in life, lead to some people having these thoughts and reflections more often and earlier on than others, having had them makes you see the world differently. Some say the fear of death is to be overcome and eliminated. And while overcoming your fears is a huge victory in any case, having a healthy fear of death is, well, healthy.

There is no point in fearing death itself. The meaning of a healthy fear of death, is being afraid of dying without having accomplished something you consider to be worthwhile, before departing this world. A healthy fear that prevents you from acting reckless in the face of adversity and danger. Being aware of death, and at the same time seeing that you have a capability to bring something good into the world by staying in it; prevents the case of righteous suicidal tendencies.

In some schools of thought, the destiny of martyrdom is the highest aspiration. And while true martyrdom entails dying for a worthy cause, the aspiration dying for a worthy cause, is not martyrdom, it is suicidal nonsense. Dying in the process of bringing about a better world, is a noble death, if such a thing exists, yes. But wanting to die, for the sake of having nobility in the eyes of the world, God, fellow believers, be it what it may, well, there is nothing noble about it.

Why isn’t the aspiration of making the world better, and living to see the change, considered a higher path than wanting to die for it?

Suicide is is suicide, whether it is done out of depression or misunderstood idealism. There is no “holy cause” worthy of suicide. And while it is anyone’s right to end their life the way they see fit; the notion of desiring one’s own death for the sake of being considered a martyr, just doesn’t come across as logical. If you wanted to die, you weren’t a martyr. You were a suicide candidate.

Misunderstand correctly: there is a difference between suicide and sacrifice. Being forced to give up one’s life for the sake of a cause or situation, be it God, political, humanitarian, or whatever, and being willing to do so – and plain out wishing for martyrdom, is in no way the same thing.

For example, the case of people being forced to become suicide bombers: they are neither suicidal, suicide candidates, nor are they terrorists. They are murder victims. In a way martyrs in the sense the people causing them to become it never will be – dying and, however involuntarily, bringing about awareness of innocent people in the hands and under the mercy of people willing to kill anyone but themselves, for a cause they consider to be so worthy, that they are willing to kill, even women and children, in the process, without being willing to kill themselves.

Would they be martyrs if they were? No. In such a case, one is both a murderer and a suicide victim. Nobody imposed that death on you to make you a martyr, the situation didn’t demand your death to the degree where you could not choose to act differently. And while being willing to give up one’s life for a given cause is both brave and worthy of admiration; wanting to die for the sake of becoming something someone would admire, is not admirable, it is misunderstood foolish ideological romanticism to the most extreme degree.

A shahid is the person who sees and witnesses, and he is therefore the witness, as if the martyr witnesses and sees the truth physically and thus stands by it firmly, so much so that not only does he testify it verbally, but he is prepared to struggle and fight and give up his life for the truth, and thus to become a martyr. In this way, and by his struggle and sacrifice for the sake of the truth, he become a model, a paradigm, and an example for others, worthy of being copied, and worthy of being followed.”

 

By the definition presented, the Quran has a correct view on what martyrdom is. But being prepared to die as a martyr, and wanting to die as a martyr, are entirely different things.

One is wanting to do the right thing and being willing to face the ultimate consequence, the other is seeking out a fate for the sake of that fate itself. Which, is, a righteous suicidal tendency.

For the last ten years, Yours truly have lived with the notion, if not the knowledge, that death might come at any given moment. How does that affect behaviour and the attitude towards life?

Initially, it brings fear. An immense sense of impending doom and the words “I am not ready” comes to mind, in repeating cycles of seemingly eternal repetition. When you are ready though, are you prepared to live on, beyond the moment that would make your fate a glorious one? To see what life could bring of misery and uncertainty, joy and opportunity, and perhaps the chance of a fate ending with no glory at all?

Would you?

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