10 January 2014

Rejoice! You and I will die today without friends and family*

Not the chirpiest way to start the morning, I know.  Sorry. 

I once saw a middle aged man weep.  It was not at the death of a close relative. It was not on account of being confronted by a monumental tragedy defying prediction and comprehension such as the tsunami or the breaching of a dam.  It was at the three-months pinkama of a friend he’d known for a quarter of a century. 

Three months is time long enough to be done with grieving of the kind that agitates eye.  There are no words that can alleviate sorrow of that magnitude. No words were therefore spoken by others who too were there for what is likely to be the last such association with a friend of 25 years. 

It brought to mind another tragedy that had occurred that same morning.  A motor cycle collided with a bus near the Kandalama tank and was pushed into the water.  A family of three were on that motorcycle. The rider, the father, died on the spot. His wife was at the time of reporting in critical condition. Their 9 month old baby was swallowed up by the water.  At the time of reporting the infant had still not been found. 

We assign sorrow-value unconsciously in accordance with our understanding of such things.  For the sorrowful, such calculations are meaningless.  And in the rush of tear and sign, the silences produced by impotency at containing pain, the emptiness that is quickly filled with diurnal demand and the irritations of memory, we quickly scramble through to the timeless comfort zone, ‘Death is Something that Happens to Someone Else’. 

These days I am preoccupied with the translation of Simon Navagaththegama’s ‘Sansaaraaranyaye Dadayakkaraya’ (The Hunter in the Wilderness of Sansara).  Here’s a paragraph relevant to all I’ve written above:

‘Over the infinite years that the hunter had lived in this jungle he had encountered an infinite number of deaths.  How many funerals of how many creatures had he witnessed as he wandered among the trees?  How many robust and seemingly healthy animals had he seen leap with full confidence and drop dead upon reaching the earth once more?  How many who had suffered what seemed to be an insignificant scratch but whose festering enveloped the entire body, gradually weakening and causing death?  How many creatures had seen days stretch to months and years, suffering the inevitable and daily decay that is common to all things and perishing as is the order of life, some before their time, as they say, and some consequent to old age?’ 

Millions of creatures have died since I started writing this note this morning. Millions of creatures have been born. Millions more will have perished by the time I finish.   And I, like you, arrogantly (no insult intended) operate as though we are immortal. 

Dr. Hector Perera, a frequent commentator on things I write, suggested this morning that it would do people good for all people to take a walk through a hospital now and then, ‘just to see how human being suffer, one way or another’.  He points out that the exercise might tempt them to put a stop to a lot of bad habits such as drinking and smoking and even gambling. 

Most patients, he claims, are all alone.  I would add that it doesn’t take much to notice their solitude even when surrounded by loved ones.  It doesn’t take much to recognize in the vacant and solitary eyes one encounters a mirror image of one’s own solitude and one’s own secret and seldom acknowledged pact with death.  It is always useful to obtain the true dimensions of our mortality.  Sure, it can be depressing, but at the same time, it can empower, it can make us appreciate better the moment of breathing in and breathing out, the vicissitudes of life and the wisdom of treating impermanent things and phenomenon with equanimity.

It all took me to a kaviya I learnt in Grade 4.  Ven. Wettewe Thero’s ‘Lo Veda Sangarava’:

ada ada ei maru pin kara ganne
kumatada heta maru nethi hitanne
kikalada mahasen maru epa vanne
kumatada kusalata kammeli vanne 

The acquisition of merit is worthy for death may arrive today
There’s no reason to believe that it will not
What army will come forth to deny death,
Why be slothful in the matter of living one’s life well.

This would refer to abiding by the Sathara Brahma Viharana (loving kindness, compassion, rejoicing in the happiness of others and equanimity). 

You and I will die in water or in fire.  In light or shade. Outdoors or indoors in the moment of passing threshold.  In full consciousness or in the relatively blissful anesthetic of ignorance.  Today.  That’s cause for concern, perhaps. It is also cause for rejoicing.  A reason to encounter the ‘this moment’ of our lives and caress it.  

 *Written in January 2011 and published in the Daily News.

Malinda Seneviratne is a journalist who can be reached at msenevira@gmail.com



Anonymous said...

Very thankful that you are re-posting these articles. I really miss the Morning Inspection. Death CAN come today to you or me. Therefore write and post now as much as you can please, for others.

sajic said...

I dont remember reading this, but its always relevant. One reservation however-'three months is long enough not to agitate the eye'.
Memory can always make one cry, I think.

sajic said...

Malinda, why dont you print all the 'Morning Inspection' articles and publish them as a collection? They were a class apart, better than any old newspaper editorials!

Anonymous said...

Yes I agree with Sajic- one reservation, memory can always make one cry, I don't think one can put a tag of 'grieving time' for a loved one.
Malinda, as Dr. Hector suggests, why don't you be inspired by hospital suffering and give up smoking because the world needs more people like you....

Kanthi Weerasinghe said...

When will we have the opportunity of seeing the translated version of Sansaranye Dadayakkaraya at bookstores? We have never seen your published work available. I'm sure many lovers of literature will appreciate your work.