13 December 2014

I saw the future yesterday

Yudisthara, the Pandava Prince, so the Mahabaratha says, once had to answer a series of question put to him by a demon who had concealed his 4 brothers who had gone to fetch water from the pond that the creature lorded over.  At one point the demon had asked, ‘what is the strangest thing in this world?’ Yudisthara, famed for wisdom, had responded, ‘Everyday, every moment, a countless number of creatures perish and yet none of us believe that death could overtake us the next moment.’

That’s a somber kind of beginning to a Monday morning, I know.  We all die and this we know.  We were born, we live, we get indisposed, age, lost our faculties on by one (if we live long enough) and we die. Somehow, though, in reflecting on life and death we skip happily around the odd parts between the beginning and end.  We might be conscious of aging and might even visualize ourselves two three decades ahead if we were to live that long, but somehow the infirmities are skirted. 

This is about that which we avoid thinking about.  So when I say ‘future’ it is not in the way that politicians talk about it, not in the way people describe possible tomorrows for their children, comrades and followers.  It is the future of close-to-death.  I saw it all yesterday, December 11, 2010. 

Yesterday, I went to a ‘future-place’.  A home for the elderly.  Located on Suramya Place, off the Moratuwa-Panadura Old Road, in a small town called Gorakapola. David Jayasundara Wedihiti Nivasaya.  The occasion was to give alms in memory of my late mother.

There were 40 residents, men and women. Some in their fifties, there because they were too ill to take care of themselves and had no one who would either.  Forty persons.  Forty different personalities, with hundreds of different quirks resident in each of them, just as it is the case with anyone else.  Lovely staff. Caring and sensitive, very conscious of each eccentricity in each individual and of inter-person dynamics.  Different food preferences, different illnesses and different medication.  Not easy to handle, but handled with care. 

From the ‘here’ of 45, decent health, marketable skills and many securities, it is easy to imagine that one would never end up where these people are right now.  On the other hand, it occurred to me that none of them would have, say at the age of 7 or 17 or 27 or even 57 imagined such an end-place.  The truth is, regardless of current endowment, any of those residents could be you, could be me, some years from now.  Or even tomorrow.

With us was one of my mother’s students.  He is single.  No parents. No nieces or nephews.  On his own.  He, more than I, was stunned into a state of enlightenment, if you will.  ‘I am confused,’ he confessed. He was extrapolating, he told me.  He was imagining himself at 70 or older, in reduced circumstances health-wise.  ‘Is this the future that awaits me?’ he was essentially asking himself and me even as I asked myself the same question.  The answer, whether we like it or not, whether we end up in Suramya Place or not, we decay, inevitably.  We lose sight, hearing, memory, motor functions etc.  We decay.  We decay. 

I am not suggesting that we stop living on account of the above inevitability, but it is not silly to remember that wherever we are not, whatever comforts we may enjoy today, there’s a tomorrow that awaits all of us.  I am not saying we should put aside a little money to pay for funeral rites in the event we might have to end up in Suramya Place or its equivalent, but considering mortality can teach us humility. 

My mother’s student had remembered a series of questions put to a young girl by Budun Wahanse:


“Do you know where you came from, Sister?”
“I don’t know”
“Sister, do you know where are you going?”
“Don’t you know, sister?”
“Yes, I do.”
“Do you know, sister?”

She did know where she came from in terms of who her parents were, but didn’t know from what world she had arrived. She knew she was going to die someday, but did not know anything of the relevant ‘Thereafter’.  The particular girl, Budun Wahanse knew, was to die that very day and not that ‘someday’ we think cannot be today, as Prince Yudisthara observed.  Subsequent to the discussion, she is said to have transcended to the first of the Marga Pala, sovaan.

Took me to the wise words of the Ven. Vidagama Maithriya Haamuduruwo in the Lowedasangarawa.  Two lines in particular:

‘Pana nam thana aga pini bindu wenne’ (Life is like a dew drop on a blade of grass) and ‘Kumatada kusalata kammeli onne’ (Why be lazy in the matter of meritorious acts?).

I saw my future and it was a humbling revelation.  We all make plans, but don’t incorporate this particular slice of the future into them or into our every-moment being.  Perhaps we should

*This article was first published on December 13, 2010 in the 'Daily News' to which paper the author wrote a daily column titled 'Morning Inspection' at the time.



Anonymous said...

This is so true. As one grows older Dukha - the First Noble Truth becomes painfully clear. Jatipi Dukha, Jarapi Dukha, Vyadipi Dukha, Maranampi Dukkham... so clearly points out the reality that we blithely ignore as long as we are strong of limb and hale and hearty. We should all prepare for what awaits us at any moment of our existence - and yet even after life threatening illnesses, most of us still don't get the message.
Jeanne Jayasinghe