Reflections on Life and Death.
Leaving downtown Port of Spain, crawling through the rush hour traffic, I sought relief of sorts by switching on the radio in time for the BBC 5 o’ clock news hour. As I tuned in, the big story of the day was that a team of scientists in Geneva, doing research with a $10 billion particle collider, think they may have seen some “intriguing hints” of the elusive “Higgs Boson,” which they also refer to as the “God particle.” Just to fill you in, I found out by listening that the Higgs Boson is the so called “missing link” in the big bang theory.
It is something theorized to have occurred one trillionth of a second after the big bang and is an attempt to explain how matter created mass. Apparently, the idea is that ,once matter attains mass, the universe as we know it becomes possible.
Okay, we got through the technical part. The rest of the program dealt with the potential implications this could have for religions around the world, if and when this particle were proven to exist. They had assembled a panel including members of various religions along with theistic and atheistic scientists. They had a lively discussion and the host also read incoming emails from listeners around the world as they came in.
In the end, it seemed pretty inconclusive. Perhaps as it should have. After all, for all the scientists’ excitement, the particle hadn’t actually been discovered yet. They thought they saw “intriguing hints” of its existence for the first time, which triggered the big news story. In any event, it set me thinking. Where did I stand on the issue? Is life mechanical, divine or both?
Images appeared from long ago. A small town at the Jersey shore. The air was damp with mist. In the stillness the low, deep songs of the sea murmured. Towards the center of town, beneath a high ceiling in an old Victorian style building, a line of people slowly made their way across a large room. The men wore suits, the women dresses. Two girls and a small boy were there, all dressed up in their Sunday best. A young man lay, very still, in an ornamental wooden box. He was very nicely dressed and appeared peaceful. Beautiful bouquets of flowers had been placed all around him.
In spite of all the decorations, the atmosphere was somber. Each person in the line had their turn to stand before the young man. Most began to shed tears. Some wept and some openly cried, sobbing out things like, “Bill, where have you gone?” and, “Why have you been taken from us so soon?” After the two young girls, it was my turn. I was the boy. Standing there, stunned, confused, I also cried and wondered, “Father, you are here, but you are gone.” I couldn’t understand. I was six. Someone moved me along.
My mind raced back. Two days earlier. I was buzzing with excitement all day at school. I couldn’t wait for the bell to ring at the end of the day. My father would be waiting for me when I got home. He was going to meet me right after school and take me to the bike shop. He was going to buy me my first bike. I ran all the way home. Two blocks, through a field, across a street and I was there. My father’s old green 1948 work truck was already parked out front. Excitedly, I hurried into the house and called for my dad. No answer. I called again. No answer. Hmmm, maybe he’s hiding. My dad was 43, young at heart and playful with me. We used to play a lot of games, especially hide and seek. I’d better seek him out. Tiptoeing out of the living room I entered the dining room, hallway, and bedroom. Hmm, where is he hiding?
Aha! The bathroom, he must be in there. I’ve looked everywhere else. Gently opening the door, I peered in. There he was! But oh, he must really be in a playful mood. Maybe he is playing my favorite game, “Bear Trap.” He was sprawled on the floor, partly leaning against the wall, pretending to be asleep. But his eyes were open? I’d better be careful. Get close, but not too close. If I got too close he would suddenly spring up and grab me, yelling “Bear Trap”. As I pondered my next move, I heard some sounds and my sister came in. She had just reached home from school. She was older and wiser, she was 10. She realized something was wrong right away. She called my mom, who rushed home from work. Next thing I knew the house was filling up with people, a doctor, a priest. Then we were taken around the corner to my aunt’s house.
The next (and last) time I saw him was in that box. My father. So young. So strong, so active, so alive. He was limber, too. Two weeks earlier my parents had a party in our home. We had been sent upstairs at bedtime but being curious I had tiptoed back down the stairs and peeked into the living room. I saw my father, perhaps a little lubricated with spirits, walk across the living room floor, on his hands! An uncommon feat for most. So full of life.
Then the lid was closed on his box. We, the crying people, all got into cars and drove a few miles into the countryside, to the Old Brick Church. It was several hundred years old. It was the oldest church around, with lots of land. The land was mostly covered with rows of grey stone markers. Different sizes, shapes, styles and ages. Below each marker were the remains of a father, mother, daughter, son, grandmother, grandfather, associate or friend. People, who had lived, breathed, loved, given, taken and finally left. Their near and dear ones may well have also stood before their newly deceased bodies asking, “Where have you gone?”
Soon his coffin was lowered into the freshly dug hole and covered with dirt. Ceremonies were performed, eulogies were offered. More flowers decorated his grave. All I knew was, somehow, my father was gone. His body was there, under the ground, at the Old Brick Church. But somehow, he was gone. I had a lot of growing up to do. That’s what kids do best. I moved on and in to many new things, ideas, fads. School, friends and surfing gradually became my world. Then music, girlfriends, travels. But throughout it all, somewhere inside, doubts persisted. Life? A few good years then off to a hole in the ground? Off to heaven? Hell? It remained confusing.
Growing into my teens, I learned that many were finding answers from within, with the aid of mescaline, peyote or LSD. Newer, broader horizons seemed to open up, like soaring above the clouds and seeing the earth below from a great height. It was exhilarating. I seemed on the verge of some deeper understanding. But then I would find myself back where I started. The bounds of time and space still clung to me, holding me squarely in their grip. No easy solutions.
Becoming concerned over my teenage state of affairs, my mother, in an effort to “straighten me out,” enrolled me in an all boys preparatory school. It was several hours from home by train. Once, after a visit home, I stopped at the book store on my way to the train station to find something to read for my trip back to school. Hoping to find something interesting I perused the shelves in the small store. Then I found it.
I was excited. There, amongst other new releases was a very unusual book, entitled “Bhagavad Gita As It Is.” It was a big hardback, published by the MacMillan Company. An ancient work in Sanskrit, it had been translated into English and commented upon by an Indian Swami named A. C. Bhaktivedanta. That was the one! I bought it and ran to the train. Once on board, I settled in for the journey. Examining the book, I was pleased to find it had many full color illustrations. The captions described the many interesting topics being depicted, like karma and reincarnation. I had heard of the Gita and had hoped to read it someday. Now was my chance. It was intriguing to see how the Swami had included the original verses in their Sanskrit script.
By the time I reached my school I had read quite a bit. It was a lot to comprehend for my 14 year-old brain but I could sense the depth of the knowledge. It was comforting. As I continued reading, over time I found that many of the questions I had been pondering were discussed in the Gita. Specifically, the second chapter began with an in depth analysis of the living force, the body, life and death. Karma and reincarnation were also described as a kind of cause and effect cycle which kept us transmigrating from one material body to another, facilitating our desire to live in this world of matter and awarding us the sweet and bitter fruits of our activities, life after life. It made sense to me.
Then, one day, a year or so later, my answer came. Interested to learn more, I had acquired some taped lectures the Swami had given on the Gita. In one lecture, while explaining the difference between the body and the living force, the soul, he gave this example: “When a person dies, their relatives come before them crying, ‘where have you gone? Why have you left us?’ But in truth, the body of the person is lying there before them. If the person whom they were lamenting for was the body, there would be no cause for lamentation. The body is still present. Decorated nicely. It is the living force, the soul, who has gone. The body is the vehicle. The soul is the driver. When the soul leaves the body, the body ceases to function, dies. The soul is life itself. It never dies.”
When I heard that, it hit me! I immediately understood. I had seen it with my own eyes. As a boy, I had cried, called out, “where have you gone?” I had wondered, “your body is here, but you are gone.” Now it all made sense to me. So for me, the answer is clear, life is divine, our body is mechanical.
What are your views?
Lincoln Briant is an aspiring songwriter and Bhakti Yoga enthusiast. He works in the West Indies and loves spending time in the ocean. You can listen to his songs@ http://www.youtube.com/user/Rainbowband2 or contact him@ [email protected].