Book Review: Preparing for Death
Arun Shourie’s  Preparing for Death is both a meditation on death as also a handbook on dying.  It is theoretical as well as practical. 

Being an exceptional storyteller, Arun Shourie has deftly woven together a book telling stories from old Hindu and Buddhist scriptures as well as from contemporary history. 

Beginning with the Buddhist maxim that death is a certain thing but the time and place thereof are uncertain, he moves on to focus on death and dying and ponders over how that could be made easier. 

He tells you that unless it is sudden as in the case of Gandhiji by a bullet, or by an accident, death follows the failure of the body and the weakening of the mind, leading to helplessness, which tries to prepare you for the inevitable.  
 
He also comments on afterlife, that is, rebirth and how one can avoid it, but it is clear enough that the author’s real interest is in Buddhism and Advaita Hinduism as the book is studded with stories of the Buddha and those founded on Advaita and the author’s deep knowledge of these. The book also tends to get lyrical from time to time as it is interspersed with little haikus from Basho and other Japanese masters or little passages from the Upanishads or poems from Urdu and Punjabi sources.
 
As death is a universal certainty, how does one deal with it?  Shourie talks of the last days of the Buddha and Shri Ramakrishna and Shri Ramanna as also Gandhi and Vinoba and points out how even great lives had to suffer at the very end.  He talks about the techniques they used when they faced death and how their deaths were eased by mind over matter. 

The training of the mind is regarded as a prerequisite to get over the frailness and the sufferings of the body. For instance, in Shri Ramanna’s case, the repeated recurrence of cancer helped him reach a higher level of consciousness. 

It is through the mind and through meditation that mindfulness and a higher consciousness are achieved which, in turn, can lead to an easier death and a more fruitful rebirth, if there is, indeed, one.  
 
On the question of the universality of death, he quotes the philosopher Diogenes as telling Alexander the Great that while trying to find the bones of his father amongst the bones of his slaves, he realised that in death everyone is alike and, hence, equal.  Diogenes seems to also indicate that if in the end everyone is going to die, then being egotistical is quite meaningless.
 
He recommends meditation as a way to a higher consciousness including the controlling of breath and says that through meditation, you can train the mind to face the inevitable and reach a higher consciousness which helps in reducing suffering.
 
The author comments impassively about his own family and his own illness to demonstrate the fragility and uncertainty of life and also emphasises on the need  to provide security to your family after your death by making a will or by setting up a personal trust.  
 
He writes:
 
One thing seldom fails to remind us of what is ahead-and once we cross seventy or seventy-five, the reminders become irritatingly frequent.  And that is ageing.
 
‘And what, Bhikkhus, is the gratification in the case of material form?’ the Buddha asks the monks. “Suppose there were a girl of the noble class or the Brahmin class or of householder stock, in her fifteenth or sixteenth year, neither too tall nor too short, neither too thin nor too fat, neither too dark nor too fair.  Is her beauty and loveliness then at its height?’
‘Yes, Venerable Sir,’ the monks respond.
 
‘Now the pleasure and joy that arise in dependence on that beauty and loveliness are the gratification in the case of material form,’ says the Buddha.
 
‘And what, Bhikkhus, is the danger in the case of material form?’ the Buddha asks next.  ‘Later on one might see that same woman here at eighty, ninety, or a hundred years, aged, as crooked as a roof bracket, doubled up, supported by a walking stick, tottering, frail, her youth gone, her teeth broken, grey-haired, scanty-haired, bald, wrinkled, with limbs all blotchy.  What do you think, Bhikkhus? Has her former beauty and loveliness vanished and the danger become evident?’
 
‘Yes, Venerable Sir,’ they acknowledge.
 
‘Bhikkhus, this is a danger in the case of material form.’
 
He also gives an example of the fact that when we die we cannot take anything with us. “In Buddhist monasteries, this is considered so important that quite often skeletons are displayed in the meditation hall.  In one monastery there was a monk who left instructions that after his death his body must fully rot and sitting full lotus was to be put in glass case where he sat slowly disintegrating written on the front of the glass case was - “I used to be like you, soon you will be like me.” 
 
The purpose of the author’s contemplation of death is not to be morbid but to take death in one’s stride to be able to lead a better life.
 
Preparing for Death 

Author: Arun Shourie
Imprint: India Viking
Published: October 2020
ISBN: 9780670092390
Length : 528 Pages
MRP : Rs799
 
TODAY: Join us for an important and thought-provoking conversation between two giant intellectuals of our time on a subject that is rarely discussed openly or in depth.
 
 
Tuesday, 24 November 2020 | 6:00pm-7:30pm
 
 
Meeting number: 158 155 5523
 
 
This webinar will also be broadcast live YouTube and on Facebook
 
About the Speakers:
 
Arun Shourie, a Padma Bhushan awardee is an economist, journalist, author and former Minister Communications and Information Technology in the AB Vajpayee government. He was a pathbreaking editor at the Indian Express and responsible for exposing what is known at the Antulay scam and many other wrong doings in society. He was awarded the Ramon Magsaysay.
 
Dr Bibek Debroy is the Chairman of the PM's Economic Council and a former permanent member of NITI-Aayog and a Padma Shri awardee. Mr Debroy has made significant contributions to game theory, economic theory, income & social inequalities, poverty, law reforms, railway reforms and has authored over 100 books. His deep study of Indology, the Vedas and Puranas have led to the translation of various Indian epics such as the Ramayana and Mahabharata as well as the Vedas.
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    COMMENTS

    ashwin2409

    1 month ago

    The title itself is so morbid! Who has ever been prepared for death? Ramana? Nisargadatta? Ramesh? Death happens, whatever the cause! Do you choose life to happen???

    REPLY

    wholedude.1997

    In Reply to ashwin2409 1 month ago

    You may consider death as the natural ripening of the fruit. Premature death involves the harsh application of force to sever the connection between the fruit and the tree. The fruit that is fully ripe initiates a natural process in which the cells in the pedicle die and the attachment becomes loose and the fruit returns to the ground without the need for application of any external force. The Tree of Life continues to live to bear more fruits. In the Indian Tradition, the concept of Mrityunjaya or Victory over Death involves the severance of the pedicle of attachment to Life. It is like the harvesting of the Cucumber which is always eaten while it is still green and has not fully ripened. The fully ripe Cucumber loses its flavor and is not fit for eating. Life can be lived without keeping attachment to external things.

    rebbapragada

    5 months ago

    Death and Dying Precede Life:

    Indeed, the man lives as an Individual with Individuality during his entire period of mortal existence. But, the singularity that is identified as the Human Form is in reality represents an association of trillions of independent, individual living blocks called cells. The man must be known as a multicellular organism or a social community of independent, individual living cells.

    I ask readers to explore the reality of the man by exploring the branch of science called Embryology which describes the beginning of the man at an event called Fertilization and the growth and the development of the single, fertilized Egg Cell. In the social community called the man, numerous cells die on a daily basis as new ones replace them. However, the newborn baby always arrives after a series of programmed cellular death events. No baby is born in the absence of the dying mechanism or process that operates the programmed cellular death events.

    In the biological community, life and death are not isolated events. All living things consume Life in order to live. In the absence of dying, death, and decay, there will be no supply of the unique organic molecules required for the nutritional needs of the living. Because of the reality called dying and death, I am able to find the nutrients that I need to perform my living functions. Life and Death have to be interpreted as two stages of the Life Cycle while some members of the social group die and others take birth under the influence of time.

    Ramesh Popat

    5 months ago

    Transcript of the Conversation may please be given in ML news letter
    subsequently.

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