It was one of those days. As I glanced at the Bangalore mirror early Sunday morning, A feature 'Death is the destination we all share.' hit my eye. Intriguing coincidence as we were to see a show; 'Swar Katha Upanishad' in the evening and Tara was part of the show. It is about a teenager Nachiketa and his meeting with the god of death.
The article in Bangalore mirror seeks a reaction from many to an obvious observation by Steve Jobs about death being 'the common destination' of all. Poignant in his case as he was close enough to it. I have minimum exposure to Steve Jobs' work and products directly. This is not about Steve, it is more about the reaction of many, from a monk to a pastor to an atheist, to his speech at Stanford. Jayanthi Madhukar, who explores the subject for Bangalore mirror, is an young friend of ours from our Bangkok days!
Predictably it is about the (non-verifiable?) beliefs from the believers.
The Buddhist monk speaks of an in-between situation after death before we start a new stream of our consciousness. How we are placed in our next birth is the result of our actions (karma) - particularly the mental actions. (The mental actions part was a surprise!). He says: 'that as death sets in; the carpet is being pulled out from under us. The experience is said to be terrifying... If we prepare ourselves for death by leading a virtuous life...our minds will be at peace as we face our final journey of this lifetime.'
The Hindu priest said'...some fear death. I believe god takes care of me when I die. What is there to fear?' and holds that 'The Upanishads say only the ignorant will keep accepting the invitation to be reborn'.
The pastor states: 'Reincarnation is a lie' and quotes from the bible: 'It is appointed or destined that each man dies only once and after that comes judgement....at death, believer's spirit and soul go to God and non-believers await judgement'.
A hypnotherapist believes that 'Death is just the beginning of another existence. Ask anyone who has gone through a near death experience and they will say that they saw a tunnel with bright light beyond....The other side of the tunnel is where we came from, the source or God. ...In my opinion, there is no such thing as heaven or hell or that good karmas will lead to merit.'
Then one, who looks young in the picture, says: 'I am not keen on speculating about death'. Fair enough, it is too early for him to think about death.
And another, a counselor: 'I believe.. that when I die, I will not be around. That is all there is to it....What happens to me after death is irrelevant to me....Why is it so hard for people to say 'I don't know' ..... even after 5000 years of recorded history, we are no closer to discovering God or what happens after life...The desire to find answers in some way or the other leads to finding answers from different avenues.'
I was confused, as I tried to dwell on these various views on death. Significantly Jayanthi leaves it for us to decide.
The evening show also dwelt on death. I had actually seen the show earlier and remember that as I walked down the steps after the show, thought of young Nachiketa, all of seventeen, walking into Yamalokha without being dead. Wondered how he could manage it. It is possible that he did die but returned as he was gifted his life back by a pleased Yamaraja. A matter of detail, what is important are the lessons he learnt and the message he brought us from the lord of death.
As usual, my thoughts went off in a tangent. What if a fellow in his seventies like me was able step into Yamalokha alive and meet the Yamaraja. Would I be offered a boon? It may happen that Yama would be home and there would be no reason to grant one. It could be that there was a long line of beings waiting and I would be just stuck. Soon, these absurd thoughts stopped as I had to concentrate on driving safely back home. Obviously I was not really keen for a meeting with Yama so soon!
The Katha Upanishad is fascinating as we dwell on the teachings of Yama. He begins by distinguishing between preya, 'what is pleasant', and shreya, what is beneficial and further teaches Nachiketa 'about life after death.'
But coming back to Steve Jobs, it is clear he went about doing things which he thought were beneficial. While he lived much longer than the three months that was estimated initially. It is said that '...Jobs resisted his doctors' recommendations for mainstream medical intervention for nine months, instead consuming a special alternative medicine diet to thwart the disease, before eventually undergoing a pancreaticoduodenectomy (or "Whipple procedure") in July 2004, that appeared to successfully remove the tumor. Jobs apparently did not receive chemotherapy or radiation therapy.
On August 28, 2008, Bloomberg mistakenly published a 2500-word obituary of Jobs in its corporate news service, containing blank spaces for his age and cause of death. (News carriers customarily stockpile up-to-date obituaries to facilitate news delivery in the event of a well-known figure's untimely death.) Although the error was promptly rectified,
Jobs reacted, quoting Mark Twain: "Reports of my death are greatly exaggerated". In April 2009, Jobs underwent a liver transplant at Methodist University Hospital Transplant Institute in Memphis, Tennessee. Jobs's prognosis was described as "excellent".
Finally, Jobs announced his resignation as Apple's CEO on August 24, 2011. "Unfortunately, that day has come," wrote Jobs, for he could "no longer meet [his] duties and expectations as Apple's CEO". (Wikipedia.)
I have not read anything about Steve Jobs' religious inclinations, whether he wanted to go to heaven or merge with God without rebirth as aspired by many or whether he even wanted to understand meaning of all this; our cycle of birth and death and so on. But he did create a tremendous impact in the field he had chosen. But I feel it is all limited to his entrepreneurial Dharma and the rest of it is just accidental or media inflicted.
Speaking of my own confusions, the article does reflect the states of my mind at different times in my life. I did think that it was not a bad thing to have a rebirth if one could have a good time. We see many such examples. But now a days, especially after my return, as I watch the TV or read the papers, I do get worried. To be reborn in India or elsewhere in the next foreseeable future may not be so great!