The Four Encounters
In our mountain villages, a morning can rarely pass without the ‘village microphone’ announcing loudly the news about a death and a funeral. My grandfather always asks us to be silent while the announcement is done. He listens carefully then he walks to his room to write down the date and the name of the departed then he gets himself ready to go to the funeral regardless whether he personally knows the departed or not. If not, he would for sure know many of his relative… Death in these villages is a daily news.
Birth is so much the same, but may be less ceremonious. Whenever a women gives birth in the village many acquaintances come to visit, but mainly only women. In the village’s traditional society birth is women’s business, while death is that of men.
My first remembered encounter with death was when my paternal grandfather passed away. I was still 5 years old. I don’t remember that I did feel any grieve. I just missed seeing him seated in the corner of the big courtyard in front of the kitchen door. He was “old” in my small mind. May be I thought it was normal for the old to die. At least this is how grownups explained. I’m sure (though I do not remember) that my mother told me he must already been born somewhere and a loving family is now so happy to care of the baby boy… the belief in reincarnation is one of the most soothing beliefs in that mountain area.
The second remembered encounter was not a personal one… I was already in the 6th year of school when one of the teachers was absent for a while because her father passed away. I clearly remember my contemplation over loss. I remember how I drew in my mind the picture of a house where the favorite seat of that father became forever empty. I remember imagining how the life of these people will be like and how things will change, how they will forget and once more be back to their everyday life concerns… At that age death for me was an astonishing event.
The third well remembered encounter was in 2003, when I received the news of my spiritual teacher’s departure. I was abroad in medical school and it was a sunny spring day of the Volga steppe. I remember that day well, I remember the feeling of loss. I remember it clearly because it was a mixture of sweat and bitter… Dr. M. Basha was a master of several disciplines: history, linguistics and spirituality. He was a real teacher and a real scholar. But spirituality was his highest dedication. The subject of life and death was the core of his teachings. Being his disciple (as I still consider myself) I understood perfectly what death is… I had a peaceful feeling about his passing away because I knew he was well prepared for departure but the unpleasant feeling was because I remembered his words in our last meeting: “This kind of medicine is not for you. It is so gross and partial. You are not here to do this duty. Your duty is subtle. It is teaching, writing… your tool is the pen not the scalpel.”At that time I was enjoying learning medicine and planning my steps as a doctor… it was uneasy to have both the words of my teacher and my interest in medicine contradicting one another. I had to wait some more years before the clear vision would arise. Now, when I remember Dr. Basha more than 10 years after his departure, I understand his words very well and can see clearly that there was no contradiction at all… I find that Life led me to the place he predicted. And if I would practice medicine at any time in the future I know it will be the holistic way, the subtle way… the one that leads to the experience of deeper consciousness.
The fourth encounter with death is the most clear. The day I was leaving to India to stay in an ashram for a while, when I received the news of my closest cousin having a terrible accident after which he immediately died. He was only around 36 years old and was full of energy and enthusiasm. I could an only remember his smiling face shining with hope and joy. I may had never seen him frowning… He was young and his death was so unexpected. His death did not follow the rule of “the death of the old is normal”. It was the total opposite of the passing away of our mutual grandfather.
My stay in the ashram that time was a period of intensive meditation. On the deepest levels of awareness all my life with all its experiences and memories, with all its connections and ties, all beliefs and all the ‘known’ appeared to be not more real than a dream. Whatever thing or person I could think of, no matter how close, be it my parents, be it my house, was as real as a myth, as real as sheer imagination. The only real thing was the now. Everything outside it could not survive. Looking back to the memories of those who I could remember, dead or alive, was only full with gratitude.
My fourth encounter with death was that of understanding. It was mature. There were no questions to ask, no answers to expect!
read part 2