There is an adage, often quoted in jest, that man can be sure of just two things — death and taxes. There is another saying that "wisdom in one sense is nonsense," and in this bit of nonsense there may be some foundation for wisdom. Wisdom may in one sense be non-sense. The wise-crack, coupling taxes with death, looked at in the light of wisdom, may hold more of truth than we are wont to think.
Not every man owns estates upon which a Government may levy a tax. Not every man boasts an income that inspires tax evasion, but in one way or another each and all have a dead-line to meet. Every true citizen in a free land willingly pays his material share toward the well-being, the maintenance and protection of his community, care of the needy and benefits enjoyed. There are some croakers, of course, but most citizens meet the toll of their citizenship without undue complaint. Then too, we hear much about hidden taxes, which all men pay, citizen or no. Every instance of fraud or evasion brings penalties, patent or obscure; so being ever alert to the dignity of our position and the justice of the toll, why not meet the obligation square-on and lend our citizenship to the virtue of the community?
As in the economy of the body politic, so it is pretty much the same in the larger economy of life; in the mental, moral and spiritual economy of our life and being. Does not the fact of our birth, the act of coming into manifestation, levy a tax imposed by life itself — the toll of responsibility and honest accounting for that which we have? Who knows the story of the Talents? Is it just idle reading? It may be old-style, outmoded and made invalid under our more up-to-date system of intrigue and competition, but the principle back of the telling is as true as on the day the Master spoke to the multitudes in parables of the kingdom of heaven. Think you that when God of the Christian Scriptures made man in his own image he omitted from his divine constitution the creative responsibility for that power through which God brought the whole universe into being? Surely evasion or repudiation of the obligation cannot free this divine image of God from eventual restitution or penalty. The requirements, the toll of life must be met; the account must be balanced somehow, sometime, somewhere. In the sense of responsibility and accountability I guess the wit speaks true: we can be certain sure of taxes. Life is our business, with its debits and credits and all that goes with them. Life collects the toll, be it immediate or delayed, open or hidden. We are the proprietors of our own estates.
The other half of our couplet is not so susceptible to argument or wit. It calls for a more tender, though no less honest consideration. What of death? The question is usually avoided, or so much taken for granted that little thought is given to it until it brushes our own experience and consciousness. The common acceptance of the finality of death may have calloused the hearts and minds of many. Its silence and mystery have baffled or frightened others. When the currents of life are flowing strong and high there is little room left for thought of dying. Youth finds it hard, almost impossible to think of death in any sense of realism, and it is well that this is so. Upon youth rests our destiny and hope. In the heart of youth is the pulse of sunrise, the assurance of life and all that is to be; the will to follow its star. Death has no part in the consciousness of youth, though it is youth that is dying by the thousands. To the aged, death more often than not comes as a release from weariness and a promise of glories dreamed of but unattained. Many, alas, approach it in apprehension and fear.
I wonder if a child can comprehend a time when he was not, or death as a time when he shall cease to be! In this I am inclined to think he is wiser than we who sit arguing the case. Yes, he repeats his little good-night prayer, "If I should die before I wake," the most real and eager portion of which is the blessing he bestows upon those he loves; blessing bestowed without the wall of death about his consciousness such as we, his sponsors, have built or allowed to be built within our minds.
In all this we are thinking largely of death as it applies to others. But death as it comes or will come to us, as implied in the wise saying, is the kernel of our wonder. Thought of the sorrow that comes with the silencing of the life and form of those near and dear is not to be denied or passed over carelessly. It is a thought that should awaken our deep sympathy and tenderness for all who suffer pain of parting. But it is not well to pause too long upon this point. May we ask what it is that dies? The cycle ends for the form, the voice and the activity of one beloved. The natural forces have run their course. To us comes the keen pain of parting, yet in the midst of pain I think we do not, deep in our hearts, believe that the form was the beloved one who no longer is. Our love, our dependence upon, our trust in and our memories of the inspiration of voice, gesture and deed now removed from our touch or ministration swarm in upon us as recognition of our own in proportion to the depth and truth of our love and memory. We pretty well know that we have not lost that which animated and made dear the now silenced form.
The cycle ends. The physical atoms, now unconfined, enter into life more swift and active than before, so that even for them it is not death. Shall we deny this prerogative to the one who throughout the cycle reigned over them? The day closes, but the energy of the Sun sweeps on to other scenes and realms. The curtain falls. Perchance the hero is slain, but the Actor goes on to other roles and triumphs. Life goes on, whether in Nature or in Man who possesses capacity to at least think of what constitutes Life. What, think you, is life? A dictionary definition is "conscious and intelligent existence," which isn't bad, but which does not answer other questions that it awakens in the mind. Scientific researchers now credit all things of Nature with consciousness and directive intelligence in varying degrees. All Nature, then, is alive.
If Life is consciousness, then to increase life, consciousness must be increased, and vice versa. If we would live more abundantly, tending the growth of consciousness should be, and willy-nilly is, our daily chore. But consciousness of what? Toward what goal shall we direct the currents of our consciousness? And just what is consciousness? Invariably we come back to the mystery — What is Life?
Here we come face to face with another mystery, so universal and so casually accepted as to arouse little curiosity or wonder. What is it within us that can direct the course of consciousness, and if consciousness is life, direct the life within us through to the last curtain of the play? As consciousness, life, increases the Play expands into a Cosmic Drama such as is depicted in the opening Chapter of our Christian Bible: a drama of Chaos, Creation, Rest.
Birth and death. Of these two we are prone to put more emphasis on death than upon birth. We seem prone to resist death. Why? Is it because we recognize death as inevitable? What of birth? We recognize ourselves as alive, taking our birth for granted, even as in the morning hours we know that the sun has risen because it is day. We take life as much for granted as we do the sunrise, though we do not always profit by the hours that lead again into the night. Death seems something different. Can it be because of ideas inherited from a long existing theology that thought of death is repellent, an inevitable silence and darkness through which we must sink into oblivion unless saved by a power outside ourselves by means of certain rites or confessions? A dismal picture, and if true, why should we take time out of life to dwell upon it? The awakening spiritual intuitions in men and women of our day are gradually outgrowing this concept. Some accept the inevitable with indifference. Others take up the search for answers to the questions that spring spontaneously from the heart and mind.
In the midst of active living it is hard to attain to a true picture of death; its significance, its beneficence and its beauty. While busy with directing the courses of one's own life death seems of less importance than tomorrow's sunrise, and rightfully so. Isn't death one facet of the surrounding mystery of Life: Birth-Death? Thinking of it as a cosmic script, can they be separated even in thought? First, The Play, then the entrance of the hero, his progression through scenes and episodes, and the exit curtain that falls between us and the hero. There are beginnings and closings, action and counteraction, filmy veils of obscuration, but the Play proceeds. "The Play's the Thing," and in dramatic parlance, "the show must go on."
Granted, it is hard for the human creative mind to formulate any idea of the active realities of death when the currents of physical energy and magnetism are withdrawn into that unseen, ever-full, but never overflowing reservoir of life, but it may be pictured by analogy and a dwelling upon the natural phenomena and phases of life as we know it: ebb and flow, waking and sleeping, action and reaction, and more that you may think of. Every phase of life has its birth, its growth and its ending. Quoting an ancient sacred Dialogue: "The antenatal state of beings is unknown; the middle is evident; and their state after death is not to be discovered. What is there in this to lament?" Poets and children have dreamed of the antenatal state. The evident middle state is now, the span of consciousness that reaches from birth to death, or more intimately from the moment of waking to the elusive moment when the conscious mind sinks into the silent mystery of sleep. We do not fear that inescapable and undiscoverable moment; why should conscious man fear death? Again, Krishna tells the despondent Prince: "Cast but thine eyes towards the duties of thy particular tribe, and it will ill become thee to tremble." So, it rests with each and every one of us. The evident Now is all that we can justly claim as our heritage. It is our taxable property. Fulfilling the duties of our "particular tribe," our own natural duties, is our business. Assurance of "their state after death" lies deep within the heart and consciousness of all men. A mystery? Yes, but what in this is there to lament?
There is an ancient, sacred and beautiful tradition dealing with the mysteries of birth, death and life which lies far beyond the scope of this brief effort; a tradition that may be discovered by the questioning mind and the yearning heart. One seemingly inexhaustible source of inspiration and guidance is the little book from which the above quotes are taken — The Bhagavad-Gita.
We can be sure of death, because death is an integral part of the one nameless Cause of Life. With no apology for inadequacy I offer these thoughts in the hope that there may be some ray of light to herald the sunrise or birth of an idea, the pursuit of which may lead to an increased consciousness of life as yet not dreamed of.
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