Understanding Death and Impermanence


by Jayaram V

The fundamental nature of the world is deeply reflected in each and every object it manifests.

The cause is hidden in its effect in a very significant way as its essence.

The world is transient just as the objects are.

The things we love dearly keep changing and do not last. In our lives we cope with uncertainty and the anxiety that accompanies such impermanance.

Is there anything in this world you can cling to for long. Even you are not the same person you used to be.

Then how can you be certain of any thing in this impermanant life?

The problem of impermanance

It is the sad truth. The world is characterized by impermanance and change. We can neither be sure of the things we have and use nor lock our relationships with assurance and certainty.

However hard we may try to regulate and defend ourselves against the tyranny of time and death, our lives and possessions are fragile and vulnerable to both.

We may not be aware, thankfully, how precariously we are positioned on the precipice of life with a hedge that does not let us see what is coming next and what lies beyond.

Our limited faculties compound the problem. With limited ability to cope with the challgenges of life, we are doomed from the begining in a world ruled by Death and impermanance. We are limited in our capacity to comprehend the truths of our existence.

So are we with regard to our perceptions, knowledge, intelligence and discretion. Since we cannot discern truth clearly, we live under many illusions about ourselves, the things we love and cherish and others we hold in some relationship and with an attitude.

In the mortal world, we are not sure of anything. We do not know clearly what we know and most of the time who do not know what we do not know. Our conscioiusness is a mystery within a mystery, a labyrinth within a dream.

We are created by Nature to remain deluded and divided. We hide behind a facade of appearances, concealing our true intentions, indulging in pretentious and defensive behavior, rarely revealing our true thoughts and sledom being honest with ourselves and others.

Since others followt the same strategies, the world is not what it appears to be, just as the world that exists in each of us. To arrive at truth concerning our selves and our existence or discern things clearly beyond the veil of illusion to which we are subject, we need a paradigm shift in our thinking and attitude. We have to challenge our beliefs and assumptions constantly so that we do not succumb to the tricks of our minds and senses.

Is renunciation the right solution?

The various systems of yoga know that the mind and the senses are a big impediment in our liberation because they stand between us and true knowledge. So they suggest several techniques to stabilize the mind and become free from the afflictions (vrittis) to which it is ordinarily subject.

They need to undergo a cleansing process, through reflection and renunciation, in which we have to let go of things and behavior that interferes with our spiritual awakening.

Renunciation demands more sacrifices than merely discarding ones dear possessions. It is an expression of self-negation, which begins with the body and the mind and then extends to all things to which one is related and to which one aspires.

True renunciation is a symbolic act of self-anhillation in which the purpose is to overcome all notions of individuality, selfishness and separation. The self shines only when the outer layers of our personality are dissolved and the appearances to which the self is attached are overcome.

It means one should genuinely let go of everything concerning one's outer personality, beliefs, thoughts and attitudes and become fully void like the space so that true knowledge can descend and herald the dawn of a new reality.

The idea of renunciation is present in all religion, although they may approach the subject in different ways. Surrender, unconditional love, humility, forgiveness, not judging others, charity are but aspects deeply associated with the noble concept of renunciation.

My world, your world, and the real world

The world is an abstract concept. It is a summation of many things. It is different to different people. There is a physical world in which live and then there are many other worlds that exist as notion and concepts in our minds. While we have many problem with the real world, we also experience many with the worlds that exists nowhere but in our minds as our creations.

Our worldviews vary as our approaches to the problems of the world. For a politician, activist or a scientist, saving the world from the acts of humanity is the doorway to fame and money, and perhaps an opportunity or an excuse to establish control over our lives.

A spiritual person may not think of this world as much as the world God. But for a worldly person, his world is what he sees or experiences around himself or as an extension of himself. He buids that world assiduously, like a bird that builds its nest. That world of his may be at complete variance with the real world in which lives and with the world of others who live in the same real world. So technically we are strangers to one another, although we pretent to know other and make assumptions about them and their lives.

In truth, even the world in which we live is not real in a sense because it is like a dream in motion. It lives and dies each moment as multitude of factors and forces assemble and disperse continuously to create the impression of an ongoing drama or spectacle of life.

In truth there is no drama and no spectacle called the story of life. They exist simply because our minds habitually pick a few thoughts and perceptions according to our desires, beliefs and expectations and glue them together to create the mental picture of a fictinal drama that is true only from a perspective and in a certain context.

It is humanly impossible to build the drama of human life by taking into consideration the life of every human being upon earth and update it continuously moment by moment. Hence, whatever may say about this world is imperfect, incomplete, general and vague.

The earth is a graveyard of history

Renewal and destruction are integral aspects of its existence. Living in this world, we also suffer from its instability and inconsistency. We become fleeting forms in a smoke filled world.

Our thoughts, moods and minds change continuously. We live from moment to moment although we believe we are stuck and lost in the course of our lives. Don't we? We progress from childhood to adulthood, to old age and, eventually, move beyond into some unknown.

The earth is about 4.5 billion years while human species or their ancestors appeared on earth only half a million years ago. The earth leaves a few traces of the past. Like a vast juggernaut, it shows no mercy for those who are crushed under its wheels and leaves no monuments for the dead, except the streaks of violence to which they were subject.

With all the evidence and the scientific progress we have made we cannot reconstruct the events of a single day in the history of the earth, taking into account each and every living being and their numerous experiences. So whatever we build and pretend as history is a just a trailer, a little sample of a a huge phenomenon called existence. Scientifically, that sample is too small and insignificant to be accepted as proof for drawing meaningful conclusions. Yet we do it, creating our own versions of heros and villains, successes and failure, values and judgments.

Right now, imaging how mahy people from the existing seven billion will be remembered after a hundred years? What happenes to the rest? They merge into the ocean of life witout a trace. They become buried in the layers of earth's history, like countless others who lived before us.

Like us, in their lifetimes, they also might have been alarmed by the way the world was changing and progessing and worried about the future of the world and their children. In their lifetimes, they might have worried about a few things, like the weather, their harvest, their church, their heatlh, their family, relations or their village people.

Today we worry about a lot more things as our knowledge and awareness has increased. Now we not only worry about ourselves and our surroundings but also about distant things like the survival of the polar bears and the junk in the outer space.

We choose to ignore, but in moments of reflection we all know that our lives are fleeting. Just as the wild flowers in a forest, which no one counts, we appear and disappear in the vast forest of life. While we may not count the days and hours, we are doomed to die from the day we are born. For many people, death brings an unhappy ending to an otherwise unhappy life. Some may argue that such pessimism about life is unwarranted. But it is justified when we realize that suffering has a purpose and it is to toughen us for the journey ahead on the road to liberation.


We are wisps of vapor in a vapory world. We can neither take the world for granted nor rely upon it for our happiness. Yet we try to cling to things life throws at us and strive to leave some footprints of our own on the sands of time. We cannot escape from the habits of our minds and our preoccupation with the minor details of day to day experiences, unless we widen the horizons of our thinking and expanid our vision. Once in a while, we must learn to look at our lives in its totality and what we can do about it in the limited time we have upon earth to make it more meningful and experiential. We must realize that we cannot own the earth, nor resolve the impermanance in a worldy way. We may eitehr transcend it spiritually or accept and work around it intelligently by developing a center of stability within ourselves.

Bhagavadgita Translation and Commentary by Jayaram V Avaialbe in USA/UK/DE/FR/ES/IT/NL/PL/SC/JP/CA/AU

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