A few years ago, pony-riding through the lush green pine-forest of Gulmarg, on our way back from Amarnath Yatra, I saw two charred pine trees, which were still smouldering. They had been struck by lightning the previous night. The randomness of nature was puzzling. Why only these trees in such a vast jungle? It must be so painful for them. I felt as though I was one of those trees. On contemplation, one figured out how essential the rain is for the forest to thrive and lightning precedes the rain, causing it. If there’s no lightning, there would be no rains and if lightning happens some trees might get burnt.
Science also explains how lightning is responsible for a critical process of nature called nitrogen-cycle. During lightning, the high temperature and pressure created in the air convert the comparatively inert nitrogen present in the air into its oxides. These oxides dissolve in rainwater to give nitric and nitrous acids and fall on the land along with the rain. These are then utilised by various life forms. Plants usually take up nitrates and nitrites and convert them into amino acids which are used to make proteins, DNA and RNA, the basic building blocks of life. Once an animal or plant dies, the ‘nitrogen-fixing’ bacteria in the soil converts various compounds of nitrogen back into nitrates and nitrites, thus creating a delicate balance.
Death is part of life. There can be no life without death. In our body also, millions of cells die each single day to be replaced by new ones to keep our vitality intact. Death of matter is the birth of energy. Dawn is the death of night. Plant is the death of the seed. Spring is the death of winter. Youth is the death of childhood.
In spite of witnessing the process of death all around us, we remain in constant denial of our own death. We failingly cling to life because of our existential ignorance. Who wants to die? We look at death with horror. The Bhagwad Gita proclaims, ‘Jatasya hi dhruvo mrityuh dhruvam janma mritasaya cha’ – All born things will certainly die and what is dead will take birth renewed. Looked at intelligently, the inevitability of death becomes a reason for an enlightened joyful living. “Death comes dancing to the wise,” says my guru.
The entire Kathopanishad talks about death and immortality, wherein a young boy Nachiketa asks Yama, lord of death, to uncover the truth behind death. Yama becomes guru to Nachiketa, revealing the immortal principle behind the process of life and death.
Life is a continuous process of renewal with death being its integral part. From the spiritual standpoint, as formless essence everything essentially is and remains. What appears as death is just the dissolution of the form. The entire lineage of our ancestors continues to live in our bodies, isn’t it? This Pitrapaksha, let us pause and contemplate on the phenomenon of death to add more life to our lives, let us not only offer our prayerful remembrance and gratitude to our ancestors but also recognise the fact that they continue to live in us as the very life in us.