What is death? It is one of the common words we often use in our everyday life. At the same time, it is also one of the concepts that we tend to avoid taking it seriously.
If we are already in this world for several decades, we must have experienced various deaths of others. We also have attended the funerals of the people we know in one way or another. For some, we painfully miss them. For others, we don’t even know anything about them.
According to the statistics, almost 150,000 people die each day around the world. It is impossible to know and miss them all. In this perspective, death seems nothing but numbers. It even looks like the mere metabolism of humankind at large in the same way that we don’t care about each cell’s birth and death in the body.
While we can treat death as part of such common nature, from the existential perspective, it has the following attributes that would bother, even scare us to some extent.
- Death is inevitable
- Death is irreversible
- Death is subjective
Death is inevitable
The first one is obvious. We can never avoid it. All of us will die someday. And we have never met, even heard anyone exempted from this fate. Why is that so?
After all, we exist in the temporal spacetime of the world. There are the beginning and end of everything and everyone, including the entire universe. We are no exception, either.
We don’t know, but we are born in this world at a specific spacetime location. And someday, we will leave here with 100% certainty. It is inevitable.
- Why am I here?
- Why won’t I be here someday?
- Why are you here?
- Why will you depart here eventually?
- Why are they here?
- Why will they leave here one day?
These are the existential inquiries about death and life. From time to time, we can’t help but think of life and death. Why do we die? And why do we live?
We have heard many stories to answer these questions from the mythical, religious, mystical, and scientific articulations. And yet, all of them are hypothetical. It is up to us with which one we live and die. At least, with these answers, we can move to another set of life and death inquiries, not why but how.
How do we live and die?
Ultimately, we can’t know “why” we live and die in this world. With the specific answers in mind, then, we can think of “how” we should live and die in this world. That is the part we can do.
Death is inevitable. So is life. What matters most is how we should live and die.
Death is irreversible
In this perspective, then, we can also see how death (and life) are irreversible. Perhaps, except for near-death experience, death is what we experience only once in life. Experiencing death means the end of life. And life is also what we experience only once. Death shuts it down. That’s it.
Even if you believe in the story of reincarnation, the life and death we go through should be uniquely once only, which would affect the next life and death as karma in one way or another. In this case, we think of the analogy of a calendar.
It seems we experience the same day, the week, the year, repeatedly. Is it a mere repetition of the exact moment? Of course not. Each moment is unique, precious, and irreversible, even under the story of reincarnation.
The moment I experience during this writing, for example, will is unique, precious, and irreversible. Once gone, I can never get it back. Once gone, it is not here and now anymore, entirely and eternally. It’s cruel. Sometimes I feel so.
And as each moment passes by, we are approaching the end of life little by little. Or, the moment of death is getting closer to us. A clock is ticking. It is the absolute clock we can never stop and reverse. In this sense, we are not so different from a prisoner waiting for the execution day.
Let’s face this cruel reality. We live in this world temporarily, and someday we will leave here. The clock of life keeps on ticking with 100% certainty. We can never stop it. We can never reverse it.
Death is irreversible. So is life. What matters most is how we should spend each unique, precious, irreversible moment.
Death is subjective
Despite this cruel fate, the third tenet I’d like to point out is that death is subjective. What does it mean to say death is subjective?
Why are we afraid of death? One of the main reasons should be our self-consciousness. When we live in this world, we see ourselves in our minds. In this realm, we count each moment, day, week, month, year, and decade, eventually the execution day. In this regard, self-consciousness can exist only in the spacetime domain.
For example, when we can live perfectly here and now, we can be somewhat unconscious. Our sense of self-consciousness becomes vague. Only when we have to think of ourselves in our mind, we have to “locate” ourselves in a specific spacetime coordinate. This way, we imagine ourselves in the past, present, and future, as well as here, there, and over there.
Death is, after all, our imagination of the execution day that someone will hang us. That’s why we are afraid of it. In the same way, we are so scared of the so-called judgment day. It is a sort of the ultimate end of the world or even the universe. It is the death of our collective self-consciousness.
After these final moments, what would happen? The one thing sure is that we will be no longer with our self-consciousness. Thus, the spacetime realm diminishes itself. We go back to the unconscious collective “self” as part of something eternal without any clues of spacetime.
We return to the Garden of Eden and see God “face-to-face” again. Furthermore, we are back to eternal life, not in the sense that spacetime becomes eternal, but that spacetime does not matter at all.
Death is subjective. It is only the limited way that we see ourselves in spacetime. So is life. What matters most is how we see “ourselves” in eternity.
As Jesus said unto Martha, only “one thing is needful.”
And Jesus answered and said unto her, Martha, Martha, thou art careful and troubled about many things: But one thing is needful: and Mary hath chosen that good part, which shall not be taken away from her.Luke 10:41-42
Image by bernswaelz