The Writing On the Wall
People take life for granted. They are sure that day would follow night and vice versa, and that they would indeed wake up to see the next sunrise. They enter into all sorts of commitments, personal and professional, presuming their continued existence. All business and commerce is based on an abiding but misplaced faith in the permanence of life. Such faith is indeed touching, for, when you really come to think of it, there is no assurance that anybody would live to be a ripe old age. We often see instances of people being snatched away in the prime of their youth, with whole lives of promise ahead of them. And even when such an unexpected event happens, people do not learn its lessons, and invariably fail to associate such an eventuality with themselves. They do not even think of the possibility that they themselves could have easily been in the place of the victim.
When queried as to what was the strangest thing on earth, Sri Yudhishttira tells the Yaksha (in the Yakshaprasna of Sri Mahabharata)
" We see the body of a dead man being carried away for disposal, and remark to ourselves, 'how sad!' little realising that we ourselves are destined to go the same way, if not tomorrow, then someday in the future".
In fact, our attitude is nothing new, and mankind has always been blissfully unmindful of stalking end, as the following sloka from Srimad Ramayana would indicate:
"nandanti udita AdityE nandanti astamitE Ravou
Atmana: na avabudhyantE manushyA: jeevita kshayam"
Says Chakravartthi Tirumagan to Sri Bharata-"People are so unaware of their lives slipping away gradually. They greet every sunrise with happiness, excited at the possibilities each fresh day brings. And when the sun sets too, they are happy at the opportunities for revelry in the pleasures of the night. Little do they realise that each sunrise and sunset bring them closer to their death."
The following sloka graphically describes the fallacy of our attitudes -
"vYAghreeva tishttathi jarA, paritarjayantI rOgAscha shatrava iva praharanti dEham
Ayu: parisravati bhinna ghatAt iva ambha: lOka: tatApi ahitam Acharati iti chitram!"
Old age and senility stalk us like a ferocious tiger, diseases lie in wait for us at every step, and the body troubles us verily like a sworn enemy. Time, and with it, life too, slips away slowly but surely, much like water leaking from a cracked pot. Oblivious to all these afflictions, people continue to be wayward and errant. How strange and what a pity!
However, even in the midst of all this lack of awareness, there is always a vague fear lurking at the back of people's minds of the "unthinkable" (as insurance agents euphemistically put it)-of life coming to an end, either suddenly or in due course. This is why they provide for their near and dear, so that the latter are not unduly affected financially, in the event of an end, untimely or otherwise.
However, even such people with financial foresight lack real perspicacity, as they do not bother to consider themselves and their souls, and pulling themselves out of the unending, vicious cycle of births and deaths.
"ThAyE tandai endrum tAramE kiLai makkaL endrum nOyE pattu ozhindEn" rues Sri Tirumangai Mannan, highlighting people's tendency to set so much store by the so-called relatives, as to ignore their own long-term spiritual interests.
Most people also lack the realisation that this human body has been attained after innumerable other janmAs as inanimate objects, etc., and the body is endowed with a limited life. We should hence make the most of the precious life in preventing our souls from being sucked again into the vortex of karma. This is the theme of the following couplet from Sri Varaha Purana-
"MahatA puNya paNyEna kreetEyam kAyanou: tvayA
prAptum dukha udadhE: pAram tvara yAvat na bhidyatE"
This human body is a gift to us, a reward for innumerable good deeds performed in our previous lower births. However, the body, with all the frailties of flesh, is little better than a leaky boat. Hence, the wise man should hurry to cross the ocean of SAmsAric sorrow, before the leaky craft sinks.
Sri Nammazwar too concurs with this idea-
"Minnin nilayila mannuyir AkkaigaL
ennumidatthu irai unnumin neerE".
Having realised that life is but ephemeral and fleeting, what does the wise man do in the short time left for him to redeem himself? There is but one way for him to save his soul, as karma, gnAna and bhakti yOgAs are too long-drawn and impossible of performance. Sharanagati or absolute surrender to the Lord, through the good offices of an understanding Acharya , is the only option open to people in a hurry to redeem themselves from Samsara.
Paradoxically, we find that even after realisation of life's impermanence and the need for Prapatti dawns on people, they are still complacent under the mistaken notion that Prapatti is for the old and infirm, not for the young and active.
The following anecdote from the life of Sri Koorattazhwan graphically highlights the need for urgency in such matters.
Sri Embar was the Acharya for Sri Parasara Bhattar and Sri Vedavyasa Bhattar, twin sons of Sri Koorattazhwan. Once when the father of the twins was expounding on the purport of a Tiruvaimozhi pasuram, he found that it incorporated the essence of Tirumantram (ashtAksharam). As the Mantra and its significance are to be learnt only from one's Acharya, Azhwan sent the children to Sri Embar for obtaining upadesam. Immediately realising the impermanence of life, Sri Azhwan called them back and performed the upadesam himself, lest something should happen to them on the way to Sri Embar, and deny them the MantrOpadesam. One may think, "what could possibly happen to the children during the short journey it involved in reaching Sri Embar's residence nearby?" However, it was Sri Azhwan's realisation of the extreme fragility of human life that made him act the way he did.
The moral of this itihyam is that when we resolve to do something good, it had best be executed immediately, without procrastination and postponement. If we intend to recommence the abandoned sandhyavandanam, if we intend to obtain mantrOpadEsa from our Acharya, if we have the intention to perform Prapatti either for ourselves or for our children, if we intend to learn a stotra- for all these, Today is the day to begin. For, who knows what tomorrow has in store for us?