By Jin-yeong Yi
“‘It is like this. When a chunk of salt is thrown in water, it dissolves into that very water, and it cannot be picked up in any way. Yet, from whichever place one may take a sip, the salt is there! In the same way this Immense Being has no limit or boundary and is a single mass of perception. It arises out of and together with these beings and disappears after them—so I say, after death there is no awareness.’”
What will we find when we die? I don’t know. Science currently seems to suggest that the end will be a lot like the beginning, except in reverse, that we will fall back into dreamless sleep, never to awaken again. The thought seems to be frightening to many people, or at least unsettling.
I don’t fear it, but I do find it rather difficult to imagine. I’ve had plenty of mornings where I couldn’t remember a thing about the night before. No interruptions, no dreams. Nothing. Darkness. Blackness. Burzum. Obscura. Nihil. Nothing. And yet, I’ve always opened my eyes to see the light of another day. Trying to imagine a future time when I won’t exist is like trying to remember the past time when I didn’t exist.
It is said that each person faces death alone. In a way this is true, because even a dying person who has friends and family surrounding him will be on his own the moment his eyes close for the last time. His loved ones can see him off at the door of death, but they cannot pass through it themselves until their time comes.
Much fear is of the unknown, and death is the ultimate unknown. As Thomas Hobbes so eloquently put it in his last moments, death is a “great leap in the dark.”
The dread of this unknown of unknowns is powerful enough to drive terminally ill nonbelievers into the arms of religion, or some other system that promises an end and a light to what appears to be an endless and infinitely dark tunnel. I trust that few people would fail to sympathize. Even that arch-antitheist, the late Christopher Hitchens, found the idea of dispossessing those nearing death of this last refuge to be objectionable. I too see little reason to deny them their comfort, considering that they have nothing left to look forward to in this world. If they want to, in their last days, believe that they’ll meet a divine Being, or that they’ll be reunited with loved ones that had departed ahead of them, or that they’ll open their eyes to a lovely summer day of eternal joy and discovery, or simply that all of their mistakes and failures in life will be redeemed, why not? While to me there are few things more noble than the idea of facing the abyss without any illusions, I also think that if human rights existed, dying with the joy of certainty and sweetness of anticipation from one’s fantasy of choice would be one of them.
Though I myself approach the great unknown without the faintest glimmer of certainty, I feel rather optimistic about this final journey. My reasons are manifold, but a major reason is the simple fact that, when I die, I will be in the company of every single man, woman, and child that ever came before me, whether they’ve departed 2 seconds ago or 200,000 years ago. I imagine that no matter what they believed or what kind of lives they led during their time here, they are all in the same place, and that I will be going wherever they’ve gone. And that is about the farthest one could get from being alone.