An Interview about Death with Vineet Chander

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What is death from the perspective of your tradition?

I belong to a Vaiṣṇava, Hindu tradition that is situated in Vedānta, so our view of death is colored by this “dual” influence. 

On the one hand, like other Vedāntic traditions, we see death—and re-birth (and re-death)—as part of the cycle known as samsara. The true self (ātman) is, by its very nature, deathless; by over-identifying with the body and mind we bind ourselves to the temporal and are forced to experience death and re-birth. Thus, by cultivating knowledge of the self (ātma-jñana) and non-attachment (vairāgya), one can come to be free of this cycle and transcend death.   

On the other hand, as a devotional tradition, we also see everything in light of our eternal relationship with a personal God (Īśvara), our Divine Beloved. In this paradigm, the material world is likened to a school designed by God to help us in our growth and reformation. Death is envisaged as a portal that allows us to move from one “grade” to the other in our spiritual and educational journey, and ultimately to “graduate” from the school itself and return to our true home. We see the fact that all embodied beings must die as a reminder of the urgency to connect ourselves with good teachers—books of wisdom, wise guides, efficacious practices, and uplifting sanga. We see death itself as a teacher or, perhaps, as the final examination administered by a loving proctor. For the devotee, death is ideally the culmination of a life lived practicing devotion and service. By cultivating devotion (bhakti), we can come to appreciate death as a sweet homecoming, or a loving reunion with the Divine.  

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