Asha Praver's Monthly Letter
May 2005

Dear Friends,Asha Praver photo

The newspapers in the last month have been filled with the controversy about Terri Schiavo. Relatives arguing about whether a brain-damaged person should be kept alive by a feeding tube, or whether the tube should be removed and Terri be allowed to die.

By the time you read this, the controversy will be moot in terms of any action that can be taken, but not moot for her soul, for the bruised hearts of all those involved, or for the questions it raises for all of us.

What was notable to me was all the commentaries I read spoke of the sacredness of life. None spoke of the sacred nature of death. Our lack of understanding about death makes us suffer in this country from what someone called “Greed for life.” We should be grateful for life, but not greedy for it. God gives, and God takes away.

One of the most exquisite passages in Master’s commentary on the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam is from Stanza Sixty-two:

He who made us, must surely also love us. His reason for
ordaining death as the final act of life must, therefore, be
somehow connected with His love.

Sooner or later, every one of us will have to cut our ties with this world and go on to the next. Our relationships continue, but not in the same form. Our attachment to form often confuses us and is a challenge to be overcome when God calls us away. As devotees, it is essential that we look clearly and courageously at the simple fact of death, for ourselves, and for our loved ones.

It takes a long time to evolve to the point where we incarnate in a human body. And it takes many human incarnations before we understand that the purpose of human life is spiritual. And within each incarnation it takes years to grow up and get back onto the spiritual path.

In other words, a human body is a valuable treasure and should not be discarded lightly. But a body is not an end in itself. It is a means to realize God.

A woman at Ananda Village, Happy Winningham, had AIDS. She lived years longer than the doctors expected, but she suffered physically. She said to Swamiji, “I’m not afraid of death. How long should I struggle? When should I just give up this body and go on?”

“When you can no longer do Kriya,” Swamiji said. “When you feel the body has become an insurmountable obstacle to spiritual progress. That is the time to give it up.”

A cancer patient asked me the same question. “It is such a struggle,” she said “just to make it through the day. When should I give up?” In her case, it wasn’t a question of practicing Kriya, so I gave her just part of Swamiji’s answer.

“You should stay in your body as long as you feel you are making spiritual progress,” I said.

With a sweet smile she replied, “I feel God’s presence every day.”

“Then it isn’t time to give up. When it is, you’ll know.” I said.

And she did. One day she came to me and said, “Now is the time.” A few weeks later, she died.

On a number of occasions I have had to help families decide to disconnect someone they love from life support systems. In each case we felt the soul’s joy to be released from a body that had become an obstacle to the spiritual journey.

I am not advocating euthanasia. But there is a time when the soul is ready to go. Merely because the body can be kept alive doesn’t mean that we should keep it alive. Or that God would want us to. Life and death mean nothing to God. To Him it is all One. Only from the perspective of the material plane does one seem radically different from the other.

When my father was ill with Alzheimer’s he couldn’t act in an intelligent way, but his life was still meaningful to him. It was just his mind that was affected, not his self. But when he began to fade, we did nothing to prolong his life. It was clear he wanted to go. I was there when he died, and his passing was joyous.

This example supports the idea that Terri Schiavo’s life may also have been meaningful to her. I simply don’t know. Who knows which of the people who loved her was more attuned to the needs of her soul? The tragedy is that her fate became the property of judges, lawyers, and politicians. It is a sign of how fractured spiritual understanding is in America today.

Obviously, it is a good idea to put our wishes for end-of-life care into writing. If we “render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”—in this case, written instructions —we can avoid the potential heartbreak of legal conflict. Especially if we have family that might be at odds with our way of looking at life and death. It might also be a good idea to give decision-making power, or at least advisory responsibility, to someone with intuition and spiritual understanding.

One woman I know, for example, told her children that if she is incapacitated, she wants me to make life-and-death decisions for her, not them. She knows, of course, that I will act with sensitive concern for their feelings too. It was difficult for her children to hear this, but they respect her and agreed.

In Happy’s case, she had so many near-death experiences, that when she was in dire straits for what turned out to be the last time, the one to whom she had given decision-making power was on the horns of a dilemma. It certainly seemed it was time to remove the mechanical devices that were keeping her alive. At the same time, he couldn’t forget all the previous times Happy had defied the odds and returned to life for months, even years longer.

His solution was an obvious one. He prayed to God and Guru of course, but he also prayed to Happy’s superconsciousness. He asked her soul, “What should I do? You have to help me.”

The answer was almost miraculous. Happy came back to consciousness from what appeared to be an irreversible coma. She was able to say good-bye and then died peacefully soon after without her guardian having to make the decision.

God is in charge. Human beings have to be His instruments. I was pleased to read that Terri Schiavo’s husband had a priest do the appropriate sacraments when they took out her feeding tube. At least he was trying to act in harmony with God. That is all God asks of us, that we try.

I once asked Swamiji to resolve for me a theoretical dilemma I often pondered:“If I was in a concentration camp,” I asked him, “and the guard begins to beat up the person next to me, should I try to protect my fellow prisoner, even though it means I, too, may die?”

“It is a difficult question to answer,” Swamiji said, “because it is not just about sacrificing your life. Maybe you could save the person, maybe not. And there is always the chance that if you intervene, the guards will become angry, and hurt or kill many more people.

“What you are really asking is, ‘How do I know what God wants?’ The answer is, ‘Practice when it is easier.’ If you want to know God’s will in a moment of crisis, the best way is to start now. Try to follow God’s will in all areas of your life. Then when the crisis comes you’ll be ready.”

Terri Schiavo brought to the fore important questions. “What is life? What is death? When God calls my loved ones to the astral world, will I have the faith to let them go? When God calls me, will I have the courage to go with Him?”

Every Sunday morning we say, “The voice of God calls us to awake in Him. How will He find us when He comes?”

Together we answer, “Awake and ready!”

Are we? It is an important question, worth pondering.