I am neither the mind, nor the intellect,
nor the ego, nor the mind stuff.
I am neither the body, nor the changes of the body.
I am neither the senses of hearing, taste, smell or sight.
Nor am i ether, the earth, the fire, the air.
I am existence absolute, knowledge absolute, bliss absolute. I am Shiva, I am Shiva.- Nirvana Shatakam’ by Adi Shankara
Death is real. It comes without warning. This body will be a corpse. -Tibetan contemplation
A few days ago Muhammad Ali, The Champ, made his transition. Ali was 74 years old and had struggled with advanced Parkinson’s disease for decades. One has to be of a certain age to even remember when Ali last spoke in public. The once great figure’s body had been reduced to a shadow of his former self as he appeared much older than 74. Yet, we are shocked by his passing. We are sad that he made his transition.
As the world mourns the passing of Ali, as usual, my take is a bit different. Most are sad at his passing. Many are incredulous. “How could Muhammad Ali be dead?” This is especially true from us baby boomers who are taking the deaths of Prince, David Bowie and so many others so hard. All of the people we grew up listening to and watching are passing. It reminds us of our mortality and we don’t like it. Still, no matter how many pass before us, we deny the reality that one day we will go this same way. We deny the reality because it makes us uncomfortable. We don’t like it because we have identified with this dying body. And in spite of our professions of faith, deep down, we are scared we are this body and we will die. Maybe we’ll be raised again, but we will die.
Some well meaning Christians have speculated on whether maybe somewhere along the line Muhammad Ali uttered the sinner’s prayer and got right with God. Did Billy Graham get him to say it? Maybe, just maybe he escaped the fiery flames of hell meant for Muslims who didn’t accept Jesus as their “personal Lord and Savior”. No. Muhammad Ali is neither lying in that box in Louisville right now nor is he in a fiery hell. Muhammad Ali served Allah, the same God Christians worship, in the best way he knew how. He served mankind in the best way he knew how. Muhammad Ali is just fine today, just fine the moment he slipped out of the body that time and too many blows to the head destroyed and into his etheric body.
We think of ourselves as a body. We are our brains. We are our thoughts. Maybe we think we have a soul. That soul is somewhere out there, or somewhere in here. But, the opposite is true. We are consciousness. We have a body. If you’ve seen the movie Avatar, our body is like the avatar, something our consciousness animates, but once the soul has left it, the body falls limp to the floor. It doesn’t mean we’ve died, it means our consciousness no longer gives life to the body. The connection has been broken so the body ceases to work and decays.
The Tibetan contemplation posted by my friend and Buddhist teacher the day after Ali’s passing is incomplete, if I may be so bold. Contemplation of death is a useful practice. It keeps us sharp, reminding us to take advantage of every precious moment of human life. It keeps us from being surprised when the inevitable happens to those around us. It helps us prepare to make our own transition. But, taken on its own, one might think “I will be a corpse” rather than “This body will be a corpse” and there is a significant difference. You will not be a corpse. One day you will slip off this body, like an old bathrobe or the cocoon that a caterpillar no longer needs. You will not lie in the grave waiting for a future resurrection. You will be more conscious and alive than you ever felt in the body and your eyes will be opened to a whole new world.