Ahymsin Newsletter: Yoga is Samadhi

To Be Born

by Daniel Hertz

Everyone loves a baby. It turns the edgiest person into the softest mush. It brings out the instincts to protect and take care of in all of us. Recently I met a baby who was only a few days old named Somayaaga. Spending a little time with him allowed me to see a glimpse of the world from his perspective. He came into the world with seemingly no knowledge at all, but he instantly became my teacher. He reminded me that to be born means you are starting over again. Every single thing has to be learned about the world. It is all new.  Someone has to feed you, bathe you, change your diaper, treat any health problems, and basically take care of your every need. Someone needs to teach you all the basic skills and knowledge that allow you to operate in the world.

I don’t have the answers about why I was born, but I do know that in the 55 years I have been on the planet I have become attached to being in the body and all that comes with it.  The smells, sights, sounds, food, people, email, computers, TV, walking, sleeping, and on and on are all things I have grown accustomed to.  The attachments are countless.  I am attached to so many things that have taken many years to become a part of me, that I am not even aware of everything that I am attached to.  As we learn how to operate in the world, all these attachments become 2nd nature to us and we are no longer conscious of all of them.  The planet feels like it has become my home, and the only home I remember.  An even greater mystery for me now, more than birth, is the mystery of death.  They are very connected to each other and hard to separate.  They are locked together as partners in the life cycle.  It is a contract for all of us: with birth comes death.  Eventually everyone who comes into a body has to leave it behind.  We have proof of that.  But clearly I am having a lot of trouble understanding and coming to terms with the reality of my own eventual death.

The idea that someday I will shrivel up, disappear, and my memory will be erased is so difficult for me to fully comprehend and come to terms with.  Occasionally the idea of it wakes me up in the middle of the night, sometimes with sweats and a rapid heart rate. This issue is ongoing for me and at times is very pressing in my mind.  It does not totally consume me because there are a lot of times when I go about my life and forget about it.  But then some thought or event triggers it and reminds me of it all over again.  I can say that it is the driving force behind my life, and I am especially reminded of it when I sit down to meditate.  It drives me to my meditation practice and it keeps me striving for purpose in my life at every turn.  The idea of not wanting to lose my consciousness at death is an incredibly strong force within me.  I am still trying to figure out what I can best do with my time now so I can be prepared for the eventual time of leaving the body and this world behind.  When I leave I want the attachments to be done, so that I am leaving it all behind without a second thought. I can practice for this, but I will not know until the time comes how prepared I actually am.

Even if we are reborn, the question remains if we carry any memories with us.  Some people, including great spiritual masters such as Swami Rama, have said this is possible.  But all I know is my personal experience, and I can’t remember anything about a possible past life, let alone any kind of details about it.   Somewhere along the way from death to birth I lost the memory of every experience.  Perhaps it is at the moment we leave our body behind and our brain ceases to function that our memories completely disappear.  There is nothing to store them in anymore. But, is it possible that we carry something forward and that some momentum or deep consciousness comes with us?  I know that various religions and yoga philosophies have a precise belief in what it is we carry forward, but it is difficult for me to accept these ideas unconditionally as the truth.  I have not yet come to a personal belief or understanding of this process. I think this belief can only be gained by personal experience, but once we have shed the body, we have also lost our ability to speak or write about it.

The cycle of birth to death to rebirth is commonly believed to occur in some form in many religious and spiritual beliefs. These beliefs may have begun through observing the natural agricultural cycles that mimic this process. From my understanding, Hindu philosophy states that all people born on this earth are certain to die and equally certain is the fact that all the dead would be reborn.  It is believed that we are born with Samskaras, or a kind of spiritual imprint from the previous life.  Similar to Hinduism, in Buddhism death is not seen as the end of life, it is merely the end of the body we inhabit in this life. Our spirit will still remain and seek out through the need of attachment for a new body and new life.  Many of the religions and spiritual philosophies emphasize the impermanence of life and all that we cherish and hold on to.

It is clear to me, thanks to Somayaaga’s reminder, that when we are reborn we lose our memory of how to function in the human body.  The brain of a newborn is not developed enough to carry all that skill and knowledge.   At death we leave our body behind.  That is also clear to me because of the physical proof.  It is unclear to me how (or if) it is possible to carry some memories forward with no physical body to store it in. No wonder there is such a fear of death.  Everything we know and have learned seemingly will be totally wiped out.  It all has to be re-learned if and when we are reborn.  It is a daunting thought.  We have to learn the language and the skills of whatever time period, location, and species we arrive in.  We are totally dependent on whoever is raising us to teach us.  Dying is truly the greatest act of renunciation.  And it is something everyone does.   I don’t know where, when, or if the answers will come to me about death.  Perhaps they will only come when I encounter it directly at that precise point in time.

Somayaaga also reminded me of all the devotion it took for my parents to raise me.  How do we ever thank our parents for all the love they showed us as babies?  My memories were erased from any previous life, and they were also erased from when I was a baby.  When we are old enough and conscious enough to see another baby and realize how much constant love and care it takes to raise one, it shows us how much we ourselves were cared for.   I am just now starting to understand the love my parents showed for me.  It is now over 20 years since my parents passed away.  With this new realization how can I ever thank them?  One way I can think of to thank them is to learn to enjoy life and make the most of this opportunity.

There are all sorts of stories of people who learn they are dying soon due to an illness and come to appreciate life more than they ever had.  They start to come into the moment and realize each day is a new opportunity.  What can we learn from all of this?  We go through a lot during the process of being born. You have to learn how to operate your body and mind all over again and make many mistakes along the way.  After all that work, we need to rejoice in every second of life knowing we took that leap of faith, willingly or not, and it worked out.  That leap of faith has allowed us to be alive and witness all the wonders and drama that this life has to offer. To show a gratitude for this and to make all of it worthwhile, we need to have fun while in the body and enjoy life each and every moment.  Of course, this is easier said than done and the skill of enjoying life remains an ongoing challenge for me.  But if we can master this challenge it is surely one way to thank the people who brought us into the world.

The last time I saw Somayaaga before finishing this essay was at the Guru Purnima celebration in Minneapolis with Swami Veda on July 3, 2012.  He was now 3½ months old.  I held him on my lap for a few minutes before the ceremony started.  Afterward, while sitting in the group meditation, a thought flashed in my mind.  This was Somayaaga’s first Guru Purnima and he could live to celebrate it for the next 100 years.  That would bring his life to the year 2112, long after I have left this body.  I don’t have the vision or imagination to know what changes he will see in his life over the next 100 years.  But whatever happens in his lifetime, at least I have been a small part of it.

Editor’s Note:

Somayaaga was born to Aaron and Saras on March 19, 2012.

Daniel Hertz (RYT 500 and Certified Biofeedback Practitioner) lives in Minneapolis and is on the faculty of the Minneapolis Meditation Center.  He is the author of Swami Hari: I am a simple forest monk. It is available on Amazon .com and several other online sites. In India Swami Hari: I am a simple forest monk is available at the Swami Rama and SRSG Ashrams in Rishikesh, HIHT in Jolly Grant, and SRIVERM in Malethi.

Daniel has previously written these articles (to read, click on title):

To read Swami Veda’s written Guru Purnima message, please use this link: http://www.ahymsin.org/main/index.php/Swami-Veda-Bharati/guru-purnima-3-july-2012.html
To view the Guru Purnima video: http://www.ahymsin.org/main/index.php/Guru-Purnima/the-2012-guru-purnima-video.html