Baba, my father, was — is — my absolute favorite person in the world. He was — is — my kindred spirit. We were wallflowers who hung back at dinner parties, often chatting only with each other. We were bookworms who cried too easily. We hated shopping at the mall but loved to linger at the grocery store. We browsed every aisle, white chocolate mochas in hand from the in-store Starbucks. Even after he could no longer eat, Baba made sure the kitchen was stocked with my favorite foods when I visited home. His last words to me before lapsing into the coma that took his life were to ask if I had eaten anything.
My father suffered from PSP (progressive supranuclear palsy), a rare terminal neurological condition. That meant years of watching him decline as his speech slurred and he lost mobility. It also gave me years to think about and try to prepare for his eventual passing.
In my life, my faith (Hinduism) has always been a source of strength and solace. But it was a struggle for me to know what to make of his eventual death. My Christian friends believed they would reunite with their loved ones in heaven. Many of my family and friends, bred on mainstream popular cultural narratives around heaven and eternal life, believed the same thing.
In the Dharma traditions, however, there is no such afterlife or heavenly world in which such a reunion is possible.
The Bhagavad Gita tells us —
Na jaayate mriyate vaa kadaachin / Naayam bhootwaa bhavitaa vaa na bhooyah;
Ajo nityah shaashwato’yam puraano / Na hanyate hanyamaane shareere
(He is not born nor does He ever die; after having been, He again ceases not to be. Unborn, eternal, changeless and ancient, He is not killed when the body is killed.) (2:20)
Vaasaamsi jeernaani yathaa vihaaya / Navaani grihnaati naro’paraani;
Tathaa shareeraani vihaaya jeernaa / Nyanyaani samyaati navaani dehee.
(Just as a man casts off worn-out clothes and puts on new ones, so also the embodied Self casts off worn-out bodies and enters others that are new.) (2:22)
The Baba I knew and loved — the way his eyes widened and brightened when he laughed, the knobby knuckles of his hands which used to hold mine so tenderly, the voice rusted with love that…