How to overcome the fear of death


Most of us have suffered the pain of the loss of a loved one. All of us know that one day, we too shall die. Death seems to hang like Damocles’ sword over our happiness. How, then, does one live a life unencumbered by the fear of death? The answer, according to the Mahabharata, is to live our lives in accordance with dharma, so that whenever death comes, there are no regrets that one could have lived one’s life in a better way.

When the Pandavas were dwelling in the forest after losing the game of dice, Rishi Markandeya came to visit them. Markandeya was an immortal. The Pandavas asked him how one could overcome the fear of death. He told them the following story.

There was once a prince of the Haihaya people, who was handsome and powerful. Once, when he was hunting, he came across a sage who was clad in deerskin. The prince mistook him for a deer, shot an arrow, and killed him. When the prince learned that he was a sage, he became extremely distressed. He reached the ashram of Rishi Arishtanemi and confessed that he had killed a brahmana.

The Rishi asked the prince to return to the dead body. The Haihayas searched everywhere, but could not find it in the forest. They were utterly confused and came back to the ashram. This time, Rishi Arishtanemi called his son and asked the prince, “Is this the brahmana you had killed?” On seeing the sage he had killed, the prince was puzzled.

The Rishi said, “O King! Death has no power over us. I will tell you the reason for it. We know nothing but the truth. We do not even think of that which is false. We are free of laziness and diligent in our duties. Hence, we have no fear of death. We earn money for our maintenance only through strictly proper means. Since we are always established in our own dharma, death holds no fear for us.

We speak only of what is good in others, not their defects. We welcome our visitors with offerings of food and water. We feed those who depend on us well and it is only after they have eaten, that we ourselves eat whatever is left. Therefore, we have no fear of death.

We are at peace with ourselves. We are self-controlled and patient. Forgiveness and giving are our nature. We live in places where there is goodness and nobility. Therefore, we have no fear of death. We live in places where live those who have in them the light of goodness. Therefore, we have no fear of death.”

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