By Eknath Easwaran
A few years ago a friendly stray cat showed up at our place, and he quickly wove himself into the fabric of our lives. We called him Charles, and he soon learned that if he showed up at certain times of the morning and evening, he would get a little dish of bread with milk and a place of his own in the hierarchy of dogs and cats that roam the neighborhood.
Charles's need for affection went very deep. Every evening as I went out for a walk, he used to come out of nowhere to rub his body against my legs as if trying to trip me up. And when my walk was over he would lurk in the shadows crossing and recrossing the path while I gave the dogs their goodnight snack. Then, once the dogs were gone and he was sure no one would chase him away, he would come to the door to get his treat too. I used to stroke him while he gobbled his tidbit and purred like a little sewing machine.
Then one day he did not come. I waited awhile, then left his snack on the back porch. In the morning I found some birds pecking at it, but Charles never came. Nor did he come the next evening. The next morning I learned that Charles had been killed.
Now there is no one to trip me up on the sidewalk as I walk home in the dark. And I miss him - miss his nightly panhandling, his responsive purr, all the little impediments he placed in my path each evening. Such a small incident, we might say. Just a footnote to a busy day. But in a profound sense it was a deeply significant event.
One night Charles was rubbing against my legs, eating at my feet, purring under my hand. The next day he was gone. He was here on earth for ten years or so: has he now disappeared? When someone dies, has that person simply vanished? Someone whom yesterday we loved and cherished, who today has faded away like last night's dream?
In village India were I come from, it is impossible to be ignorant of death. Lives are too interconnected. Everyone knows everyone else, and it is not uncommon to hear that someone you saw only the other day, or with whom you went to school, or whose mango tree you used to climb, has passed from this life completely. It is a continual reminder of the transiency of all life. There is no isolation from the dramas of birth and death as there often is in this country; life ebbs out in the presence of family and friends. But whether in India or America or any other land, in the presence of death the the sensitive person can't help asking, Where has this favorite person gone? Is he no more? Has he as one mystic put it, simply stepped into another room? If they have not just vanished where have they gone?
If I had to explain it I would say, "They are dead, yet they are not dead." The intellect may turn away in confusion from such statements and say, "Impossible!" But it is not impossible. To myself I do not use a phrase like "he is dead." He has shed his body; but he was not that body. The body was his house; he was the resident, the Self.
Eknath Eswaran was a successful writer, lecturer, and professor of English literature when he came to the U.S. on the Fulbright exchange program in 1959. In 1961 he founded the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation in Berkeley. California. to move, as he put it, "from education for dergees to education for living." He taught what was probably the first credit course on the theory of meditation to be offered at an accredited university in the West, at the University of California. Berkeley.Eswaran authored over twenty books. They can be ordered from Nilgiri Press. The story above is taken from his book "The Undiscovered Country - Exploring the Promise of Death."