Mulla Nasruddin on the subject of death, and what happens after

MICHAEL BERMAN

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One of the most effective ways of coming to terms with questions that trouble us and we can find no answer to is sometimes to laugh about them. Mulla Nasruddin, the Sufi visionary who lived during the 13th century, was an expert at helping people to do this through his stories.

In our conditioning, we see things as either right or wrong, black or white. Linear thinking does not allow one to think holistically. Our minds wrestle in the dark dens of logic and lose the gist of life. However, the Sufi teaching tales, like koans of the Zen tradition, reveal the paradoxes of conditioned living and they do so with humour as the following examples show.

Mulla Nasrudin, celebrating his 95th birthday was asked by a friend “Don’t you hate growing old, Mulla?”  “Definitely not.” said Nasrudin. “If I wasn’t growing old, I’d be dead.”

A newspaper reporter was interviewing Mulla Nasrudin on his 99th birthday. As he was shaking hands to leave he said “I hope I can come back next year and see you on your 100th birthday.” “I don’t see why you can’t,” said the old Mulla, “You certainly look healthy enough.”

A newspaper reporter was interviewing Mulla Nasrudin on his 100th birthday. “If you had your life to live over” he asked, “do you think you would make the same mistakes again?”
“Certainly, ” said the old Mulla, “But I would start a lot sooner.”

Mulla Nasrudin finally reached the age of 105.  A newspaper reporter from town came out to take his picture and write a story about him. The reporter was talking to a neighbour about the old man and asked him, “How do you figure your friend was able to live so long?” “I suppose,” said the neighbour, “it was because he never did anything else.”

What happens after death, and is death really the end of everything, are questions that have been asked since the beginning of time and will no doubt long continue to be asked. What do some of the world’s religions have to say on the subject?

Jewish sacred texts and literature have relatively little to say about what happens after death. The Torah and the Talmud focus primarily on earthly life and the need to fulfil one’s duties to God and one’s fellow human beings. There are vague conceptions about re-connecting with one’s ancestors after and references in some texts to the shadowy realm of Sheol as the home of the soul. The wicked and the unrighteous, meanwhile, are likely to find themselves in the fiery pit of Gehinnom. Christianity and Islam are both resurrection-based religions that embrace the notion of a Last Judgement of Final Day that ultimately determines the fate of the soul for all eternity (Rodgers &Maskell, 2012, pp.37-38).

On the other hand, recent scientific research into near-death experiences, the return from apparent clinical death to waking consciousness, could prove to provide‘a substantial alternative not only to faith-based beliefs about the afterlife but also the reductionist perspectives of the militant atheists’ (ibid. pp.38-39). It indicates that it might be more accurate to regard the human brain ‘as a transmitter or mediator of consciousness rather than as the source of consciousness, as has so often been assumed’ (ibid. p.57). This is more in keeping with pagan beliefs about the nature of the soul and leads us to consider whether if the consciousness remains active and the body is clinically dead, is there any such thing as death or do we pass from one mediator or “carrier” to another?

In ‘The Cafeteria’, a story by Isaac Bashevis Singer, one of the characters asks the question “How can we hope when everything ends in death?” The answer given is “Hope in itself is a proof there is no death.” The point being made is that as so few people can ever really accept they are dying, in a sense death does not exist for them, and the latest research into near-death experiences can provide a great deal of comfort in such cases.

Whatever your own personal view might be, if there is one message that the dead bring from the time of Homer onwards it is that life is so precious that all of it must be made the most of and enjoyed to the full, for as much of the time as possible.

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References

Bashevis Singer, I. (2011) Collected Stories (Penguin Modern Classics).

“Learning about Death” by Nevill Drury. In Rodgers, C., &Maskell, L. (2012) A Contemporary Western Book of the Dead, Oxford: Mandrake.

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Michael Berman’s published work includes The Power of Metaphor for Crown House, The Nature of Shamanism and the Shamanic Story for Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Shamanic Journeys through the Caucasus and Shamanic Journeys, Shamanic Stories for O-Books, Journeys outside Time for Pendraig Publishing, and Tales of Power for Lear Books. A Bridge to the Other Side: Death in the Folk Tradition and Georgia through Earth, Fire, Air and Water are both due to be published by Moon Books in 2012. For more information please visit www.Thestoryteller.org.uk

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