In death, man is of no use!

In death, man is of no use!

In journey of life, humans are in a constant race to “want” more, beyond what they “need“. Seldom do we share our hoardings and probably one in a million, ever reflects on the essence of being.

 

Animals are far better than us. Even in death they offer their body to be used in many ways. Flesh as meat, skin as leather and bones for medicinal purpose.

 

On the contrary, so conceited are we that even after death, our body is of no use to anyone. On the funeral pyre, bones burn like logs of wood and hair like a bale of hay!

 

Photographing in Varanasi in year 2010, I was shaken internally as I photographed a dead man’s body floating in the river Ganges.

Dead body in Ganges

 

A year later, in Tibet, as I photographed Yak skulls in monasteries, I could see the connection that even in death, these animal remains are serving as philosophical contemplation anchor for spiritual seekers. Skulls were still of use, though in a different way! See photo series at bottom of this blog.


I was reminded of Saint Kabir’s verse from page 870 of Guru Granth Sahib (spiritual scripture of the Sikhs), written in musical composition of Raag Gaund. In Gurumukhi, it starts as “Naru Marey, Nar Kaam Na Aavey“. English translation is given below.

 

Have you achieved anything worthy of reflection in this mortal form?

 

In death, man is of no use to anyone.

Animal, still offers itself in many ways.

 

On the funeral pyre, man’s bones burn like a bundle of logs,

and hair like a bale of hay.

 

Says Kabeer, man only realizes,

when death is about to strike it’s club on the head.

Yak skulls, Tibet

Yak skulls, Tibet

Yak skulls, Tibet

Yak skulls, Tibet

Yak skulls, Tibet

Yak skulls, Tibet

Yak skulls, Tibet

Yak skulls, Tibet

Yak skulls, Tibet

Yak skulls, Tibet

Yak skulls, Tibet

17 Comments

  1. Manpreet Singh

    A man when, as soon as he dies, is of use to the caretaker at the SamShan Ghat – it beings him some money and clothes (shawl), The hopitals befit immensely (when they put a dead person on Ventilator) I see crows are eating the flesh, there is some use of this body – Zoroastrianism too thinks so and leave the body for Vultures. In the Hindu thought, a big industry flourishes related to “death”.

    Also, today one can donate several organs before his death or the family can also do that.

    A body CAN serve some purpose, just that, people have no thought of Serving the Humanity before death – They avoid thinking of death, whereas the sikh thought on 1102 line 10 clearly says “First, accept death, and give up any hope of life”, so one can look squarely at Death, and look beyond and Plan !

    • The use to caretaker and hospitals are materialistic in nature.

      The flourishing industry that you mention is also materialistic in nature.

      Indeed, Zorastrian practice of vulture feeding is aimed at making man realize the insignificance of body and it s better use to another species.

      Organ donation is a great trend that has started evolving in the recent years. But these are not widespread.

      Kabir’s sayings from 14th century is hitting us at philosophical level, anchoring in the realm of physical body, motivating us to think of the greater purpose of our existence in this world, and realize it during the lifetime.

  2. Harawant Singh

    Seen a movie ‘Solvent Green’ sometime 30 years or more, in which, the world will run out of food and for the benefit of the human race, people of ‘ripe’ age (and still living) will be recycled into green biscuits to be consumed as food.

    Could this be a reality? Would this correct that notion of human being non beneficial after their deaths.

    On the Zorastrian practice, bbc covered a documentary where vultures in India died of diseases from eating infected dead cows.

    Guess the solution is still cremation. We will run of space for burials, this is happening in Singapore.

    Just my humble opinions.

  3. Bhagat Kabir’s poke to human kind,that Amardeep is trying to put across through the animal skull pictures,is that,the man boast himself as too big and invincible,After death his body is useless-Humpty Dumpty has a great fall.The animal,who while living performed a service and after death is still useful.Whereas Man could destroy himself through nuclear pile/chemical piles as we see now.kjs

  4. Nice article and picture! Makes me want to appreciate what God has given and what the purpose of life is on this Earth. I was going to share a story and a humbling experience from last night while on a rare walk in a park, but I think I will write on my blog and share it later today.

  5. Harmeet Singh

    Not sure if body dies because soul decides to leave it or soul leaves because the body decides to die. Though the former looks more probable. Either way, when this soul enters the body somewhere in this material world, in the womb, the happiness and joy that it brings is spiritual, not materialistic….. a mother would tell us same. The death of a body actually has served a much greater purpose, material uses of a dead body then are actually immaterial. If after death of a body, it’s eyes are used, it’s heart is used… The happiness that it brings to the needy us again spiritual kind. Though a dead body needs to be respected materially, as we all do, out of respect for the soul that resided within it.

  6. Milton D'Silva

    I have resolved to pledge my body for medical research…and set a deadline…before the end of this month to carry it out. With no belief in any god, I do not care what happens to my body when I am dead!

  7. Pratap SJB Rana

    beautiful composition…..ominous, mystical

  8. Geetali Tare

    Brilliant work, as always.

  9. hammad nasir

    if the constant recycling of a man’s body is the topic of this post, I must say that we are made of clay and water mainly, aren’t we? when we die, we, muslims, bury our dead ones. simply, the insects get their food from there. not only insects, but many reptiles also. and the decomposition makes the soil richer. the photography is just perfect, Amardeep ji. waiting for some Pakistan tour posts, soon.

    • Hammad Ji,

      Indeed body is made up of the 5 elements. Earth, Fire, Water, Air and space and in whatever form we dispose, the physical body, the 5 elements merge into their respective states after death. Actually the essence of the post goes beyond the use of body after death. Kabir is actually pointing to introspect what one does in the lifetime as that is the essence of life. In getting the focus on the life, he is using the concept of death to show how worthless is man bound by ego and therefore he uses the example of animals in their act of death. Animals have lesser ego than man.

      The entire couplet by Kabir is more about the ego of man.

      Elsewhere in the Granth Sahib, there is also couplet about the futility in quarreling about the burning or burying of the body, again it points to the Ego as what one needs to solve for.

  10. A. DEATH IS CERTAIN

    B. THE TIME OF DEATH IS UNCERTAIN

    C. THE ONLY THING THAT CAN HELP US AT THE TIME OF DEATH IS OUR MENTAL/SPIRITUAL DEVELOPMENT

    …….. _/\_…….. 🙂

    Beautiful … Death is Beautiful …

    • Indeed and that is what Kabeer is saying from this shabad that focus on managing the human ego because that is the journey which at the time of death, would have refined the mental development.

  11. Masood Akhtar

    Yes indeed human beings are more destructive then any other specie on this planet. At no other specie encroached upon the human sphere of activity. Man is as per Islam is vicegerent of Allah on this planet. He is superior to all creations. But from his actions man prove to the contrary. Over the years several species of other animals were reduced to zero by human activity. To attain leisure in his human beings are completely wiping out Flora & Fauna of this planet and are up to set their foot & pollute other planets.They exhibit mixture of childish traits of other all animals.

  12. Surupa Chatterjee

    Very provocative and serious focus on the futility of the human existence. I also would like to share that the concept of body donation is catching on and I am privileged to know many people who have done so and hope their breed increases. Our Ex Chief Minister, Shri Jyoti Basu too donated his body to medical Science…We plan everything in life, but we must now perhaps do it backwards..Plan our death then others….Death the ultimate finality

    • You are right.

      Things evolve. As much as some human bodies are used after death, so too not all animals are used fully after death.

      I think the key to Kabir’s message is not that the physical bosy is put to use after death but really what he says in the refrain line of the Shabad.

      O Mortal what have you achieved in this life…..having lived in an egoistic frame of life, do you realize you have contributed nothing. In fact animals are far better who in death too serve a purpose.

      The message is really about the egoistic existence.

  13. kishore kumar Biswas

    The mystic saints like Kabir just in simple words tried to teach us , to inspire us to try to free our existence from the chains, ” chains ” of our ego. We can see how funny and childish is human ego when riches go to the place of worship to offer ” treasures ” to the God. Even when they prey before the almighty the ” ego ‘ of their being rich do not leave them. We can see the ” ego ” of the educated people when they looked down the uneducated people , their ego bar their vision to see ” human being ” in uneducated people. so many examples of our ” ego ” scattered everywhere.
    Kabir’s words said us to shed off the ” ego ” which takes us away from the Truth that the material gain is not immortal , which imprisoned us in the dungeon of self pride from where we could not see the ” world “, could not see see the vast sea of human being .
    Here with Kabir’s ” doha ‘ Amardeep gave some splendid picture that tells us why we should come out from the prison of our ” ego “.

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