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Wisdom of the Cremation Ground

In ancient Hindu scriptures, there is mention of something called “Shamashan Vairagua,” which means “deceptive detachment.” The term Viaragua means detachment, and “Shamashan Vairagua” is something that strikes us in the crematorium or at the hospital when we are with a terminally ill person. 


A story can best illustrate this - and the story is about a mystic - Kabir, a famous 15th-century poet and sage. Kair Das was a renowned poet-saint; however, his story is a subject by itself. Hence, here, we will focus on this short story. 


This short story goes that a seeker wanted to meet this famous personage and, asking around, was directed to the saint’s house. When he reached Kabir’s home, he met Loi, the wife of Kabir Das. She informed him that her husband was not at home but could be found at the cremation ground attending the last rites of a deceased person. The visitor said, “But… I have not met Kair. How am I to recognize him?” Loi smiled and replied, “My husband will be easy to recognize. Around his head would be a glowing halo since he is a man of great wisdom…” The visitor left, somewhat still confused. 


When the visitor went to the cremation ground, he found a large crowd of people, but Kabir could not be identified because each person at the cremation ground had a halo around his head. Confused, he followed the crowd as they left the cremation ground to continue their daily routine. Ten steps around the cremation ground, some individuals lost their halo. As the visitor followed the crowd, others lost their halo as well. As he kept moving, finally, only one person retained the halo of light. Overjoyed, the visitor fell at the feet of that person, who was none other than Kabir!


Indeed in the presence of death, so to speak, as at the cremation or burial, the awareness of the transience of life hits all. Every mind contemplates the same important ultimate reality. We all muse: Is there a power that is greater than us? We may think of the concept of the individual soul - “Jiva Atma” and the universal soul, “Param Atam (Supreme Soul).” We also wonder what is essential in life, and then we may think of goodness and resolve to have noble thoughts and live a good life. 


However, as we leave the cremation ground, most of us get re-involved in our mundane, routine life and are back with our needs, wants, desires, and attachments! Only sages and saints like Kabir and Swami Vivekananda (Death - A Greatest Adventure or Our Deepest Fear) are constantly aware of the truth. They hence are not touched by the temporary attachments of life. 


This nugget from our precious culture was revealed to me by my first spiritual master - my Daddy - which indeed still is entrenched in my heart - hence, it is worth sharing with all! 

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