Punjab Notes: Sages: experience of dying before one's death.

Byline: Mushtaq Soofi

There is a recurring theme in the classical Punjabi poetry that may look odd, somber, and even weird to some of us: dying before one's death. Why should one die before one's time at this earth is up? Is it a death wish springing up from the arcane mysteries of esoteric experience of mystics? Or is it simply an outcome of one's inability to cope with the intractability of life's harsh realities? The answer to all such questions is emphatic no if we care to delve into the intricacies of philosophical outlook of our poets who are celebrated as saints. Their practice is defined by their well-thought out stance on how to connect with our material world and what it offers. The guiding principle is; possess less and consume less. It looks strange when juxtaposed against the contemporary world's motto of possess more and consume more because the amount of possession and consumption is considered to be indicative of level of human progress, prosperity and happiness.

Now in order to possess more and consume more you have to produce more. Unrestrained production and consumption have created unprecedented situation which was not imaginable a century back in the heady days that followed the industrial revolution thought to be a glory of human intellect because it brought plenty in the world stricken by scarcity. Now just after one hundred years of practicing such a way of life what we see is the opposite of glory; all pervasive degradation. Natural resources have been exploited relentlessly and ruthlessly in pursuit of profit which is thinly concealed greed. The planet we live on stands grievously wounded with ozone layer punctured, air poisoned, weather patterns disturbed, seas polluted, rivers full of toxins, underground waters contaminated, biodiversity damaged and wildlife destroyed.

This destructive process will gain further momentum unless we revisit and revise our view and way of life in a drastic manner. Sages, saints, mystics and poets have shown a viable alternative way of life but their advice has largely been politely rejected or taken as something of a mysteriously pious value and innocuously amusing. Is this exhortation or desire to die before death is something morbid, ghoulish or is it simply a death wish? Shah Husain [16th century] who pioneered Kafi, one of the most popular lyrical genres of our poetry, touches this theme in several lyrics. 'Die before your death if you seek life [Kahey Husain Hayati lorin, maran...

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