What is Death?
What is the Relationship Between Life and Death?
Death is the foundation of life. Nothing goes to waste. Each death is a door to a new life. This is because the Supreme Being, who exercises free disposal over the creation, allows no waste. He gives existence to the most precious of creatures out of the meanest of things. He has subjected the creation to constant flux and renewal through the cycle of death and life, to an incessant motion towards its final perfection.
Just as He alternates day with night and spring with winter to yield ever-fresh results, He has established the cycle of death and life as an over- aching pattern within which His purpose for the creation of the universe may be realized.
However painful death seems to people, particularly to the materialists who regard it as going to non-existence, death is in reality a changing of residence or dimension, a receiving of one’s discharge from worldly duties, with the soul set free. Although death is, in appearance, a decomposition that seems to extinguish the light of life and cause the living body to rot away, and destroy worldly pleasures, it is, in fact, a transferring of the body and an invitation to, and the beginning of, a new, more perfect and better designed life.
Death is the foundation of a more perfect life. Since perfection is a blessing which requires filtration, refinement and purification, creatures experience death and are thereby elevated to a higher degree of life. For example, in order to obtain gold and iron, tons of crude oil have to be melted in a pot and refined. If they did not undergo this process of refinement, they would remain earth or stones worth next to nothing. Likewise, the dying of plants in the stomach of animals results in their providing sustenance for animals and thereby being elevated to a higher level of life. As another example, when the stone of a fruit ‘dies’, it appears to decompose and rot away into the soil. But, in doing so, it undergoes a perfect chemical process. It passes through stages of re-formation and ultimately grows into an elaborate, new tree. The death of some plants and animal flesh in the stomach of a man causes them to rise to the level of human life, so their death, in this sense, can be regarded as more perfect than their lives.
Everything in the universe from the particles of air to the atoms of water, from the molecules of grass and trees to the cells of living things, travel to death in ecstasy and with great zeal, which takes them ultimately to their perfection. When, for example, two atoms of hydrogen and one of oxygen devastate themselves in a chemical reaction, they are actually reborn, and rise to another, more perfect level of life in the form of water, which is the vital element of life in the universe. It is in this way that death should be understood —as a transformation into a higher level of existence, not an annihilation or going to non-existence. If the ‘dying’ of elements, which are the simplest levels of existence, is so perfect and serves life, then for man, having died and gone underground, there will certainly be an eternal life, much more refined, perfect and elaborate.
Death is, from the Divine point of view, a handing over of affairs by the dead to their successors. The life of each living creature is a procession before the One who has created it, and after each procession has been recorded in heavenly tablets in all its details, it is replaced with a new one so that the creation may be continuously renewed and refreshed and display ever-fresh spectacles. The one who has come goes. The one who has settled emigrates. Thus the whole creation is constantly enlivened in its unending towards its final destination and the light of life is continuously refined.
As the disappearance of bubbles, group by group on an ever-flowing stream demonstrates their transience or mortality vis-à-vis the performance of the sun reflected in them, their death also plainly affirms that nothing created is able to be self-subsistent and everything owes its existence to a Permanent One. Death also teaches us that nothing mortal is worth setting one’s heart upon. One should seek the Immortal Being, thus attaining eternity in spirit and an eternal life of happiness.
Death is also for man an effective warning, an instructive phenomenon, as well as a means of consolation. It warns us that there is no absolute non-existence and therefore when a thing goes; it leaves behind thousands of forms of its existence. For example, a flower dies, but besides leaving its form and appearance in thousands of memories, it deputes its formation and life cycle to its seeds to go on living in a different, much broader dimension. Likewise, a man dies only after his whole life, with all its details, has been recorded on heavenly tablets and also in his own memory as well as in many other memories, so that ‘whoever has done an atoms weight of good shall see it, and whoever has done an atom’s weight of evil shall see it.’ Therefore, death is not something to fear. It is in fact a reality that forces us to discipline ourselves to do good and refrain from evil. It also consoles us with the belief that when we go through it, we enter a new and better, more spacious and more beautiful world, where we will reunite with the beloved ones who had already left us for that wonderful place. What other belief than this, can give such consolation, especially to a child whose mother or father or brother has said farewell to him to go to that other world?
Let us approach the question in reverse. How would life be were it not for death? What would happen if, for example, ivy among vegetation, and ants and flies among animals were not to die! Is not such a consideration alone enough to convince what a great blessing death is?
As stated before, God, the All-Wise, allows no waste in the universe. He uses the debris of everything to build new and more beautiful things. He uses the particles of everything, inanimate and animate, including man, in the formation of new living creatures. He will also use certain particles of man, which cannot be eaten up by the earth as a seed or a foundation or basic building blocks in re-building him at the time of the Resurrection.
We can conclude that all things display, on account of their formation, order life and administration, so great, so amazing a perfection that they fill every conscious being with wonder and admiration. As observed in the movement of particles, in the life-cycle of plants and animals, in the flowing of rivers into seas, in the evaporation of sea water and then its return to the earth as rain, and so on, everything is in a constant motion toward higher degrees of perfection and higher levels of life.
How spectacular a world this is! It is of a kind that overwhelms the minds.
The miracles of Divine Power come and go in procession before my eyes.
God causes the sky to radiate innumerable images and parables.
He hides Himself behind the veils of colors and lights.
Here is grass, there is a sea, over there is a mountain, and this a spring morning.
It is natural for one born in this land to become a poet!
By M. Fethullah Gulen