Many years ago, when I first learned how to copy music from CDs on to my laptop, I learned a technological usage of the term ‘Rip’ – to ‘rip’ music off the CD and to save it on the computer hard drive.
Then came my first brush with online social interaction via yahoo groups. I learned a few more online terms and their usages. BTW, IMHO were the two terms that ended up in my vocabulary and came handy when presenting arguments and discussing issues.
But it was only when I joined Facebook a few years ago that I was gradually exposed to a huge jargon of acronyms, for many of which I couldn’t make much sense. I mean, why would any sane person roll on the floor while laughing out loud at a silly joke! But then this world is made up of all kinds of people, all kinds of experiences, viewpoints, beliefs, and ways of expressing.
Speaking of this diversity, there is also a big difference in how different groups of people understand the meaning of life, death, experience, reality, truth etc. Let me take the example of death.
Which brings me to this acronym I see so much on Facebook and other social media – RIP. And that’s what this post is about.
To be honest, when I first came across this RIP I had to ask google what it meant. “Rest in Peace” – I was told. “Oh, so that’s why people use it to express their condolences when someone in their friend circle shares the news of the passing of a dear one,” I thought to myself. Or when they see a public post about the death of a celebrity. All they need to do is type three letters – R I P. And it is done! Condolence signed and delivered.
But I wasn’t too disturbed by the ‘quick’ manner of expressing condolences. It was rather the lack of thinking that went behind using a term like “Rest in Peace” which disturbed me. And continues to do so.
Before anyone gets angry at what I just said, let me explain.
Death and what happens after death are deep mysteries of life and existence. Different cultures and civilisations have tried to explore these mysteries in their own ways. This has resulted in different understandings of what happens when someone dies. And also what happens after death. Not every culture looks at death as a finality after which all that is needed is to ‘rest in peace.’
Indian culture, for example, developed its own elaborate understanding of what is death, what happens after death, the theory of rebirth, release from the circle of birth and death, and moksha, the final aim of a soul’s journey. Our rishis, munis, yogis, and sadhaks from times immemorial have been exploring these deep mysteries of life, death, reality and existence. These explorations have been deeply subjective resulting in stupendous revelations about these mysteries, covering all planes of existence from individual to universal to cosmic. Divergences – both in the subtle nature of these experiential revelations and their outward expressions – exist among different paramaparas, darshanas, teachings, lineages and schools of thought, but what binds them together is an unending, continuous tradition of plunging deep within the self and the cosmos to discover the truth about such mysteries of existence.
What is also common — and this is most relevant for the purpose of this post — among all of these diverse traditions (except perhaps for the Charvaka, the materialist school) is the discovery that death is only a passage through which the individual soul moves on to the next phase of its journey.
There is no final ‘rest in peace,’ unless of course the soul has already reached the stage of moksha, the release from the circle of birth and death. It must be clarified here that the reference here is to the evolving soul, which is not the same as the imperishable, eternal and immortal Atman. The reference is to that projection of the Atman, the psychic being in Sri Aurobindo’s Integral Yoga terminology, which evolves from one life to another in its onward journey.
“…human life and death repeated through the aeons in the great cycles of the world are only a long progress by which the human being prepares and makes himself ﬁt for immortality.” (Sri Aurobindo, Essays on the Gita)
It should also be noted that this psychic being, this innermost part of the being is only one part of an individual. An individual is made up of many parts – physical, vital, mental (the outer being), the subtle physical, subtle vital and subtle mental (the subliminal, which correspond to the universal physical, vital and mental planes of existence) as well as many inter-connected parts such as physical-vital, vital-mental, etc. Each of the physical, vital and mental parts have their own innermost essence, the real truth of their being which must go onward with their own journeys after the body, the outer shell is no more.
Other rishis, yogis, schools of darshana and parampara have described differently this onward journey of different parts of the being. But that is not the point of concern here.
What I wish to emphasise here is this. Do Indians, and especially those who think of themselves as Hindus, Sikhs, Jains, Buddhists or generally subscribe to an Indian/Indic view of life, reality and existence, really understand what they are expressing when they say “RIP” or “Rest in Peace?” Are they aware of what view of life and death they are subscribing to? Or is it that they have almost thoughtlessly subscribed to an Abrahamic (Judeo-Christian-Islamic) view which suggests that death is like ‘the end’ of the journey and the body must wait and ‘rest in peace’ until the coming of the judgment day, the day when the ‘saved’ souls will be resurrected?
For those who don’t subscribe to this view of death and life, my humble request for them is to pause and reconsider next time they are about to use the expression “RIP.” They must take a moment to figure out the words they must use to express empathy and condolence. There can be many possible expressions. But if it has to be truly a ‘heart-felt’ expression, a real expression to share in another’s pain, it is most important to use that which conveys one’s deepest belief, even though it is only an intellectual belief for most of us, of what is life, death, existence and reality.
For those Indians and especially ones who consider themselves practicing or believe in any of the dharmic/Indic traditions but don’t want to pause and reflect, perhaps simply saying “Peace” would be more culturally appropriate than RIP. And by all means if you subscribe to the belief behind the expression RIP, please use that.
To conclude, let me say this:
Language is an important means to preserve and transmit cultural knowledge. If our day-to-day vocabulary only becomes a meaningless and mindless mix of ‘borrowed’ expressions from elsewhere, we run the risk of not only forgetting our own cultural truths but also deforming or destroying our treasured knowledge systems.