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A few months ago, I went to Tokyo for a summit. After completing the summit, I went to my alma mater, the International University of Japan in Urasa (a village 200km north of Tokyo). I was a Master’s student there from 2006 to 2008 and I was so excited to go back there after eight long years. I had so many fond memories. During the train ride, I was thinking about all the difficult times that I experienced as a student and also some beautiful memories that I had with my family, including two infants, there. I was making a mental note of the places that I had to visit, including their playschool, their clinic, the supermarket near our place, the onsen (hot spring) where we used to go, the Bisyamondo village temple, and several other places.

After spending a day at the university, I visited the apartment where we stayed in the village. I walked around the supermarket nearby, taking pictures of our favourite snacks to show to my wife. I went to the playschool, remembering how I used to go and pick up my kids. I also went to the post office and the temple that we used to visit regularly. While returning from the temple, I sneaked into the kids’ clinic, which was unusually open on a Sunday. Seeing me, a lady came and greeted me. I spoke to her in whatever little Japanese I remembered and understood that the place was no longer a children’s clinic and was used as a physiotherapy centre for elderly people.

While walking back, I thought of how this “world”—of which I had been an integral part eight years ago—didn’t know me anymore. I had died from this world and nobody remembered me. It was like dying from a place and going back again to that world. If I look back, I have experienced several deaths and several re-births in this lifetime itself. I was born in a small rural town called Palani in South India. I died there when my parents moved to Madurai. I died in Madurai and was re-born in Chennai when I moved there for employment. I died in Chennai when I moved to San Francisco; I died in San Francisco when I moved to Mumbai; I died in Mumbai when I moved to Urasa; I died in Urasa when I moved to Bangalore; I died in Bangalore and was reborn in Geneva.

Going back to Urasa in Japan where I once lived, and witnessing that there were no traces of me, was such an enlightening experience.

It was humbling in two ways:

  1. I had made no difference in the people’s lives for them to remember me in any way. I could have planted a tree, could have done some volunteer work or could have interacted with the villagers and made more friends. All my time had been spent for myself, my family, friends and colleagues. But I have to question whether I really had any impact even on my family, friends and colleagues. It is the same in most of the places where I have lived, and my impact circle is not very big. It needs to be very big not to satisfy the needs of my ego, but because of the bliss it will bring to witness how I was a source of contribution.
  2. Nobody matters in the long run. I visited a dermatologist recently for a skin ailment and he told me that we get a new skin every two weeks. What the doctor said was described in the book that I am reading in a different way—our body is a wave and it is important to question “Who am I?” Anything that can have a “my” in front of it is not “I.” For example, my shirt means that I am separate from my shirt. My job and I are separate. Similarly, my body means that I am separate from my body. Moving away from identifying ourselves from our possessions—job, body, clothes— to find the real “I” is a pursuit in itself. Our internal organs function because of the collective intelligence of the species and all that we think we know came from somebody else. We are just a space for the collective intelligence to express itself through us and it is our duty to keep this space as clean and pure as possible.

The world is made of many small worlds. We wear several human bodies as we grow from infancy to childhood to adolescence to adulthood to old age. Each of those human forms die but the “chatter” in our head stays as it is throughout our life. If we calm down that chatter, we may be able to connect to the “I” which doesn’t die. One of the aspirations in recent times is to die every day peacefully and be born again fresh the next day. It would be great if this famous quote (with uncertain origins) can be lived—”Learn as if you are going to live forever. Live as if you are going to die tomorrow.”

Originally published at www.huffingtonpost.in