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Varanasi
Wednesday, January 19, 2022

The cacophonic RIP chorus

“Hush. Don’t ask any questions. It’s always best on these occasions to do what the mob do.”

“But suppose there are two mobs?” suggested Mr. Snodgrass.

“Shout with the largest,” replied Mr. Pickwick.

Volumes could not have said more.

― Charles Dickens, The Pickwick Papers

Upon the death of a person, it is common to come across well-meant condolences that include the expression “rest in peace” (or RIP).

But what is “rest in peace”? Wikipedia explains:

The phrase was first found on tombstones some time before the fifth century. It became ubiquitous on the tombs of Christians in the 18th century, and for High Church Anglicans, Methodists, as well as Roman Catholics in particular, it was a prayerful request that their soul should find peace in the afterlife. When the phrase became conventional, the absence of a reference to the soul led people to suppose that it was the physical body that was enjoined to lie peacefully in the grave. This is associated with the Christian doctrine of the particular judgment; that is, that the soul is parted from the body upon death, but that the soul and body will be reunited on Judgment Day.[1]

So, the “rest in peace” condolence derives from Christian beliefs. Christians believe that when Jesus Christ comes again (“the second coming”), all humans (whether or not Christians) who have died will resurrect and receive rewards or penalties depending upon the good or the bad they had done when they were alive. Until then, goes the condolence, may they “rest in peace”.

This particular condolence has gained such universality that a very large section of Hindu parrot it mindlessly when someone (whether or not Christian) dies. In doing so, they betray an abysmal ignorance (or reckless uncaring of) of the Hindu view of death and the afterlife.

The Hindu view is: The Aatmaa (the entity that inhabits the body) is neither born nor dies, it moves from life to life, assuming a different body in each life, along its journey to Moksha, which is liberation from the cycle of birth and death.

Therefore, our Hindu view is completely different from the Christian view (and likely that of the other Abrahamic religions as well, which could share the Christian belief in some form). The difference between the Abrahamic (Christian) view and the Hindu view is that in the former view the soul “rests” but in the latter view the Aatmaa moves on, continuing along its journey, i.e., does not “rest”.

What, then, is the correct way to condole the death of a person (regardless of the religion of the deceased when the deceased was alive)? There are many possible expressions that are fit condolences, thus:

  • Naaraayana Naaraayana – invoking the name of Naaraayana or Vishnu.
  • Hari Bol – “Take the name of Hari (Vishnu)”.
  • Aum Shanti or Aum Shantihi – this is a modern condolence, praying for peace.
  • Aum Sadgati or Aum Sadgatim – another modern condolence, praying that the Aatmaa find the correct path on its onward journey.
  • Aum Sadgatim Praaptirastu – a modern condolence and a direct prayer that says, “May the Aatmaa attain the correct path on its onward journey”.
  • and more…

Hindu are, of course, a very fragmented community, fragmented at many levels. Such fragmentation has caused Hindu to utter the RIP condolence is different ways, such as:

  1. “May he/she rest in peace”, “May his/her/soul rest in peace” or simply “RIP” – this condolence is uttered by
  • The “woke” Hindu, who thinks he/she is alive and responsive to perceived social injustices (“thinks” is the operative word here) and expresses the wokeness in word and deed,
  • the wannabe woke Hindu,
  • the ignorant Hindu who does what others do (the need to belong, the fear of not belonging or taking a strategic position to show belongingness, see Mr Pickwick’s very wise counsel at the beginning of this article) and
  • the ashamed Hindu, ashamed that he/she is Hindu and does not want to be seen to be different from the woke or wannabe woke crowd.

This condolence is effectively a bad wish – a curse as it were; it wishes the Aaatmaa of the deceased NOT to go along its spiritual journey towards Moksha. What a horrible, and evil, thing to wish to an Aatmaa!

2. “May he/she rest in eternal peace” or “May his/her soul rest in eternal peace” – this condolence is uttered by the confused Hindu who does not know that in Christianity too, the soul and the body do not rest eternally but only until Jesus Christ comes back, when the dead souls and their cadavers reunite and rise again. So, the Hindu, being extra polite and in an excess of empathy adding the adjective “eternal” to “peace”, is in a sense actually not only insulting the Aatmaa by wishing that the Aatmaa NOT proceed along its journey towards Moksha but insulting the Christian belief as well by wishing that the dead soul and the cadaver NOT reunite and resurrect when the opportune time for that arrives.

3. “Aum Shanti and may his/her soul rest in peace” – this condolence is uttered by the super-confused Hindu who wants to please everybody.

So what should all Hindu do to condole the death of a person? All Hindu should—

  • Avoid “rest in peace”, “rest in eternal peace” and “RIP” in their condolences, spoken or written.
  • Use our own Hindu condolence messages on the death of every person (whether the deceased was Hindu or not when living), because every Aatmaa (including the Aatmaa of persons who were not Hindu when they were living) moves on along its journey towards Moksha; No Aatmaa “rests”, let alone rests “eternally”.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rest_in_peace (retrieved on 28 December 2021).

-by Chintamani Rath

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