Issue 75 / May - June 2010
Delusion of Immortality
Question: How can the delusion of immortality be overcome?
The phrase â€śdelusion of immortalityâ€ť means people think they are eternal and immortal. Such people are obsessed with the world, as if they will never die; they live just for the sake of living, without meaning, they are concerned of the present time only. They are consoled by worldly pleasures, and they do not give importance to the past or future.
Sometimes, this delusion develops so gravely that it completely takes individuals under its influence, to the extent that they become more concerned with things that are not within their control. They put aside their own lives-for they think as if they are immortal-and become fixated, for instance on the fear of a Doomsday that will destroy the universe even if it is to take place two or three thousand years later; they feel anxiety exclusively for that. All of this stems from the delusion of immortality. For such people do not think of their own death, but are busy with the death of the universe over which they have no power.
I cannot say this for everyone, but if we look around we see that many people think they are immortal, even if they spent their youth in worship and seclusion. There are times when they have said, â€śI can move mountains or crush what I hold in my hands,â€ť or it is likely that they can say such things in certain times in their lives. During these times people live the delusion of immortality. This delusion is more likely to take place particularly when a person is healthy and young; certainly there are exceptions, but many young people never think that they will grow older and die. They never think that they will leave everything behind and go to some other world. They never calculate that their wealth and assets will fleet away.
The antidote to be applied to this feeling that will remove the heedlessness in a person is â€śmental activity.â€ť In other words, it is necessary to engage in an effort to raise the veil with objective and subjective contemplation through meditation into the external world, as well as into oneâ€™s inner world, in order to try and glimpse the truth. As a matter of fact, it is very important to raise the veil and to see the truth before the day comes when God raises the veil Himself, perhaps in a rather bitter way. In the Qurâ€™an, God says, â€śWe have removed from you your veil, so your sight is today sharpâ€ť (50:22). In other words, We will open pull the veil from your eyes and on that day you will see your destination, the place where you will account for your life and witness the judgment of God, the Universal Guardian and All-Watchful.
Yes, that day will inevitably come. Before that day comes, it is very important to rend that veil with carefulness and contemplation, and to reach the horizon of seeing and feeling Heaven and Hell now and in this world. But because human being is forgetful, when people become a little remote from contemplation they immediately suffer the delusion that they are going to live forever.
Let us clarify the topic a little more with an example: Assume that one of us enters a palace. Everything has been prepared there according to the desires and appetites of our ego. When I say â€śeverything,â€ť I mean everything from banquets to things that will satisfy human carnal desires. However, we understand with certain signs that all of these are forbidden. Consequently, this means that we are not allowed to touch the banquet tables, we cannot come close to the forbidden zone of those who are not permissible to us, and we cannot eat the â€śforbidden fruit.â€ť For, as stated before, there is a â€śforbiddenâ€ť sign on all of them. Sometimes, when faced with such a situation, some people can be defeated by their carnal self. The food can whet their appetites, those attractive things can lure them to turn their eyes on them, and their feelings of lust can push them to do evil things. At that moment they can be tempted to extend their hands to touch those fruits.
If just as they are fully in the total grip of their desires, a curtain suddenly opened and Hell with all its terror and Paradise with all its magnificence appeared before them, then they would neither extend their hands to the forbidden food nor take a step towards sin.
In this respect we can say that what lead people to evil are heedlessness, diving into the world as if they will never die (tul al-amal), and the inability to see the truth. I think that it is this matter that enabled the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, to avoid sin. If by means of a mental activity we could imagine the existence of Heaven and Hell with the certainty that two times two equals four, then we could put a brake on our ego, not enter into evil deeds, always see the next life and live in a measured way. When we are without such an activity, we will be buried under the veil of forgetfulness. Even if we believe in God, we will often be defeated by our feelings and we will do evil under the delusion of immortality. We will commit ourselves to nothing else but enjoying this world to the fullest.
Another way of overcoming the delusion of immortality is meditation on death (rabita al-mawt). For thinking about death is an important method that takes us to the view that this world is transient, destroying the delusion of eternalness. However, at this moment, when we look around, we see that fire only burns what it touches. Only those in whose homes someone dies remember death, and this important topic does not interest anyone else. Whereas, our Prophet reminds us that remembering death and visiting graveyards for this purpose is helpful.
Although visiting graveyards was initially forbidden in Islam, later the Prophet persistently emphasized this. For graves and headstones remind some less vigilant hearts of the next life by association. But it seems to me that our hearts are as if dead due to heedlessness.
Today, I think that only those who have had a close one die even partially remembers death and are able to lessen the delusion of immortality and wake up a little. I recommend to friends that they visit hospitals to keep death in mind. Let them go and visit various clinics and see the situation of those who have lost their health and are waiting for death. It is probable that such a view will remind them that they are each a traveler, and it will trigger their desire to make preparations.
As a result, the delusion of immortality sometimes derives from heedlessness, which in turn stems from a lack of contemplation. Meditation on death is an important method for puncturing this; the other is to observe hospitals and the condition of sick people. Yes, whenever a person is tested by illness or accident or on the subjects of property, life or children, then this delusion is deflated.
In short, we have to destroy this delusion by whatever means it takes. Otherwise, it will strangle us and we will not be able to rise to the level of true humanity. We will not be able to find a suitable atmosphere that will facilitate our ties with our Lordâ€™s mercy. We have to keep two activities always alive: contemplation and meditation on death.