Examining ‘Inevitable To Life Is Death And Not Inevitable To Death Is Life’

Of the human condition, the writer Jamaica Kincaid once wrote, “Inevitable to life is death and not inevitable to death is life.” It’s beautiful–symmetrical, epigrammatic, prima facie enigmatic–but is it true?

Is it true that life, having arise, must end? And is it also true that it’s not knowable whether there’s any further life after death–be that in the form of an afterlife, transmigration of souls, reincarnation, and so on?

What appears to be true is actually a very modern secularist-agnostic position. And it may, regardless of how often it’s said these days, be incorrect.

According to nonduality, which should rightly be regarded as a weird and unorthodox yet for all that not necessarily incorrect view, the answer to both questions is no. What Kincaid assumes here is that we’re speaking about the human being, and the human being is indeed a person. But am I a person? Such is the question that animates The Upanishads as well as Advaita Vedanta.

What is a person? A person is a finite mind-body composite. Plainly, the body comes into existence, persists in its existence in time, and perishes at some moment in time. Plainly, the finite mind suffers the ultimate fate of the body: as the body perishes, so perishes the mind. (Here, set aside recent advances in medical technology that give rise to puzzles about the finite mind and body relationship. I’m referring to standard cases.)

But am I this body? Am I this mind? Am I this finite mind-body composite? What if I am not? Then it follows that I do not suffer the fate of the body-mind. Then it’s at least possible that I was not born and therefore that I cannot die and therefore that I am the unborn and undying Something, which may not be some-thing at all.

Consider that possibility. If it were true, it would also utterly dissolve the fear of death. And then some.