OPINIONS

Embracing Compassion against Mortality

“So, are you happy at Carnegie?”

“Ajit, that’s an irrelevant question.”

“How so?”

“My happiness depends on the happiness of those around me. What you should be asking is, ‘Rohan, are you making everyone around you happy? And are you doing so with compassion in your heart?’ “

My brother committed suicide four years ago while attending Carnegie Mellon University. He is my best friend; I love him more than anything else. And I know he loves me back.

That love has not made my last four years unproblematic. Since August 27, 2009, my life has been a dance with the devil. Losing a sibling to suicide is cruel; I can unequivocally say it should never happen. Ever. Every step forward is a hurdle, and for every hurdle overcome, a far higher one seems to coalesce out of thin air. Acknowledging that his death had had the power to change me and had indeed changed me, for instance, opened a troubling door, one that made me consider whether I had changed for the worse because of it. To this day, this fear troubles my soul.

I have not learned much from my experience thus far; in fact, I would say my working model for life is far more fragile now than it was on August 26, 2009. To say I am troubled by death is an understatement; I am petrified of it. When I wake up to the monotonous hymn of my phone alarm, I look out the window, and wonder Is this the day for me? As I bike to class, I pray it isn’t. For if something happened to me, would those close to me be okay? I think of what Rohan told me: “Are you making everyone around you happy?” My parents have brilliantly come to terms with my brother’s passing; could they do the same if I too was taken? Would my friends and family be able to cope with another sighting of the Grim Reaper?

I don’t like these questions; they frighten me. Nevertheless, to dwell over them is not my choice to make; they plague me. My belief that I don’t wish to die is certainly important; and yet it is the fact that I have little to no control over mortality (mine and others’) that has become my paramount concern.

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With that said, experience has taught me one key principle during my struggle. Interestingly, this truth is not just old and well known; it might even seem antiquated. Considering my new perspective on the effects that death has on the world it leaves behind, I have learned that happiness should depend on the happiness of those around you, as Buddha and all other great philosophers have simultaneously preached for eons.

It is easy to misinterpret this statement, as I did initially. But acknowledging the importance of others isn’t just a casual nod to pain, a flippant #firstworldproblems. Compassion is the key that unlocks beauty in the human experience.

Individualism is important. It is one of the major drivers of innovation. But my dance with the devil has taught me that happiness cannot be found within one’s own bubble. And in this regard, our system for dealing with each other has to change.

Socialization can’t be dependent on competition. Why forge relationships on tension when they can depend on love instead? It seems like a no-brainer. Yet, it isn’t. Most of us hold onto a preconceived notion of what being social is, a dogma that propagates the “grass is always greener” mentality. We are taught to believe that life must have winners and losers, that we are “in it to win it,” and that there is nothing worth living for but ourselves.

But what happens when the grass turns brown? In my case, August 27 was when the grass turned not brown but black. We think of emotional dependence as vulnerability, but we all should treat ourselves as vulnerable because we are vulnerable. Weakness allows others to see us for who we are, while blithely proclaiming #strength only festers the sore that grows in our hearts. Our confidence in our own individuality is not just unproductive. It is counterproductive.

This means that the essential questions should be: Are you doing your best at making those around you happy? Are you present for your friends in need? And are you being compassionate even to those who you may not know? We may not all accomplish these goals at all times, and I certainly don’t; nonetheless, orienting ourselves towards them is the avenue to filling hearts with joy.

I love my brother. I am not ashamed to tell his story, for his wisdom will affect me for the rest of my life. Though his death once turned my core cold, my soul is beginning to thaw. I now recognize that showing compassion for all is vital. Dancing with the devil is natural. But letting the dance spark your own emotional hubris is not.

My happiness depends on the happiness of others. What I should be asking you is: “Are you making everyone around you happy? And are you doing so with compassion in your heart?”

 

Contact Ajit Vakharia at ajitv@stanford.edu.

  • Jay Mahajan

    Beautifully written!

  • Ryguy

    Thanks for sharing, Ajit!

  • Amy Davis

    I am overwhelmed by the poignancy with which you write Ajit. Thank you for your courage to share with us what are most surely some of your deepest thoughts and feelings. I am continually learning from you-age 2 to 19 and beyond!

  • .

    Thought-provoking, articulate, and inspiring. Thank you for sharing your story, as it must have not been easy.

  • Malini SChueller

    What an honest, moving, and mature piece, Ajit. You have surely grown and learned. Rohan would have been proud of you and I am too

  • Sushama

    Ajit
    Your courage and compassion is inspiring. By far your best writing ever. Sushama

  • Angie

    Ajit, this is so beautiful. While of course I didn’t know Rohan as well as you, I too have had a struggle to come to terms with his death.

  • Sophie

    Very touching and honest. Ajit, thank you for sharing this with us. ~Sophie & Andy

  • Ava

    Ajit, I admire you for sharing an experience that touched you so deeply. And the courage with which you have shaped your life these last four years. Rohan, wherever he is, must be very proud of you.

  • Prabhakar Keskar

    Hi Ajit, Your eloquent writing style and maturity of thought has driven your point(s) home for all of us with remarkable success. Not only I am in total agrement with your observations but would like to re-inforce them with following thoughts that are borrowed from Hindu and Buddhist philosophies:
    1. Rohan was a true yogi as defined in following quotes: (a) “Yogi is a person who has hatred towards none, friendship and compassion towards all, no ego or jealousy, has equanimity of mind in pain or pleasure and has a forgiving nature.” (b) “A person truely lives life if his or her living brings happiness in the lives of countless other people”
    2. As difficult as the “hurdles” in life may seem to be, we are all bound by laws of nature to continuously engage in “action” from the moment we are born to the moment we die and the actions have to be geared towards improving our intellectual capability.
    3. I fully understand your struggles to overcome the grief and void left by Rohan’s passing and as a result being “petrified” of death. However we all have to deal with it by learning to differentiate between “body” and “soul”. Body being destructible where as the soul is immutable, and I am happy to note that in the beginning of your remarks you addressed Rohan (his soul) in present tense. As the soul within the body experiences all stages of the body (infancy, childhood, adulthood) it also experiences death as mere transfer out of the body in to the infinite consciousness.
    Finally I end this discussion by going back to my point #1 above (which is also the main theme of your letter) and the fact that we all must strive to generate happiness in the lives of others around us with compassion….
    Thanks again for your wonderful letter and hoping to see you soon in Gainesville.
    My apologies for this long response.

  • Janhavi Agashe

    Ajit,

    hank you for having the courage to share – it gives a voice to what I am sure a lot of people who have been touched by Rohan. I know he is seeing you with that smile of his and feeling very proud :)

  • Barbara Martin-Hasty

    This is a very compelling piece, Ajit, and it’s a pleasure to read. It is a great tribute to Rohan. Thanks for sharing this with us.