Is Life a Fixed Match?

by | Apr 1, 2023

Time and again I found books reaching me when I needed them the most. Be it The Fountain Head by Ayn Rand in 1974, which lifted me from an average engineering student to a meritorious one, or Gestalt Therapy by Fritz Perls in 1985 that helped me get rid of my migraine, or Memories, Dreams, Reflections by Carl Jung in 1996 that provided me the model for writing Wings of Fire with Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, I did not buy these books; they reached me in a strange and inexplicable way. I can surely add to this list, The Top Five Regrets of the Dying by Bronnie Ware that I recently read.

Well, I have been confined to home with stable angina for a while, and spend my time mostly reading and writing. Friends occasionally visit me and I remain active in my science and technology and innovation circle through them. However, there are no more schedules, meetings, and appointments. There are no targets to be chased. I indulge in a little meditation and reflect on the wonderful, action-filled life of more than four decades. So, when this book by Bronnie Ware reached me, I thought about the regrets I had in life. I decided to read the book first before articulating my list. And what a lucid narrative the author has produced! I have been a voracious reader and can feel a book after reading the first 10 to 20 pages. But this book kept me guessing till the end. And though it dealt with the difficult end-of-life situation, not even for a moment did it turn gloomy or depressing.

Bronnie Ware is an Australian woman and this book is her first-person account of working as a carer hired by the families of terminally ill patients. The reader meets 18 patients in the book – mostly old, but also a young man. While sharing her interaction with these patients, Bronnie Ware shares her own life story with brute honesty and candidness – her reckless youth, nomadic way of living, and working as a compulsion to meet her basic expenses. She mostly lived in London and the Australian cities of Sydney and Melbourne, and rather effortlessly take readers into those settings. The flow of thoughts, choice of words, and clarity of the narrative make one wonder if this is the work of a one-book author. 

As for the five most common regrets expressed by people on the verge of death, these were: a wish to have been courageous enough to live a life true to oneself rather than by the expectations of others; the regret of working hard and neglecting family and friends in the process; the lack of guts to express one’s emotions; losing contact with friends of early years; and not allowing oneself to be happier by compromising with bad situations and not walking out of them. Bronnie Ware even avoids putting them in fancy terms, and leaves it to the reader to articulate each regret type in his or her own way and “feel.” 

I deeply appreciate the book and the five regrets sound so true. Mine were: incessant travel due to work; mistaking the apparent with the real; believing people for their words; and above all, considering myself as the hero of my little drama without realizing the great puppet show that this world is. So must have felt most people, in a thousand different ways. The academically brilliant students turn out to be very ordinary in later lives and dropouts become billionaires. Hardworking people burn out and look-busy-feel-easy types rise high in their careers. 

Who lives? Who takes actions? Who regrets? Drawing from the Upanishads and the Buddha, I can differentiate between my mind – the playground of my thoughts; my body, carrying the imprints of all my past deeds, including that of my ancestors in the form of my DNA; and the presence of an immortal Self in me that is the foundation of my present existence, but sees all that I do or that happens to me as images falling upon a mirror. 

So, the answer to who I am is my body, supported by the environment and food, and my mind. Now, the important insight is that there are two types of minds: a thinking mind and an observing mind. There is a beautiful shloka in the Mundaka Upanishad (Verse 3.1.1)

द्वा सुपर्णा सयुजा सखाया समानं वृक्षं परिषस्वजाते।
तयोरन्यः पिप्पलं स्वाद्वत्त्यनश्नन्नन्यो अभिचाकशीति

Two birds are sitting on the same tree; one of the two, tasting the fruits; the other, just watching.

Every moment of our lives, there is a tussle going on between the impressions of the past embedded in our bodies as drives and impulses, and the reasoning of the mind – to eat or not to eat the fruit. Obviously, in childhood, and even in youth, most actions are decided by “impulses”, and in later life, “reason” must prevail, which seldom happens unless one is mindful. 

Now comes the question of regret. Fundamentally, regret is sorrow. It is an emotion felt in circumstances that are beyond one’s control or power to repair. The regret of not eating a fruit, or having eaten the fruit! In the Vivekachudamani, Adi Shankaracharya describes Saadhan Chatushtya, a four-fold endeavor on the part of the seeker to become eligible to know the Ultimate Truth. 

विवेकिनो विरक्तस्य शमादिगुणशालिनः  

मुमुक्षोरेव हि ब्रह्मजिज्ञासायोग्यता मता

He who is discriminating, detached, possesses the qualities of peace etc., and is desirous of liberation, is worthy of inquiry into the Absolute Truth. (Vivekachudamani, Verse 17)

All mistakes happen due to an unprepared mind. An honest look will reveal all the shortcomings in oneself, waiting to create disastrous results. So, if there can be one regret, it can be wasting life, or better said, the human birth, in not accomplishing this four-fold education of the mind. But here again, how much freedom one has to choose, is arguable. So, is it all a fixed game? Almost. 

The Buddha gave, perhaps, the best knowledge mankind has – the 12-step cycle of dependent origination, प्रतीत्यसमुत्पाद in Sanskrit. In these steps, there is a step between sparsh and vedana, contact and sensation – this is because that is. If this stops, that will stop. By remaining neutral to the contacts of this world, by not acting upon them, by seeing them appearing and dispersing like clouds in the sky, we can stop the cascade of cause-and-effect by not acting upon our impulses without applying reasoning thought with patience – allowing life to happen, instead of merely feasting on the fruits. 

So, even this fixed match is fixed in your favor. Human birth is the best chance, among sentient beings of millions of life forms on Earth, to escape this mortal cycle of death and rebirth. All the circumstances in one’s life are meticulously designed to teach a way out. Even the supposedly unpleasant event of death can be an exit for the spirit from bondage into physicality. What a pity it would be to lose even this fixed match!

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17 Comments

  1. Enlightening insight into the intricate relationship between body and mind Prof Tiwariji!

    Your perception of the circumstances in life as meticulous designs to teach a way out is thought provoking!!

  2. It is hard to envision a life without some regrets. You imagine what might have been if you had taken a different path at some key juncture, whether about a past relationship, a missed job opportunity, or choosing where to live. Regret can be immobilizing, filling us with disappointment and shame—but it also can be a powerful tool for self-knowledge and change.

    Your blog so lovingly demonstrates how to make regret work to your advantage and how to get unstuck from regret and make decisions with more clarity and confidence. Each one of us is indeed the author of one’s life, and even if it is a fixed match there is fun in playing the game. So go out and write the next chapter—and then live it.

  3. Thank you for a simple, elegant and connectable narrative reminding us to win the match of our lives, Professor Tiwari.
    All living beings are bodies supported by the environment and food. Human beings are additionally endowed with minds which can either help or hinder.
    Let us be mindful that most of us would sooner or later be confined to our homes. Physical agility would go down with age, but much like the author, we may decide to play a winning game. His writings will keep us on track.

  4. Respected Sir, you keep surprising me with different topics in your blog. This one is such an important issue for people who are now retired and have good time at their disposal to reflect and introspect.

    If we say we regret something, it means that we disagree with our past decision making. Maybe we decided not to take an opportunity that would have benefited us. Or maybe we decided to break up with a friend that we miss. Based on what we know now, our past decisions seem like the wrong ones.

    People say they regret things like: Missed educational opportunities, Failure to seize the moment, Not spending enough time with friends and family, missed business opportunities, Rushing into something too soon, and Unwise purchases and deals. With children setting abroad, many assets look burdensome now.

    Ironically, the more opportunity one experiences, the greater chance for regret. If opportunities are denied or out of reach, we may experience anger or frustration, but not usually regret. The situation is out of our hands. But when we are given opportunities, that puts the onus on us.

  5. Yes. It is indeed true that a person has the task of becoming themselves, meaning they need to break with convention and conformity. May I add this quote from Danish theologian, philosopher Søren Aabye Kierkegaard to this beautifully written blog:

    “Marry, and you will regret it; don’t marry, you will also regret it; marry or don’t marry, you will regret it either way. Laugh at the world’s foolishness, you will regret it; weep over it, you will regret that too; laugh at the world’s foolishness or weep over it, you will regret both. Believe a woman, you will regret it; believe her not, you will also regret it… Hang yourself, you will regret it; do not hang yourself, and you will regret that too; hang yourself or don’t hang yourself, you’ll regret it either way; whether you hang yourself or do not hang yourself, you will regret both. This gentlemen, is the essence of all philosophy.”

  6. सब कुछ लुटा के होश में आये तो क्या किया
    दिन में अगर चराग़ जलाये तो क्या किया

    इस संसार में ‘समय’ सबसे अमूल्य वस्तु है क्योंकि अन्य वस्तुएं समाप्त होने पर दुबारा प्राप्त की जा सकती हैं परंतु जो समय एक बार बीत गया, वह लौटकर नहीं आता। जो व्यक्ति उपयुक्त समय पर अपना कार्य नहीं करता, वह बाद में हाथ मलते रह जाता है। समय की गति को पहचानकर तदनुकूल आचरण करना ही सफलता का मूलमंत्र है। बिना विचारे काम करने वाला मनुष्य बाद में पछताता है तथा उपहास का पात्र भी बनता है।

  7. Dear Sir, Very interesting and practical blog. Something you cherish will be removed from you at some point. And then you will sob on the floor. And then, however long later, it happens to you: you’re falling to the floor crying, thinking, “I am falling to the floor crying,” but there’s an element of the ridiculous about it — you knew it would happen, and, worse, while you’re on the floor crying, you notice you didn’t paint the area where the wall meets the floor very well.Thank you.

  8. Fountain Head by Ayn Rand was my favourite too. Probably one of those first thick reads which I finished as a teenager. Thrilled to the core…. Still remember the strong protagonist Howard Roark. The last one you mentioned – The top five regrets of the Dying by Bronnie Wrein gets to my awaiting top reads now. Thanks for the synopsis.

    As the title suggests it is bound to let one’s mind go down the memory lane. Indeed every human at some time or the other, especially after retirement starts thinking about his regrets in life and what he or she could have and should have done at the appropriate time and phase of life, though now gone by and undo-able. Going back into a time machine and to rectify or overcome that regret is impossible. But regret … Yes, it will always remain at the back of the mind.

    I’m full of regrets. Endless regrets, not only five… not even fifty but maybe …500. As a human being I find it to be prudent and logical. But then I’m scared to pen it down. No point if I can’t fulfill or overcome my regrets. I would rather strive hard to surmount and rectify my failures if I still can. Would love to pursue my heart’s calling, live life as a free bird soaring and wandering to places and accomplishing things which give me happiness and contentment. My regrets and my failure would only pull me down, mentally and physically, so why get into that sad and morose phase of life.

    Lot of water has flown through the Ganges, more would continue till life says enough and no further. Regrets will always be there but to forget and to remain contended with what one has or has achieved is happiness, it is divine.

  9. Thank you Arun ji for the nice. It may help us to minimise the five regrets.

  10. The secret of life, bhai saab, is that the secret is in plain sight but men choose not to see it!!

  11. Sir, Once again my gratitude and love towards you builded up. This year I wish to meet you and take a selfie with you.This is one of my long cherished ambition but what limits me is that I always suspects that my worth fullness deserve it or not.This is a question of personality and morality because of the noble human like you. Anyway I wish to meet a great person like you .It is my dream

    As my reading of your blog progresses I thought as follows:

    The mythological Ramayana tells the story of a human called Rama. His life was actually destined to rule a kingdom, which is his ancestral heritage, but his life unexpectedly turned and led him to live another. This is what really happens when the living environment limits one’s choices. From this story of incidents, we must always remember that our lives are filled with people and incidents. So try to live a candid life and follow the path of truth as Buddha. The one and only principle to follow is that it should be with freedom and with certain commitments.

    Thank you. With great love. Your contribution to our country is huge on this present world of self fullness.

  12. Dear sir, Thank you for sharing this interesting blog on life and death. It reminded me an article I red, would like to share some interesting points below,

    What happens after death… Garuda Purana
    *What Happens After Death ?? *What is death ? Is there life after death ? Is death painful? What happens after death ? How does rebirth happen ? Where do we go after death ?
    These kind of questions related to the most feared event that ends our life always fill our mind, especially when any of our near or dear ones die. We feel that suddenly the relationship has broken abruptly and wish there could be a connection again. In this quest, our journey to find answers to the above questions begin… *So, what happens after death ?
    *Death is actually a very interesting process!!
    Disconnection of the earth sole chakras
    Approximately 4-5 hours before death, the earth sole chakras situated below the feet gets detached … symbolizing disconnection from the earth plane !!A few hours before an individual dies, their feet turn cold. When the actual time to depart arrives, it is said that Yama, the God of death appears to guide the soul.
    The Astral Cord
    Death severs the astral cord, which is the connection of the soul to the body. Once this cord is cut the soul becomes free of the body and moves up and out of the body. If the soul is attached to the physical body it occupied for this lifetime, it refuses to leave and tries to get into the body and move it and stay in it. We may observe this as a very subtle or slight movement of the face, hand or leg after the person has died. The soul is unable to accept that it is dead. There is still a feeling of being alive. Since the astral cord has been severed, the soul cannot stay here and is pushed upwards and out of the body. There is a pull from above … a magnetic pull to go up.
    End of the physical body
    At this stage the soul hears many voices, all at the same time. These are the thoughts of all the individuals present in the room.The soul on its part talks to his loved ones like he always did and shouts out “I am not dead” !!But alas, nobody hears him.Slowly and steadily the soul realizes that it is dead and there is no way back. At this stage, the soul is floating at approx 12 feet or at the height of the ceiling, seeing and hearing everything happening around.Generally the soul floats around the body till it is cremated. So, the next time if you see a body being carried for cremation, be informed that the soul is also part of the procession seeing, hearing and witnessing everything and everyone.
    Detachment from the body
    Once the cremation is complete, the soul is convinced that the main essence of its survival on earth is lost and the body it occupied for so many years has merged into the five elements. The soul experiences complete freedom, the boundaries it had while being in the body are gone and it can travel anywhere by mere thought. For 7 days the soul moves about it’s places of interest like its favorite joint, morning walk garden, office, etc. If the soul is possessive of his money, it will just stay near his cupboard, or if he is possessive of his children, it will just be in their room, clinging on to them. By the end of the 7th day, the soul says bye to his family and moves further upwards to the periphery of the earth plane to cross over to the other side.
    The Tunnel
    It is said that there is a big tunnel here which it has to cross before reaching the astral plane. Hence it’s said that the first 12 days after death are extremely crucial. We have to carry out the rituals correctly and pray and ask forgiveness from the soul, so that it does not carry negative emotions like hurt, hatred, anger, etc. at-least from the near and dear ones. All the rituals, prayers and positive energy act like food for the soul which will help it in its onward journey. At the end of the tunnel is a huge bright light signifying the entry into the astral world.
    Meeting the Ancestors
    On the 11th and 12th day, Hindus conduct homas and prayers and rituals through which the soul is united with its ancestors, close friends, relatives and the guides.
    All the passed away ancestors welcome the soul to the upper plane and they greet and hug them exactly like we do here on seeing our family members after a long time.
    The soul then, along with its guides, are taken for a thorough life review of the life just completed on earth in the presence of the Great Karmic Board.
    It is here in the pure light that the whole past life is viewed!!
    Life Review
    The soul judges himself, the way he judged others in his lifetime. He asks for revenge for people who troubled him in that life, he experiences guilt for all wrongdoings he did to people and asks for self punishment to learn that lesson. Since the soul is not bound by the body and the ego, the final judgment becomes the basis of the next lifetime. Based on this, a complete life structure is created by the soul himself, called the blue print. All the incidents to be faced, all problems to be faced, all challenges to be overcome are written in this agreement. In fact the soul chooses all the minute details like age, person and circumstances for all incidents to be experienced. Example : An individual had severe headaches in his present birth, nothing helped him, no medicines, no way out. In a session of past life regression, he saw himself killing his neighbour in a previous birth by smashing his head with a huge stone. In the life review when he saw this, he became very guilty and asked for the same pain to be experienced by him by way of a never ending headache in this life.
    Blue print
    This is the way we judge ourselves and in guilt ask for punishment. The amount of guilt in the soul, decides the severity of the punishment and level of suffering.
    Hence forgiveness is very vital. We must forgive and seek forgiveness !!
    Clear your thoughts and emotions as we carry them forward to the other side too. Once this review is done and our blue print for the next life is formed, then there is a cooling period.
    The re-birth
    We are born depending on what we have asked for in the agreement. The cooling off period also depends on our urgency to evolve.
    We choose our parents and enter the mother’s womb either at the time of egg formation or during the 4-5th month or sometimes, even at the last moment just before birth.
    The universe is so perfect, so beautifully designed that the time and place of birth constitutes our horoscope, which actually is a blue print of this life. Most of us think that our stars are bad and we are unlucky but in actuality, they just mirror your agreement. Once we are reborn, for around 40 days, the baby remembers it’s past life and laughs and cries by itself without anyone forcing it to. The memory of the past life is completely cut after this and we experience life as though we did not exist in the past.
    The agreement starts…
    It is here that we are completely in the earth plane and the contract comes into full effect. We then blame God/people for our difficult situations and curse God for giving us such a difficult life …So, the next time before pointing to the Divine, understand that our circumstances are just helping us complete and honor our agreement, which is fully and completely written by us. Whatever we have asked for and pre-decided is exactly what we receive !!
    Friends, relatives, foes, parents, spouses all have been selected by us in the blue print and come in our lives based on this agreement. They are just playing their parts and are merely actors in this film written, produced and directed by us !!*
    Do the Dead need healing / prayers / protection ?**The dead always need serious healing and prayers for a variety of reasons, the most important one being … To be free and not earthbound !! … that is stuck in the earth plane and unable to leave.*There are many reasons for the soul to be earthbound like unfinished business, excessive grief, trauma on death, sudden death, fear of moving on to the astral plane, guilt, one of the most important being improper finishing of last rites and rituals. The soul feels it needs a little more time to wait and finish before moving on. This keeps them hovering on the earth plane. But the time is limited and it is very very important that they cross over within 12 days to their astral plane of existence, as the entry to the astral world closes a few days after this. Earthbound spirits lead a very miserable existence as they are neither in their actual plane nor in a body to lead an earthly life. They may not be negative or harmful but they are stuck and miserable. Hence healing and prayers are of utmost importance during this period so that the departed soul crosses over to the designated astral plane peacefully.
    Prayers by the whole family is very vital to help the dead cross over. The protection of the soul to help it reach its destination in the astral world is achieved through prayers.*Please Do Not Take Death Lightly … Now more than ever, most souls are stuck on the earth plane due to lack of belief and family neglect.*Finally, for someone who has lost a near and dear one, don’t feel sad …We never die, we live on, death does not end anything, it is just a little break before we meet again !!

    This article has been extracted from … The Garuda Purana.

  13. Thanks very much Sir for another nice blog. You have presented a compelling and inspiring story to keep on doing our best . We need to keep on playing to win irrespective of what external and internal conditions are. Thanks once again.

  14. Thank you Arun Sir for these deep enlightening thoughts

  15. In the realm of life, we wave the threads that build the dreams of unknown future. Knowing fully we’ll that this physicality of each one of us is gift to our soul by the almighty, in the life’s journey we forget it somewhere. Carrying all the genetic traits we strive to be the creators and tread our own or known path to create niche for one’s own self. The fact of birth leading to the truth of ultimate cessation of life is always forgotten. We act to create our own narrative and impressions on the edifice of likes, dislikes, good, bad and worst. Living the life following the scene after scene one reaches the terminal point unknowingly.

    Looking back, it is heaps and heaps of things which could have been done by one’s self become facets of regrets. Nevermind, umpteen hollow cocoons are the ultimate realities standing on solitary thread of so called successful life. Thanks to the almighty for the already fixed life. Let us live it spiritually by submitting ourselves to the creator for giving us this great human life… because we live only once!! Life is a celebration.. enjoy the gift of the almighty to you.

  16. This is such an important Blog that gives us all reasons to give our best, and make best use of the brain and body that has been gifted by the almighty. As it is a fixed game, we need to knock several doors to see which one is for us. May be at death bed we feel happiness for the things that we have done and revert regrets then. It is right time and opportunity to think and act for regrets or satisfaction at the death bed.

  17. Dear Prof Tiwari, Thank you for your thoughts on Life – from birth to death. These two events (birth and death) demonstrate “fixed match”.

    Birth and death are outside anyone’s sphere of influence. Some may call it predestination.

    The time and space between birth and death are factors that we have some influence over. Let’s use them wisely and minimise some of the “regrets of the dying”.

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