Tell me, brother, what happens after death?

by Ramprasad (Ramprasad Sen)

English version by Leonard Nathan and Clinton Seely
Original Language Bengali

Tell me, brother, what happens after death?
The whole world is arguing about it --
Some say you become a ghost,
Others that you go to heaven,
And some that you get close to God,
And the Vedas insist you're a bit of sky
Reflected in a jar fated to shatter.

When you look for sin and virtue in nothing,
You end up with nothing.
The elements live in the body together
But go their own ways at death.

Prasad says: you end, brother,
Where you began, a reflection
Rising in water, mixing with water,
Finally one with water.

-- from Grace and Mercy in Her Wild Hair: Ramprasad Sen - Selected Poems to the Mother Goddess, Translated by Leonard Nathan / Clinton Seely

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/ Image by Sydnee Leveston /

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

We have had several momentous events this past week -- earthquakes and volcanoes, political and social events. It's Earth Day today. Yet, with all of that, I feel it would seem odd if I didn't comment about the unexpected death of Prince yesterday.

I was a teenager in the 1980s, and Prince was omnipresent. I have to admit that I was not a big Prince fan. I didn't dislike him or his music, but I was purposefully out of step with my generation. I listened to music from the 60s and 70s at that age. But regardless of my contrarian tastes, Prince's music -- and style -- dominated the 80s. Purple Rain. 1999. Little Red Corvette. When Doves Cry. Even when his wasn't the music I put into my new Walkman, I heard it everywhere. Prince's music runs through my adolescent years.

It wasn't until I was an adult and reconsidering the 80s music I rejected as a teenager that I came to recognize how good much of it was. And Prince has to be at the top of that creative wave. The man wrote not just good music, but decade defining anthems, fusing pop, funk, soul, new wave, along with his own unique purple spice. Not just a songwriter, he was a magnetic performer, a stunningly creative innovator, a courageous businessman who thumbed his nose at corporate control of his art, and an amazing musician who played dozens of instruments. When we think of Prince, we don't imagine a man, we think of a musical force with eyeliner. Prince was an icon, an archetype.

The passing of such an icon is always a significant moment within culture. I was inspired to track down something I wrote in 2009 about the death of Michael Jackson that applies equally well to Prince:

He is one of those rare figures, like Bob Marley, Elvis, John Lennon, a defining figure for the entire world. There is a reason that we call the ultra famous "stars." They are like the planets in astrology; they embody for the world a certain archetypal energy... We relate to the archetypal aura and not the person...

This archetypal role they play is also why their deaths are so traumatic to the world. Archetypes are, by their nature, eternal energies of the soul. So when a person embodying a particular archetype dies, the world feels a rupture, the planetary psyche feels disoriented and fragmented. How can that which we instinctively know to be eternal disappear from our midst? But what really happens is that the archetypal energy is released, returned back to each of us. Having seen it enacted outside of ourselves, we are again reminded to look within ourselves for those same qualities.

It is something of a truism that many of the fast-living superfamous have died at age 28 or 29. Astrologers would say that this is because that is the age when the "Saturn return" occurs. That is, after approximately 29 years, Saturn returns to its original position as when the individual was born. Saturn (Shiva in Hindu Jyotish astrology) is associated with time, restriction, death, discipline, self-examination. The idea is that the Saturn return is a crucial threshold in each person's life. At that point, one does a self-assessment on a soul level, and prepares for the next stage of life. Sometimes the soul has fulfilled its purposes, or perhaps the person is unwilling to leave the old stage and enter the next stage of life. This is why so many deaths occur at that age.

But the cycle repeats itself. The second Saturn return happens around age 57/58, when the more active parenting and career-focused phases of adulthood are typically completed and we enter into a more mature, elder role. This is often the age of mid-life crisis. As before, our prior life roles are wrapping up and we step into an unknown new phase of life. And sometimes we step out of life altogether.

I don't know the details of Prince's death or anything about his private life. But, the passing of a planetary icon whose gravity shaped so much of culture, affects us all on a certain level and worthy of a brief pause to contemplate.

The era of Prince was also, in my mind, the era of the Bloom County cartoon strip. I can just picture Opus, the ponderous-nosed penguin, saying something to the effect of, "Rest in peace, O Purple One..."

Rising in water, mixing with water,
Finally one with water.

Recommended Books: Ramprasad (Ramprasad Sen)

Singing to the Goddess: Poems to Kali and Uma from Bengal Kali: The Black Goddess of Dakshineswar Grace and Mercy in Her Wild Hair: Ramprasad Sen - Selected Poems to the Mother Goddess Mother of the Universe: Visions of the Goddess and Tantric Hymns of Enlightenment Great Swan: Meetings with Ramakrishna
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Tell me, brother