No, overcoming death means something else. The person who knows and experiences deeply that death is already linked with birth and unavoidable, becomes free from the fear of death. He knows that birth is the beginning of the circle and death its end. So he who knows so deeply, so profoundly that death is an unavoidable destiny, becomes free from the fear of death. Why should one fear the unavoidable? Why should one worry about what is sure to happen? Worry is only for that which can be changed or altered.
So it is interesting to observe that there was never so much worry about death in the East as in the West, and there are good reasons for this. The West feels that it has the remedy to conquer death; the East never felt it had the remedy to conquer it. If it is felt that death can be changed, then worry is bound to come. There will always be cares and worries for a thing which can be changed. There is no cause for anxiety when a thing cannot be altered. Why worry? If death is certain, if it is linked with birth, then there is absolutely no cause to worry about it.
When soldiers are on their way to the battlefield, and as long as they have not reached it, they remain worried and afraid, but once on the battlefield all their worries are over in a day or two. After reaching the battlefield, even the most timid soldier becomes a brave person. What is the reason? Psychologists are pondering over this phenomenon. This man was so afraid that he couldn’t sleep at night at the thought of going into battle in the morning. He was trembling and behaving like a madman; it seemed that he would run away from the battlefield. But having been in battle, this very same man sleeps soundly.
What is the reason? As long as he had not come on to the battlefield he thought escape was possible – he could save himself, a way could be found, something could be changed. “Somebody else might be sent instead of me.” But when he saw himself on the battlefield, saw bombs falling on all sides, the whole matter of worrying was over. Now there was no way out, and when there is no way out worry disappears. When the possibility of change is gone, the hope for the change also vanishes. It is the desire for change that creates anxieties and worries. When the sage says, “After knowing the manifest brahman, the wise man conquers death,” it means death holds no fear for him. If death approaches him, he is not afraid.
There is an interesting small story about Panini. He is one of the sages who compiled these sutras. He was teaching grammar to his pupils in his forest ashram one day when a roaring lion bounded in. Panini asked his pupils to listen to the lion’s roaring, and try to make out its grammatical form. The lion is poised ready to pounce on anyone, the pupils are trembling, and Panini is explaining the grammatical form of the lion’s roaring! It is said that even when the lion fell upon him, he continued to explain the grammatical form of its roaring. And as the lion devoured him, he expounded on the grammatical form of, “The lion kills the man.”
Our immediate thought is that Panini could have run away and saved himself. Something could have been done, but people like Panini think thus – that death is certain, whether it comes today or tomorrow; then what difference does it make if it is today or tomorrow? Such people accept death unwaveringly because it is a certainty – whether it comes today or tomorrow or the day after tomorrow.