Man thinks there will be some way to avoid death. But the Hindu view is that there is no way to protect yourself against death, because death is the very nature of this world. Wherever you run, death will be at your heels.
The tiger in the story is death. He is after you, and sometime – today or tomorrow – you will arrive at a place where there will be no path ahead of you, and you will have to stop running away. You have reached the impasse – ahead of you is the abyss, and behind you is the tiger. And if you peer over the edge of the cliff you see death awaiting you there too. To jump off the cliff means certain death, just as the tiger means certain death, though there is still a ray of hope in the possibility of climbing down the cliff face. But then you see that another tiger awaits you at the foot of the cliff….
Hindus say that life is surrounded by death – all the escape routes are covered, there is no way out. You can run if you want to, but it will not help; you will only exhaust yourself and reach a place where you will have to stop. And still man goes on trying! Death is there at the top of the cliff and at the foot of the cliff, and a single slip of the hand means death. But still man tries – and he will go on searching for a way out until the very last moment of his life. He will cling to the tree root, in itself not so strong because it is being chewed away by the two rats. But man’s hope is such that he will seek aid even from a grassleaf and find companionship even in a dream. Where nothing is possible, there too mind imagines and says that something will be possible. It is a characteristic of mind to go on hoping.
In The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, the poet asks the sages, the wise ones, the knowledgeable ones, “Why is it that this life, in which all seem to be unhappy, does not come to a stop? What makes it go on and on and on, although no one is happy? What is the secret?”
There was no response from any source. So many scholars and learned people, but there was no answer. Then the poet asks the sky, since the sky has always been present. Everything else has changed – people have come and gone, great civilizations have lived and died, and all this the sky has seen. There is no greater witness than the sky. So the poet asks the sky, “What is the secret of life? Why does it continue?” And a voice comes from the sky, “Because of hope!”