Please explain. Is life an observer and death observed?
No, both are the observed – life and death. Beyond both is the observer. You cannot call that observer ‘life’ because life contains death in it. You cannot call that observer ’death’ because death presupposes life. That observer is just transcendence.
That which you are is neither life nor death. You pass through life, you pass through death, but you are neither. You are just a witness to it all. You pass through happiness, you pass through misery, you pass through disease, you pass through health, you pass through success, you pass through failure – but you are none of these. You remain the watcher, you remain the witness.
That witnessing is beyond all dualities. So don’t try to make it identified with one part of the polarity. Life is one part of the same circle in which the other half, death, exists. Death and life are not apart, they are together. Death and life are two aspects of the same energy, two faces of the same coin – on one side life, on the other side death. Can you think of life without death? Or can you think of death without life? So they are not really opposites but complementaries. They are friends not enemies; they are business partners.
I can understand your question. You would like to be identified with life, so that you can say, ‘I am immortal. No death for me.’ That is your hankering. And I am not saying that you are not immortal, but the word ‘immortal’ is not right. You are eternal, not immortal. ‘Immortal’ means you have no death – always life, always life. ‘Eternity’ means you don’t have either. You are part of this totality that goes on and on – through lives, through deaths, ups and downs, valleys and peaks – and goes on moving. You are that which lives and that which dies, and yet remains aloof… a lotus in the pond, untouched.
It happened, Maharshi Raman was dying. On Thursday April 13th, a doctor brought Maharshi a palliative to relieve the congestion in the lungs, but he refused it. ‘It is not necessary, everything will come right within two days,’ he said. And after two days he died.
At about sunset, Maharshi told the attendants to sit him up. They knew already that every movement, every touch, was painful, but he told them not to worry about that. He was suffering from cancer – he had a throat cancer, very painful. Even to drink water was impossible, to eat anything was impossible, to move his head was impossible. Even to say a few words was very difficult. He sat with one of the attendants supporting his head. A doctor began to give him oxygen, but with a wave of his right hand he motioned him away.
Unexpectedly, a group of devotees sitting on the verandah outside the hall began singing ‘Arunachala-Siva’ – a bhajan that Maharshi liked very much. He liked that spot, Arunachala, very much; the hill he used to live upon – that hill is called ‘Arunachala’. And the bhajan was a praise, a praise for the hill.
On hearing it, Maharshi’s eyes opened and shone. He gave a brief smile of indescribable tenderness. From the outer edges of his eyes tears of bliss rolled down.
Somebody asked him, ‘Maharshi, are you really leaving us?’
It was hard for him to say, but still he uttered these few words: ‘They say that I am dying – but I am not going away. Where could I go? I am always here.’
One more breath, and no more. There was no struggle, no spasm, no other sign of death: only that the next breath did not come.
What he says is of immense significance – ‘Where could I go? I am always here.’ There is nowhere to go. This is the only existence there is, this is the only dance there is – where can one go? Life comes and goes, death comes and goes – but where can ONE go? You were there before life.
That’s why Zen masters go on saying to their disciples: Go meditate, and try to see the face that you had before you were born – or sometimes even before your parents were born, or before your grand-parents were born. Look for the original face that you had before you were born.
You were there before birth and you will be there after death. Life is between birth and death. You are not life. You are eternity, you are timelessness. You will be here and now, always and always. But don’t call it immortality, because the word ‘mortal’ comes from ‘death’. It is not immortality – it is life-less, it is death-less.
Remember always, whenever you are dropping the duality, drop the WHOLE of it. If you save half, the other half is saved automatically. If you think that you are life, then you will remain afraid of death. Then you can go on convincing yourself that you are not going to die – but you are identified with life, and you know life dies.
Life is an expression, a manifestation. Death is the energy again moving into unmanifestation. Life is one act of the energy, death is another act, but the energy is beyond acts: it is being.
Yakusan’s manner of death was a piece with his life – a great Zen master, Yakusan. When he was about to die, he yelled out, ‘The hall’s falling down! The hall’s falling down!’ The monks brought various things and began to prop it up. Yakusan threw up his hands and said, ‘None of you understand what I meant!’ and died.
‘The hall’ is based on life-and-death duality. The duality is the house, the hall. The duality is falling – that’s what Yakusan means when he says, ‘The hall is falling down.’ The dual is disappearing and the non-dual is arising… the clouds are disappearing and only the pure sky is left. That pure sky cannot be identified by any word that comes from any pair of any duality. You cannot call it light, because light is a part of darkness, a partner with darkness. You cannot call it love, because love is a partner with hate. You cannot call it man, because man is a partner with woman. You cannot call it any name, because all names are part of dualities.
Hence, Buddha is silent about it. Whenever somebody asks him, ‘What will happen to you, Sir, when you leave the body?’ he smiles. He does not say a single word – because ALL words will be wrong, inadequate. All words will be false, untrue – because all words come from the dual language. Our language is dual; the non-dual cannot be expressed. That’s why Buddha kept silent about God, about the eternal, about the ultimate – he would not say a single word.
A Ch’an story describes how the Abbot Hui-ming approached the master, Hui-neng. Hui-neng is the second great name in Zen history. The first is Bodhidharma, the second is Hui-neng – these are the two foundation-stones of the whole story of Zen. They laid down the whole structure.
Bodhidharma gave the technique, the Zen technique of meditation, zazen – sitting silently doing nothing, and the grass grows by itself. Non-doing, just witnessing, wei-wu-wei – action through inaction. For nine years he was sitting just facing a wall, this Bodhidharma – that was his technique that he gave to the world, one of the greatest. All other meditations look childish before Bodhidharma’s technique.
Hui-neng gave the koan – another great technique that is very special to Zen. Bodhidharma’s technique is not very special to Zen, it comes from Buddha. In that way Hui-neng is more of an original thinker than Bodhidharma; even Bodhidharma is not so original – Hui-neng gave the koan. ‘Koan’ means an absurd question which cannot be answered, any way you try. It is unanswerable. And one has to meditate on that unanswerable question: ‘What is the sound of one hand clapping?’ Now, one hand cannot clap. So the answer is, from the very beginning, impossible. But one has to think about it.
And Hui-neng says when you think about that which cannot be thought, by and by, slowly, slowly, thinking becomes impossible. One day, suddenly the whole structure of thinking falls to the ground, shattered. Suddenly you are in a state of no-thought. That’s what meditation is.
A Ch’an story describes how the Abbot Hui-ming approached Hui-neng, the sixth patriarch, begging for the doctrine. The patriarch said: ‘For the moment, concentrate your mind, not letting your thoughts dwell either on good or evil.’
Hui-neng, is just sitting there with his staff, ready to hit. And he says to Hui-ming, ‘Just close your eyes. For the moment, concentrate your mind, not letting your thoughts dwell either on good or evil.’ Good or evil is just one kind of duality. You can call it life and death, you can call it hate and love, or good and bad – just one kind of duality.
And Hui-neng says: I am sitting here. You just keep your mind alert, so that it does not fall a victim of the duality of good and bad. Don’t say anything is good, and don’t say anything is bad. Don’t judge. If thoughts pass, let them pass. If Buddha passes, don’t say, ‘Good, I am blessed, I have seen Buddha in my thought.’ Or if a prostitute passes, alluring you, don’t say that this is bad – ‘Why should this thought occur to me? Why should this prostitute follow me?’ Don’t call it any name. Buddha passes, let him pass, remain unconcerned. The prostitute passes, let her pass. Remain unconcerned, just remain yourself. When you are not in duality, you are yourself.
After the Abbot said that he was thus prepared, the Patriarch continued: ‘Now that you are no longer thinking of either good or evil, recall the aspect of the Abbot Ming as he was before his parents had yet brought him to life.’
Now the second question – when the Ming said, ‘I am ready now. Now I am not saying good or bad, I am clean of judgment.’
Must have been a rare man, this Ming himself – must have been meditating. He was a monk, a sannyasin, may have been meditating for years – otherwise it is not so easy. And you cannot deceive a Zen master; you cannot just pretend, ‘Yes, I have attained.’ Immediately your head will be hit hard.
A Zen master does not believe in politeness, a Zen master does not believe in etiquette, a Zen master is a very wild master. And when the Abbot said, ‘Now I am prepared,’ Hui-neng said…
‘Now that you are no longer thinking of either good or evil, recall the aspect of the Abbot Ming as he was before his parents had yet brought him to life.’
Now go backwards. Find out about yourself, who you were before you were born, what you were before you were born. Think of that consciousness, go into it.
The Abbot, under the impact of these words, abruptly entered a state of silent identification. He then did obeisance and said: ‘It is like a man who drinks water. He knows in himself whether it is cold or warm.’
Now he cannot answer; he himself cannot answer. He has tasted, he has known who he was, and who he is, and who he will be – but now he cannot say anything about it. It is unutterable, it is ineffable.
He says only one thing: ‘Sir, it is like a man who drinks water. He knows in himself whether it is cold or warm. Now I know, but I cannot tell you.’
So knows Hui-neng, but he cannot tell. So knows Buddha, but he cannot tell. So know I – but I cannot tell what exactly it is.
One thing I can say, but that will be always negative: It is neither life nor death. It is neither time nor space. It is neither body nor mind. It is neither the visible nor the invisible. It is neither good nor bad. It is neither God nor Devil. I can only negate, I can only say that which it is not.
But what it is, you will have to drink. Only when a man drinks water, he knows… whether it is cold or warm.
From Zen: The Path of Paradox, Vol. 2, Chapter 6
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