November 6, 2010

Already Dead?

Yesterday’s koan was regarding a student asking what happens when we die. Master Li said “How do we know we are not already dead?” Indeed, how do we know? Perhaps this whole existence is just an illusion or some kind of protracted dream. We think we are living but we are actually dead; or if not dead, maybe this is a station where we wait for the next journey. We think we are living now but it could be that we are all wrong about it. We have perhaps created these illusions about life and death and go about in ignorance of what is.

If we consider ourselves already dead, then the fear of death is vanquished. We cling to life desperately, so scared of the day that we no longer live. Our attachment to life keeps us from enjoying our experience here. Noted teacher Ajahn Chah said this about attachment. Ajahn picked up the drinking glass next to him and explained how he found it useful to view the glass as already broken. He realized that sooner or later the glass would be gone. It might get knocked over or mislaid, stolen or borrowed and never returned, or perhaps he would be 'gone' first and be unable to take it with him! This being the case he was free to explore it's shape and feel, to enjoy the way the sunlight was transformed into wonderful colors by passing through it. Because he realized the futility of attachment to this object he could truly give his attention to it without any suffering, without any fear of losing it souring the experience.

Imagine living our lives with this concept. No attachment to chain us to fear of losing. If we think of this as merely another level of our entire existence, then I would imagine most people would no longer have such great fear of death anymore. Is that now what Tao teaches us, decay and renewal? It is most interesting to consider the possibilities. Chuang-Tzu in his famous dream did not know whether he was a man dreaming he was a butterfly, or a butterfly dreaming he was a man. Maybe this whole plane of existence is not life but another form of being that we find ourselves in now.


We call it life as we call Tao the Tao. The common definition of life loses its meaning. Tao is deep and mysterious yet our concept of life may be shallow and misguided. There is so much that we do not know.

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