Thursday, February 4, 2010

What is death

Question: What is death,  and why is there such a fear of it?
Krishnamurti: I think it would be worthwhile to go into this problem, not merely verbally, but actually.  Why do we divide life and death?  Is living separate from death?  Or is death part of living?  It may be that we do not know what living is,  and that is why death seems such a terrible thing,  something to be shunned,  to be avoided,  to be explained away.
Is not living part of dying?  Am I living if I am constantly accumulating property,  money,  position,  as well as knowledge and virtue,  all of which I cherish and hold on to?  I may call that living, but is it living?  Is not that whole process merely a series of struggles,  contradictions,  miseries,  frustrations?  But we call it living,  and so we want to know what death is.
We know that death is the end for all of us;  the body,  the physical organism,  wears out and dies.  Seeing this,  the mind says ‘I have lived,  I have gathered,  I have suffered,  and what is to happen to me?  What lies for me beyond death?’   Not knowing what lies beyond, the mind is afraid of death,  so it begins to invent ideas,  theories – reincarnation, resurrection – or it goes back and lives in the past.  If it believes in reincarnation, it tries to prove that belief through hypnosis, and so on.
That is essentially what we are all doing.  Our life is overshadowed by this thing called death, and we want to know if there is any form of continuity.  Or else we are so sick of life that we want to die, and we are horrified at the thought that there might be a beyond.
Now, what is the answer to all this?  Why have we separated death from living,  and why does the mind cling to continuity?  Cannot the mind be aware of that which it calls death in the same way that it knows living?  Can it not be aware of the whole significance of dying?  We know what our life is – a process of gathering, enjoying, suffering, renouncing, searching, and constant anxiety.  That is our existence, and in that there is continuity.  I know that I am alive because I am aware of suffering, of enjoyment;  memory goes on, and my past experiences colour my future experiences.  There is a sense of continuity, the momentum of a series of events linked by memory.  I know this process,  and I call it living.  But do I know what death is?   Can I ever know it?  We are not asking what lies beyond, which is really not very important.  But can one know or experience the meaning of that which is called death while actually living?  While I am conscious, physically vigorous, while my mind is clear and capable of thinking without any sentimentality or emotionalism,  can I directly experience that thing which I call death?  I know what living is,  and can I,  in the same way with the same vigour,  the same potency,  know the meaning of death?  If I merely die at the last moment, through disease, or through some accident, I shall not know.
So the problem is not what lies beyond death, or how to avoid the fear of death.  You cannot avoid the fear of death so long as the mind accumulates for itself a series of events and experiences linked by memory, because the ending of all that is what we actually fear.
Surely, that which has continuity is never creative.  Only the mind which dies to everything from moment to moment really knows what it is to die.  This is not emotionalism;  it requires a great deal of insight,  thought,  enquiry.   We can know death, as well as life,  while living; while living we can enter the house of death, the unknown.  But for the mind, which is the result of the known, to enter the unknown, there must be a cessation of all that it has known, of all the things it has gathered – not only consciously, but much more profoundly, in the unconscious.  To wipe all that away is to die, and then we shall find there is no fear.
I am not offering this as a panacea for fear, but can we know and understand the full meaning of death? That is, can the mind be completely nothing, with no residue of the past?  Whether that is possible or not is something we can enquire into,  search out diligently,  vigorously,  work hard to find out.  But if the mind merely clings to what it calls living – which is suffering, this whole process of accumulation – and tries to avoid the other, then it knows neither life nor death.
So the problem is to free the mind from the known,  from all the things it has gathered,  acquired,  experienced,  so that it is made innocent and can therefore understand that which is death,  the unknowable.
~ J. Krishnamurti, from a talk in Brussels – 1956