Friday, December 30, 2011

Is There Death Before Life? IV

Scott Bradley


This started as a single post which got too long, divided, and now seems to have become a colony. I continue because I find it provides a fresh perspective on what it is to be human.

I began with an exploration of the Zhuangzian assertion that life and death are a single thread. What this means to me is that we are mistaken when we see death as simply the negation of life and thus other than a part of life, just as life is a part of death. One does not manifest without the other. Thus, if we take that larger view that Zhuangzi continually suggests we do, we accept life and death as a single package. With this in mind he says, "What makes my life good, also makes my death good."

But I have taken it a bit further, I think, and suggested that death is also a single thread. Understanding death, not simply as the negation of life, but as that which precedes, follows, and manifests in life as its most fundamental nature, the non-being at the heart of our being, death becomes our most immediate experience of reality. I have purposely avoided giving it a new name because an important aspect of this view of death is the transformation of the narrow death-as-negation-of-life concept into something immensely broader.

I have previously discussed and negatively critiqued the notion that death is the opposite of birth, not of life, the implication being that there is life before birth. This may be the case, but since we cannot know it to be true, to suggest it is, is to offer up that proverbial "pot of buddha-flesh", the assertion of a false religious hope. This is fine for those who wish to pursue that course, but in the context of the traditions which this blog and these posts wish to explore, it is a retreat from the stark not-knowing that opens a way to a different way of knowing.

I have revisited this critique because I wish to apply it to the concept of death as a single thread. Specifically, it should not be understood as asserting the continuity of the existence of an individuated 'me'. Death may very well be the negation of life as an individual experience. Nor does it intend to imply that a 'true self' transcendent of the egoic self is any less entirely dependent of the life of the body for its existence.

If death is an essential part of who I am, namely "an emptiness", then perhaps there is comfort in realizing the continuity of that emptiness. Yet this would seem to offer about as much comfort as "from dust to dust". In this way (tao), however, comfort is attained not through comfort, but through that which requires no comfort, namely through realizing the emptiness we are.

'True self' is free of the fear of death because it is that which remains when death has already been realized in the transcendence of the egoic 'me'. The trick, then, is to die even now, in life. Fear not the living dead, however; they do not eat the brains of the living. This is a vicious lie; quite the contrary, it is the living un-dead who must feed off others.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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