Thursday, May 15, 2008

Grief, Part III: dying, death, and birth

Canvas F
Originally uploaded by Seeking Tao
I thought it’d be nice to share the story of Ramana Maharishi’s enlightenment which is posted in greater detail here.
Notice how this Saint responded to the thought, “I’m dying.”
He was totally free from the drama, gyrations, and flapping arms that most of us go through. And yet, he still experienced that fear that the Taoists speak of as ru ding.

In his seventeenth year, in full health and in normal waking state he was suddenly overwhelmed with the fear of death and fully convinced that death was imminent. The inexplicable feeling would not leave so the boy began to ponder on the meaning of death. He was alone in his upper story room at the time so he decided to act out death and inquire into the meaning of it. He laid down with his arms stiffly at his sides as if dead, held his breath and said to himself;

Now death has come but what does it mean?
What is it that is dying?
The body dies and is carried off to the cremation ground and reduced to ashes. But with the death of the body, am I dead?
Am I the body?
This body is now silent and inert but I feel the full force of my personality and even the voice of the 'I' within me, apart from the body.
So I am the Spirit transcending the body.
The body dies but the spirit that transcends it cannot be touched by death.
That means that I am the deathless Spirit.

The awareness of this knowledge took full possession of him, not at the level of mere mental awareness but at the deeper level of complete spiritual self-awareness. He suddenly became the Spirit and knew himself as That, no longer identifying himself as merely the body form that had been called Venkataraman. Self realization was instantaneous, complete, and irreversible. His ego was lost in a flood of pure Self awareness.

How could Ramana Maharishi be so calm about it all?
Perhaps he had little if any pain-body. Maybe his ego didn’t fight him. Or perhaps the conditioning of his mind was not as deep as most.
Whatever the reason was, he wasn’t in the shape most of us are in.
Most of us have work to do, before and after awakening. We get to practice seeing through our conditioning and fears repeatedly on many levels.

…the vast majority of people who come see me, or any other teacher, would probably do well with a little help from a good psychologist… Somehow or other the conditioning will need to be addressed, either before awakening or after awakening. You can have direct experiences of deep reality, but if you have too much psychological conflict, or your ego is still too fractured and not functioning coherently, it will keep holding you back.
Adyashanti, Who Hears This Sound? The Sun, December, 2007

Ah, yes.
Adya has described this process of examining ourselves on deeper and deeper levels, as peeling away layer after layer of an onion. Eventually, all the layers are lying in a pile at your feet.
And you are left with Nothing in your hands.
The Nothing… (that is everything).

Well, I’ve opened enough presents wrapped in tissue paper to know that fingertips can tell what’s coming. I think the same holds true layers of an onion.
And so the whole process can be scary. You can feel the dissolution coming.
But, what does it really mean?

Somehow, you have to find the integrity to look closely and inquire.
So, let me end all this talk of grief and fear and dying with these words of the French Vedantist, Arnaud Desjardins (with thanks to Beth for telling me of him):

Westerners commonly consider life to be the opposite of death, but Orientals consider birth to be the opposite of death.
For them, life expresses itself through a movement of perpetual change: an uninterrupted play of death and birth… the birth of the child is the death of the baby; the birth of the adolescent is the death of the child.
Daring to live means daring to die at each moment.
But it also means daring to be born – daring to pass through important stages in life where the person you use to be dies, in order to make room for someone with a new view of the world…
To put it simply, daring to live also means no longer having the slightest fear of what we feel.
Arnaud Desjardins, The Jump Into Life: Moving Beyond Fear.

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