ILLNESS AND DEATH
People like to transcend both death and life.
That is a serious illness.
Yin Xi the Gate Keeper
With this statement Yin Xi the Gate Keeper directed himself to his students, about two and half thousand years ago. He wrote his lessons down in his book the Yin Xi Jing. In it, he also dedicates a paragraph to the topic of ‘life and death’.
We, human beings, generally fear death; we are afraid of the unknown. Almost everyone has a certain thought about it. That was not different during the days of Yin Xi, as is clearly shown by the words that he speaks to his students:
There are many different ways of thinking about life and death.
There are those who say: ‘Life just continues after death’.
Others say: ‘There is nothing, after death’.
Some say: ‘Maybe there is something after death, but maybe not either’.
There are also some that say: ‘Death must be feared’.
On the other hand, there are some that say: ‘Death must be celebrated.’
Or they say: ‘Death is a different form of suffering’.
It is also said: ‘Simply have trust in death’.
Finally there are some that say: ‘Death must be transcended’.
Yin Xi mentions eight different opinions on death. The first seven see death as something that either exists or not. The eighth’s one, on the other hand, states that death is something that must be transcended. To those who might think that this is a high and noble aim, Yin Xi says, very short and very clearly: ‘That is a serious illness.’ Very restrained, he ascertains the following:
People die, standing, sitting or laying down, through illness or through medication.
But no matter in what way they die, death remains the same: the person becomes hard and cold.
A noble or beautiful death does not exist.
These words are rather confronting: Yin Xi ignores all assumptions that we might have about death. He also does not say anything comforting or something uplifting for a seeker of Dao. We might think that such a statement is not appropriate for a spiritual teacher, and feel that he should always be mild, understanding and encouraging.
On the Path towards Dao we are confronted with everything within us that blocks the way. This also applies to all kinds of opinions that have become embedded in us, such as in this case assumptions about the meaning of a possible life after death.
The seeker for Dao learns to investigate what is impeding him, and then learns how to clear the blockages. Only then is the way clear to take the next step. By confronting his students, a spiritual teacher helps them, and he does so by being very clear, even though his students find this shocking at times. But the teacher always acts out of compassion.
Yin Xi said:
People detest death, and often also life.
That is why they wish to ascend both death and life.
That is a serious illness.
In fact, he arouses us to ask ourselves: why do I wish to ascend life and death? Is there perhaps an unconscious reason why I want to go the path towards Dao?
Primarily, every human being walks the Path from a profound and sincere desire: a longing for complete unity, absolute peace or unconditional love.
Life, with all its struggle, illness, pain and often deep despair, can at times be too much for a person. They can be the cause of the desire to ascend above the weight of life, by going the Path.
It is also possible that someone has serious problems with himself, and hopes that they disappear to the background on this Path.
Or there is the silent hope that going the Path will lead to liberation from the wheel of birth and death, so that the often so hard existence never needs to be endured anymore.
It is also possible that the thought arises that awful illnesses have no control on those who go the spiritual path, so that thus there will be less suffering.
In all those examples, personal motives are central. Based on that, there is hope for a certain result, such as for instance a desire for enlightenment, for liberation, or for immortality.
But no matter how understandable: in going the Path they form stumbling stones. That is why Yin Xi refers to them as ‘an illness’. He clarifies this as follows:
Whoever longs for transcending
because he detests life,
is not different from someone
who is connected to demons.
Because of that he is not connected to Dao.
It is often thought that demons are nasty creatures that harass us from the outside. We must defeat them, or, at least, keep them at a distance and for that we must be strong.
However, most demons are not found outside of us, but within us. They represent certain suppressed desires, evil thoughts or secret wishes. Demons are living in the obscure of our consciousness; if we would face them, the danger could arise that the (beautiful) image we have of ourselves is affected.
Central point for the seeker of Dao is the investigation of the purity of his motives for his desire to transcend life and death. When these arise from his personal ambition, desires or ideas, they form hindrances. But because he collides with them, he becomes aware of their existence. The seeker of Dao is first of all confronted with himself. He learns to face his blockages.
However, he will not start to fight them on the Path, but he lifts them up into the light of De, and through that power they are neutralized. Eventually, there does not remain a desire whatsoever to transcend both life and death: then, there is neutrality. And in it, both life and death are ‘as a matter of course’, ascended through the workings of De.
In going the Path we ‘die’: the human being that we were before figuratively ‘dies’ while we literally continue to live. Yin Xi told his students the following:
Then, death is for them like water,
drowning it in water,
or fire, burning it in fire.
But life nor death cannot drown or burn.
Life and death are equally incomprehensible as when a horse would have arms, or a bull wings.
Such things simply do not exist.
In fact Yin Xi says: do not worry so much, laugh about all those worries, laugh about all those fears, do not try to control them through self-centered wishes. Both life and death have their own value. Both have a meaning, but it is so grand that for us it is a mystery. Try to accept this; let go of all personal ideas, then the Path is open. Finally, Yin Xi reaches the core:
Only he, she, who practices the great Dao can ascend life and death.